Top 5 of 2016

It’s now 5.58pm on Friday 30 December as I start to write this. It’s the last working day of the year and oh my God what a year it has been. I haven’t updated this space in months, but I thought I would pen down my top 5 2016 moments to cap off the year.

  1. My little growing family. Daniel and Mariam are now 3 and 1 (2 in February) and if you follow either my or Vivy’s instagram accounts, you’ll see they’ve become cheeky, playful toddlers with bottomless amounts of energy.  They are our little pieces of heaven and all stress seems to go away while we’re with them (for the most part).
  2. Vivy. Her show, her press coverage and her ability to handle them all. It’s been an amazing year for Vivy and I couldn’t be prouder. She was featured on Forbes (3 times), The New Yorker, CNBC, BBC and almost every local media channel there is. She was also the first hijabi model on the cover of Malaysia’s Harper’s Bazaar as well a model for………..LV!!! I know that’s her proudest one because she is IN LOVE with that brand.
  3. FashionValet gets investment from Start Today. Who? You know…the Japanese company who owns Zozotown.com. The largest online fashion mall in Japan. They only do something like USD1.5 billion sales a year. We were totally cool when we closed the deal, but was a totally different story when we went to their warehouse. Hundreds of thousands square feet of pure warehouse and logistics goals. They had scanners for everything, conveyor belts sorting clothes, parcels and people were just throwing them on the belts and the machines figure out where to send it. We also learned a lot from them about how to run a profitable e-commerce business which is what I think many people are struggling with in Southeast Asia.
  4. Duck just keeps growing and even thought there are extremely stressful moments such as launch days, supplier issues, misprints, marketing not good enough, etc. (Vivy gets more stressed about these than me). It’s great to see the brand open in Pavilion and hopefully it’s a stepping stone to get more local brands in the best malls in Malaysia.
  5. Vivy (yes again), but this time it’s the fact that I got to spend more time alone with her. A lot of people think that just because we work together we’re always “together”. Truth is that our work has totally different scopes so most days we don’t even see each other until we get home. We both made more effort this year to have meals just the two of us, spend time together in the evening just talking about random stuff and we would even match our travelling schedules so we could spend an extra day together. Thanks to our great teams in FV, dUCk and our parents, we were able to take some real holiday time away to Bali and Paris just the two of us and not worry about anything back home.

Here’s to a great 2016 and may 2017 be better.

Words to Avoid Using at Work

I’ve been reading the book The Virgin Way by Richard Branson recently and in one part of the book, he talks about the words to avoid using at work. Some of these words really hit home with me because I know for a fact that I use them a lot and I’ve been trying to avoid using them even before I read the book. Even more so now after reading the book, I realise I HAVE to stop.

Here are my 3 words I’m going to avoid using at work:

1) I think

It’s ironic that I’m not starting with a word, but a phrase. There are times when it’s ok to use this phrase like when you’re brainstorming or giving an opinion on something which is very subjective. However, if you’re the leader of a team, people will look to you for assurance and direction. Giving instructions starting with the phrase “I think” will just make you sound uncertain and team members may lose confidence or even start questioning your leadership.

2) Okay

Everyone uses this word for everything and it’s exactly for that reason that you want to stop saying it. Saying okay can range from “I can’t be bothered, so whatever you say” all the way to “I’m so excited I can’t wait”. So throw “okay” out of your responses and expand your sentences to not only agree, but to instil some positivity into your team. “I trust your judgement, let’s do it” and “Amazing work, you seem to have everything under control” are phrases which can substitute “okay” plus motivate them further.

3) Ohhh, Uhmmm

If anyone has seen a Malaysian politician speak, they will tell you these sounds are the self-made background music to their speech. No, Mr. Prime Minister, we don’t need this sound to fill the silence. I personally find it cringe-worthy and always wonder why they do it. Is it because they’re trying to connect their words so listeners don’t lose track of what they’re saying or by continuously filling the room with their voices, they come across more imposing? Either way it’s not working.

I have been actively cutting these sounds out of my daily speech and I actually find my thoughts are better put across. Instead of filling the silence with a sound so that no one else speaks, I find that taking a few seconds pause to recover my thoughts turns out to be more productive.

Come in Mr. VC

At the end of February, news came out that FV raised funding from a US-based VC, Elixir Capital. It was certainly a great milestone for the company and I couldn’t be happier to know we now have spare cash to allow us to take a few more risks. At the same time, the pressure is on to deliver the goods and I’m super excited to see the company grow, especially with the great team I have around me.

