Giving others a leg-up


By JOY LEE

IT may often be that people find reality not matching up to their dream jobs or that they lack certain skills to get their dream jobs. They certainly would have appreciated getting some insights from others who are more experienced in the field and who would be able to shed some light on the careers they are embarking on.

This is an experience that Brian Tan, founder of mentoring platform FutureLab, is all too familiar with.

Growing up, Tan had big dreams of becoming a scientist. So he took up biochemistry at a university in the UK. During that time, he also spent a year as a researcher at Oxford University as part of his industrial placement.

“Spending time with the other researchers and my professors made me realise their love and passion for what they do. And that made me ask myself if this was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life, because I did not feel the same. For months I was lost, and I finally decided to take another route by doing my Masters in Management,” he shares.

Upon returning to Malaysia, he started applying for management consulting positions. While he received multiple interview invitations at ideal companies, he found himself unprepared for them. Needless to say, securing a job became an arduous task.

The failure, he says, made him realise that he lacked understanding of the working world and the industry that he was pursuing.

He started scouring through books for case studies and reached out to others on various online platforms until he found someone to practise his interviews with.

He eventually landed a job. “My whole transition from a biochemist to a management consultant gave me the idea of building an online mentoring platform to connect students with experienced working professionals and help them figure out what they want to do after university and the steps needed to achieve it,” he says, noting that this would help many others who were on the same path as him.

Tan launched FutureLab in 2016. But prior to building out the platform, he tested out the idea manually through monthly group mentoring sessions at coffee shops. They invited industry mentors to conduct speed mentoring for mentees and answered their career-related questions.

Over time, they received Cradle Fund’s CIP150 Grant to build the first version of FutureLab, which works as a marketplace for students, working professionals and aspiring entrepreneurs to connect virtually with industry mentors across Malaysia.

As FutureLab gained traction, other organisations started exploring the use of the platform for their own internal mentoring programmes. This gave the company an opportunity to launch its mentoring software subscription service.

The software licensing model allows organisations to create, manage and track multiple internal mentoring programmes.

This also became FutureLab’s main revenue driver. According to Tan, the business has been growing 200% year-on-year and saw a significant growth of 400% in 2020, largely due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This was when we saw business owners and recently, unemployed professionals, connecting with our mentors for guidance on how to sustain their businesses and how to pivot their careers during the pandemic,” he says.

Income from its subscription business is also ploughed back to help fund free mentoring programmes for the community.

Early this month, FutureLab announced that it had secured RM2mil in a pre-Series A funding round. The round was led by Sarawak Digital Economy Corporation (SDEC) and participated by US-based investment group Indelible Ventures and Singapore’s first education technology accelerator EduSpaze.

With the new funds raised, the team is looking to scale up FutureLab’s operations in Malaysia and onboard more learning institutions and corporations into its ecosystem. The company is also looking forward to welcoming and training 8,000 new Industry Revolution 4.0 mentors in Malaysia who will be integrated into schools – in Johor, Penang and East Malaysia – universities and startup accelerators to develop industry-ready talent and future innovators.

The company will also be looking to expand its product development efforts to launch a mobile application in multiple languages to cater to a more diverse user base, particularly for mentees from rural areas and who may only have access to mobile phones instead of laptops.

Currently, it has over 3,000 industry mentors across Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia on the platform.

FutureLab also provides value-added services such as programme design, mentor acquisition and training to organisations utilising its platform. For now, Tan says it is focused on expanding into Indonesia and the Philippines.

But moving forward, he hopes to further establish FutureLab’s foothold as an impact-driven enterprise. “We are in the midst of solidifying an impact tracking framework that we will utilise to properly track how mentoring has positively impacted our community of mentors and mentees,” he says.

Tan is, notably, pleased with what the company has been able to achieve so far. “We have been able to help multiple groups of people trying to get a job or create their own business by connecting them with industry mentors via our easily accessible mentoring platform.

“Students and job seekers receive guidance from mentors to help them prepare for the job-hunting process. For working professionals who are looking to pivot their career, our mentors share valuable industry insights that can’t be acquired anywhere else other than from one-on-one conversations with industry players.

“We also empower aspiring entrepreneurs by connecting them with successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalist mentors to build a resilient and sustainable business.”Additionally, FutureLab conducts targeted mentoring programmes for the community to help them achieve their professional goals. These programmes enable people to discuss CV reviews, job interview tips and industry trends to help them become more employable regardless of their background.

With more people growing familiar with online platforms thanks to the pandemic, Tan believes FutureLab will continue to play a vital role in helping mentees access mentors from around the region. “The world is definitely a much smaller place now where borders are blurred and people can exchange information from different places in real-time. We don’t see this trend going away anytime soon,” he adds.

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