Mel Nava: From Corporate Worker to Entrepreneur

The IdeaSpace Startup Competition Digest is a series that gives participants of the of the competition exclusive access to a wide variety of content to help them get inspired and finish their applications.

In this installment, we are hearing from 1Export Founder Mel Nava on the significance of her work experience in running her startup.

March 2017 — This was the time when I told myself, on the month that I turned 29, that the gift I would give myself was freedom — freedom to decide my future, beginning with how my career will go. I began by getting out of my corporate job — and hoped to never come back. So I decided to become a startup founder.

Little did I know that it will only be the start of a lifelong pursuit of figuring out things like “product-market fit” and improving “customer journeys” and “sales cycles”, of stretching your time, yourself, and your financial runway in ways you’d never imagine, and of learning things about yourself like who you are as a founder, what values you will build your company on, and how you will make and execute decisions based on what you know and how it will impact the present and the future.

1Export Team circa 2016, from left to right, Mel Nava, Sofia Ang, Clive Karsten Lim, in Hawaii for Mobile World Congress regional finals

I initially wanted to pursue a startup because I had a notion that startups were cool, that you could manage your own time and set your own rules, and work for yourself. Going through the journey, I found out that more than “coolness” there are much more important things to focus on. And that reality is, startups are very hard to work on. You focus on staying alive day in and day out and it is necessary to do whatever you can to make that happen. And when you have people to manage and customers to attend to, you work for them and not yourself.

Running a startup is not just about the business but also about sustaining your needs. Coming from a corporate job with a stable salary, I had experienced not being paid for a few months. I was lucky to have a very supportive family that supported some of my basic needs. I started living in packed lunches instead of eating out and I rode the MRT more instead of getting a GrabCar ride. I would usually spend weekend dinners at home instead of going out with friends. But those sacrifices, combined with the hunger to succeed allowed me to focus on things that mattered — on sales, on customers, and on the value we could deliver to our stakeholders.

Currently, we have grown our customers from 6 to 60 in the span of 16 months, and we now export in three key markets, targeting 100 storefronts. And because of this, I can say that after a year and a half after I quit my corporate job, there are no regrets.

Running a startup is a journey that is really filled with much uncertainty both in managing the company and my personal life. And I can say that what helped me most is the work experience that I gained from the corporate world.

Team 1Export being awarded at the IdeaSpace 2018 Acceleration Kick-off

I strongly believe that the knowledge that I gleaned from my corporate work has helped me manage and without it, I don’t think we’d be where we are today. It has taught me the basic structures and certain disciplines that I needed to run an actual business while figuring out the rest along the way.

The startup, on the other hand, gives you the freedom to execute the vision that you want for the problems that you wanted to solve. I believe that it is the balance of both that is necessary to pursue a startup that will hopefully last as long as the traditional companies I have worked for.

Ready to continue working on your application? Simply click here to open your entry: http://platform.younoodle.com/client/entry-rounds/ideaspace_7th_startup_competition/entries/61413474775271437075537554774f32/checklist

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