Brandeis International Business School

035: Having a Long-Term Plan for Your Future

Desmond Lim is an entrepreneur who moved to the US from Singapore in 2013 and graduated from both Harvard and MIT. After that, he relocated to San Francisco to start, a text-based hiring platform for companies hiring hourly workers. Desmond founded his first business after high school, a Thai food restaurant, to help pay for college. Before joining Merrill Lynch for three years, he's represented his native country, Singapore, in basketball, playing in the South East Asian Youth Games, and was an infantry officer in the army.

From the Dorm Room

Both of Desmond’s parents were hourly workers. He grew up not really knowing what college was, or whether he should go. It was through playing sports that he learned a lot about teamwork and trying to do well in life.

In high school, Desmond knew that he really wanted to go to college, but his parents couldn't help pay for it. So he started his first business with two friends, a Thai food restaurant, to pay for college. He continued to work there throughout college. 

Desmond’s first college was a school in Singapore called SMU, or Singapore Management University, where he studied Business and Finance.

“When I was in college, what was really great was that I was able to try a wide range of things. And I feel like anyone who is in college today, that should really be what they are doing, try out things and get to know what really fit you.”

After college, Desmond went on to work for Merrill Lynch for three years doing banking. He was trying to save up money to come to the US, because it was very costly. He spent those three years planning for his move to the US and what he would do there.

In August of 2013, Desmond came to the US for school. He did his master's at Harvard, and attended the Media Lab at MIT.

It was definitely a big move, but it was one that he knew he wanted to take, and he spent three or four years planning every single step.

To the Boardroom

From very early on Desmond knew that he really wanted to build something. And he was trying to work his way towards that with every decision he made. He had the option to try to start something right after college, but he knew that there was so much he could learn through going back to school and through coming to the US.

Desmond chose to work in a bank with Merrill for three years because he knew he could learn new skills, network and save up for his move to the US. He knew he wanted to attend Harvard and MIT because that was where he could learn the most about startups. At Harvard, Desmond tried to learn as much as he could about trying to start a business.

Desmond stresses the importance of being deliberate about what you want to learn from your first job: Who is your boss, who are you going to work with? Is your direct manager someone that you want to learn from? Is it someone that you can look up to, that you might want to be like in five or ten years from now?

There were times in his career when he saw that his current direct manager was not someone that he actually wanted to be like, and he asked to change teams. You are going to work with your direct manager every day, if not every week. And they are the one who you're going to learn the most from and get the most from, so be intentional and deliberate with who you work for and what you want to learn from them.

The Entrepreneurial Edge

Every week, we highlight one piece of advice for aspiring, struggling and successful-but-want-to-be-even-more-successful entrepreneurs:

“I try my best to plan my time every day. For example, I try to get up early in the morning to try to do some sports. I still try to do sports every day. And I plan my time. How do I spend the first 20 minutes when I've gotten to this office? How about the first one to two hours? So, I always use my Google calendar to plan out my time, not even by hour. I would say half an hour or less when I do block for the whole day. I try to plan when I have my lunch, when I have my dinner. Even trying to read for at least 20 minutes every day prior to me going to bed.”

“Every Saturday I take one whole day off the grid. So, I try to not be plugged in at all. I try to turn off my cell phone, turn off everything, everything linked to social media, and I take one whole day off to just take a break. And that is just so very, very, very helpful.”


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