Entrepreneurship with a cause is often used by companies as a flashy corporate social responsibility campaign, but within a few minutes of meeting Ivan Chang, it becomes clear that he is eager to reimagine the start-up scene, both here and abroad. “I think that’s the way I can pay it forward—by helping other entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, succeed,” the founding CEO of Wonderlabs tells us.
(Wonderlabs is a rapid prototyping development studio that helps entrepreneurs and startups create and launch minimal viable products in under 30 days.)
How did you get started initially and what inspired you to do what you do?
I think entrepreneurship and innovation have always appealed to me as ways of life. I was able to pursue this at age 14, when I started an apparel printing and corporate gifts firm. That was set up with just $72 and I sold it five years later. Two years later, I started my first start-up and that was how I got started in the tech start-up scene.
Ivan Chang and Wonderlabs co-founder Keith Tan at the opening of the second Wonderlabs campus in Yogyakarta.
I have always been inspired by mavericks in the business world, who dared to take risks and stray from the unconventional path. I was also drawn to the world of entrepreneurship because I saw it as a way of challenging myself and overcoming my own fears—it’s also a great way of believing in yourself.
Can you share your greatest inspiration/motivation in life?
I’d like to outdo myself every time. So I would say self-improvement is my main driving force. If I fail, I learn to get better, instead of being discouraged or disheartened.
What would you say is your purpose in life?
I think it is to mentor a new generation of entrepreneurs and thought leaders in Singapore’s business community. Each seed that I plant with an idea can sprout to great heights and support so many more in the community. That’s the great thing about being a part of the business scene—you’re never really helping just one person, but changing the lives of entire communities as well. For example, with Wonderlabs, we’ve given opportunities to tech talents in Indonesia—by doing that, we are indirectly helping their families break the poverty cycle.
What impact would you like to make in the world?
I’d like to see a world with fewer inequalities—education is the way to bring that about. Which is why the Wonderlabs Foundation is committed to giving back to our youths. That’s why we set up an endowment fund of $50,000 to help SMU students go on overseas exchange programmes. My own experience at Babson College was an enriching experience that I think every tertiary student deserves to and should have.
It’s my way of giving back, having been a scholarship beneficiary myself.
What does success mean to you and what is the greatest success you’ve experienced?
One of my greatest successes is having been able to give back through my work. I work closely with charities and youth groups to help nurture and groom the next generation. To me, success means lifting up the community with me and that’s what I strive to do every day.
Can you share about the mentors in your life and how they’ve helped to shape and guide you over the years?
Prof Tan Wee Liang, Associate Professor of Strategic Management at SMU. He’s perhaps one of the strongest and largest influences in my work, constantly pushing me to think from different angles. He takes a contrarian approach, which means that he doesn’t spoon feed ideas but mounds then to form something better.
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Find out how to stay hungry longer. Always look for the next big opportunity and grab it, instead of being content with the status quo.
What is the most interesting life experience you’ve had so far?
A few years ago, I met the love of my life and we continue to explore the world together. Our most recent destination was Iceland and the sight of the Northern Lights was breathtaking, to say the least.
What are your hopes and aspirations for the future?
I hope to continue working on my start-up and start several more. As mentioned, I hope they will be a force for good, beyond succeeding financially.
Ivan Chang and Wonderlabs co-founder Keith Tan meet Minister for Communications and Information Dr Yaacob Ibrahim during a visit to Yogyakarta.