Startup founders have infamously unpredictable daily schedules as they work to establish and grow their businesses. What does such an entrepreneur’s weekly, daily, or even hourly routine look like when sometimes there aren’t enough hours in a day? In the Startup Diaries, founders walk us through a week in their lives and show what it really takes to get a fledgling business off the ground.
“You would never think that you could work out for four years at the start of adulthood and be fit for the rest of your life,” Fei Yao says. “And yet so many of us take that approach when it comes to learning.” Her company, NewCampus, which offers daily classes about emerging business, technology, and cultural trends, is an antidote to that mentality. “I think of it as a gym membership for the mind,” she says.
Yao co-founded the business, which operates out of WeWork Labs City House in Singapore, in February, but she began developing the idea about six months prior, as an outgrowth of her now-shelved startup QLC (Quarter-Life Crisis), a company that paired young professionals with short-term gigs and offered remote training along the way.
She’d launched that business in 2015, after leaving a consulting job at Accenture in her hometown of Sydney, Australia, in response to a personal conundrum: “I realized I wanted to do something else, but I didn’t know where to start,” she says. “My network—my friendship circle, my immediate peers—they were all in very similar industries to me.”
QLC allowed her to work from anywhere in the world, and it was on a long-term business trip to Dubai last year that she and her team held the company’s first in-person class. Then another. Then another. “At the time we were like, ‘Why don’t we run a couple of events as a marketing channel for QLC,” she says. “Then we saw people come to our classes and workshops once a week, twice a week—some people every day.” She started to think they might have an entirely new business on their hands.
There was some division among company leadership about whether they should expand QLC’s offerings or relaunch under an entirely new banner. “We put that [decision] off for a long time,” Yao says. But eventually, they made the call and opted to base the new company in Singapore, where they saw a market for their business and where half their existing staff of nine was either based or willing to relocate. (The other half works out of Australia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and India.)
Today, NewCampus has about 155 members and charges fees ranging from $50 a month for two classes to $130 a month for unlimited classes. Yao is working to grow that number and launch in Australia, India, and Japan by this time next year. “Ultimately, our mission is to make sure that in a world that’s changing, people have a sense of belonging,” Yao says. “Because being up-to-date isn’t just about staying relevant in the workforce; it’s about maintaining your sense of worth as well.” Below, she shares a diary of a recent workweek.
8 a.m. Listen to the latest Vox Worldly podcast while making breakfast.
9 a.m. Plan my week ahead. I’ve been sick on-and-off for a few weeks, so I’m playing catch-up.
11 a.m. Weekly growth call with the marketing and sales team. We seek both corporate and individual clients, and one of our hurdles is to make sure that in the case of our corporate clients, their employees are actually coming through the door. The B2B2C market is a little bit tricky because the end user’s not the one paying for the product.
1 p.m. Weekly team catch-up. Half the team is in Singapore, the other half isn’t, but it’s still important for my workers to feel connected. We review teamwide OKR progress. We’ve been experimenting with OKRs for the past 18 months as a way to narrow a shared vision for the year ahead, trying out a new tool called Tability.io.
2 p.m. Catch up with some legal and compliance admin from our recent fundraising round. Fundraising has been a tough journey, but what’s made it a bit easier is that we’d already built credibility in the education space through QLC.
5:30 p.m. Head over to a ClassPass yoga class near home for a serious 60-minute zen session.
7 p.m. Leftovers from Sunday dinner: kimchi soup with plenty of tofu and mushrooms.
8 p.m. Spend a few hours replying to Slack messages and emails that need my input, then read a few articles I’ve bookmarked. Most of them are about learning and the future of work. I make it a priority to understand what’s happening in our space around the world.
11 p.m. Start watching the latest season of Stranger Things. The kids are so grown up!
1:30 a.m. I should really go to bed…
8 a.m. Try a new Innisfree mask in the morning as I prepare breakfast.
9:15 a.m. Find out that my 9:30 a.m. is also late and needs to reschedule.
