She became a multi-millionaire five years ago, but to this day, entrepreneur Lim Qing Ru steadfastly refuses to lead an extravagant lifestyle.
Instead, the 34-year-old continues to live simply, and is prudent with the way she spends her money. The only exception to this is when it comes to giving back to society – Qing Ru is part of LadiesFirst, a social group formed by local female entrepreneurs who support charities like the Arc Children's Centre. Qing Ru has also invested her time and money in 20 young, budding technopreneurs and advised a dozen more.
Explaining why she refuses to splurge on herself, despite having the means to do so, Qing Ru says, “When I was young, my dad had to moonlight as a taxi driver to make ends meet. I grew up not having much. So when I had the means to pursue luxury it didn’t tempt me as much.
“Becoming a millionaire didn’t change who I am. If anything, I am motivated to put the money to good use. We can’t bring wealth with us when we pass on, but we can bring with us a sense of fulfilment of having made an impact in this world.”
Qing Ru (second from right) at her Commencement ceremony in 2008.
Qing Ru’s willingness to invest in local start-ups, in particular, stems from her own experiences as a young entrepreneur more than 10 years ago.
Then a National University of Singapore (NUS) philosophy student, Qing Ru happened to chance upon the University’s then-modest start-up scene, where she joined four others to co-found a new tech company called Zopim.
The start-up’s core product was a chat widget that allowed businesses to send instant messages to customers so they could provide real-time customer service. While such technology is common today, it was still in its infancy back then, and Zopim was among the pioneers in developing such a software.
Qing Ru and her co-founders, however, faced many challenges at the start of their Zopim journey, especially when it came to finances. They had a grant from the Infocomm Media Development Authority which paid them S$500 a month, and when that was exhausted after 2 years, they went without a salary for almost a year.
Qing Ru, who was working part-time for an angel group to support herself at Zopim, admits that she found the going tough in the first few years of the start-up, particularly with regards to her social life.
“I wanted to meet my friends for dinner, but I didn't want to pay $20 for a meal, because I didn't have that money to spend,” Qing Ru recalls. “Many of my friends were on a faster career trajectory than I was back then…they had regular jobs, got promotions, and so had much more spending power than I did.
“Despite that, I never seriously considered quitting, nor did I feel stressed about being left behind, because I knew that everyone's trajectory is different. More importantly, I was happy where I was, so that kept me at Zopim.”
Among the things that kept Qing Ru and her co-founders going in the difficult times was the trust and respect they had for one another.
“I could trust them, and trust that we could come to good decisions and work problems out,” says Qing Ru. “Sometimes we got angry, but it was because we cared so much for the product and the company. While we felt those negative emotions, we also let them pass without harping on them. We then channelled that energy into finding ways to fix problems with the product.”
Qing Ru (second from left) with fellow co-founders of Zopim.
Qing Ru’s decision to stick with Zopim was eventually vindicated, as they went on to grow and become one of the most successful and popular chat providers in the world.
This led to the company being bought over by customer service software company Zendesk in 2014 for close to US$30 million.
And while humanities and technology might appear to be diametrically opposing subjects, Qing Ru believes she would not have been able to succeed at Zopim without having studied philosophy at NUS.
Pointing to the likes of Jack Ma and Peter Thiel – the co-founders of Alibaba Group and Paypal respectively – as examples of humanities majors who have succeeded in the technological sector, Qing Ru explains, “The required readings in humanities are notoriously hard to read and understand. You also have to simplify it, structure it and put it in different frameworks. Only then will you be able to critically analyse it from different perspectives.
“Similarly, there are many different aspects to a tech start-up. There’s the technology itself, the operations, the marketing, the sales…you have to switch between these different gears and sometimes piece them together. Also, being able to explain complicated concepts in very simple terms is a key skill that one picks up when studying humanities.”
Qing Ru (first row, second from right) was part of the University Scholars Club’s Executive Committee while she was in NUS.
She also credits the support provided by the NUS Enterprise’s Overseas College (NOC) Programme for helping to make the Zopim venture successful.
“When we first started out…we were one of the very few start-ups in NUS around, and it was very easy for us to get various resources from the University,” says Qing Ru. “What we lacked then was the rich entrepreneurial ecosystem that we have now and predecessors who could share their experience with us.
“But what we did have were mentors who were more than willing to help us whenever we were stuck. We could tell that they were doing it because they genuinely wanted to see us succeed, and we’re really grateful to them for the help they gave us.”
Qing Ru added that NOC has grown from strength to strength over the years, and is now the “best programme in Singapore that nurtures entrepreneurs”.
She says, “Some of the founders of successful local brands, like Carousell, 99.co, and Shopback have come from NOC, so the programme has a track record that speaks for itself. The ecosystem cultivated by NUS Enterprise is extremely comprehensive, diverse and dynamic, and that really helps to motivate you in a start-up.”
Qing Ru (first row, first from left) visited Google as part of NUS Enterprise’s innovative Local Enterprise Achiever Development (iLEAD) programme in 2008.
Qing Ru herself is passionate about helping the next generation of entrepreneurs and NUS students.
That is why — apart from investing in numerous start-ups — she has also volunteered to sit on the Advisory Board of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS). Among the responsibilities that role entails are advising on the strategic directions of the Faculty, and providing students with connections for internships, mentorships, funding and other strategic initiatives.
But, while having a good support system like the ones provided at FASS and NUS Enterprise is important, Qing Ru believes that hard work is still the most important key to success.
“Don't expect the company to hand out opportunities right at the start. Work hard, put in the hours and do better than you're expected to do. Once you’ve proven your value and made yourself indispensable, opportunities will come.”