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What my 4 Years myBurgerLab Degree Taught Me – Part IV (Finale)

 

This article marks the last part of my sharing and this part is mainly about the non technical aspect of business. A lot of sharing below is based on the deduction of my own self reflection over the years which could only occur by connecting the dots backwards.

So here goes, my last 3 pointers

7. Networking and Support

We wouldn’t have gotten till where we are today if it weren’t for the support given to us by all of our friends and families. If it weren’t for 3 of our network of friends, I don’t think we can really get till this far.

A lot of times in university, people talk about the importance of networking and I did expose myself through various events out of university to open up my eyes. But it wasn’t till when myBurgerLab was started that I realised the importance of having a big contact list of friends.

We got our current centralised kitchen head, 4 years now since they started, through my ex boss referral. We wouldn’t be able to test run at Red Bean Bag if it weren’t for my partners working there before we started. When I look back at connecting the dots, it’s amazing to see how everyone we meet just connects the dots for us. It’s somewhat amusing.

To tell you how crazy sometimes having a large network can be, is to tell you about our Sunway outlet journey. We initially rented a lot way further down the street but had to forfeit it due to the lot not being able to run restaurants (some MPSJ quote allocation crap). And then we wanted to hunt for another shop along that row, but there was no to let sign at all. On and off we will go and check out the row and one day I just walked along the row and notice the mamak back then (which is our lot right now) was closed during the day time. It felt weird to have a mamak closed at such hour so I asked around to see if it was shut down. And apparently it’s closed but there was no to let sign.

Fortunately, there was a water bill attached to it, and the name was fortunately the landlord! That’s because I took the name, type in Facebook, stalk his friends list and saw a few of his friends have mutual friends with me and I contacted those mutual friends to get to him. In the end, it was my friend’s friend’s dad. Funny, surreal, yeah it was. I still can’t believe how Facebook helped us to get our lot. It’s still a story I will never forget.

Another is the recent fundraising process that we are doing for our 4th year anniversary (in fact it’s today) with Epic Homes. We are raising RM 70,000 this year to fund for a home build for the Orang Asli and as of now we are already half way through the mark. This is because a big chunk of the contribution came from corporates and this support again is from our network of people who trusted us and believe in what we do over the years. It’s amazing to see how people just trust us in doing what we do and this couldn’t have achieve if we uphold the integrity that we have since day 1.

The world is really really small, especially the community in KL. Hence that is why, to have a good network it just starts from us being nice, sincere and treating people how we want to be treated. Any wrong move once, and people will know. I thought my hometown Sungai Petani network was small, but in KL, it’s no less different.

I could see how my network grew over the years, from frisbee friends to budding entrepreneurs and young students (our staff). I guess once you embark on this journey, most of the people who can relate to entrepreneurs are those who have done so themselves because of the magnitude of responsibility one has to bear. That is why I finally understood why many businessmen, like Tan Sri Liew, are interested to be part of the Alliance Bank challenge because he wants to contribute back to budding entrepreneur as the entrepreneurship journey is a tough one. And once one has gone through such journey, the mindset will grow into a giving mindset – giving to customers, employees, friends and the world.

Often times, we will feel like it’s a lonely journey especially when we have to make a big decision. No one would know how things would turned out and it has to be us that is making up our minds to face the music. Hence, it is important to form a network of support and that is why I have friends from various industries as well as those equipped with different level of experience to share advice and perspective with me. It is through their support which I still have the grit till this year. Sometimes their presence itself is really much comforting.

Seeing Daniel Cerventus hustling every year in his shorts to build events, form communities and organising TedxKL reminds me that there is a lot more to go. Sometimes they don’t have to say much, because their actions are already an inspiration.

Every leader needs an ally leader and that goes to the same for an entrepreneur. I wish I had gotten an experienced mentor over the journey, it would really speed things up. If I were to take back time to change things, that would be one of it but I’m glad we went through the difficult times as it really made us experience hardship and learn how to appreciate things a little more.

8. Decision Making

Back when we were short of funds, an opportunity to raise funds arise and we went to check it out. It was the most daunting experience of my life as it’s our first time raising funds to be honest, with equity dilution stake on the table. When I looked back, we were glad we made the right choice. There was a potential investor that wanted to inject RM 1.5 million into our company for a 50% stake back in mid 2014. The pressure was big to make a decision on whether to take the money or move on as we were dealing with someone who we were unfamiliar with as well.

Speaking about importance of networking and support, that was the time that I had to reach out to just anyone for opinion, to really assess if such opportunity was too hasty. Patrick from myElephant asked me some really good questions to ponder. I even reached out to Azran Osman (we used to play frisbee together) for advice and he just recommended me the book – The Hard Things about Hard Things. I went to buy it the next day and then started reading it to just find some advice or tips somewhere in the book.

Overtime, I realised that my friends will not give me direct answers because they know they are not in same situation as me and the best thing they can do is to ask me questions for me to find clarity and I think that is a big support itself to me.

In the end, we decided to call off the proposal close to the last minute because firstly we realised we knew we didn’t know them well enough to see common values between us (mainly because of the way we run our business is really different) and to give up 50% at series A would hamper us to raise further if needed to. We believed we could have done better if we fix the fundamentals right. If we are going to raise funds and have an external party to push to hit certain KPIs, why can’t we dictate that KPIs ourselves to push ourselves without an external pressure. And then later on if needed to, take that result and raise funds.

When there’s a will, there will be a way.

We wouldn’t have known at that point of time whether it was a good decision but now that when I looked back, I’m glad we did what we did. There will always be pressure from other parties but at the end of the day, us being entrepreneurs, we have a responsibility to pay to our staff and serve our customers better. The last thing we need is to have an external pressure to shrink our portion so that they can get their returns. It was mind tormenting back then as it was our first time dealing with fund raising and I’m really glad that we got some advice and perspective to calm our minds down to think objectively.

This was because we weren’t as educated in fund raising process as we are now, but I’m grateful that we went through the process anyways as we would be able to learn more things.

