An Afternoon with Robin Oh: From Carpentry to Entrepreneurial Mentorship

We recently spent some time with Robin Oh, our Sales and Business Development Lead, and an experienced educator in the field of entrepreneurship, to understand more about his background, and what having an entrepreneurial mindset means to him.

Q: How did you start out as an entrepreneur, and where did that journey take you?

Robin: Well, like many entrepreneurs, I started by testing out different ideas back in the day. I had quite an experimental phase, changing ideas almost every month, and it was a rollercoaster ride, to be honest. At times, it felt like I was lost in a maze of my own making, constantly questioning why I was diving into ideas I didn’t have much expertise in.

Eventually, I went back to my roots. Since I had a background in interior design from my poly days, I thought “why not start a furniture company?” The dream was simple: to create bespoke furniture in an industry devoid of young talent – and I’m grateful that I had a partner who was from the same background and was all for that idea.

Q: And where did that journey lead you?

Robin: After about a year and a half, we realised that being your own boss was less lucrative than we thought. However, we did gain some valuable contacts and clients – referrals via word of mouth that proved to be invaluable.

This led me to an opportunity with OneMaker Group, an organisation supporting the maker movement in Singapore, by building communities and prototyping commercialisable products. I took this opportunity to grow beyond what I was previously doing and moved into a leadership role, heading a team of five people across HR, operations, and innovation. It was a significant step up and broadened my perspective and involvement on the maker movement.

Q: For entrepreneurs, lessons can come from anywhere. What’s an unexpected lesson you learned in your trade?

Robin: Ah, there’s a story for this one. We once had a client request to turn recycled Malaysian railway wood into a coffee table, from a returning client who had a stash of rare wood. It was a challenging process as termites had damaged the wood, making it costly to restore. While the results could be better, this experience sparked a new unique selling proposition (USP) for our business to try: upcycling.

Inspired by upcycling brands like Freitag, which makes bags and accessories from used truck tarps, we started thinking along the same lines. We experimented with pallets, transforming them into furniture, and even looked at repurposing old art installations. Demand for our services surged, and we saved money on raw costs while differentiating ourselves in the market. It was a win-win.

Upcycling Malaysian railway wood, “Sleeper wood”

Q: In the world of entrepreneurship, the term ‘entrepreneurial mindset’ also gets around a lot. What does having an entrepreneurial mindset mean to you?

Robin: For me, having an entrepreneurial mindset means being comfortable with the uncomfortable. When you get sucked into a routine, you stop learning. As an entrepreneur, you need to constantly experiment with new tools and technologies, combining your experiences to create something new. This is what sets you apart from others.

Q: Following your stint in entrepreneurship, we saw that you also went on to teach other entrepreneurs at the startup school, Reactor. In your opinion, what makes a workshop a successful one?

Robin: A successful workshop has two equally satisfying outcomes: those who realise that entrepreneurship is for them, and those who realise it’s not.

If someone discovers that this path of being an innovator isn’t for them, that’s perfectly fine by me too. It’s better to know early on than to dive in and regret it later. My job (which I take pride in), is to help students and clients find clarity in their life, whether that’s pursuing entrepreneurship or pursuing a different career altogether.

Running an overseas immersion programme for South Korean students

Q: On a lighter note, what’s a fun fact you’ve learned in your trade?

Robin: Carpentry is valued very differently in Australia compared to how it is in Singapore. In Australia, carpenters can command salaries as high as doctors. Imagine that!

Here in Singapore, though, it’s not as valued. This difference is largely due to space constraints — houses here are small, which limits the quality and build of furniture people can have. People also value function over design here, making the market for customised furniture small.

However, there are exceptions, like Roger & Sons, a local furniture brand which has managed to find their footing in the market by weaving their legacy as a homegrown family trade into their brand story and philosophy.

Q: Closing off this interview, what’s one saying you’d like to leave our readers with?

Robin: My mentor once said this to me, “In the world of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” People don’t know what they don’t know. You don’t need to know everything, just a bit more than others. This mindset has been my guiding light. It’s like a game where you just need to stay a step ahead to win. And that one ‘step’ can simply involve having the guts to try something new while others are figuring out the basics.

So, don’t be afraid to unleash your innovative side. Take that first step, experiment with fresh ideas, and let your passion guide you. You might just discover that a little courage and creativity can set you miles ahead.

Robin’s unexpected journey from carpentry to helping other entrepreneurs find their ikigai is testament to the power of adaptability and being comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Ready to step out of your own comfort zone? Schedule a one-on-one consultation with us to discover how we can help you turn your ideas into reality.

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