Cultivating Entrepreneurs: A Chat with Reactor’s Rusydi (Part 1)

As Angela Ducksworth succinctly summarised, “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals, it is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Grit is often labelled as the top trait an entrepreneur needs to succeed in the cut-throat environment of entrepreneurship. Where 9 in 10 of startups fail, founders need to stand out from the pack.

Being different from others gives you a higher chance of survival.

That was how Khairul Rusydi tested aspiring entrepreneurs at Reactor School. Each time a student came to him with a startup idea, he would deliberately tell them not to do it.

However, those who persist and work on it are the ones who will often succeed. The reason? They were probably more stubborn, gritty and wouldn’t take no for an answer s easily. The ones who gave up at their first ‘no’? They were unlikely to have enjoyed the Zero-to-One process, and leading them on to becoming a co-founder might have actually been doing them a disservice.

Rusydi is the Co-founder and CEO of Reactor School (www.reactor.school). Developing entrepreneurship programmes for youths aged 13-24, Reactor seeks to elevate the levels of entrepreneurial mastery in youths. Its mission is to be the leading startup ecosystem developer in the region, with its vision of cultivating the galaxy’s best founders.

Rusydi is a graduate from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and is also a board member of Advisory Singapore and The Young SEAKers. He previously served as a board member of *SCAPE, and was a panellist on the SG Youth Action Panel with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY).

Tun Yong (TY): What was the problem you identified that led you to the idea to start Reactor?

Rusydi (R): I felt that the education system was broken. A lot of our students are good at pen and paper testing but lack the skills to build things. Our thesis is that if we get someone to be comfortable with extreme levels of uncertainty, it sets them up for success regardless of the career they go on to have.

No other environment is filled with extreme levels of uncertainty than startups. If you get students to be comfortable working in a startup environment and dealing with the uncertainty, it helps to set them up for success.

We believed that even though every student need not be an entrepreneur, they should have an entrepreneurial mindset.

Tun Yong (TY): Do youths today miss out that starting up requires a lot of hard work and sacrifices?

Rusydi (R): There are two camps to this. You have students that are aware of the difficulties of being an entrepreneur. Despite that, they still go for it. And you have students who are less, or not aware at all. Their definition of startups and entrepreneurship is quite different.

To some students, revolves around high-tech entrepreneurship, building a high-growth company in industries such as infocomm technology, biotech, alternative food sources for example. For others, their perception of entrepreneurship is that of a lifestyle business. For example, setting up a blog shop, home-based businesses or selling stuff online.

I think it is important that every student is self-aware of what they are looking for in their entrepreneurship journey. There’s no one right answer, but as long as they are cognizant of the risks and sacrifices required, that’s most important.

Being an entrepreneur is never easy. When students or my juniors come up to me with an idea for starting up, I will always tell them no by default.

The ones who are stubborn enough and will work on their idea anyway are the ones who will have a higher chance of succeeding. Those who stop working on it because I said no are not going to take their idea very far anyway, as they lack conviction in it.

The Reactor School team

Tun Yong (TY): Do you think youths today embrace fear and failure better than previous generations?

Rusydi (R): To be frank, I don’t think there is any difference. However, there is a portion of our youths today who are more aware because of better entrepreneurship education.

EntreEd across the region has improved. More students are going for programmes such as the NUS Overseas College (NOC) and entrepreneurship courses in high school through Reactor or our partners. They are now more aware of the opportunities presented and that’s good.

Whenever we work with students, there would be one of three outcomes. The first group will dedicate themselves to entrepreneurship as they realised it is suited for them and would work on it for their career.

Another group would try out entrepreneurship and realize it is not something that they want to pursue further. They would rather be a salaried person and that is perfectly fine.

The last group, which I see is increasing, would realise entrepreneurship is not suited for them currently. However, they might come back to it 3-5 years down the road.

Tun Yong (TY): Do you think the choice of the last group of students you mentioned (coming back to entrepreneurship after 3-5 years in corporate jobs) the optimal path to take?

Rusydi (R): It depends on the industry they are seeking to enter. It is not necessarily a bad thing for them to work and get experience first.

There are a lot of B2B problems that need solving. If you notice, a good 60-70 per cent of student-led startups from university are B2C, because this is the current worldview of the young founder. They may not be aware of the issues or problems in the oil & gas or logistics industry, for example.

There are numerous problems in these industries to be solved. If you are keen on doing something that is B2B in nature, then it makes sense to go out and work in the government or private sector first in order to gain a deeper understanding of the opportunities there.

For example, I’m currently working with a mid-career professional on his startup idea that is based around workflow productivity in large factories and processing plants. He was able to do spot these opportunities having observed the industry practices for quite a while.

Interested in learning about Reactor and the work they do? Check them out here.

Stay tuned for the second part of the interview series, as Rusydi shares his thoughts on youths in the region and how young founders can confidently pitch to experienced stakeholders.

This interview is part of our “Founders X EDGE” series where we seek to hear the insights of youth entrepreneurs to demystify the scene and empower youths to turn their ideas into reality. Do reach out to us if you are interested in being featured alongside other great, young minds!

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Tun Yong Yap

Passionate about start-ups that identify problems, develop ideas and execute solutions that value-add to the community. As the Content Manager at EDGE, I seek to connect with youth founders to share their story and inspire others to turn their ideas into reality.

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