Opinion Piece: Why Singapore Is The Worst Place To Start a Tech Start-up

The conditions here are far from ideal, especially if you’re just starting out

By Keith Tan

October 7 2018

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of STYLEGUIDE.

Opinion piece by Keith Tan, co-founder of Wonderlabs which operates 3 offshore software development centres in Indonesia, employing 125 software engineers in Yogyakarta and Bandung.

So you’ve got a space at the LaunchPad, a few hungry graduates you call ‘employees’, a Slack chat up and running, and you’re all set to be known as "The One Behind The Next Big Start-Up".
But I have some bad news for you. You might have the idea of a lifetime, but starting a tech start-up in Singapore may be something you regret in the long run. Despite its reputation as the region’s start-up hub, the conditions here are far from ideal, especially if you’re just starting out.

 Here’s why:

 1) Expensive Tech Talent

Key to every tech start-up is strong tech talent, and chances are, you’re not going to find that in the Little Red Dot. Look around you — tech startups are springing up every day, but graduates with software expertise are rare gems. 

And the ones you can find here are often expensive. The head of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce recently recounted to The Straits Times difficulties faced by Silicon Valley technopreneurs in Singapore. They found a “shortage of good IT developers” with “unrealistic remuneration expectations”.

Don’t expect stellar quality either — he goes on to say that these technopreneurs were “disappointed with the quality and quantity of output”. Ouch. 

2) Expensive, well, everything else

IT geeks aren’t the only expensive things here — everything else you could possibly need, from office rental to transport can quickly wipe out your funds. I’m not the only one saying it; property consultancy firm Knight Frank named Singapore the most expensive city in Southeast Asia for tech start-ups. Need I say more? 

3) No promiscuity

Maybe it’s our conservative Asian values, but we somehow don’t seem to realise that promiscuity pays. Racking up experience at one firm and bringing it to another start-up isn’t stealing ideas. It’s spreading valuable insights and contacts throughout the start-up ecosystem! That brings the whole sector forward. But remember, promiscuity is NOT job-hopping. That’s just not cool, man. 

Last word: If you want the benefits of Singapore, but not its high costs, offshoring may be your best bet.

Read more of Keith's musings on entrepreneurship here.