The biggest take home I gotten from this is that sometimes for a decision as big as this, it is alright to sit on it for a period of time. In fact, when there is a need to make a decision, it’s good to make a mental decision without implementation, and just sit on it for a brief period of time. Then take this mental decision and bounce of a few people to get some advice and perspective. This would allow you to then assess the decision again during that period instead of assessing which decision would be better. This has helped me to make a decision faster than I used to be, mainly because of the constant fear of how it would play out back then.

(Disclaimer: this belief does not apply in all industry as some industry just need investor to grow, fortunately for us we are a cash business.)

9. Learning About Myself

I wouldn’t be able to here today mentally without the help of many of my friends, particularly a personal development programme I went through for 6 months in 2013. That made me more conscious about many of my actions and the reason behind it. It is always easy for us to get into the moment whereby we just do things automatic and becoming subconscious about it. I’m glad I went through the self discovery journey (by Milestones Trainings), otherwise I don’t think I would have the wisdom to pull of what is possible today.

Being able to laugh at myself is the greatest liberation as it signals acceptance of self and wanting to learn how to grow within. So much I have learnt, and just to share with you some of the few below

  • I had dilemma after 2 years in the journey and whether going back to working world was a viable option as there’s not much worries, fixed income and there’s certainty in terms of holidays. It took me a while to made peace with my decision to stay when I realised that I need to flexibility of doing whatever I want to do anytime of the day, even though it’s hard work of 16 hours a day. I can work long hours (thanks for 4 months in Pricewaterhouse), but it has to be within my control of time allocation. And with such clarity, I have never looked back and just focus to go forward.
  • Another big learning I gotten about myself is the problem to focus. They say founders are often very much wanting to always start new things after one another, and I believe this is indeed a common trait across entrepreneurs. It is very easily swayed and I am no exception. It’s so tempted to always start something else after thinking that I have started something really well. Only when reality hits the fan then it pulls us back to reality. The amount of distraction in today’s world is more than ever and the ones who will go furthest are the ones who has the focus and the grit to get to the finish line. It was Cheryl Yeoh who made me realised (during my [email protected] trip last year) that I have been focusing too much on width that I forgotten on depth. It became so clear that the businesses I had was lacking a lot of depth and when I came back from the USA, that’s where a lot of restructuring happen and we had to just focus and building a more sustainable foundation in my existing businesses.
  • One more lesson that I will always remember after these challenging times is to always have a respect for money. We will have to learn how to spend every $1 wisely and treat every $1 like $1000. As entrepreneurs, we are all here to build sustainable businesses and not to just build glamour, because there is too much to lose if we don’t take care of our finances carefully. This is because when you have no money to move forward, it sucks. It just is. I’m glad that when I was young, my late grandfather always taught our family to – “Always have money for rainy days, you will need it one day”. I guess being a businessman himself, he knew how tough money can be when things are really tough. That word always stuck to me since, and if it wasn’t me to have some savings throughout the years, I wouldn’t be able to take my pay cut just to buy time during the difficult period that we went through. In fact 3 of us had to take some pay cut for some period of time during this tough period and I’m really glad we are managed to sustain until today.

So get out there, read books, go hiking, diving, get a mentor, learn more about yourself. All these will really help you to progress in life. Get a buddy who will not take your bullshit and excuses.

Be open and vulnerable to what people advice you to be because it requires a lot of energy really to help someone really.

To end, I just want to say that success is impermanent. It’s actually multiple milestone in life, and it can be small or big. A lot of people deemed myBurgerLab is successful but really success is just a perception. After we gone through this stage, we are just glad that we are still here, existing to serve customers as best as we can. All the awards at this stage really is really menial now at the moment, as the true success for us is that our staff continue taking care of the customers so that the customers continue to take care of our staff and hoping that the cycle does not end. That itself to me, is the biggest success of anything.

Thanks for your time to read this series, I didn’t expect such readership. If you really want to start an FnB, I really advice you to go work at place for at least 3 months, non negotiable. It is required to know what you are getting yourself into, be it a hawker place to some fancy restaurant. If you are not willing to clean a grease trap, you are not ready to start a FnB. It’s tough to be sustainable, so put your money to good use.

I will be sharing more learnings in the future. If you have any topics you want me to touch on, do leave a comment in the comment section below.

To end this series, again just want to thank everyone who helped us through since Day 1, despite the long lines. We are in the midst of looking how technology can help with the line going forward since things have progressed a lot in the tech space since we started.

If you are available today, we are celebrating our anniversary in 3 locations, SeaPark, OUG and Sunway. We are serving 2 burgers for the day, the Umami Beef burger (that got us to win the Tiffin throwdown challenge) and Ultraman 4.0. All profits made for today collectively goes to our fundraising of RM 70,000 for the epic home build.

To find out more, here are 2 links for you

Our Anniversary Event Details – here

Our Fundraising Campaign for Epic Homes – here (you can have a chance to own myBurgerLab, more details in the link)

 

Links to all previous 3 parts

Part I

Part II

Part III

What my 4 Years myBurgerLab Degree Taught Me – Part III

Part_III
A reader pointed out to me that I did not cover in Part II about what I mentioned in Part I, which is how having co-founders would affect the culture if it’s not aligned or managed properly.

It all starts with the mindset of individuals on how things should be done. In our case, we know that food quality and service are always important, hence the underlying foundation of everything we do revolves around that. We only ship out new product if the product is good, and the pace of our growth is much reliant on how we can maintain our quality and service.

Once the fundamental culture is establish (which is the easy part), then there are the multiple small cultures like the magnitude of hunger for sales, the pace of execution of ideas, the frequency of relationship building and networking which could dictate how the rest of the team perform. That’s culture, and it is always a progressive process to align, breakdown and realign again to move forward.

Every stage of growth will require a level up of experience, mindset and alignment, and it is through challenging times that we will experience it. We just have to step back sometimes and see it from a third party point of view on how the company is doing and then move on from there (with no emotions attached).

*** Back to Part III ***

I meet a lot of entrepreneurs who always say follow they wanna do this because they are passionate about this and that. A classic example is people who open cafes always start from claiming that they are passionate about coffee. Few years down the road, they wanna sell of their business. I’m like what?!! Or some of them close down?

So is passion really all enough to really venture into the business? Or is that the words we tell people and ourselves because that’s just what the norm of the answer is.