9:40 a.m. Get to WeWork. Sink into Slack, emails, and deal with some blockers that need my input. There are a lot of small concerns when you run a business—things that are important but not urgent—and part of my job is to keep a running list of these issues. For example, we’ve been looking to improve our class check-in process, so I have to touch base with security at our various coworking spaces.
2 p.m. Discuss new hires with my co-founder. All of our employees either try to grow the number of people coming through the door or work on product experience. What does the in-class experience look like? Do we have the right number of classes per day and week? Now that we’ve finished our latest funding round, we can start filling gaps.
6 p.m. I try to have a monthly one-on-one with everyone on our team. Sometimes it’s work-related, sometimes it’s just banter, but it’s great to get a feel for where everyone’s head is and how I can help. My conversations today are mostly around what good communication looks like and how we can be better with this.
7 p.m. Attend a workshop using Lego Serious Play. The class is about using Lego to express yourself. One of the questions asked is, “Can you describe, using these pieces, a time where your boss made you feel undervalued?” People get really creative: “Here is a cliff where it feels like this person is pushing me to the edge.” “Here is this pit where I felt like I was stuck.” The session feels like group therapy.
9 p.m. Catch a bus home. Kill time browsing social media and scrolling through WhatsApp messages.
9:30 p.m. Make my go-to kimchi soup for dinner with a glass of wine. While I cook and eat, I listen to The Future Is Asian by Parag Khanna. I started this on my Kindle a couple months back but was struggling to find the time to finish it, so I switched to Audible. I’m not the biggest book reader. I want to read more, but I have the attention span of a peanut. Sometimes I default to Blinkist, an app that does 15-minute summaries of nonfiction books.
11 p.m. Play some DoTA2, a multiplayer video game, over another glass of wine.
12:30 a.m. Bedtime.
10:30 a.m. Email and Slack. In addition to keeping the lines of communication open with my staff, it’s important that I stay in close touch with our class hosts. We offer direct feedback from attendees and our own observations about the attendees’ behavior before, during, and after the class.
12 p.m. Lunch with an old friend in the learning and development (L&D) space. We’re working with more enterprise L&D teams to build our classes into their ecosystem, so I’m looking to get some more perspective on what that collaboration could look like.
2 p.m. Read some more articles that I’ve bookmarked. Outside of my immediate sector, I’m incredibly interested in following the transformation of the fitness industry.
4 p.m. Email and Slack again.
7 p.m. Chat with some members arriving for class as I’m heading out. I have dinner plans with a friend from Sydney stopping by Singapore for one night. Lots of laughter and good food.
10 p.m. Back home. Do laundry and clean while finishing off Serial.
9 a.m. Meet one of our members for breakfast. One of the pros of being in the same city as your users is having more hands-on, in-person sessions … over food and coffee!
1 p.m. Start building our new careers pages with Homerun.co.
4 p.m. Weekly leadership catch-up. We review our metrics, progress, and any team concerns.
5 p.m. Continue scoping the new roles and putting together job descriptions.
7:30 p.m. Say hi to some members who are on their way in for class tonight, a pitching and branding workshop.
10 p.m. Back home. Make a mentaiko pasta, have some wine, and chat with my friend.
7 a.m. Wake up a little earlier than usual to wait for a grocery delivery from RedMart. I use this time to continue listening to The Future Is Asian. I also fit in some life admin: book fitness classes, pay off my credit card bills, and line up some more apartment inspections for the weekend.
10 a.m. Head over for a meeting at another coworking space. We’re looking to launch our classes in more spaces across Singapore, so we’re touring a few locations.
12 p.m. Fish soup from the hawker center for lunch while I review some applications. One catches my eye immediately, and I reach out to the candidate to come by next week.
1 p.m. Join the rest of the Singapore team working over at the new Funan Mall WeWork today and spend the afternoon catching up with Slack and email.
4:30 p.m. Beer time! Friday afternoons we have a half-work/half-team social day.
6 p.m. Squeeze in a yoga session and head home early. I’m excited about cooking, doing some masks, and watching Netflix on a Friday night. How’s that for the riveting life of an entrepreneur?
Growing from a few to a few hundred employees takes strategy and the right space.