When the news came out, the following days came with lots of congratulations, offers to give speaking engagements and people wanting to meet for a few ‘tips’. The well-wishes are always welcome, I’ve decided to pick and choose the talks knowing very well how busy I’ll be immediately after the new funds come in, and as for the the ‘tips’ asked for, it made me realise many business owners didn’t realise what the deal was actually about.

Everyone I met had a very similar question amongst the others they asked:

How’s it like having a VC in your company?

Most of them will usually follow up the question with “are they very involved?”, “do they force you to do things you don’t want?” and even “now you HAVE to go IPO right?”.

The truth is, it’s not that tough having a VC in the company, as long as you’re upfront with them and set the expectations early. We met a lot of VC’s who said they like to get involved in management and would call us every week to see how things are going. Ummm…not for us, thanks.

We told them from the start that we had a plan and we need the funds to execute on the plan, which we know how to do as well. We would give them monthly reports to show our performance, if we’re not doing as expected, let’s jump on a call. If we are, let’s not. We did mention a couple of areas where we would be needing help and the guys at Elixir showed that those were areas which they had experience in and they would be happy to help.

We must have met close to 20 investors over 6 months and they were the guys we felt most comfortable with and they understood us the best. I personally think that’s the most important thing to consider for any new partner in your business. Not the guy who gives you the highest valuation or the most money, but the guy who you’re gonna enjoy having around for the ride.

Distractingly Bad

Today I gave a talk at University Nilai during their Sector Focused Careers Fair with Talent Corp. I usually enjoy sharing the story of how Vivy and I started FashionValet, the challenges we go through with friends, family and competition, but today was very different. The moment I started talking, there were a group of three boys sitting in the front row fooling around. They were slapping each other, sleeping on their friend’s shoulder, giggling and just anything to annoy one another.

This was so distracting and kept throwing me off my train of thought so I ended up jumping from one topic to another. After a while I tried to look at other sections of the crowd, but because they were seated in the front row they were constantly in my line of sight. Their sudden movements would force me to suddenly look towards them to see one of them fell off the chair giggling. It went on for a good 20 minutes!

I was extremely annoyed not just because I probably gave the worst talk ever, but also because I could see sections of the crowd genuinely interested and these guys were ruining it for everyone.  After 20 minutes, I cut my story short and opened it up to questions. I figured better to address points people were more interested in than jumping from one topic to another. That went better and after a gruelling 40 minutes it was over.

To anyone attending talks: it’s really nerve-wrecking to talk in front of a crowd and it really helps when the crowd is supportive.

To the three students fooling around in the front row: get your shit together because you’re at a careers fair looking for work so stop acting like children.

Hello, Competition

The last few days I’ve been receiving a few invitations to give talks at universities and events. I always feel so honoured to be asked because when you’re working on the office everyday, you never realise the perception others have from the outside; about you or your business. After I got an invite to one of those events, the same person emailed me saying he was just about to meet the MD of Zalora and if it was ok for him to sit on the same panel as me.

I understand why he did that, but I also think that as a local business, I should be more than happy to share the stage with someone from an overseas competitor. Many times when I join forums to discuss the problems local business have, a common problem always arises

SME’s can’t compete with giant foreign competitors. We have to stop them somehow.

But why? I personally enjoy the competition and the challenge of pushing ourselves to become global examples can only be done if we challenge global companies. And where better to do it than on your home turf. We should be more open to having foreign competitors coming in, but don’t fear them and don’t turn away from them. Instead, try to learn some of their practices and try to set the bar higher from there.

A year ago, I wrote about competing with the big boys for business circle. You can read it here.

Balancing Work and Play

A close friend of mine just took the brave step of throwing in the towel in his business to re-join the corporate world. I am extremely happy for him because he seems so much happier in his new workplace, but somehow I feel a little frustrated because he is always BUSY nowadays. Before he got his new job, he was doing everything himself. That also meant flexible hours, being able to extend those lunch hours or having an early dinner if we ever planned to. But now even dinner at 8pm is disrupting his work.

So that got me thinking about the term “I’m busy”. I remember when I first started FV, I would proudly say “I’m busy” (or “super busy” or “omg crazy busy”) to my friends when they asked me how’s work. The truth was that I still had time for lunch, tea, dinner, drinks, etc. I just wanted them to know that I was doing something that required me to sacrifice time with friends and family because it was that important.

