Looi Qin En: Turning youth to your advantage
Looi Qin En: Turning youth to your advantage
Looi Qin En is the Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Glints, an online talent recruitment and career discovery platform. #LCJB winner, Kevin Tan asked him about learning from mistakes and overcoming problems.
When Qin En was 21, he had achieved what most students could only yearn for. Aside from securing admission to the world renowned Stanford University, Qin En was awarded a scholarship by Singapore’s Economic Development Board (EDB). The scholarship would not only finance his studies but also guarantee him a job with the EDB after graduation.
Yet, Qin En bucked convention and took the path less travelled. At the end of his freshman year, Qin En took a leave of absence and gave up his scholarship. Alongside his high school friends, Qin En co-founded Glints, an internship portal for youths.
Like most startups, the co-founders had stumbled upon their business idea. Back then, Qin En’s team was originally working on a social enterprise selling t-shirts.
One of their customers asked if their friends would be interested in interning at his company. Apparently, the customer was having difficulty recruiting interns.
The team noticed that youths also had trouble trying to score internships. This gave them the idea of starting Glints, to serve as an interlocutor between employer and intern.
Youth unemployment is an important problem that governments have been trying to tackle. Last year, the Economist Intelligence Unit reported that Singapore’s youth unemployment rate stands at 10.9%. Globally, the International Labour Organisation estimates youth unemployment to be at 13.1% in 2017.
Glints is an attempt to solve a social problem through a Silicon Valley style startup.
From disadvantage to advantage
Initially, the team envisioned Glints as a recruitment website for internships. Glints would then earn a commission from the companies who successfully took interns via their portal. However, the team soon realised that this did not provide a sustainable financial model.
“We realised that the market was saturated. In Singapore, you have other similar websites like Jobs Central and ST Jobs,” Qin En explained.
“Also, it was tough trying to sell customers on putting up listings for S$100 each,” he added.
Nonetheless, the team remained unfazed. They began identifying other opportunities.
The startup now differentiates itself from other job portals by capitalising on its youth-for-youth angle. After all, who would understand youth employment better than youths themselves?
Qin En’s team has turned what was originally a disadvantage, their youth, into an advantage – an intimate understanding of how youths think. Aside from job listings, Glints now focuses on employee branding and marketing.
Recently, Glints was awarded a contract by Jardine Technology Holdings, a Fortune 200 company. Both companies worked together to organise an innovation award cum pitching competition for students.
“We managed to get over a 100 responses and winners landed an internship with Jardine.” Qin En said.
Glints’ success can be validated by how the startup was able to raise US$475, 000 in seed funding. Additionally, Glints has won the trust of schools and universities.
In 2016, Glints signed a contract with Singapore’s Ngee Ann Polytechnic. Under the deal, Glints will be helping to curate internship opportunities whilst managing their students’ career development.
Furthermore, Glints has begun casting its net wide in terms of its expansion ambitions. Qin En’s team has begun making inroads into Indonesia, where youth unemployment is a relatively bigger problem than in Singapore.
Glints has started recruiting students from Indonesian universities to serve as ambassadors for Glints. These ambassadors will be promoting the platform to their friends and the community.
Motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar once said, “When obstacles arise, you change your direction to reach your goal; you do not change your decision to get there.”
In the case of Glints, the creativity that Qin En’s team in turning their youth into a niche has proven to be a fortuitous decision.
Finding your purpose
Qin En believes in the concept of “ikigai”, a Japanese concept that means a “reason for being”.
“Let me put it to you via an analogy,” he says.
“There is a difference between exploring and wandering. We all need a certain goal to work towards. There is no point attending networking events if you don’t have a goal. You need to have a sense of purpose.”
Glints presenting to young people. Image credit: Glints
Qin En says the key is not to do things aimlessly.
“For instance, you may like marketing. So you will attend workshops, talks and conferences to brush up your skills. If you find that at the end, you don’t like it as much, that’s fine. You can switch interests."
Learning to lead
When asked if his student leadership experiences were useful to his current role as COO of Glints, Qin En chuckles.
“Being a startup founder is different from managing students and employees. In fact, some of our employees are older than us!”
To better manage his employees, Qin En believes in aligning the company’s aims with theirs.
“The title ‘COO’ is meaningless. It is about what you can do. People are only interested in what you can do for them.”
Billionaire, Elon Musk describes entrepreneurship as “staring into the abyss” and “eating glass”. Indeed, entrepreneurs have to be adept at managing risks and confronting challenges.
Qin En says, “The hardest part about entrepreneurship is uncertainty. It lacks a structure. There is no guidance and we ourselves are trying to figure things out.”
Nonetheless, he remains optimistic in spite of the challenges.
“Actually, entrepreneurship by default is failure. Conversely, getting a job is by default success. I choose to bite the bullet and see things through,” he explains.
His advice for social entrepreneurs?
“You have to be relentlessly resourceful. You are never going to have enough money and time. Understand that you have to do this and that you need to figure it out.”