Lost and Founded Series - Grace Sai

Allow Grace Sai, CEO and Co-Founder of The Hub Singapore, to tell you why she thinks starting a business is way harder than marriage.


Author: DBS BusinessClass, Administrator of DBS

Grace Sai, CEO and Co-Founder of The Hub Singapore, never wants to stop believing. Her first calling as a social entrepreneur, is to solve problems that are often neglected. This led to the birth of The Hub Singapore - part of a thriving global community of entrepreneurs who are seeking to build a better world. Grace is also, among other things, an Advisor on the Board of Ben and Jerry's Singapore, a Social Entrepreneur-in-Residence at INSEAD and advises the Malaysian government on their national social entrepreneurship strategy. She has been named as Cosmopolitan's Top 12 Female Leaders in Singapore (2014) and was also recognized in Prestige Singapore's Top 40 Under 40. She scales mountains. Literally.

People say you are "Grace Sai, CEO of The Hub Singapore". Who do you say you are?

A much more multi-faceted person than that! I wish it was that simple :)

Best moment in your startup life. It was so good you wanted to fly BusinessClass somewhere with someone, and pop open the most expensive bottle of champagne there.

When the CEO of the ArtScience Museum shared that when she landed in Singapore for her new posting in 2014, The Hub Singapore was one of the Top 3 Places she wanted to visit (the first being the Museum of course). That was a wake up call for us that The Hub has not only become a startup epicentre, but it also provides a glimpse of Singapore's progressive and cool culture.

What secret did you hide from your co-founder or partner or parent for the longest time? Why?

That I am a huge risk-taker. They might get scared. :)

What's the most eccentric thing about you? If VCs found out, they won't have signed the term sheet then. But hell with that now.

That I am using their money for the soft things - building a community that allows people to pursue their passion. How is that monetizable or profitable, one might ask? But to me, the hard things (infrastructure, capital) are easier to build than the soft.

Have you ever cried? Or what was the lowest, crappiest moment in your start-up life. You wanted to give up everything. You wanted to kill someone. (During your startup career of course) Tell us more!

There was a period of time where I had a burnout. Starting The Hub took me 9 months, but I had saved up enough money to last only 7 months. To pull through the extra 2 months before my round of fundraising was closed, I sold my mom's best-in-town fruitcakes at premium prices to my rich friends. Thankfully, everything fell into place with having found the red building and having closed funding in time to start The Hub. By the time we launched, and when I hoped things got easier, workload piled up even more from all fronts: Hubbers, investor, shareholders, partners, team members… While I enjoyed most parts, there were definitely times where I wish did not happen, and when they did, I just wanted them to disappear. As a go-getter, ‘Grit' was my religion and I did not admit I was tired even when it was obvious to everyone that I was. It took my wonderful team (Katrin, Dawn and Kirsty) during our team retreat in Ubud, Bali to point out that I was having a burnout. When they did, I just cried. And they cried too. That was the first time where we paused as a team to reflect on what a journey it had been so far – I love my team and could not have done it without them.

What are you up to today? What gets you up in the morning?

The Hub is growing into our second, bigger space, so today I have team meetings, partnership discussions across government and corporations and an event with the tech community at Blk 71/ 79!

How do you keep yourself physically and mentally fit for start-up life?

By blocking off time in the calendar for ‘thinking big picture work', running, dinners with friends. Having really smart friends who have gone through the battlefield to help and advise you is key. So is meditation, biking and skiing. I have to ski and dive once a year, and preferably climb a mountain too.

Offer a life hack (or two) to a young founder.

Life is short, spend your life solving problems worth solving, especially problems that have been neglected by both the public and private sectors. These are the stubborn, sticky issues that require a lot of creative ways of looking at and tackling them. That's why I am a social entrepreneur. Making money can be easier than solving a real problem and creating meaning. Another one would be to hire slow, fire fast and take it slow on ‘who you go to bed with'. In the case of partners, co-founders and investors, starting a business together is more difficult than a marriage - you have to give birth to the baby first before dating enough! So take your time and get advice.

Movie or song that best describes you.

Don't Stop Believing by The Journey (Cheesy but true!)

Favourite quote.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead (author and philosopher)

Who and what inspires you?

People who are not waiting till they are 60 to leave a legacy and make a positive impact to the world.

Tell me about Grace Sai in 2030.

Writer, mother, wife, entrepreneur + policy-maker.

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