Failure of first startup opened new doors for SGAG co-founder Karl Mak

The Business Times

KARL Mak is well known as co-founder and chief executive of Hepmil Media Group, the company behind meme site SGAG. But the 34-year-old’s entry into the startup world in fact began with failure.

Mak’s first venture, a software startup, had started out full of promise. It won a high-profile hackathon, secured pilots with large enterprises and seed funding from a venture firm.

Called Televate, the startup came up with a digital solution that would eliminate the customer hotline waiting times for banks and telcos.

The duo joined a hackathon by StarHub in late 2013 and clinched the top prize. It was a dream come true for any aspiring founder – a few banks came on board to try the software. Early-stage investor Quest Ventures put in S$50,000 in seed money.

What Mak did not expect was how much support he would receive upon failing.

“Not that Quest Ventures paid me to say this, but literally, the moment I failed, the managing partner James (Tan) came to me and offered multiple job opportunities within the portfolio companies,” Mak recounted.

There were also valuable lessons from the experience. Mak learned how to build connections from scratch, as well as how to work with a co-founder, which he muses “is kind of like getting married”.

Quest Ventures also came full circle, becoming an investor in Hepmil. Asked about the decision, managing partner Tan said: “Karl learned something from Televate, which is that B2B is very tough and the market (timing) must be right.”

In Tan’s view, it would be too simplistic to say that failure should be celebrated. Rather, any failure should be viewed in the context of whether a founder has grown from the experience.

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