Singaporean graduate Hao Teo on the start-up game and how he’s giving back to international students
On his very first day in Australia, former international student Hao Teo was greeted with an empty room and no bed or desk. He slept on the floor of his new Australian home for two weeks before his bed would finally arrive. Right then and there, he realised that studying overseas might be more difficult than he imagined.
Sleeping without a bed in the first two weeks however was just the beginning as the Singaporean would soon undergo other challenges that came with being an international student; challenges that included homesickness and learning how to cook properly.
It was this experience that led Hao to the creation of Dibs, a start-up with the intention of helping international students who may find themselves in the same place he was in.
“Problems which [were] faced by internationals 20 years ago are still faced here currently,” Hao said.
What is Dibs?
Hao describes Dibs as a one-stop solution for internationals in Australia. It initially started as a Facebook page but has since transitioned, first into an independent website and now a mobile app. In addition to assisting internationals sell their books and unwanted belongings or move these entirely elsewhere, Dibs has also added transportation and storage services as a supplementary offering. In short, it consolidates everything that internationals need, from necessary services such as home moving and post-rental cleaning to even job development, all in one place.
Much like Hao’s international student journey though, life as an emerging entrepreneur in the start-up game has also been rife with challenges.
As the founder of Dibs, Hao wears different hats – he oversees business development, digital marketing, customer management and stakeholder management. Hao also pitches Dibs to potential investors, which he cites as one of the big obstacles of his business.
Nevertheless, Hao is undeterred and continues to pitch to potential investors.
“I’ve talked to many investors and we’ve got helpful feedback about the community and platform we are building for internationals. We are looking to work with investors who believes in our vision to become the best platform for internationals in the world.”
Hao is also backed by a strong team of volunteers who have helped elevate Dibs.
“There is a saying: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, build a team’. The current co-founders of Dibs, Thai and Linhan, are strong advocates of Dibs,” Hao said.
Together with his team, Hao has managed to find Dibs a suitable workspace for their growing business at outcome.life’s co-sharing community workspace in Carlton, secured partners in transportation service Uspeed and cleaning service Diamond Solutions Cleaning and have engaged the international student community through groups such as ISANA International Education Association, PPIA Victoria, Singaporeans of Victoria and Meld Community.
“It takes real passion to work on a business and not be paid an extended period of time,” Hao said of he and his voluntary team’s collaborative efforts. “Not everyone has that passion.”
Looking beyond university: Advice for other students
Now that he is out of university, Hao says that his tangible experiences in the real world is vastly different to what he knew within the confines of his degree.
“In school, it was fitting the criteria and that got you a HD (high distinction). When doing business, expectations from a customer do not have a fixed template and it is a constant testing process,” he said.
On what kind of advice Hao would give to international students, he advised students be more proactive in social situations.
“Mix around and talk to other people of different cultures. If you wish to stick with only people from your country, it defeats the purpose of going overseas,” he said.
And in terms of career objectives, Hao also cautioned students to look beyond their degree.
“[S]tudies are not everything. The world is changing. The world where you have an ‘iron rice bowl job’ where you can work for 20 years and service a home loan is slowly fading away. This generation needs to keep upgrading to stay current and just studying for a degree is insufficient for that.”
To find out more about Dibs, visit its official website.