Three years on, I’m now a dad and I try my best to avoid saying “I’m busy” because I realise there are more important things in life than business and career.

With my little family at the night safari in Singapore
With my little family at the night safari in Singapore

Experience Trumps All

In the past two months, Vivy and I have been so fortunate to meet some of the top business leaders in Malaysia. We got this opportunity through Endeavor Malaysia who invited us to go through their screening process to be an Endeavor entrepreneur. The main benefit of being part of this organisation is getting the who’s who of business leaders from around the world to be your mentor. Of course having this amazing opportunity isn’t easy. The screening process alone can take a minimum of 6 to 9 months and there’s no guarantee even the best will be accepted.

As for us, we’re just going through the initial stages, but we got to meet amazing people like Mark Lankaster (CEO of Tune Hotel and the cool guy from Apprentice Asia), Azran Osman-Rani (CEO of AirAsiaX), Mark Chang (CEO of Jobstreet) and a few more amazing people. I’m not saying all this to brag, but to say that this was a hugely humbling experience.

Vivy and I with Mark Lankaster in front of the Apprentice Asia poster.
Vivy and I with Mark Lankaster in front of the Apprentice Asia poster.

I go day to day thinking FashionValet is growing well and we have it all planned out, but in less than one hour, each of these guys were able to expose flaws and weaknesses in the business that I’ve never considered. They forced Vivy and I to look at FashionValet at a whole new level. Not just the day to day workings of making sure this month’s sales is more than the one before. They asked questions like

Is it more valuable now to expand into other countries or grow deeper in your current markets?

Which unit is going to be the main driver for growth?

How do you know what your value is to your suppliers?

These are very open ended questions and of course we didn’t find the answer that day, but rewired our thinking. There was one advice that Mark Chang told me that really opened up my eyes. Previously when I would present FV’s business plans to investors, they would say, “So you plan to double FV’s revenue every year for the next 5 years?”. They would say it with so much scepticism that it would make me doubt if we could even do it, but Mark’s advice was different.

You have to think of a strategy where FashionValet will grow 10 times in the next 2 years and another 10x within the following 5 years.

This just goes to show that the mentality of people approaching business varies depending on which side of the table they sit on. I would advise everyone out there to look out for these kinds of extraordinary entrepreneurs who are willing to mentor you. No amount of money can substitute the experience these kind of people have and all you need is an hour of their time.

Making Time

It’s been one and a half months since I wrote anything on my blog. I’ve had so many things I want to write, but they’re all jumbled up in my head. I also want to say that I haven’t had time, but if I did, I would be a big hypocrite. I always tell people that if they really wanted to do something, they will make time for it. In fact, someone recently reminded me of a saying by Benjamin Franklin:

If you want something done, give it to a busy person.

I’ll be pushing myself to at least one post a week due every Wednesday.

Plan to Change

Before Vivy and I started FashionValet, I was working in Deloitte as a consultant. As I learned during my time there, our job was to do market research, brainstorm innovative ideas, seek out the best practices from world-class counterparts so that we could write a fool-proof paper which would lead that company to exactly where they wanted to be. So naturally when we started FV I wanted to write the perfect business plan; if we followed this plan step-by-step, the only thing that would happen is SUCCESS.

How naive.

If I showed people that plan that I wrote 3 years ago, they would think it’s a completely different business. The fact is nothing ever goes as planned. Yes, we should have a plan, but religiously sticking to a plan will most likely end up in disaster. Use it as a guide and be open to changes.

In fact, welcome them, I find business becomes more exciting that way.

 

Top 10 Mistakes Made by Entrepreneurs

My father-in-law usually sends me random links of articles sometimes about entrepreneurship, current events and crime in the city (to make sure I’m taking care of his little princess). So one day he sent me a video link and usually I’d watch it immediately, but this time is was more than 80 minutes long! So I put it off until I was in my bed clothes at home.

I found this video extremely good because I’ve seen other similar “Top 10 Mistakes by Entrepreneurs” videos and they more or less talk about the same thing. This one is very different.

The guy giving the talk is Guy Kawasaki. He’s worked for Apple under Steve Jobs for the longest time and he’s actually been on all sides of business: entrepreneur, investor and advisor (as he mentions in the video).

Don’t worry, the actual Top 10 is only half an hour long. The rest of it is Q&A which you can skip if you want.

Enjoy!

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