To me, pure passion is overrated, because when you understand how important it is to build a sustainability business is to keep the passion burning, then you will not say you will just do it solely for passion.

Sadly, that’s how the world works, and we just have to learn how to play around the rules of the game. When we accept that sustainability is required through proper planning and the hunger to sell, then we will become responsible towards everything and everyone, rather than brushing it off saying it’s not important and claiming that it’s just the passion.

Part III is about the tough times that we went through because of the failure of planning and not having a more aggressive approach in selling.

5. Planning

“If you fail to plan, then be prepared to plan to fail”

These words has never been so true until we faced our toughest time. I learnt this when I was still studying in university, after I left university, and yet I never felt the magnitude of importance when come to planning until the shit hits the fan.

Being complacent with life back then when I was 23, 24 when we were raking money so easily with people lining up the door has blinded me to plan for the future. Things changed so fast in today’s world that you have to keep your eye on to the ball. Momentum breeds on momentum.

And this mainly comes from the mindset of mine of fearing to plan because at the end I may just set a goal which is too big to achieve or I will just self sabotage the goal. When I learn more about myself, and understanding how my mind and fear work, that’s when things started to change.

Blaming on external factors is always an easy way out, the reality is that that we lack strategy.

That’s a fact that if you want to start a business, you just have to own up to it.

So what actually happen back in the days? Why a business had all media talking with 600 burgers a day ran into such tough challenges? It just seems ok from the outside but just similar to any businesses from the outside, what you see from the outside and what you know in the reality is really different.

Chung Lynn from Nando’s told me before that running 1 store and 2 stores will be very different, and from 2 to 4 stores will be even more different. We know to a certain extent that it will be different, but we didn’t know how different the fundamental of the business will be once you expand.

We opened our centralised kitchen in Q1 2013, to cope with production of our Seapark outlet (which was doing 600 for a night shift), before opening our OUG location in Q3 in the same year. Things were still doing pretty decently well, till we closed SeaPark for renovation of downstairs and upstairs while we launched OUG.

When both stores were opened we were doing more burgers collectively but averagely burgers in both store dropped. It was great that our central kitchen was opened so that we can produce more, but it was over the couple of months after that collectively the percentage of incremental volume from opening an additional store was not 100%.

So in pure math terms, if we are doing 600 a day, we should be doing 1200 of both stores, but in reality things just didn’t go that way. We did not account for the drop in volume collectively when we did our budgeting and because of that, incremental of revenues were not incremental of cost to support both.

We had a heavy top headcount, which meant that we had too many full timers being hired in the office, but not enough traction to utilise such big team.

In short, we were below capacity of what we could have accommodated and revenue were just not coming large enough collectively to cover our cost. So on some months we make money, on some months we lose money.

We lack strategy to boost sales in both stores, but more importantly our fundamentals of an F&B business is not ideal. You see, when we run with one outlet and our production is being run in the same location, our cost is being maximised across all verticals. And we can always have the option to close once a week, as we are neither top heavy nor have heavy commitments of full time wages. But as we expand, cost goes up but our revenue may not go up by the similar percentages.

If we were to turn back time, we would have to craft out a solid strategy on how to open up 3 additional stores and its timeline before opening our centralised kitchen. If we didn’t then it would be better to just stuck with one outlet. What’s more challenging is that our store managers work 5 days a week, instead of the norm of 6 days a week, and our store only opens 6 days a week.

As you scale for F&B, a lot of things which you would have done for one store would unfortunately have to change, as it’s just business fundamentals. Adapt or die. Which is why when people say opening more chains is better, I beg to differ. Better is always relative, it’s the bottom line that counts. It took us 3 years to finally open 7 days a week and that moved itself just changed everything. Imagine if one day’s sale is 3,000 on the low end per store, 4 stores would mean 12,000. And one month it would mean extra 36,000 of sale by just opening one store across the board. That every bit helped even though the margins may not be as high.

On the down side, the price we got to pay is lesser bonding time which usually we use our Mondays for, but at this stage, it was going down entirely so partial sacrifice, with the first Monday of the month being our geek outing day. And I’m glad we chose the latter.

And that was why we know we just needed to fill up capacity for all the staff hired for production and management, which makes the 3rd and 4th location necessary. There were moments when we were lost on how to go and fund raise for our third location and in the end we just resort to take private loans (not from banks) to give it one last push. That’s when we open our third location at Bandar Sunway end 2014 and then Cyberjaya right after in May 2015. At the end of the day, it’s unfortunately a business that thrive on volume, similarly like airlines. It’s a volume game. If we want to scale, we got to be ready to pay the price.

It was through this downturn, that I learnt the importance of planning. It’s better to have a plan than not to have one, at least you have a direction, instead of moving fast without a direction.

There’s always a question on but where do we start? How do I know whether what I plan is achievable? What should I be planning for? When we plan, we will never know what will happen, but it all starts from doing 2 things

  1. Setting a goal that you want, try small then go bigger. From daily sales of 1k to 1.3k for example, that’s a small goal, but it’s practicing that goal setting step that is essential.
  2. Break down every strategy into very small steps on how you need to hit the goals

One example now that we practice now is setting sales goal for the year and bonus scheme as well as coming up with a proper budget based on our cost structure. Once we do all these, we will then know what are the sales targets we need to achieve monthly, by store.

Besides, it took me 3 years to see the importance of budgeting, because it’s not something I like doing when I was younger because to me things always change. But budgeting has taught me to use it as a guideline to know what are the sales needed to hit for our own cost structure and not treat it as a tool that may cause rigidity.

The best lesson I learn from my trip to [email protected] (under my other startup Ops Ninja) last year was to start with the end in mind and then reverse engineer from there. It was something so simple, yet so hard to see. If you could draft out your end goal in mind, a lot of things can fall in place really clearly. In this case, if we know how much is the cost gonna be as we scale, then we would know how much revenue we would need to hit in order to be sustainable.

