5 Questions With Ryan Chew, COO and Co-Founder of Tribe, Bringing Tech Communities Together

Ryan Chew, Tribe

Ryan Chew co-founded Tribe with the intention to bring tech communities – and specifically blockchain technology communities – together. The idea came up when Ryan was eating Roti Prata with Ng Yi Ming (who would eventually become his co-founder at Tribe) one night. They talked about how the limelight was on cryptocurrencies and it was grabbing everyone’s interest, while the blockchain technology behind it was being overlooked.

While Tribe wasn’t the first business for either co-founder, it feels like they were always destined to build a startup together. The pair first met when they were studying at Singapore Polytechnic more than 10 years ago. They were subsequently posted to the same military formation during their National Service (NS), and each went on to start their own business near Block 71 – regularly referred to as the heart of Singapore technology start-up ecosystem – where they kept in constant contact.

Tribe was initially conceived as an accelerator programme for blockchain technology start-ups. The duo quickly realised that apart from helping companies to accelerate their progress, there was a big shortage of talent in Singapore’s blockchain technology scene. Even if there were blockchain startups and companies successfully operating in Singapore, a lack of talent pool would limit their ability to scale and develop. This led to Tribe starting their Training and Talent programmes.

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Today, Tribe has grown to a 30-man team in their three businesses – Accelerator, Training and Talent – providing solutions for the entire blockchain value chain.

Tribe team
Ryan Chew (third from left), Ng Yi Ming (third from right)

Even Greater Need For Technology Companies And Talent In The Post COVID-19 World

As Ryan puts it “there is a big pressing need for digitalisation and transformation”. This is especially so as COVID-19 has accelerated digital trends. At the same time, COVID-19 has also rendered many jobs redundant – as technology takes over more functions.

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Through its accelerator programme, Tribe readies startups to solve real-world challenges. It connects budding startups to companies and investors. This enables blockchain startups to build out solutions that existing companies already need to solve. They are also connected to investors, who can pour in funding to supercharge growth. Tribe also works with Enterprise Singapore (ESG) to lower their operational costs – which ultimately allows them to include more startups in their accelerator programme.

On the talent-front, even though Singapore may be considered an advanced economy and first-world nation, blockchain is a frontier technology. And there is a dearth of talent in the country. 

While Tribe’s Talent programme is meant to help companies hire the right talent, a shortage of talent means that a bigger spotlight is now placed on its ability to train new talent in the industry.

When we spoke to Ryan, he highlighted several thrusts for the company in this area. Partnering with SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) and Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Tribe has launched Go School “where we help to teach people Go Lang (Language)”.

Workers that have been made redundant because of COVID-19 are unlikely to have sought-after digital and technology skills. Similarly, even good businesses and startups today need to add tech abilities to continue growing and be relevant in the coming #NewNormal. Ryan explains that the problem is that it’s virtually impossible to train “someone to go from zero to one over a very short period of time” in technology skills. 

Another problem Ryan highlights is that people working in different job functions may not “have that particular interest, but that (also) doesn’t deviate from the need of the industry to digitalise.”

Tribe’s solution is their latest No Code programme which allows people to build “incredible apps without even writing a single line of code”. Ryan believes this will help more SMEs and startups to digitalise.

No Code solutions already exist all around us, and we need to train people who do not have the ability or confidence to pick up those skills. Some examples of no code solutions are Word Press to build our website, Shopify to set up our digital storefront, and even Air Table and Bubble which can help you “create a replica of Uber (or) Spotify (or) any website easily, you can (also) build your own management systems” such as online menu and online ordering services. Ryan also elaborated that many of the people that sign up for their No Code programme tend to be entrepreneurs themselves.

To understand Ryan’s thought process and daily life and challenges as an entrepreneur better, we asked him some personal questions as well.

Dinesh Dayani (Dinesh): As co-founder and COO of an accelerator, I’m sure you have your ways of deciphering if a start-up is worth investing in. What are a few things you typically look at?

Ryan Chew (Ryan): I think the founders play a massive, massive part. Do they have grit, are they able to take it on the chin, are they able to get back up when they fall. I think these are the very tell-tale signs of whether this person can succeed or not because eventually your first idea might not be your last idea on this particular journey. Especially through personal interactions with the founders, you do see a lot of these similar traits.

The other one is resourcefulness. Is this person able to think his way out of situations, and try to look at the resource that he has on hand and how to creatively leverage on (it) to problem solve.

Dinesh: You probably look at start-ups growth plans and consider whether they make good investments on a daily basis. Can you share how you manage your personal investments differently or similarly?

Ryan: Externally, people think I’m a massive risk taker. So, I’m a massive risk taker when it comes to my career (and) trying to solve problems or launching a startup 

But, on the other side, when it comes to managing my personal finance I tend to be a little bit more conservative because I can’t have risk all around. That’s not a well-rounded portfolio. So, I would say, moderate to high in terms of how conservative I am in terms of my own personal finance. A variety ETFs, cash – there’s definitely some cash component – (and) more secure stuff like REITs.

You never know when you’re saving for rainy days. (As a startup owner), on top of your own personal rainy days there’s a company’s rainy days to prepare for. 

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Dinesh: You grew up in a home where your father spent 20-hour days on his work. I’m sure you also spend a lot of time on your startup, but what are some things you do in your free time?

Ryan: I used to do a lot of sports, but after I had surgery (on) my shoulders I don’t do so much contact sports anymore. So, now I’m also playing a little bit of golf, but I’m not good at it.

That’s it, it’s a bit boring – I’m sorry.

Dinesh: Can you share your favourite books you recommend to aspiring entrepreneurs/ your start-up entrepreneurs?

Ryan: The book left the biggest impression (on me) is Black Swan, and the follow-up book from the same author, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder. (Another one is) Hard Thing About Hard Things (by Ben Horowitz).

(Today, I) listen to podcasts a lot. Something I’ve been advocating to everyone is Acquired. The amount of research they do (on different startups), going back to how they first started all the way to when they get acquired and all the challenges in between. They are doing amazing job in terms of how they story-tell. It’s both entertaining and informative.

Dinesh: What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are looking to raise funds to grow their business?

Ryan: I think, first thing you need to know is why are you raising the fund. What are you going to use the funds for. I think that’s very important because on the other side, the people who are putting their money into you want to see (a) multiplier. So, it’s important that you’re not simply using the funds (for other reasons, and) to not scale.

What you’re trying to get people to invest in (is) a vending machine (which is what your business has to be). You put $1 in, and $2 or $3 comes out. So, how are you going to use their funds to generate the kind of return to fuel the growth of your startup. Have a clear plan of what you want to use that fund for before you go out raising it.

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