What Were You Up To, at 21?

Fresh out of school and eager to do something different, 21-year-old James Lye opted for the unusual, striking out on his own and creating his own start-up (Photo Source: NTUC This Week)

Being 21 is scary. However reluctant we are, it’s when we finally have to shed the teenage label and face the world as adults.

While some of us were still figuring out what we wanted to do with our lives; others, like this writer, were having too much fun to face up to that reality.

But at 21, nEbO-ian James Lye is already the founder of his own start-up – Personal Media, a social media app targeted at youths.

He isn’t looking to re-invent the wheel, especially with plenty of social media apps already available. Personal Media, he told us, is a one-stop platform that allows users to incorporate all their social media accounts into one app. To date, the app has 10,000 users on board.

Exploring Entrepreneurship

It was in late 2013 when the Singapore Polytechnic (SP) aviation undergraduate realised that he wanted to do more with his life.

“(My business partner) Sam Lee and I were eager, curious students trying to find the best version of ourselves. We were active in community service and national projects raising awareness for aviation-related activities, but we felt we weren’t doing enough,” he shared.

James and his partner wanted to do something “immediate to benefit the community”. They underwent a phase of trial-and-error with a couple of ideas that did not work out, before arriving at the idea that became Personal Media at the start of 2015.

“We did some marketing research in tertiary schools and the feedback we received was that, with many social media apps like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, it was chaotic trying to keep up staying connected with peers and friends. We felt that the solution was to have a single platform where users can do so easily in one place,” he explained.

Getting Inspired

In 2015, James Lye was the president of the YES organising committee. For their efforts, the committee won the Team of Versatility award at the Spirit of Youth Awards 2015. (Photo Source: nEbO)

In 2015, James Lye was the president of nEbO’s YES organising committee. For their efforts, the committee won the Team of Versatility award at the Spirit of Youth Awards 2015. (Photo Source: nEbO)

Shortly after the conception of Personal Media, James expressed an interest to be part of nEbO’s Youth Entrepreneurship Symposium (YES).

The YES is a platform for young, budding entrepreneurs like James to connect with successful entrepreneurs and start-up founders to get tips and insights on how to strike out in their respective business ventures.

In 2015, he was the president of the YES organising committee. For their efforts, the committee won the Team of Versatility award at the Spirit of Youth Awards 2015. The award recognises the team that displays five qualities – creativity, leadership, adaptability, competence and resourcefulness.

In 2016, James returned to YES as a speaker for the Young Start-Ups dialogue segment of the symposium, sharing how he ventured into the start-up scene as a young, budding entrepreneur.

Outside nEbO, James has also been active in various other leadership and entrepreneurship events.

Whether as organiser, speaker or participant, such events have nevertheless allowed him to meet entrepreneurial counterparts from other established businesses, opportunities which James has credited has helped his start-up be better prepared in the road ahead.

He said: “When we first decided to do my own start-up, my partner and I had to read up on entrepreneurship and other skills like marketing from scratch. But such events have allowed me to meet fellow entrepreneurs, with whom we’ve been able to exchange ideas.

“Through our interactions, they give me the affirmation and confidence that Personal Media is on the right track. They have also been helpful through offering different perspectives that will no doubt prepare us for the challenges ahead as we look to continue growing.”

The Next Step

In the next five years, he hopes to expand his business around Southeast Asia, with an immediate focus on continuously improving the app.

One of the challenges he faces is a technical one – optimising the various social media platforms’ application programming interface (API) to make it more easily accessible by users of Personal Media.

“Currently, it’s still a bit cumbersome for users because not every social media app’s API is as friendly as Facebook’s. The ultimate aim is to make it a seamless process such that a user can play Pokemon Go and share it on Facebook with just a tap,” James explained.

Be Fearless

Given his age and his experience in start-ups, James feels he is hardly in any position to be giving advice, but he does have this to say to anyone contemplating striking it on their own.

He said: “I’ve learnt that self-belief is important. As youths, we often doubt ourselves and feel we aren’t good enough to do what we want to.

“But I say, be fearless and just go for it. Should you encounter any difficulties, don’t stop. You should keep going and shouldn’t give up, no matter what.”

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