Airtasker co-founder and former chief executive Jonathan Lui has been immersing himself in the Singapore startup scene and taking time to be with family since stepping away from his hugely successful startup last year.
After stepping down from his role for personal reasons, Lui moved to Singapore to be closer to family and says the move has given him a new perspective on the business.
“For the past five years every day I’ve been thinking about one problem – how to build Airtasker,” Lui says.
Lui and co-founder Tim Fung launched Airtasker in 2012, which has since grown to support more than a million customers across Australia, boasts over $75 million in task transaction volume, and more than 450,000 community-verified user reviews.
This growth came at a cost.
“My younger years were compromised and sacrificed in the personal life department,” Lui tells StartupSmart.
“Business is exciting and fun,” he says, but notes this time off has “made me appreciate a lot more” the value of family and work-life balance.
“The world still goes on,” he says.
Lui is involved with Airtasker as a non-executive director, but says that taking off his co-founder hat has enabled him to “strategically solve” problems in the business.
“The day to day prevents you from seeing the bigger pictures sometimes,” Lui says.
Lui says the Singapore startup scene is “refreshing” and “very supportive and welcoming”.
While he notes Singapore is a much smaller market in terms of population than Australia, Lui observes its startup sector attracts larger amounts of venture capital because of its proximity to the APAC region, which creates greater scope for growth.
“When people start up businesses in Singapore they’re already thinking bigger, thinking of the region,” he says.
“In Australia there’s a mental barrier – it [expanding internationally] might be seen as a bigger jump.”
Enjoy the journey
Looking back on his time at Airtasker, Lui urges startups who are just starting out to “enjoy the journey and enjoy the people you share that journey with”.
“One of the big things that I miss is the team – working day to day, shoulder to shoulder with amazing people,” he says.
He encourages startup founders to “stay in touch” when people leave the business, because “you never know when your paths may cross again”.
While Lui has been enjoying taking time out to sit back and focus on his family life instead of building another business straight away, he has still been getting to know key players in Singapore’s startup industry, and “enjoying speaking to a lot of like-minded people”.
The Singapore startup ecosystem, which has become a key fintech hub, also provides a fertile ground for Australian expats seeking to start businesses. There are 37,400 international companies with headquarters in Singapore, which include 7,000 multinationals. More than half of these companies use Singapore as the regional headquarters for their Asia-Pacific business.
“When you think of pure population numbers, a significant proportion of the growing market is in the APAC region, growing really fast – that market is huge,” Lui says.
Lui suggests the Asia-Pacific region may well unseat the US as a key market for Australian startups, especially because the time differences make communication and collaboration much easier.
“The time difference between Australia and America is much bigger, so collaboration is much more difficult.” he says, nothing that “the practicalities” of doing business in Asia, only a 2-3 hr time zone away, are much less complicated.
“Even the cultural differences aren’t that big – it feels very similar to the pace and style of Sydney,” Lui says.