Also, by doing the reverse engineering method you will then be able to plan out for the hiring as well. This would help you to dictate what kind of function to hire and when to hire. Every industry is different and every stage of business is different. From my experience, as mentioned previously is to hire for sales and operations first and then accounts and HR will come much later. But this is different if you are doing big scale cross country fast growth like how K-Fit does, where they would hire heads of multiple functions because their directions were clear. With proper planning, you would also be able to figure out how you can use certain technology tools to automate or simplify processes so that you wouldn’t have to hire so many headcount.

Note for F&B business wannabes – again, sometimes doing an outlet is better than doing more outlets. You will require a very detailed expansion forecasting plan to move from one location to multiple location, because there’s a lot of extra expenses require such as extra management head count.

Make sure do your cost structure properly and then figure out how much money is needed for your expansion and then do what it takes to get there.

If you think getting a franchise will get you rich, think again. If you really want to go and take a franchise, go sit at their outlet and do the math on how many people actually walk through the door, and not believe whatever numbers the franchisor gives you. This is because I have seen so many being affected and they just close down in the end. Or even better, go SSM and print out their annual report, it’s as simple as that.

It’s just perception vs reality when people look out for F&B business to invest in. That is why we are refraining from franchising because the amount of people who can execute a myBurgerLab outlet properly really low and we rather maintain our special experience for our customers. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that success is built over a number of years and not just an overnight thing, so be patient and plan it out 🙂

6. Sell, Sell, Sell

If you want to start a business, you have to start from selling.

If you don’t like to sell, you just can’t do it. Everyone sells. People sell themselves when they apply for a job. Students sell themselves when they apply for scholarships. A mom sells cakes to fund for her family living if she has to.

Everyone can sell, it’s just whether the result meets your target. Good or bad result again is relative, relative to each individual’s goals.

Selling in one location and selling in multiple locations is so different, with different demographics, different consumer behaviour, different city development structure are all factors of how well one can sell achieve the targets.

I personally don’t like sitting back and hope for customers to walk through the door. This is what I know I set my mind to it before we open. I like to be busy. Fortunately for us, when we open on the first day, the customers were just pouring in. When we looked back it was timing of a social media boom period that we capitalised on and also our tasting sessions at the Red Bean Bag.

Selling goes beyond marketing, especially what we all learn in universities with the so called 4 Ps. Those are theory, but in reality it’s much much tougher. Which is why I always encourage whoever who wants to open a F&B to go and work in a F&B place first so you will understand consumer behaviour better.

My friend Han King once shared with me that he goes to supermarket and stand on body and personal care aisle to observe how consumer shop and how they make a decision on which brands to purchase. That really taught me a lot in respecting consumer behaviour as a lot of it starts from understanding the behaviour of all type of consumer groups from the ground level.

Our OUG consumer behave very differently from our SeaPark customers. They come in bigger groups, families mainly and thankfully our location is a bigger location to accommodate such demographic. Otherwise our sales will very much be affected even more.

As you start your business you will learn that there are too factors that affect a customer decision making at different points in time, from long queues, to convenience, to special treatment, to fear of losing out, to peer recommendation, to peer pressure, to many many more. I’m always astonish on different customers make their decision and I learnt a lot of this from cashiering at the counter for almost 2 years.

One big lesson learnt was when we got our first phone number (after 3 freaking years) that people could actually contact us. Previously people just contact us online through social media or email, but when we got our phone number, we realised 3 things. People actually google about us and there were so many more customers we missed out just because a lot of them do not know when we open and where we are exactly located. The last thing we realised was sometimes customers really want to come to eat before we close but because they don’t know if they can make it in time, they decided not to come. But with the phone number, now they can call us to place an order before we close our kitchen so that they can still enjoy our burgers when they arrive.

It was really not funny on how much of opportunities we have missed out. When everyone is trending about social media marketing, for us it was just a simple phone number. Selling is not just about what you sell, or how you sell but also what channels you are selling your products through. Having extra channels means you get to reach out to customers who behave differently.

What made us took it to the next step with a mobile phone channel was the inspiration from startups like BeMalas and Helpr, where we provide convenience to customers who want to “BeMalas” to Whatsapp in their orders at least 1 hour prior (only applicable for non peak time) to preorder their burgers. This helps us to fulfil our downtime capacity. This behaviour is not uncommon as I see my dad always do it back in my hometown where he will call his usual restaurant and order fried rice so that he can just go and collect it after 10 minutes.
(*Note we sometimes do reject orders through Whatsapp if the store is like super busy, so you would still have to walk in).

We even launched our non heavily publicised delivery service through Whatsapp to test out the feasibility of the delivery market and how to go about coping it operationally as the orders scale. The experience has been pretty fruitful.

Many people see our social media as a case study, but we have a lot of sale funnel beneath the surface that we work with because we know social media cannot be the sole bread and butter. This goes similarly to many businesses. We always keep an eye out of how different verticals do their sales channel, be it AirAsia, Tesco, Hilton, Apple, McDonalds, there are many lessons to be learnt from these seasoned guys.

One piece of advice to learn is that selling just doesn’t start with the sales and marketing team, but the operation team are also the sales people. Sales and Marketing converts customers to come, while the operation teams are the one who convert them to be local returning customers. Both functions have to work hand in hand in order to build a kick ass sales team. In our case it’s our geeks, our store managers who walk the talk when it comes to food quality and customer service. Without them, no matter how kick ass our social media marketing is, it wouldn’t work.

All these are just lessons that we learnt throughout our journey. And it all starts with the hunger to sell, if you want to make it, you will do whatever it takes and explore whatever it takes. 🙂

010-3695275 and say hi to our lovely Evan who will handle your request 🙂

P.S. Our 4th year Anniversary is next month and we are fundraising RM 70,000 in total to build a house with Epic Homes. Head on to this event page to find out more details on how you can contribute 🙂

Salted Egg Yolk? There’s Plenty to Go Around la

Salted egg yolks (鹹蛋黃)

Image source: http://thewanderingeater.com/2010/09/17/homemade-mooncakes/

 

So a lot of people (even our part time geek) has been tagging us, messaging us saying that Singapore McDonald has launched the Salted Egg Yolk Burger, following our foot steps. (google Salted Egg Yolk McD Singapore if you havent’ heard)

We are honestly grateful that you guys think that myBurgerLab has the upper hand by launching it first or our idea is copied. But in F&B, there’s no like who’s who first one la. There’s so many restaurants whose Char Siew are so equally good that we don’t really pick on who’s first la. Even black charcoal buns can be found in many places anyways.

