Tom is the Co-Founder and CEO of a startup that aims to create happier workplaces.
Formerly a professional in the tech industry with a passion for the Internet landscape.
He combines business education and solid analytical skills with technical knowledge and a flair for entrepreneurship.
Having worked and/or studied in eight different countries he understands the challenges facing global businesses very well.
A self-taught coder, he was most recently employed in Google’s Asia Pacific HQ in Singapore where he was responsible for analyzing the company’s relationships with media agencies and for building internal tools.
An INSEAD MBA, his biggest personal passion is travel – he has visited 70+ countries.
Please share a bit about what you do.
My name is Tom and I’m the CEO of Cultavo.
Our company is creating community management software for various entities.
We started with targeting corporations and now we are looking at co-working space.
Our goal is to bring the tools typical to tech companies and startups to all other entities.
By doing this we hope to increase employee (or community member) happiness, satisfaction, motivation, and also improve on internal networking possibilities.
What’s your first pay check?
The first paycheck in my life was in 2007 from a paid internship at eBay in Poland.
I don’t remember the exact amount, but it must have been something around 1,500PLN (~450 SGD).
What were you doing before starting this business?
Since 2011 I was employed at Google in various roles across different geographies – I spent some time in customer service in Dublin, in sales operations in Mountain View in the main HQ
Most recently I was a sales analyst in Singapore. In 2015 I left to get an MBA from INSEAD.
I graduated in July 2016, went backpacking to South America for three months and have been working on Cultavo since then.
How did the idea for your business come about?
It actually came from my time at Google.
I noticed many different tools used internally to the benefit of an employee’s happiness and I was actually building some of those on a side.
I actually built a “watergun assassin” game and saw people splash each other with waterguns in the office (particularly fun when you’re surrounded by tons of IT equipment).
Seeing all of this I figured that perhaps there is a market for this and other companies would want a piece of this culture.
What sacrifices have you had to make to be an entrepreneur?
Well, first and foremost the sacrifice has been on salary.
MBA graduates tend to look at very nice salaries and I had to forego all of it for now.
Secondly, I’m a huge travel buff and had to slow down a bit because of the company.
Luckily, I did a ton of traveling in 2016 so got the travel bug “out of the system” for a little while.
How did you get funded?
For the moment we are self-funding, but we are currently talking to a few angel investors and VC firms here in Singapore trying to close our initial seed round.
If anyone is interested please get in touch!
How do you go about marketing your business?
Our business in its current stage is all about finding the right product-market fit and about finding the right customers so it’s mostly face-to-face meetings and B2B-type engagements.
We hope to shift to more direct-to-consumer marketing activities (like online marketing) once we close a few customers and are close to achieving some form of scalability.
Could you describe your first sale and how it came about?
We managed to test our product extensively and roll it out at one well-known tech company.
It all came from personal connections and reminiscing of the tools I helped build back at Google.
From there we got introduced to the right people in HR and signed a contract.
Describe/outline your typical work day?
Well, I guess I’ll have to give the typical answer to this question which is – there is no typical day.
My day is usually a mix of various startup activities.
I’m a self-taught coder so I support our CTO with product development. I work with our CMO on prioritizing our leads and networking to find more potential customers.
In addition to that a day could bring meetings with potential investors, potential customer visits (nowadays co-working spaces), working on marketing / investor decks, catching up with entrepreneur friends from all over the world, and organizing workshops to understand how our users use our product.
What has been your proudest moment in the history of your business?
It was probably when we signed the contract for our first engagement.
It was also great when we became finalists of the INSEAD Venture Competition and won 5,000 EUR.
What was the lowest point for you in this business?
Well, it’s certainly a roller coaster so low points happen.
Usually those come up any time we hear a “no” from an investor or customer that we were confident would be interested in our company or the products.
There aren’t always lessons to be drawn from that – it’s about getting past the fact of rejection, understanding that one “yes” will cost a hundred “no’s”, and moving forward.
Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
It’s a bit grandiose to say that but I think it would be Steve Jobs.
I certainly don’t aspire to have his personal qualities (I’ve been told I’m a friendly person), but I am inspired by his ability to completely disregard the conventional.
To say that he knows much better what a customer wants, and just plough away through all the nay-sayers around him while executing a vision he knows will be successful.
I have much to learn from him in regards to execution and hustling, but I think anyone who knows me will agree that I don’t think conventionally and don’t have a particularly stable relation with the status quo.
If you could go back in time to speak to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell him?
GET AN ENGINEERING DEGREE!
I think the best thing anyone can do nowadays in terms of education is getting an undergrad engineering degree – preferably with some specialization in computer science, artificial intelligence, machine learning, data mining, or software engineering.
Only after that should they get a business degree – an MBA teaches you almost as much as 4 years of undergrad business school, but there’s no solid equivalent of an engineering degree, other than three month-long coding bootcamps.
What’s the worst piece of advice you ever got?
Oh, honestly I get those all the time.
I think any advice that hinders on common knowledge and on typical practices will be flawed.
In terms of Cultavo I think we’ve been pushed from practically day 1 to get investors without really asking “wait, is that something we truly need?”
Before we realized that there are other ways of conducting business we already lost a lot of precious time chasing something that wouldn’t happen.
Investors won’t bother about you if you don’t have numbers (preferably revenue numbers!) to back your product’s performance.
All the stories about someone coming up with an idea and then getting it funded within two hours, while may be true, are just a drop in the ocean.
So I think in that area we unfortunately got carried away thinking it would be very easy.
What’s your business focus for this year?
Finding the right product-market fit and finding customers.
I think the latter will start happening once we truly figure out the fit.
What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
Building rest into your schedule is important.
An hour of work followed by an hour of rest and repeated 8 times throughout the day will be radically more productive than 16 hours of work straight.
Is there an app or tool you can’t live without?
I think at this stage it would be LinkedIn – can’t really imagine how we could be getting leads, be it for investors or customers, without LinkedIn.
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