National Service as a Criteria for Success

Every year, Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) awards outstanding NSmen for their excellent performance and for setting consistent exemplary standards towards National Service (NS). One of this year’s NSMan of the Year, Co-Founder & Managing Director of Brain-Too-Free Ventures, Goh Seng Wee, also LTC(NS) and Commanding Officer of 761 SIR, believes his NS training has laid a solid foundation for his business approach.

Over my 15 years of NS, SAF’s transformation has never failed to inspire me. I have learned that to be successful, you have to be the fastest to adapt. SAF’s emphasis on first-class leadership and the relentless pursuit to future-proof itself is equally critical in the venture capital industry, as these are the same values that drive BTFV to keep a keen lookout for innovation-driven startups led by exceptional leadership.

I have personally experienced how NS hones a person in a distinct manner that no academic education or job experience can. When we put on the army greens, it brings out a unique side of ourselves. Which is why I would look at good NS performance records as an indication and selection gauge when hiring staff and identifying the founders of start-ups. It tells you whether this person is likely to show a consistent level of commitment through different periods of his life and the market cycles.

Acumen is perhaps the toughest skill to acquire for any entrepreneur and investor, but I have always believed that it is a skill that can be developed. I always tell my fellow reservist mates that SAF’s systematic approach of terrain analysis and wargaming are helpful in sharpening my trend-and-risks spotting skills as a Venture Capitalist (VC)! After all, a true mark of a VC is to place a bet on his view on how people would want to live their lives 2-3 years down the road.

Adapting to the new normal

A top-rate start-up is one that is able to embrace diverse viewpoints and still be able to function optimally as it adapts along the way. This is especially relevant in today’s world where we are facing the numerous challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. To an organisation that is always ready and has the right people and values, this pandemic – though tough – could present the best time to “reset” things to seize the opportunities. I am seeing in person how the SAF is adapting and reinventing itself over the past few months away from the limelight, and it gives me faith that I can do the same for my businesses.

Inspiring NSmen and supporting NS as an Employer

Commanding Officers (CO) commonly focus on the middle 80%. However, I tend to pay attention to the “top 10%” and the “bottom 10%”. The top performers have to be given recognition and this can very well drive them to achieve new heights. Those who find it hard to fulfil their NS obligations have to be given encouragement, and many times all they need is for the CO himself to help make some adjustments.

Years back, an employee came into my office to request for acknowledgement for his deferment application letter. He walked out instead with an amended work schedule that freed him up to serve his ICT. Since then, I never had to deal with another deferment request - everyone in the team knows that we pre-plan and share the workload when a colleague goes on ICT. I guess no company is too small to promote a NS-friendly culture. It is also with this belief that BTFV is an NS Mark (Gold) accredited company since 2018 which supports National Service and Total Defence; and BTFV is honoured to be recognised at the Total Defence Awards in 2019.

Wearing different hats

With every ICT, I’m reminded that every Singaporean needs to wear different hats. NS may not be the most comfortable hat to wear, but most will tell you of the lifelong brotherhood and friendships they have made, and how they have been shaped by NS to be a better leader at their workplace.

Thus it is important that every adult Singaporean passes on the conviction to the younger generation that nation building is every citizen’s responsibility. NS is about doing the uncomfortable things for everyone else around you, and all these cumulative self-sacrifices will ultimately prove pivotal in overcoming adversities in our nation’s journey.

NS has opened my eyes to all walks of life. Through my NS appointments over the past 15 years, I have come across numerous personalities that have shaped my ability to discern a person’s character. Outside NS, this has certainly influenced my decision-making in choosing the partners and founders I do business with, but also the friends I make.