Salted Egg Yolk trend started way before us anyways, with Le Bread Days (from Malaysia) doing the much talk about Salted Egg Yolk Croissant.

Go ahead and enjoy their burgers, I’m sure they are good. Every product has its market.

We are different concepts anyways.

There’s just a lot of recipe to go around honestly. You can’t patent recipe unless it’s a process recipe like instant powder mix, or coke formula etc. That’s the fact of life and if everyone goes around patent this stuff, then there will be a restaurant that will only serve carbonara. How boring that can be 🙂

And yes, our Salted Egg Burger is still on the menu. Maybe bring one down from SG and we would swap one of ours with yours. At least share some goodness with us as well!

Peace out!

What my 4 Years myBurgerLab Degree Taught Me – Part II

Team and Culture

Firstly, I just wanna say that the response of you readers for Part I was really overwhelming, it was really unexpected. And I just want to clarify that I didn’t actually have to eat bread everyday (though economy rice was the actual one), but the statement I was putting out there was a “What If” question of a worse case scenario. Sorry if you thought I did, Pai Seh…..

** back to Part II **

Do you ever wonder why some companies can last longer than some, and some companies just die after a few years? Do you ever wonder how some companies just thrive more than the others at different times?

It was a question that I asked myself constantly after the first year of starting out and there are all sorts of reasons given from books and the media – from unable to adapt to change to not pivoting fast enough. Is there no fool proof way? Or is there a fool proof way sort of?

Then I realised that essentially a business is just like life, everything has up and downs. People come and go. Deaths and births happen. There’s never a fool proof way to last forever and this goes the same to the Central Bank. Maybe one day, central bank may not exist anymore too.

Fun Fact: 80% of businesses fail within the first year!!

From my personal journey and assumption, I can narrow down to only 3 internal factors after seeing how some companies succeed and fail. It all starts from the founders mindset, the team that is part of the business and the culture of how things are run internally.

3. Team is the real King, Product is the Queen.

One big observation I came to conclude that product is no longer king, that is really an old philosophy. Screw it. Many people talk about how good a product is and how life altering an idea can be, but that is just the surface reason.

Products and ideas are actually byproducts of people.

How Nokia fell and Apple rose is what usually people claim to be the product problem but in all honesty the real reason is the team behind these companies that dictates the future of the business. They are the ones who will decide on
1. Whether to go ahead with new innovation
2. What direction of innovation they want to take

The people in the team can make or break the business, just like how Leicester beat everyone in this season’s Premier League. It’s not just Jamie Vardy, it’s the whole team collectively.

It’s not about how much money one company raise, cause if it is then all the latest startup failure stories in the USA wouldn’t happen. The suicidal cases of founders wouldn’t have happen.

A great team will find ways to do whatever it takes to make things happen. If the goal is 5 million sales this year, then it’s to go out and make 5 million sales possible. If the founders and the team are great, they can weather any downturn in the company.

Building a team is probably the highest learning curve that I faced throughout these 4 years. We were really lucky, we got off with a really good start by having great people from the get go and to hire so many young people aged below 25 mainly, gave us a really big advantage to create the myBurgerLab experience that we want.

Seeing how many of these kids grew over the years are personally rewarding. 97% of our crew have no culinary or hospitality background and to be able to understand our philosophy in what we do and translate that into action by putting customers first is amazing. Some geeks just got the hang of it from the start, some take a while.

Many of them do not know how great they can be sometimes in the start, and after few weeks seeing them in action is when you can truly see them flourish. I have seen geeks who are so quiet in the first 2 weeks and after that they opened up really much and just have fun working. I have seen geeks who are over self confident and have lots of ego, but after a few weeks they value team work, helping out others and putting excellence as priority. They probably don’t see it as clearly as we do, but many of them do grow along the way.

I have personally seen a geek (whose mom runs a pet store) who doesn’t know much about F&B and is unsure of what he wants to do in his life after SPM. When he came in he was fairly quiet and timid, and eventually opened up to be one of our best geeks. Seeing how they are when they first came in and how they have became at the end of their journey is just great as it aligns to what we wanted to achieve which is to educate and teach the young generation the mindset of serving and putting others first. It all starts with attitude and I’m glad most of our hires have great attitude (though our rejection rate has raised to almost 50% compared to 10% in year 1).

The energy and vibrancy that these geeks bring to the team is just priceless. myBurgerLab wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for them. Having said that, it is really challenging to handle such high turnover and managing a group of raging hormones. There’s just a lot of team dynamics to deal with. I guess it comes with a price for having what we want to achieve, but it’s still manageable. 🙂 Credit goes to the store managers! Thank you Geeks for the hardwork too!!

If you ever come to the lab and enjoy your experience with the team, drop us a message. Any compliments about a particular geek will always be passed down. Give them a high 5 when you see them, they will appreciate it 🙂

That’s for the part timers. Though for the full timers is a different experience as they are the ones who will be setting the core foundation of everything we do. We made few hiring errors in the first 2 years and we also lost several full timers along the way. Much of it is due to how we founders hire people. I can’t stress on how important it is now to hire correctly especially at the start of the business. We as founders have to be clear with what we want, what kind of people we want and how to manage their expectation at the start of the hire.

To know how important is it to build a great team, it takes failures to see that over a period of time. It always take time to learn how to conduct effective interview and selection process.

I finally understood what it meant by hiring experienced people. If a staff is inexperience or having at least worked at our other places before, he/she may experience stagnation after a few years if the business has a weak system and processes (very much in our case previously). This is because as the business grow, the experience required at the stage are very much different from what was required at the starting phase. There are of course certain exceptions where inexperience hires can pick up really fast and surpass expectations as well. All in all is the attitude of the person, but having the experience of even working could give a really big edge.

You will need to look into your budget and determine what kind of people you can hire and what each hire can bring to the table. Some experienced hire may not be suitable even to work in a startup environment which lacks of systems and processes. Getting a few experienced people at the start will be able to create long term stability, while hiring fresh grads will help to create fearless creativity, so hiring both opposite profile of people in a team at the start is really crucial.

