Democratising Software

At heart, I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I founded my first company at the age of 17, which made me fall in love with entrepreneurship and building businesses from the ground up. I like to create something impactful, so when I finished university I dived straight in and created Checkbox.

I was looking for a technology solution that would make it easier. There wasn’t one, so I thought I’d go and create one myself.

Our ultimate purpose as a company is to democratise the creation of business software. We want to enable anyone to build a business application without being able to code.

What motivates me about Checkbox is that it solves a problem I experienced. When I was running my first company, while studying at university, I was overwhelmed by the amount of complexity involved in compliance and regulation.

I was looking for a technology solution that would make it easier. There wasn’t one, so I thought I’d go and create one myself. It comes from my drive to simplify something that’s immensely complex and extremely costly, not just for small business owners but for large enterprises all around the world.

Creating a startup straight out of university isn’t without its detractors. There was a lot of pressure from parents, especially given my Asian descent, but I had an inner drive that I couldn’t ignore.

I tried working at a corporate; I spent about two months at one of the big four firms and, while I found the work interesting, it wasn’t for me. Having had a taste of entrepreneurship beforehand, working at a corporate just could not compare to building your own company and I couldn’t see my hard work really translating into anything impactful. I couldn’t have imagined myself being in a corporate job for another month, let alone the rest of my life.

The Compliance Problem
Compliance is a huge problem that really motivates me. Every company faces it, no matter how big or small. There are a bunch of fragmented solutions out there that address small bits and pieces of the problem, but it remains largely unsolved and that weighs heavily on people.

When I speak with customers and show them our product, their faces light up. When we give them the opportunity to jump onto the platform and try it out, they’re genuinely excited to be able to create something new and useful.

I’m in the same seat as many of the users of our platform, not having a technology background, so our product hits home for me too. It marries two of my passions – a lack of coding knowledge and a dislike of regulation complexity.

Without Checkbox, our clients do a lot of their work using Excel or Powerpoint, but it’s very hard to use these with their customers or use it internally in an efficient way.
For lawyers and accountants to get a tool in their hands that makes building software as easy as using Excel, and to deploy it and access it online, is an experience they never dreamed they would have.

When I speak with customers and show them our product, their faces light up. When we give them the opportunity to jump onto the platform and try it out, they’re genuinely excited to be able to create something new and useful.

Startups
I wasn’t sure of the skill set required to be an entrepreneur. Having done it for a few years I can pinpoint it to one thing, and that is to be a constant learner. At the end of the day, the only skill you really have when you’re an entrepreneur is to be fantastic at learning.

When you’re an entrepreneur and when you start your own business you’re not in any way, shape, or form a specialist. Entrepreneurs are generalists who employ specialists to help make their visions a reality. In the early days, because you can’t afford those specialists, you have to wear multiple hats. It’s about being able to learn everything from legal to accounting to operations to HR and the actual subject matter that you’re dealing with, from ridesharing to virtual reality.

It can be tricky being a young guy, playing at the enterprise level. We largely dispel any doubts when we start talking about our product because senior leaders realise that we’re thinking differently, and bringing in an angle that perhaps typical vendors haven’t thought of.

Being young is a double-edged sword which I’ve worked into an advantage. With very little expertise in working in an enterprise, I bring an open mind to solving their problems. I haven’t been pigeonholed into the current way of doing things.

Our enterprise customers also know that we’re an early stage company and our product is evolving. It doesn’t have the polished functionality of the conventional enterprise platforms that they may be used to, so we’ve built a tight-knit collaborative relationship with our early adopters.

For startups that are working for enterprises and vice versa, there needs to be a shared mentality that working with a startup is going to be a journey and there needs to be flexibility.

Transparency with your customers is absolutely key when it comes to being a startup. We set expectations because otherwise there will be pressure coming through the sales end of the company. All that pressure will hit the development team and you’ll have a very demotivated team, so it’s very important to share product roadmaps with your clients.

Values
Our values are summarised by the notion of practicing positivity and mastering empathy. We know that working in a startup, and in life, stuff sometimes happens, and when it does we encourage our team to default to choose positivity, to have a positive mindset. At Checkbox we believe that energy is contagious, whether that’s positive or negative energy, so as a team when things don’t go as planned, we respond with positivity.

Company values are a reflection of upper management and founders. If the stated company values are not natural to you as a leader, then it’s not going to be sustainable.

The flipside of that is to master empathy, which means having a true understanding of others within the team and always considering the perspective of our customers. We encourage the sales team to really understand the interests and limitations of the development team and vice versa, which can be a very big point of friction within technology companies. Often the sales team and the development team are engaged in a tug of war, so it’s about having the empathy to create a cohesive team.

Company values are a reflection of upper management and founders. If the stated company values are not natural to you as a leader, then it’s not going to be sustainable. Your personal values will flow to the rest of the team, so it’s really important that your business values align very closely to those that you hold personally as founders.

Ambition
We’re extremely ambitious as a company, both in terms of technology and business model.
I’m sure a lot of startups thinks that’s the case, but we think we’re doing something really big here. We’re solving a very big problem with a novel approach when it comes to technology. In terms of our future we aim to be a global company. Our guiding vision is for Checkbox to be used as much as Office applications.

That’s our ambitious goal: for Checkbox to be as ubiquitous as Microsoft.

Evan Wong is the Founder and CEO of Checkbox.