ThePowerMBA Journey – applying key learnings to my past business

A few weeks ago I shared that I am taking ThePowerMBA program, an online business qualification, with a curriculum that features business leaders from companies like Shazam, Waze, and Airbnb.

It can be completed in 15-minute chunks from the comfort of your own home and costs a fraction of the price of a traditional MBA.

At the point of this writing, I am on the Business Model Innovation module of the course (there are ten modules and each of them has a handful of units and each unit a number of sub-learnings) and it has nudged me to reflect many times over my past entrepreneurial journey.

To date, I have started and exited from five businesses – two in recruitment, one in career coaching, a resume optimisation platform and an HR consulting agency.

Every single one of them started on a hunch and (for some) a combination of circumstance. For example, my first recruitment business happened because I was staring at a potential retrenchment brought upon by SARS (2003).

Prior to that, I was laid off from a couple of dotcoms due to the dotcom bust. When I was looking at a possible third layoff, I was petrified. Wondering what I should do, one of my friends had just started his business in network cabling. It occurred to me that I won’t fire myself and that was the motivation to bite the bullet and start my first business with a few other friends.

But there was really little planning beforehand. We did not figure how much runway was needed, what our value proposition was and how we could intend to scale.

And unfortunately, that somewhat became the norm as I explored other businesses.


CareerLadder was my solopreneur attempt after I exited from my first two recruitment businesses. I had co-published a book on career search and management. The intent was to sell a million copies and retire.

That did not happen.

But it became a calling card for us to conduct job search workshops and training for organisations such as WDA (now WSG) and e2i. It was a natural transition to incorporate a company to better handle such engagements and that was how CareerLadder was born.

CareerLadder had four key offerings – the career guide book (hardcopy/electronic), one-to-one career coaching session, a career coaching workshop and (over a short period of time) LinkedIn profile writing services.

I would like to jump forward to the part where it all ended after 3 years (the first 2 was full-time and the final year became a sideline). My exit of CareerLadder was a sale of the domain and asset to a resume writing company because they want the SEO (I had managed to bring the site up to #1 on Google search result page when anyone was to google for “career coaching Singapore”.)

That made me SGD$1,200.

I probably invested more over the first six months of setting up the business.

Where did things go wrong?

There are many but the key one could be identified in ThePowerMBA’s sub-learning #16 on Market Sizing. 

And it comes to three acronyms –  TAM, SAM and SOM. They represent different subsets of a market.

TAM or Total Available Market is the total market demand for a product or service.

SAM or Serviceable Available Market is the segment of the TAM targeted by your products and services which is within your geographical reach.

SOM or Serviceable Obtainable Market is the portion of SAM that you can capture.

For a career coaching agency, I would imagine my TAM to be every working individual. 

Since my mode of delivery is mainly in-person, I am limited by geography and that make my SAM around 3 million working individuals.

Because of what I bring along, I am focusing very much on the white-collars working individuals. In the Singapore context, that would be around 30% of the total workforce (900,000). Having said that, engaging someone to help you with job search was as popular as engaging a therapist back then.

Since my session is more focussed on job search, I am looking primarily at the portion of people who are unemployed. Again, in Singapore, that would be around 3% and that drops my SAM to 27,000.

That may seem like a decent market size for an individual like me to work with but another impediment comes in the way of existing free career coaching services provided by government agencies (the same one that engaged me to run supplementary workshops).

Because I cannot beat free, my SAM drastically shrunk to a single-digit percentage of that 27,000 people. Primarily people who are disgruntled or blacklisted by the government agencies AND have money to pay for my services.

Over the three years of operations, I could count less than 30 one-to-one career coaching sessions (and I’m inflating 30 here). Workshops are good revenue drivers but they come in once or twice a year only. Book sales carry little margins and the LinkedIn profile writing services were not gaining traction.

If I had known about market sizing back then, I probably would not have invested so much time and effort (and two full-time years of my life) into it.

Way overdue but kudos to ThePowerMBA in helping me become wiser in this area.

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