Every staff lost along the way, is always a kick in the gut for me as I felt that we have let them down to present myBurgerLab as a great opportunity for them, but I have learnt to accept that it is part and parcel of building a team. It is through this failures that we can see how else we can improve how we do things.

I always think that my life can’t be as worse as what many football club managers have to deal with for all the summer transfers and change in team dynamics. I just know that for some I had to let them go, mainly for their own benefit as we had poor learning pipeline for some of our functions and it requires an experience eye to set that function up properly. And in some cases was a poor estimation of hiring needs, hence the over hiring.

All these are part of lessons on how to overcome internal organisation challenges and it helps to keep us on our feet to develop a strong learning growth for the team. We changed roles and responsibilities of our core team quite often as we grow and always had to develop processes to patch things up. I wished there’s a textbook on this but there’s nothing better than experiencing ourselves.

3 of us are really grateful to the team, some took risk to join us from the start, some was their first job and it was because of such sacrifice from them to trust us from the start that made us to take the risk to give one last push to see how else we can bring the business back to sustainable terms.

4. Culture

I was invited to speak at Jobi’s career fair recently to speak about building team culture in a company and that topic given really got me thinking of what culture really is. Looking back over the years, we hit several great home runs in terms of the culture we manage to establish, but there were a also few cultures which I hope we established earlier.

Back in 2009-2013, the media were showing all the trendy cool working culture at the great offices around the world which had cool bean bags, pool table, flexible hours, free breakfast. Boy, was I sucked into the media thinking that those perks should be the benchmark to establish a great working culture environment at myBurgerLab.

At the back of my head, I always questioned over the years on whether we are good enough. There’s no PlayStation in the office, no Wii, would we be good enough for people to join or to even stay longer. Such pressure as a startup can be quite self destructive because sometimes we forget that we are comparing ourselves to big companies who are well funded or big multinational companies who existed for years.

But over the year, I have learnt that the truth is people will not determined whether they will stay based on what facilities are available (in fact I call those benefits as perks and not culture). The key is what kind of mindset and culture do you want to set to attract the kind of people you want and to help to push the organisation forward.

Culture is very much explained by how things are being done by the people and what kind of thought process is being cultivated across the team.

Example, by not having much resources available on hand could open up an opportunity for the team to build on a culture of “how to be resourceful when there are no resources”. This creates creativity thinking on ideation and execution. For example, pre sales business model, where sales and transaction is captured even before a good/service is being shipped out.

Not having a cool kickass office with pool table and ping pong table could open up an opportunity for the team to build on a culture of “gratefulness of having essentials and how to use those essentials to build on to bigger things”.

These are the type of cultures which are important in the long run. Putting others first and giving back to the community are 2 big parts of our culture. Humility is also the other.

Culture is very much dictated by how the founders behave and react, and that transcends to the core culture of the company. If punctuality is one non negotiable thing in the company, it will create a culture of people being on time.

One thing I’m glad it started from top down is that when us founders and shareholders do dine at our restaurants, payment is required. We don’t write off the bill as free meal, cause this would create a culture of abuse in the future among us and the staff. It’s better to communicate out what kind of culture to set at the start.

I even queue with other customers to place an order. It’s all this small things that we have to set an example to the team.

One culture that I wish I have cultivated earlier among the team is developing a sense of stronger ownership and developing a risk taking mindset to make decisions. Being in a founder position, there’s this tendency to always want to make the final decision or make the decision, which sometimes can hamper a staff’s ability to think, suggest and take risk. Sometimes the best way to teach them is to have them to go through the experience of trial and error themselves, instead of creating fear in them to try.

Another is the culture of working through people. Frequently, we as founders will always give instructions straight to the employee by bypassing their superior, and that gives the superior less accountability. By working through people, it can create a better sense of respect of a superior and subordinate relationship among my managers. Over time we could see the importance of working through them and holding them accountable to their actions. Wish we would have done it sooner.

It was this year that I started to craft out ways to have the team to start taking steps to make strategic decisions. I have seen progress from creating parameters of expectations for them and give them the creativity to develop ideas to work around so long it meets those parameters. For example, a minimum profit margin can be a parameter. Amount of time to test the idea can be a parameter. It’s just developing a system and safety net created for them to take a step to try and to buffer their failure if they fall.

Remember – flexible working hours is a benefit, hustling late night to do whatever it takes is a culture. We got to know what is the difference.

And that is why it is important to lead by action than through words, cause actions can send through a lot of messages. If we treat our customers or client right and put them first, the staff will follow suit, cause that is the culture we wanna showcase.

Try being late as a founder for a week, and you can start seeing your team members to have punctuality issues. I have learnt over the years on how to be neater (due to my ever messy table), cause it does translate down to how the team keep things in order. One very bad habit/culture I have learnt to kick is the sleep on the restaurant bench habit (which was really terrible in the first 2 years and I became famous among my geeks for that. I wished I would have take it seriously but it is through various experience that we learn the magnitude of impact one action could have on the team.

Unfortunately as a founder, your every move is that brutal, because it’s the type of energy you are sending out to the team to follow. So do catch yourself next time. I’m still learning.

So how do we know when to hire and what function to hire for? This starts from planning which we will cover next’s week column. And I will also touch on the juicy story some of you have been wondering what actually went wrong in 2014/2015.

Till then, see you.

P.S. We are always hiring, if you know anyone who wanna join our team, head on to our page by clicking here.

What my 4 Years myBurgerLab Degree Taught Me – Part I

myburgerlab_part_I

And just like that, 4 years have passed, since the day we embarked on an idea from Renyi’s home, to testing our burgers with friends at the Red Bean Bag, to now what we have at 4 locations in Klang Valley.

Sometimes I do wonder how everything just happen, cause it just feels like yesterday that we were just talking about the idea. There were so much emotions that come and go throughout the journey that makes it even more surreal.

The whole 4 years did feel like a degree sort of, a degree which is cheaper than my actual education degree actually, which has taught me so much, especially in the year 2015 as it was the toughest year ever. It was as if I was going through a FYP/Thesis phase for my final year.

