Biz Alumni 21 January 2019

The start-up grind

Gerard Andrew James (BBA 2014) is a tech startup specialist who credits NUS Business School for giving him numerous opportunities in the start-up world. The regional sales and marketing director at WithTravel talks about his passion for tech start-ups and how his path to success began in the School.

He joined WithTravel in December 2018 and heads the sales, online marketing and growth efforts for the company in ASEAN from the Singapore office. The Singapore office hosts the sales and marketing team for ASEAN while the global development team sits in Tokyo. He is currently focused on growing the user base of WithTravel and expanding the regional supply footprint in terms of local OTAs.

Formerly a marketing manager at Skyscanner, Gerard led the emerging markets in southeast Asia and drove record growth in his 4-year tenure for Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines. After Skyscanner’s acquisition by China’s largest online travel agent, Ctrip, in 2016, Gerard decided it was time for a change and joined DeepCloud AI, a pre-seed funding startup in mid 2018 on a part time contract to grow users for DeepTransfer. Having completed a successful contract with DeepCloud AI, Gerard now joins two ex-colleagues from Skyscanner to be part of the pioneer team in WithTravel.

WithTravel has a vision to be the leading search and recommendation engine for hotels in the world and has built a strong AI capability into its search platform. It has also established global partnerships with Agoda and Trip.com.

Gerard dreamed of joining a start-up since he was in school and he decided to graduate early without pursuing an Honours year when he was offered a job at Skyscanner in 2014. He thoroughly enjoyed his internship there in Jan – May 2014 and jumped at the opportunity to sign on full time in June 2014.

“Being in a start-up is not as glamourous as it sounds! There’s lots of hard work and learning by trial and error to be good at your job. There’s no fixed job scope and your success is what you make of your job,” he said.

Gerard (third from left) and his Indonesian colleagues and bloggers at Skyscanner

That’s where the rigorous syllabus at NUS Business School came in handy, with Gerard enjoying his marketing modules the most. He took electives like Thai Language to help him understand the culture better. Marketing taught him how to be creative and think on his feet and Management modules taught him how to successfully manage a team. Finance modules taught him how to plan and execute budget plans and Business Law taught him the importance of setting up good terms and conditions.

Gerard credits Associate Professor Ang Swee Hoon for her mentorship and her encouragement of his passion in marketing. He cites her as a source of inspiration and encouragement for him. He says: “She talent-spotted me in year one and offered me a role as a research assistant. That opened so many doors and subsequently led to me being one of the finalists at the Unilever Case Competition in Year 2 followed by a summer internship in the company.” He was also a finalist at the NUS-Shell Business Case Challenge.

Gerard (right) and fellow interns at Unilever

Gerard went on a global business leadership summer school programme at University of Texas at Austin and completed a semester-long exchange at Thammasat University in Bangkok. He credits these programmes to open his eyes to the global world of marketing and the wide opportunities that exist. More importantly, the chance to work in a foreign culture and with different nationalities prepared him for his career in regional and global marketing. He considers himself fortunate to have gone to Thailand and the USA for his study abroad programs.

Gerard (front row, third from the left) and his classmates at the University of Texas at Austin

At NUS, he was active in Tembusu College in U-town and was also the vice cell group head of the NUS Business School Catholic Students Society. His leadership experience in those years taught him to manage people well and inspire them to shared greatness and achieving collective goals.

Gerard (second row, third from the left) and his exchange classmates at Thammasat University in Bangkok

He feels that a degree at NUS Business School is so much more than just the modules offered as it helped him build a strong foundational knowledge and gather a strong community of lifelong friends and supporters. It allowed him to learn both soft and hard skills and provided the best environment for personal development to prepare him for the start-up grind. He dreams of setting up his own start-up someday when he is able to capitalize on the market trends and opportunities.

His advice to students considering the start-up life?

1) Join a company with a great vision so that your job has meaning and purpose – join a company that inspires you.

2) Do not be afraid to take on a challenging job scope that you think you can’t handle – you’ll learn by doing best.

3) Instead of thinking outside the box, imagine there’s no box, because in the start-up world there really isn’t.