founder James Khoo quits the startup life

  • Wife’s employment ends soon, Khoo looking for a full-time job to support family
  • Regrets not spending more time with family, no regrets about being an entrepreneur founder James Khoo quits the startup life

JAMES Khoo of personal safety app startup (Secure Me) surprised the ecosystem on Nov 25 when he declared on his Facebook page that he was leaving the company he founded more than three years ago.
Rumours had been buzzing lately, so Khoo decided he had better clear the air, saying that he was leaving because his wife Winnie, who had been the sole breadwinner for the family since he embarked on his entrepreneurial journey, had been asked to leave her job about a month ago.
Her employment at a foreign bank, where she has been responsible for process reengineering and standards compliance, will terminate at the end of this year.
“I think it is time (although a very difficult decision) for me to step up to look for a full-time job to support the family, so that she can spend more time with the kids,” Khoo said on his Facebook page.
The couple, married for more than five years now, have three children: Five-year-old daughter Chyenn, and sons Ian (three) and Zan (six months). True to form, Khoo and wife met via dating website, and both being very busy with their careers, first got to know each by chitchatting on Yahoo Messenger, he told Digital News Asia (DNA).
As for, Khoo said the company was doing fine. “Our user base is growing, our Crime Data Engine is going to launch anytime now, and we believe this will totally disrupt the personal safety app market.”
His cofounder Chin Xin-Ci, whom Khoo recruited in 2012, will continue to lead the company as chief executive officer (CEO) while it searches for a new chief technology officer (CTO).

“I am happy to say that we have shortlisted a few promising CTOs,” he told DNA via email. Khoo, who was also research and development (R&D) director, will still be part of the team as technical advisor.
Khoo graduated from the University of Southern Queensland in 1994, majoring in Commercial Computing. He started his career as an analyst programmer, then moved on to become a software engineer with Logica, helping the multinational roll out its billing system for multiple telco operators around the world.
He then joined Sun Microsystems as an Enterprise Java Architect in 2000, where his main job was to help Sun Microsystems clients from different countries manage their Java Enterprise Edition projects, and to mentor their technical teams.

He was CTO at Theta SP, a local systems integrator specialising in the finance sector, when he decided to leave the corporate scene after a personal experience led him to strike off on his own to create a personal safety app, which he first called, but which was later rebranded Watch Over Me.
The company kicked off with his personal savings and an angel investment from his father amounting to RM300,000 (US$89,620). In July 2013, the company got a further US$31,200 angel investment, and in September that same year, received a US$155,000 (RM500,000) grant from Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd, under the CIP 500 (Cradle Investment Programme).
Reality bites … hard founder James Khoo quits the startup life

Within the local startup scene, Khoo is renowned and well-liked for his passion for what he was attempting to do: Addressing concerns about the growing crime rate in the country, and ensuring the safety of people.
The decision to quit did not come easily, especially since his wife has been fully supportive.
“My wife understands that the startup life is very tough, and all this while, she been shielding her worries from me, always showing her best in front of me – she is a very, very strong woman,” he told DNA.
“She celebrated with me whenever made any progress, and continues to encourage and cheer me up whenever I feel down, frustrated, or unsure of what to do next – which happens very often. She has always assured me not to worry about the family – many times.

“When she told me she had been asked to leave her job – for the very first time, I saw fear in her eyes.
“So after a lengthy discussion with her, and after having evaluated all our possible options, we came to the conclusion that it was best that I look for a full-time job to support the family, so that she can spend more time with the children,” he added.
Khoo will be looking for something in the same role he held at CTO or R&D director, saying there is still a market demand.
Failed in work-life balance?
When asked if he regretted the time he has had to spend away from his family during his entrepreneurial life, and whether he thinks he managed to maintain a proper work-life balance, Khoo was poignantly honest.
Referring to DNA’s request for pictures of his family, he said, “Only then did I realise I might have failed in balancing my entrepreneurial life with my family life, as I only have about four pictures of me, Winnie, Chyenn and Ian (his two oldest) together in five years of marriage.
“This is not normal, right? You see, although most of time, I did see them every day, even when I played with them, I was not really there as my mind was always thinking about the company, our cash flow, the server, our review, our funding, legal issues, support emails, and so on,” he said.
It was the same with his wife, he said. “I thought everything was okay, and didn’t sense – or perhaps even purposely ignored – her fear, and the frustration she was experiencing in her working life. I think I guessed it, but I just pretended everything was still okay.
“So no, I did not do a good job on this [balancing work and family],” he added.
But he has no regrets about starting, or having taken the entrepreneurial plunge.
“No, our app is the best personal safety app in the market, and has been featured in a number of news portals [including DNA] and on television – it has been recommended by many, has saved a number of lives, and has helped prevent crime,” Khoo declared.
“So I am not regretting this journey, and trust me, I think I will start another company very soon,” he added. “Being an entrepreneur is in my blood ... although I can learn to be a bit more positive, and to better balance my life.” founder James Khoo quits the startup reaction, and what’s next

Khoo said the board has been very supportive of this decision, and even tried to work out different options so that he could stay on as long as possible.
But he also noted that the company was still in the seed stage, and he needed to draw a market-rate salary to support his family.
As he said above, Khoo will be looking to get a role as CTO/ R&D director at a multinational. “I am technically strong, and able to adapt to any industry.”
When asked what his biggest challenge will be, going back into the job market especially as an employee, he admitted that some adjustment would be needed.
“I would no longer have the freedom of flexible working hours, and would need to comply and adapt to the company’s processes and methodologies … and communicate effectively with my boss,” he said.
“However, as founder of, I believe I have an advantage compared with other candidates, as I can see the bigger picture, having run a company. I know the importance of running lean and failing fast; I know not to assume but quickly validate with the market,” he added.

Related Stories:
JobStreet: Malaysian workers not getting enough family time
Somebody to Watch Over Me
Week in Review: You are not indestructible! receives US$155,000 Cradle grant
Burning out is an illness
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