It’s been a while since I last wrote about our journey. The emotions, growth, self reflection and friendships that have occurred over the years have fueled me to write about this 4 series article, due to release every weekend till our Anniversary week, July 10. Many of these things have not covered by any media and it’s about us opening up on our vulnerability to the world to see what are the things that goes behind that black burger joint.

Many thanks to the people who were part of my life over the years. Thanks to my family for continuing trusting me, the myBurgerLab team to give their all hustling through a roller coaster ride, my myBurgerLab partners for believing in the journey and hustling non stop, the customers for the continue trust in us with their returning visits, my Ops Ninja partner and team, my budding entrepreneur friends (your presence itself is a good reminder for me to hustle) and my friend Li Kheng who supported me spiritually since I knew her.

Throughout these 4 years, we went through from selling 600 burgers a day to facing a decision on whether to call it a day for the business. We went through few fundraising talks but all didn’t happen in the end. We took risk to work with someone abroad to open our Cambodia location which we learnt a lot with working with someone else. We lost staff along the way, some which we should have fired faster and some was we over hired. We had to reshuffle roles and responsibilities many times. We made so many friends along the way, many whom helped us one way or another, giving us advice and supporting us emotionally.

And after such intense journey, I will be covering 9 things that I learnt along the way.

1. Mindset

Starting a business starts from the right mindset. Your why and conviction has to be strong and clear.

Entrepreneurship they call it, is not something glamorous to began with. The media has worked its way to glamourize entrepreneurship that makes a lot of student contemplating on quitting their studies and jump into entrepreneurship.

Awards, PR Release, News Coverage are good for business marketing, but it doesn’t guarantee personal success. We are just people who just wanna create things for the world and grow a bunch of people to serve the people of the world, teaching them to put others first.

If someone wants to start a business because they say “at least I have something on my own”, or “I’m tired of working for people” or “I don’t like working at my place”, I will go like F**K you!

That is because business is not a game of just try and see what happens. Being naive is a good firepower to have when you first venture into a business, but being able to focus on yourself first and not others will cause you burnout in the long run.

The amount of responsibility you hold as an owner is large. So large that it involves other people’s life – your staff and their children, their family, their partners.

Take this perspective into account where you look at your financial statement and worrying that you have to lay them off when you go into the office. It’s so mental torturing. Sometimes I will just feel ashamed to even go to work, but I know the 2 routes that exist are either downwards or just keep on trying to go upwards.

We get paid last when it counts.

There’s no security, no fixed schedule of 5 days work week, no benefits of public holiday and to sum everything else in a much worse state, we are not even building something that is ours, because we will never able to bring it to us in the grave.

So why bother to take such a difficult route?

If you ever want to start a business, please start with these questions.

“What would keep you going if you have to eat bread everyday for couple of months just so you can issue paychecks to pay your staff? Are you able to take the grit test and put others first when it counts?”

And it is through these hard times is when I finally understood why some people are just reluctant to start their own business. Some people’s lives will be made miserable if they venture into entrepreneurship. Honestly some people are just better off working. Many of my peers now are making even more than me in their monthly salary. The good thing is, through this difficult journey, it also helped me to evaluate a founder of another business sharper if I were to work with that person or invest in them.

2 years after the Alliance bank challenge, now I finally understand why Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin asked me these 2 questions:

  1. “Why is this important to you” and
  2. “What happens if this venture doesn’t work out”.

When a seasoned businessperson goes through the hard times, that is when you truly understand that the only way out, is the person itself, and that is all that makes the difference.

It is not the best years that count, it’s how you handle the bad times that counts.

It’s no longer which idea is the best or whether this idea would change the world, but how much of grit do you have to just run a business successfully. It is true when top VCs in the States say that it is difficult to find someone that can qualify as both a founder and a CEO material at the same time, because both roles do require different set of emotions.

End 2014, early 2015 was the toughest times of our lives, as we had to get some money to open our 3rd store to ensure our survival. It was either taking that risk to do one last push or end up losing everything (more explain in the Part III). During that struggle, the motivation to even go ahead for one last push was questionable. There were doubts on whether there could ever been a light at the end of the tunnel, despite thinking we have done the really best we can.

From 18 months of having people to queue outside our first outlet to facing shutting down the business, it was a mental ping pong in my mind. I was really lost, struggling to pull myself out of bed sometimes. It’s depressing, that’s fact of life. You just don’t see it in the media.

And through those difficult moments is when each of us would have to find our own source of motivation and for me, it was the people who trusted us to embarked on the journey at the beginning. There’s just too much sacrifice from their end for me to let them down. If it’s up to me to battle it out once again, it’s for the management team, the young energetic geeks and the customers.

Who else could possibly do a burger joint with such creative burgers and such energetic service if it’s not us. If it’s meant to be, we should be the one who power through to leave a legacy and putting Malaysia on the map.

80% cut on my pay for 15 months, cut down on spending to buy time, working 18 hours a day, weird sleeping patterns, hustle to make more sales and started another business (Ops Ninja) with my other partner (Chok) to fund my living. When times get tough, you just have to do whatever it takes to just make it work. No negotiations, just whatever it takes (within the moral discipline of course). If there’s anything to blame, it’s to blame it on us ourselves as entrepreneurs.

Throughout those difficult times, catering for Maxis management lunch saved us. Catering for Digi annual internal staff celebration saved us. Samsung Star Light Cinema events saved us. Many more events saved us and it is true that when people said “When you ask for a miracle, you may just get what you want after all.” The world does work in mysterious ways, and that is when I learn how to be grateful for what I have.

I’m usually stress out over things, what more when the business was at such uncertain stage. But it was through the understanding what these 2 words “Acceptance” and “Impermanence” really mean that helped me to detach myself emotionally from the business.

Acceptance – Being able to accept that whatever happens, happens for a reason and instead of resisting them, it’s all about accepting them and ask ourselves what’s next. Acceptance starts from giving the permission within to accept the situation and scenario. The more we resist, the more friction it creates and then there’s where paralysis happens.

