Employees leaving 9 to 5 to be their own boss during the pandemic

SINGAPORE – For Fiona Loh, juggling marketing, accounts, customer service and product development is a hard day’s work.

Last year, the 28-year-old traded computers for cookies, when she quit her steady job as a technology product manager for a bank to run her own bakery business, Whiskdom.

“Every day, I felt something pushing me: What if, what if, what if?” Loh told CNBC.

And she is not alone. Loh is among a growing number of people who are quitting their 9-5 jobs to pursue their passion after the pandemic disrupted traditional industries and careers.

The rise of the pandemic entrepreneur

Last year, even as job security became elusive for many, more than two in five employees (41%) were considering leaving their jobs to start their own businesses, according to a Singapore study by the recruitment firm Randstad.

For self-taught baker Loh, the choice was clear.

I worked back to back between my day job and my nighttime activity – a good 20 hours a day.

Fiona loh

founder, Whiskdom

When Singapore’s lockdown last year boosted appetite for home baked goods, she saw an opportunity to stop the grind and take it away. Instagram hustle and bustle a notch.

In July 2020, with the pandemic raging, Loh quit his paid job to take Whiskdom full time.

“I was working back to back between my day job and my nighttime activity – a good 20 hours a day,” she said. “It happened that day when I sat there and couldn’t think. My mind was so tired… I just felt like I couldn’t go on.”

Singaporean Fiona Loh, 28, quit her banking job during the pandemic to run her own bakery business.


In October, with growing demand for her melted brownies and sourdough-style cookies – and an 18-month wait list to fill, the young founder moved operations from her parents’ home to a commercial kitchen in the center. from Singapore.

Stimulus opens the door to new businesses

Loh’s is a success in a year in which many industries, particularly food and beverage and retail, have been battered by the pandemic and the lockdowns that resulted from it.

But, according to Xiu Ru Lim, senior lecturer at Singapore Polytechnic, the economic landscape through 2020 and 2021 has been accommodating for new business owners.

Government grants … have given small business owners the opportunity to get started.

Xiu Ru Lim

Lecturer, Singapore Polytechnic

“It could actually be an opportunity for a lot of companies,” Lim said. “All over the world we can see many new businesses forming. Quite a few of them, although the statistics don’t fully report it, are in fact unique businesses.

In fact, in 2020, business closures have actually plummeted while the number of new incorporated companies have remained stable because the Singapore government – like many other developed countries – has provided loans, grants and keep small businesses afloat.

Digital payments and other technologies have lowered barriers to entry for many new business owners.


Meanwhile, the rapid adoption of the technology during the period opened up the market for new companies, Lim noted.

“The competition has stabilized a bit,” she said. “Along with the government grants and incentives really encouraging businesses to go digital, this has given small business owners opportunities to get started.”

New generation of business leaders

Owning a business can take a heavy personal and financial toll – and this remains a significant barrier preventing many other potential business owners from achieving their goals, however.

Loh, for his part, received a government subsidy for her ovens, but she had to fork out Singapore $ 50,000 (about $ 37,500) in personal savings to finance the project. It put her dreams of marriage and buying a house on hold, she said, adding that she had yet to match her previous salary.

When you get into entrepreneurship, you end up having to be everything … But, for me, I really like doing it.

Fiona loh

founder, Whiskdom

“If I had really wanted the money, I would have stayed in the bank,” Loh said, noting that she now draws “a minimum amount” – enough to pay her daily living expenses and her insurance bills. The rest of the income was reinvested in the business, hiring three full-time employees, including his 62-year-old father.

As a new employer with a growing business, Loh now needs to plan his business even more carefully for the future.

Estimates suggest that 20% of new businesses fail within the first two years and 45% within five years – often due to poor market knowledge, too rapid expansion, and lack of financial resources.

Still, the young entrepreneur insisted she wouldn’t be returning to the office anytime soon.

“When you get into entrepreneurship you end up having to be everything and you have to do it all on your own,” Loh said. “It’s very different being an employee. But, for me, I really like doing it.”

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