Ex-schoolteacher and founder of training consultancy Antenna Consulting, Adrian Tan, has always been passionate about working with young people. He likes to see a young person thrilled at what they’ve learnt, and finding that drive to want to succeed in life. It’s the reason he’s a leader in his church’s youth group, and why he became a teacher for four years at Nan Hua High School. “You are investing in something that has infinite returns,” says 29-year old Adrian. “You never know what could happen in 10 years time when that introverted student becomes a public speaker!”
While at Nan Hua, he had the autonomy of planning interesting lessons using technology. He remembers fondly the time he had the opportunity to share technological applications for education with then Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam (who is now Singapore’s Finance Minister) and King of Cambodia Norodom Sihamoni. “We showcased the use of Tablet PCs and later, introducing the use of podcasting for lessons.”
Making Learning Purposeful
But somewhere into the second year of teaching, Adrian became very disturbed that most of his students – many of whom were academically above-average – were apathetic about their lives, as well as on social issues. “Most of them didn’t even know what they want to do, or what their passion was,” he says. “And almost all of them didn’t relate what they were studying to its real world applications.” At the same time, his wife Alison, who also happens to be a schoolteacher, was telling him about how there was a real need to find a way to get the students in her school engaged in learning a trade skill rather than mere academic subjects.
Being involved in a rock band – Adrian was the lead singer of local punk rock band Pensionstate for more than 11 years – had taught him more about collaboration, personal effectiveness, leadership and event organization – far more than his education ever did. “It is in these years of not ever making money from music that I have been intrigued by the creative process through intrinsic motivation.”
“Why do people do what they love and push boundaries in their passion, which is intrinsic, but hate their school and work when their reward is extrinsic?” he asks. “If we are able to bring to class the real world application to curriculum, learning will be purposeful and the motivation to learn is intrinsic,” Adrian reasons.
That was the birth of Antenna Consulting – the idea to bring to the classroom real world applications to curriculum, to make learning purposeful, and the motivation to learn, instrinsic.
Challenging the Status Quo
Adrian says that it was a big decision when he quit as a teacher in December of 2008 – it was the lowest point of the global recession and Alison was eight months pregnant. It was a tremendously difficult period, he reveals, but managing to successfully convince his parents, his wife, her parents, and his school principal of his idea was an amazing breakthrough. “(It) proved that the concept is doable,” he remembers.
Adrian then pumped in S$30K of his own savings to start Antenna, with another S$30K from silent partners.
Antenna programs are customized to help schools go beyond their curriculum goals. Its target market, naturally, are education institutions that needs help crafting meaning education solutions with a real-world perspective. Adrian believes that as a former educator who understands the educational system and its needs, helps sets him apart from his competitors.
But he insists that his biggest competition comes not from similar service providers such as High Achievers or Mastereign, but the schools’ indifference and adherence to the status quo when it comes to education. “The key challenge was to convince schools that change was needed in the way training programs are run, and convince the key decision makers out there to try you out.”
But there are forward-looking schools, and school educators. In the eight months that Antenna has been in operation, they’ve signed on five schools as clients, including a 5-day workshop for Crescent Girls’ School on ’21st century skills’. “Seeing (the girls) get so inspired was a proof of concept that greatly encouraged us.” Antenna also regularly works with industry partners to develop CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiatives for schools.
Focusing On “Doing Great Work”
Antenna‘s strategy for 2010, Adrian says, is to ‘do great work and be seen doing so’. “We aim to focus on our current school clients and provide exceptional service. This will secure us more training jobs from the current schools we service as they become more confident of our service quality.” Quality, he insists, is critical in his industry. He says that the problem with most training vendors is that they try to do too many things, and have their hands in everything. “They outsource their trainers and, in the end, training standards drop.”
“We try to evolve organically and ensure that all our trainers are properly trained to facilitate.” In the meantime, Antenna expects to spend this year on research and development, continually crafting and iterating its programs before scaling out to more schools next year. They also aim freely share training initiatives at education forums and on social media.
Views on Entrepreneurship
“I have always admired entrepreneurs since I was young, and found it amazing that every product and service you use daily were (once) merely ideas in someone’s head,” Adrian muses. “Even though I became a civil servant after graduation, it was constantly bubbling inside of me, that one day I would step out and do something on my own.” (Incidentally, his sister Adrianna – a popular travel blogger at Popagandhi.com– also started her own business Pen To Pixel.)
One of the key lessons he learnt during about entrepreneurship was clarifying his idea. Don’t give up even if your idea doesn’t seem clear at the start, he says. “As I went through the first six months, articulating it to people, bouncing off mentors, crafting my elevator pitch, asking teachers and students about the problems they faced, the direction becomes clearer and clearer.”
“As a friend once shared – it’s easier to steer the car if it’s moving!”
His final parting words? “Remember the idea you had? You have five seconds to get enthusiastic over it. Now!”