Student Start-up Stories: Checkbox
An Interview with Evan Wong
By Varun Amin
Evan Wong is a passionate and energetic leader with a wealth of experience in entrepreneurship, technology and education. Evan was also recognised in the Forbes 30 under 30 list for his start-up Checkbox alongside co-founder James Han.
At seventeen, Evan formed Hero Education, an award-winning education business that is still helping students today. Before he founded Checkbox Evan was also the Vice President of Internal for the UNSW Business Society, as well as co-founder James Han who was a Sports Director. Evan then created the business software organisation Checkbox, a company which enables non-technical users to build their own software to automate manual regulatory and business processes using drag and drop.
Table of Contents
- About Checkbox
- The Inspiration
- The rewards of entrepreneurship
- The challenges of entrepreneurship
- Advice for student entrepreneurs
- A quote Evan lives by
What is the fundamental premise behind Checkbox?
Checkbox is a no-code platform for business process automation. This means that non-technical people who do not know how to code, can use drag and drop alone to build digital tools to automate the way they work. Typical use cases include generating standard documents, conducting risk assessments, producing automated advice and facilitating approval workflows. Basically, instead of working in messy Excel, Word templates, emails and phone calls, users build tools that get the same work done in less time, with greater accuracy, and better user experience. We're an enterprise software company, so we work with large companies such as Allianz, Woolworths, Coca-Cola Amatil, Telstra, and many more of the brands you know and love. In these companies, we have lawyers, accountants, human resource, procurement, finance specialists all using Checkbox to build software without programming knowledge.
What inspired you to create Checkbox?
The best ideas are ones that solve a problem, and typically one you experienced yourself. When I was running my previous business, Hero Education, I found legal and compliance content very painful and confusing. Checkbox was born out of the idea that surely legal and compliance content could be more automated, personalised and outcome-orientated, rather than static walls of information. So with some early traction, I was confident enough to ask my good friend, James Han, to join me as a Co-Founder and our Founding CTO.
We built out a few early prototypes of our product which were originally designed to walk users through tax obligations. Whilst we had some positive feedback on this, we realised that we would never build a scalable business if we had to create and manage the content. So one night in the office, we had the ingenious epiphany of building a platform instead, that would empower other people to build the software that we were looking to build, but without needing to code. That way, we owned the technology, whilst relying on our users to be accountable for the content.
What are the most rewarding experiences of being an Entrepreneur?
There are so many great things about being an Entrepreneur. Too commonly do I hear people who aren't entrepreneurs, fantasising about being one just so they can 'work when they want'. That is by far one of the least rewarding things, and in practice, isn't true. Instead, the most rewarding experience is to have created something from nothing, and growing it to something bigger than you ever would have expected, whilst bringing people along the journey who you respect and admire, who have also fallen in love with the business that you have created. So yeah, it's definitely being able to create a centre of gravity that attracts like-minded and talented people together to overcome big, exciting challenges to realise the mission that you created, and then watching the business you've created make a real impact on others which wouldn't have happened if you never started.
What is the most challenging part of being an entrepreneur as opposed to working for another company?
There is no 'most' challenging. There are many very challenging things, all equally difficult in their own way. Just to name a few...One would be the need to be able to do everything. As an entrepreneur, you need to understand, manage and execute on sales, marketing, product/service design, product/service development, people and culture, hiring, firing, legal, accounting, finance/fundraising, management, customer service/support, operations, and much more.
Not to mention that your typical day will be a mix of these, requiring you to be very good at context switching. Whilst you're not expected to know all of this at the get-go, you will need to learn all of this, and fast. Another would be the fact that you shoulder all of the biggest and scariest problems in the company, and most of the hardest problems are ones that only you and your Co-Founder(s) can discuss and solve amongst yourselves. Problems like running out of money when an entire team is depending on you or firing people you like.
Finally, a more personal challenge with being an entrepreneur is the compromise you make on every other aspect of your life. James and I not only poured our entire life savings into Checkbox when we started to pay for other people's salaries but worked unpaid for 2.5 years. Even today, we're one of the lowest-paid employees in our company. We both work hours that I won't even share here to avoid scaring people from starting, but at no point along this journey did either of us dislike or regret, even for a moment, what we were doing. And that's the beauty of it. It's very hard but it's so worth it. And it's not about the clout or the end game. We absolutely love the journey all the way through, including the challenges, which makes this whole thing so incredibly rewarding and fun.
What is your biggest piece of advice for student entrepreneurs?
Just do it. Don't overthink it, don't over plan it. Don't wait for the 'right time' or for you to be 'ready'. I've met way too many people with an idea who have never taken the first real step in even attempting to make that idea real. You will learn everything you need and achieve everything you need to achieve by just starting the journey, no matter how small the first step. But how? Start with your customers. Even if you don't know exactly who they are right now, just start talking to who you think they would be and ask lots of questions about their problems, and listen. Do not sell. Do not talk about your idea. Just listen and learn. And I guarantee you, your idea will change for the better and you will get clarity on exactly what you should be building. If you've already started something, well done! Similar advice: keep listening to your customers. It's quite simple really when you realise that.
What is a quote you live by?
"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Keeping the team lean at the beginning is very important to make decisions quickly but also understanding that the most considered decisions are made as a team. Even today, it is still important for me to decide what information and decisions should be made alone in order to move quickly versus as a team in order to make the right decision. I want to go fast and I want to go far, so both need to be practiced at the right time for the right things, and that in itself is a skill.
To find out more
To find out more about Evan and Checkbox you find more information on Checkbox’s website https://www.checkbox.ai/.