[Siblings Special] We speak to Dawn Soo, COO of DocDoc and Eugene Soo, Founder of Epigami about their startup journey.
Author: DBS BusinessClass, Administrator of DBS
Entrepreneurship runs in the blood of this family
And there's no denying it. Elder sister Dawn Soo, co-founded DoctorPage, a doctor booking platform, right out of INSEAD after attaining a Master of Business Administration there. This, despite having to take a massive pay cut and juggle an unrelenting workload. In June last year, DoctorPage and fellow doctor booking platform DocDoc joined forces, with Dawn serving as COO. This year, Dawn's taken on the role of Chief Wellness Officer at health and wellness brokerage platform CXA.
Younger brother Eugene Soo, founded Epigami, an online platform helping students and parents find private tutors, last year while still in university. He invested $20,000 of his own money in the firm and received additional funding from ACE. From a one-man team working out of his bedroom to a team of seven (we're including the office pet here) with their own office, the education startup has truly evolved.
We can't wait to see what else the siblings have up their sleeves.
People say you are "Dawn Soo, Co-Founder and COO of DocDoc and now Chief Wellness Officer at CXA" / "Eugene Soo, Founder of Epigami". Who do you say you are?
Dawn: An accidental entrepreneur hoping to make a difference in the healthcare sector. Adrenaline-seeking junkie, avid traveler, and dog lover.
Eugene: I'm an avid technology lover and a marathon enthusiast, blessed with the privilege of working with some of the best people in the world seeking to make an impact in the world. I also love dance, golf, and reading Japanese comics.
Please share with us the best moment in your startup life.
D: I looked up from my desk one day, about two years ago, amidst a whole lot of chatter coming from the call centre, and suddenly realised I had established, from scratch, a team of fully-trained customer service agents who were following operating protocols I had developed and delivering great experience to our callers. It was so surreal.
E: It's always the times parents share with us their delight for an Epigami tutor we introduced, or when our tutors tell us that they have gotten much more from tutoring than just the monetary incentive. Despite Epigami having gone from me working out of my own bedroom about a year ago, to having our own office with a highly passionate and international team, it's knowing that we've made a difference in someone's life that keeps us going.
How about the lowest moments in your startup career? Have you ever cried?
D: My first 6 months at DoctorPage, while extremely exciting, was also incredibly overwhelming. I had to figure everything out from scratch and manage all matters related to sales, business development and customer service because we were a team of only three. I was juggling a million balls in the air and it felt like if I slipped, ever just so slightly, it would all come crashing down. So I would cry sometimes, out of sheer exhaustion, but I allowed myself no more than a couple of minutes each time, to wallow in self-pity, then I move on.
E: When I was at the ideation phase of Epigami about a year and a half ago, I thought I was ready to pitch and flew to Massachusetts to scout for talent at MIT and Harvard to join me. Unfortunately, I was unable to successfully pitch it to anyone as I realised how much I did not know about the business plan. It was a really humbling experience and served as a reminder to never assume what you know about the business.
In your startup career, were there any secrets that you hid from your co-founders, partner or parents?
D: My parents have always been supportive of my decisions, including that of leaving medical practice for the business world, a choice I'm certain most Asian parents would have struggled to understand. So when I co-founded my first startup right out of INSEAD, I didn't tell my parents about the massive pay cut I had to take. I didn't want to traumatise them further!
E: I remember when I first started interviewing for potential team members or pitching to VCs, I'd often get asked about my age and be told that I was very young. So I'd tell them that I was 26 (which was 2 years older than my actual age at that time), but I wouldn't tell them that that was based off the Chinese lunar calendar. Nowadays nobody really asks me about my age, maybe it's because the past year has truly been a ride and I look much older now!
What's the most eccentric thing about you?
D: I absolutely love the smell of new books. Each time I buy one from a bookstore at the airport, I'd take one good whiff before I start reading it.
E: I love the feeling of pasting a phone screen protector with absolutely no speck of dust in between or cleaning computer gadgets till they look brand new. Dawn used to say that if I can't find a job in the future, I can work at a mobile shop pasting screen protectors.
What are you up to today? What gets you up in the morning?
D: I work with a great team at CXA to help companies get their employees healthier. I advise on corporate wellness strategies that create the greatest impact on workforce health to bring down insurance spend and optimise productivity. I love what I do and truly believe our data-driven solutions will transform this industry. The satisfaction that comes from the knowledge that I'm doing meaningful work, gives me so much joy every day.
E: Today I manage the overall strategy at Epigami and monitor what's working and what's not, so we move quickly and learn from our mistakes fast. I find passionate and highly skilled people from all over the world to join our growing team. Knowing that my work each day serves to empower educators, and to help them make an impact in the lives of children gives me a lot of purpose in what I do.
How do you keep yourself physically and mentally fit for start-up life?
D: I work out almost every day. Sports is an extremely effective way of training your mind to block out white noise, to work through pain and focus on the task at hand. I also try to get at least 8 hours of sleep every night and surround myself with the people I love.
E: I follow Dawn to her workouts, haha. I've also recently gotten quite interested in marathons. Having completed a few half marathons the past year, I'm looking forward to running my first full marathon at the end of the year. I'm hoping to eventually do a triathlon and the Iron Man Challenge in the future.
Offer a life hack (or two) to a young founder
D: Stay humble. Invest in good people.
E: Never forget to acknowledge the people who got you where you are today. Surround yourself with good people.
Movie or song that best describes you
D: "What Are You Waiting For" by Nickelback
"Are you waiting for the right excuse?
Are you waiting for a sign to choose
While your waiting it's the time you lose
What are you waiting for?
Don't you wanna spread your wings and fly?
Don't you wanna really live your life?
Don't you wanna love before you die?
What are you waiting for?"
E: "Monsters University"
It really resonated with me due to my own convoluted academic journey through university. I was rejected by the local universities due to really bad grades in school, and had to plead for a chance to study in a preparatory college in Perth called Canning College. I transferred to the University of Western Australia, later giving up a full scholarship to transfer to the University of Melbourne, finally finishing my undergraduate education at the University of British Columbia, all as a result of trying to transfer into NUS. Looking back, the journey was extremely instrumental in my own startup journey as it led to me meeting my first investors and advisors.
D: "What if I fall? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?" – Erin Hanson
E: "The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night." Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Who and what inspires you?
D: My mother's work ethic, that has enabled her to thrive professionally, despite a financially troubled childhood, and rise through the ranks, from a junior administrative executive to General Manager to Managing Director of her own company with over 400 employees today, is my greatest source of inspiration. It's a stark reminder that I have no excuse for not achieving my fullest potential; given the privileges and opportunities I've been blessed with since birth.
E: My family. Without them, I would be nothing today. They were the ones who believed in me more than anyone, even myself, before I started on this startup journey.
Tell me about Dawn Soo / Eugene Soo in 2030.
D: She is still passionate about healthcare and is part of a charitable foundation that works on improving the health of children and women globally. She is (still) an adrenaline-seeking junkie, avid traveler, and dog lover.
E: I hope to provide underprivileged youths globally with education and open up opportunities previously inaccessible. I also hope to be able to help young founders build their startups, and maybe I'll also have more time to dance by then!
Name 1-3 startup founders in Singapore you'll like to hear answer these questions.
D: Chirag Tejuja from Tabsquare (and fellow INSEAD alum!)
E: Johnbosco and Jonathan from Packnada.
Published Date: 4 December 2014