“Reactor School planted the seed of our startup journey, and we’ve continued to leverage their support ever since.”
We often hear of incubators and mentors helping accelerate a startup’s growth. For Jing Jie Huang, engineering student turned entrepreneur and now CEO and co-founder of Novocall, this was Reactor School. Reactor School is a vocal entrepreneurial education (EntreEd) group based in Singapore, designing programs for students aged 13-24. YCombinator finalist Novocall is a conversational sales automation software based in Singapore. Today, they supply their technology to more than 2000 companies in 42 countries.
Reactor School will be debuting in Vietnam with EntreCamp, their flagship 3-day bootcamp. EntreCamp will be delivered in partnership with Fulbright University Vietnam at their new Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) on November 8-10, 2019. (more information at the bottom of this article)
Catalyzing a passion for entrepreneurship among students
In 2017, Jing Jie Huang and Amos Choo, then 22 years old, were pursuing their B.A.s in Electrical Engineering and Information System and Technology Design at Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). There, they attended a workshop facilitated by Reactor School at SUTD’s Entrepreneurship Center.
Engineers in training, neither of them felt equipped nor ready to start an entrepreneurial journey. Little did they know that this workshop would be where they laid the first foundations of what was to become a very successful company.
“At the time we were very clueless about entrepreneurship. I was expecting a bunch of theory, but it was actually a very hands-on approach. We brainstormed ideas using sticky notes, had these same ideas challenged during critique sessions, and learned to build a very early minimum viable product (MVP). Reactor School also introduced us to the startup scene and its inner workings.”
Shortly after Reactor School, during an internship at Singtel, the largest telecom company in Singapore, Amos realized that the typical customer service experience was often a frustrating and irritating affair: Wait times were excruciatingly long, and the technology powering the experience was archaic, complex, impersonal, and inefficient.
”One of the main takeaways from Reactor was the mindset of problem solving and building, which really made starting a business a possibility to consider.” Jing Jie and Amos felt that this was a problem worth solving, and knew that entrepreneurship was the way to do so. They developed a marketable software solution called a Visual Interactive Voice Response, a support platform that guides inbound callers to a web-based support experience. This attributes calls with minimal input, improving responsiveness and user experience.
Novocall — Lift off
“In our early days, we pitched our solutions to big organisations and enterprises, and got rejected by all of them. This happened because we were fresh graduates, and yet we wanted to build an enterprise level solution. We lacked the credibility to justify our ability to deliver to enterprises at scale. So we got back to work.”
Although they faced challenges, Jing Jie and Amos drew upon the lessons they learned from Reactor School to plough ahead with Novocall.
“At Reactor, we learned the tenets of a Minimum Viable Product. This taught us how to focus our efforts, and how to iterate fast. We quickly realized that we needed to change our strategy. So we pivoted, and began targeting small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs).” Jing Jie and Amos were still passionate about issues with traditional and outdated phone calls but knew that they had to target a new type of client. Their Reactor School training provided them with 3 important steps: validate customers to identify their needs, build a minimum viable product, and iterate quickly.
And so they spoke with many SMEs in Singapore, to find that their original Visual IVR solution was not suitable for their needs, as it is typically only implemented in larger scale companies. Instead, SMEs they interviewed were more concerned with engaging more directly with prospective customers, identifying a clear need for shorter response times on the part of the business.
Armed with their experience designing automated call systems, they focused on capturing website visitors, prototyping click-to-callback plugins, before improving on user experience and functionalities.
Jing Jie and Amos’ system became a highly automated call platform, helping SMEs personalise, schedule and qualify calls, incorporating traditional phone calls into the digital journey, reducing response times and drastically increasing conversion rates. Novocall was born.
“The theory we went through was very applicable. Looking back, all the things that we learned at Reactor kept us moving forward. But more than that, the ongoing support Reactor has continued to give us to this day has been invaluable.”
A program that keeps giving
Reactor School aims to not only provide early entrepreneurial education, but most importantly to build a strong ecosystem of startups, founders and investors. They accompanied Novocall on their journey and continue to help them through each stage of their company’s life cycle.
“Ideation and iteration is crucial early on, but then the focus shifts to introductions to lawyers, construction crews and venture capital firms, fundraising, among others. Access to Reactor School’s network of professionals really helped us scale up our company.”
Last year Novocall made it to the final round of interviews for Ycombinator, the renowned seed accelerator that invested in Airbnb and Reddit, among others. “This would not have been possible if not for Reactor School’s introduction to another YCombinator founder, who shared his experience of the process and helped us prepare.”
Novocall is the current recipient of the Singapore Founder Grant (~$22,000), as well as the Business Improvement Fund from the Singapore Tourism Board. Recently, Novocall launched a crowdfunding campaign on a software listing platform, Appsumo, in a bid to market their product overseas. The campaign was a major success, raising more than $150,000 in revenue.
After going through an acceleration program by fintech accelerator “The Finlab”, the company is also incubated with Singapore Management University’s Business Innovations Generator (BIG) and National University Singapore’s “Block 71”.
