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Jailbreaking teen becomes a 19-year-old CEO of a US$25 million tech startup

Written by Nicole Teo Published on 

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Harsh pioneered the jailbreaking wave to create an alternative app store, iDownloadPro.

Harsh Dalal is the founder of Team Labs, which builds Workspace, a powerful software suite for technology team. It helps to build a product, create rich content, plan projects, and collaborate — all in one place with Workspace. 

Do you remember the ‘jailbreaking’ craze? If you were a late 90s or early 00s kid, this might strike a nostalgic chord with you. For the tech dinosaurs out there, jailbreaking is essentially the process by which Apple users remove software restrictions to allow for greater control and customisations on their phones.

One of the jailbreak features. Photo courtesy of Jacob Siegal
One of the jailbreak customisation features is portrayed on the screen. Photo courtesy of Jacob Siegal.

Back in the early 10s, the functionality of your phone translated to cool points. My parents forbid me from jumping onto this craze, in fear of the damage it would cause to my phone. I had to find other options, one being Harsh Dalal’s famous iDownloadPro app, an alternative app store for apps that created the ‘jailbreaking effect’ without actually jailbreaking one’s phone.

I mentioned these fond memories of his app to him during the interview and his eyes lit up, delighted to have found a satisfied user of this app he created almost 10 years ago. As we reminisced about childhood antics and the technologies back then, Harsh shared about his own childhood. I was fascinated to know, in what kind of environment did this 19-year-old CEO grow up in and allowed him to thrive?

He had moved multiple times as a child and he never experienced a consistent stability as he moved to different schools and neighborhoods. “Even within Singapore, there are micro-cultures within each area that can differ greatly from one another,” he nods. But he had taken these changes in stride, adding, “ These differences helped me to adapt very well. If anything, there’s a thrill that comes with being thrown in a new environment once in a while.”

Harsh Dalal and his Polytechnic friends smile for a photo. Photo courtesy of Harsh.

But being good at adapting to change does not necessarily translate to fitting in well. Harsh admits it was difficult to fit in both academically and socially, showing that even while being a ‘seasoned adaptor,’ no one can escape these perils. Now he doesn’t think much of these challenges, attuning himself with the belief that things aren’t nearly as bad as it is made out to be, citing a personal story to explain this sentiment.

“When I was 6, I fell off a brick wall and I broke my arm. Looking back, I didn’t think it hurt that much, but all I remember was that I was falling. When I asked my mom about it, she reminded me of how much I cried. Where I’m getting at with this–is that in the moment–it might seem like the worst thing ever. The challenges I faced in the past, such as fitting in or whatnot may have seemed insurmountable at first. Now in hindsight, it really isn’t that bad,” he reflects back on this vivid memory.

While fitting in was a huge challenge, being able to juggle academics and being a CEO was another cause of concern. I was convinced that he must be insanely productive, but was surprised to find out that he also struggles with managing his time.

“It’s hard, I’ve definitely not figured it out yet. Even in secondary school, it was really tough for me and I struggled a lot. But I’ve recently read a book, The 4-Hour Workweek, which really illustrates how you can be more efficient using less time. I think it’s really more about productivity management than anything else.”

He also acknowledges the mounting pressure that comes with being a CEO, “Knowing that my mistake can end up hurting the livelihoods of my employees. That’s scary, you know, because they’re like my family too.” But at the same time, as difficult it can be, he knows better than to pin the blame on himself for everything.

As a 19-year old CEO of a growing company worth US$25 million, I’m curious to learn how he shoulders the stress.

Harsh and his team at Echelon Asia Submit 2019. Photo courtesy of Team Labs.

Well, he may be a CEO, but he’s also just like the many teenagers out there. “I play a lot of video games, and thankfully, I have friends to play it with,” he laughs. “You need to find a way to unwind from time to time. For me, it’s yelling into my computer when we play games.”

Harsh still stresses the importance of education. “It’s not about what you learn, but more so learning how to learn,” he says thoughtfully. Though a seemingly confusing concept at first, he explains further.

“School doesn’t teach you how to do your taxes. But it equips you with the skills to enable you to do it yourself, and be independent,” he explains.

He embodies this proof of concept, having picked up coding on his own during his juvenile years, and entering the course of Business Administration in polytechnic. He wanted to improve on his soft skills, such as communications, to better manage his direct team and clients.

In fact, Harsh admittedly confesses that he had been an awkward teenager that wouldn’t look people in the eye. But through meeting people all around the world and pitching his business, Harsh slowly built up his own confidence to become a stronger leader.

Harsh Dalal after the interview with the Oasis team. Photo Courtesy of Oasis

He leaves the interview with his last thoughts, “Mistakes are bound to happen, regardless of who’s in charge. The only thing you can do is to continue learning and improving.”

Throughout my conversation with Harsh, the one thing that really stood out to me was his relatability and personable demeanor. Being a CEO at 19-years-old is nowhere near a common occurrence, but that doesn’t mean it’s out of reach for the rest of us ‘normal’ people. He has definitely not been excused from the circumstances many of us have experienced, but it is rather his refreshing perspective and mindset he adopted that we can take away and learn from.

WRITTEN BY

Nicole Teo

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