“Reactor School is bridging a gap within the start-up scene, the lack of support and exchange, locally and regionally, whether through mentorship or information sharing. The startup scene in Singapore is active, but, perhaps similar to Ho Chi Minh City, tends to be too superficial, limited to fixed networks within the confines of coworking spaces. Reactor was instrumental, continuously providing us with introductions.”
For more information on EntreCamp: http://bit.ly/ReactorInfoDeck
To sign up for EntreCamp: http://bit.ly/ReactorRegistration-Open
For more information on Novocall: http://www.novocall.co
Recently, we sat down with Rusydi Khairul, co-founder and CEO of Reactor School, to hear his perspective on Southeast Asia’s growing entrepreneurship ecosystem, the challenges the region’s education system faces in grooming entrepreneurs, and the ways in which Reactor School is helping bridge the two.
Reactor School will be debuting in Vietnam with EntreCamp, their flagship 3-day bootcamp. EntreCamp will be delivered in partnership with Fulbright University Vietnam at their new Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) on November 8-10, 2019 (more information at the bottom of this article).
Southeast Asia – a new, entrepreneurial frontier
Home to Grab, Tokopedia, Garena, and Traveloka, Southeast Asia has become recognized globally as a unique, emerging hub for entrepreneurship and innovation.
For Rusydi, Southeast Asia has shone in its ability to build emergence of hyper-localized startups. “These are not copies of established companies but rather contextualized answers by local founders to local problems. For example, we have Grab, not Uber; Shopee, not Amazon; iFlix, not Netflix.”
Another fascinating observance by Rusydi is how the region has skipped over entire generations of technology – going straight from offline to mobile, skipping the PC altogether. “Ruangguru in Indonesia developed an entire syllabus on mobile. Warung Pintar helped micro mom and pop stores digitalize their businesses.”
But most special of all, Rusydi notes, is the national pride that young Southeast Asians have. “I’ve worked with Vietnamese co-founders, and it’s really interesting to see how intent they are on returning to Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi to give back to their country. I see this all over Southeast Asia, and we should absolutely encourage that. Entrepreneurs should build things that enable positive, lasting change for their communities.”
Fixing a broken education system
The seeds for Reactor School were sown as early as Rusydi’s days at the National University of Singapore. He realized that the education system in Southeast Asia was completely broken.
“A lot of our students just can’t build stuff. We’re good at testing, but the future demands people who can build and solve problems, not answer test questions. Descartes once said, “cogito ergo sum” (I think therefore I am), but I believe all signs are pointing to a future of “struggle ergo sum” (I build therefore I am).”
His answer? Entrepreneurship education.
“I built Reactor School because I believe entrepreneurship education helps us fill that gap. Currently, we only apply 3% of what we learn in the classroom to our daily lives; we learn the rest on the job. I want to optimize that process and help students build skills that remain relevant throughout their life.”
Now in its 7th year, Reactor School is Southeast Asia’s leading entrepreneurship education program. The school counts National University of Singapore, United World College, and Raffles Institution among its more than 60 institutional clients, and has trained more than 6,000 students across Southeast Asia.
Rusydi has come a long way since he first started Reactor School in 2012, and his contribution to Southeast Asia’s entrepreneurship ecosystem has not gone unnoticed. Recently, Rusydi became the youngest nominee for Prestige’s Class of 2019 40 Under 40 and was admitted to the prestigious Sandbox Network, a global community of the top 1000 change-makers under 30.
These accolades have encouraged Rusydi to continue pushing on. “I am humbled by these recognitions. To me, these represent and validate the real need that Southeast Asia has for entrepreneurship education. When I was 21, I was super lost. Helping the youth navigate university and unlock their full potential is incredibly fulfilling for me. Let’s keep at it – let’s help give our youth the tools they need to leave a lasting impact in the world.”
Partnering with CEI on EntreCamp
Rusydi believes Reactor School’s partnership with Fulbright’s CEI will help pave the path forward for budding entrepreneurs in Vietnam.
“Reactor School is an incubator without walls. CEI, on the other hand, is a nexus that brings the best of the world to Vietnam. We share the same philosophy of wanting to empower entrepreneurs to help solve Vietnam and the region’s biggest challenges. Together, we are helping bring world-class education to the ecosystem.
I’m excited to partner with CEI as it is an open, innovative team that is raring to go. We have a white canvas upon which to build a strong foundation for the Fulbright students and wider community, and this gives us the creative freedom to try, test and fail fast.
Vietnam is a rising dragon in the tech and startup arena. There has been an increased amount of investment and talent development that has been fast-rising on the past 3 years, and this signals a great time for the community to band together to ride this upward wave.”
When asked what students can expect coming out of EntreCamp, Rusydi says: “Well, you’ll definitely develop a strong perspective as to whether life as an entrepreneur is for you. During the 3 days, you’ll learn how to take an idea and transform it into a prototype for demo. It will be intense, but you’ll learn a lot. Expect to learn more about yourself – your strengths, your skills, and your purpose in life.”
Students should bring their laptops, an open mind, and ideas, however incomplete or unfinished, with the goal to learn by doing, and understanding the inner workings of building a company.
For more information on EntreCamp: https://fulbright.edu.vn/entrecamp-at-fulbright/
To sign up for EntreCamp: http://bit.ly/ReactorRegistration-Open