Impermanence – Nothing in the world is permanent. Look at Nokia. Look at the various banks worldwide, nothing will last forever and that is just the fact of life. It was the biggest breakthrough for me as I understood that the business success and failure doesn’t define me. This helped me to make my decision more objective instead of emotional ones.

We are always faced the challenge of an entrepreneur to always take the emotions of our team into account, but sometimes we know better that we have to do what’s best for the business because through that, the business will in return be able to take care of the people. No matter how hard we try, it will not be ours forever. We are just given this duty from the universe to serve others during this lifetime.

And it is through this difficult times that made me realized why so many of the successful people out there are so humble, because they have been through terrible times and they are just here to make other people’s life better.

So start with the right mindset, a purpose, a why that is bigger than yourself because once you start a business it’s no longer about you. It’s about others.

If you are in the working world, and wanna do your own thing, talk to your boss to see what you can help him to kick start with. There’s a new trend call Intrapreneur, and that is much better as you have at least some safety net.

2. Founders

Some say birds of a feather flock together. Some say we attract what energy we portray – if we are positive, we will attract positive people.

When you have the right mindset, your circle of people will usually have the similar wavelength of mindset. It’s true because over the years, I could see how my network of people grew, from budding startup friends to seasoned entrepreneurs. But both having the same purpose and mindset, just that they are in different stage of business.

Hence when you are starting up your business and are looking for a founding partner, you will be able to attract the similar kind of people if you have the right mindset. After listening to so many stories of founders’ breakout over 4 years, I am seriously grateful to have my partners as my partners. Sometimes when people ask us what our success of myBurgerLab is, I don’t even know really because it’s a combination of so many different things, but sometimes I like to think that it starts from us having a good partnership which is honestly unexplainable.

Many people have asked me before, should I have a partner? How is it like working with partners? People say 2 is hard to deal with already how do we go with 3?

To be honest, if you can handle marriage or a relationship partner, you can definitely handle business partnership. It ain’t that bad really, in fact it’s much simpler because usually the bigger end goals and directions are clearer, it’s only the small little goals that builds up to the bigger goal along the way that has its own challenges.

Having partners and no partners have no right and wrong, it’s just both have different consequences and it’s how we perceive each choice to be.

When you have no partners, it just means that you have find really good people for your team to complement what skill sets or mindset that you do not have. More importantly also to find good hire for your team that can cover you when you are sick or unavailable or to hedge on the risk on the continuity of the business. The good part of having no partner is the simplicity it can create for your team in terms of directions and culture, as they don’t have to be stuck in the struggle of partners to make a decision. Sometimes that could cripple the speed of taking action in an organization.

When you have partners, it could create more conflict but also it helps to keep each other in check. Having partners is good to complement each other and with that, together everyone could achieve more things going forward.

There bound to be conflicts as long as there’s more than 1 human being, so if you are not a conflict person, my advice is try to stay away from partnerships. I myself don’t really like how to deal with conflict but over the years I have learnt that conflict exist because of 2 things:

1. not putting myself in their shoes to address their concern
2. focusing on self goal then the bigger goal

The key is how do we turn the conflict into a resolution that is for a bigger purpose, which in our case is what would make customers happy and have a better experience. If it serves that, personal agenda will immediately be nullify, because customers at the end of the day are our boss, not us. They pay our bills.

Both my business in myBurgerLab and Ops Ninja doesn’t have full length partnership agreement kinda thing, and I think that’s because of our trust towards each other that somehow we just don’t see the need to. And that sometimes is what they say the best partnership is, people who can work with each other naturally without much black and white terms.

I have always like what one of my favourite entrepreneur, Tan Thiam Hock, shared about his partnership history with his late partner Mr. Ang in his first few ventures. It just shows trust is the most valuable thing over any fees that you pay to the lawyers to prepare an agreement.

From my own experience, if your partnership gonna involve 2 people, then best to have one handle operations and the other to handle business development + marketing. Cause these 2 are the main core of early stages of the business. If you can’t handle accounts, get someone else to do it. Having more money in the bank is more important than recording money in the bank. Go out and be a hunter.

One piece of advice I could give though is to find partners who share the same kind of values. Having similar life values would really help.

The only caution I would have for having multiple partners is how it can affect the culture of the company, which I will continue in next week’s column.

Till then, this marks the end of Part I.

** Added – Part II link is here

5 Takeaways from my Mt. Rinjani Climb

 

 

16 days in Indonesia has inspired me to write again. It’s something which I miss doing for a long time. Being away from the city made me reflected on my life.

2 attempts to climb Rinjani definitely hit a core in my soul, with me questioning why the failed first attempt that lead it to the second attempt.

It’s not just a mountain climbing thingy, it’s about how life is handled in the process of climbing the mountain and here’s my 5 key takeaways.

1. No goal is ever too big if we actually focus on the steps.

It was 2.30am.

It was cold and windy. After zipping up my jacket, off we went.

2 hours after the depature from the basecamp, the summit could be seen. My legs were starting to feel the sore in my calves and thighs. It just seem possible and but yet every 3 steps I took, I felt like i have fallen back one step because of the fine volcanic sand and rocks. There’s no proper steps made for this hike, and yet reaching the summit seems possible.

One hour passed and I started to question myself whether it is even possible – I know I moved higher, yet the summit still seem distant away. The redness of the cloud is starting to show on my left and my body is starting to feel the pain.

Every 10 steps I took, then I look up towards the summit again, wondering how long more I had to walk to reach it. The constant lookup was so brain drain as the summit which should already be closer still be seen as very far away. After a struggle of 4 hours since I left the basecamp, I gave up, found a big rock to hide from the wind and lay there till my friends got down.

After the entire 3D2N hike from the 1st attempt, my friend Teng then shared the strategy of him walking 5 steps and take few seconds to catch a breather, and that was when I knew, it was possible to reach the summit if I do it again. Because I was focusing on the goal too much which affected me mentally. Instead, I should kept a strong focus on the steps and the goal will eventually happen.

And that is similar to life, we all know where we wanna go, but sometimes we question how should we go and what should we do. Goal can only be reached if we start taking steps, even if it’s the wrong step, because remember every 3 steps that we take, we may just fall back 1 step.

If we focus on the goal too much and when we are far from the goal, we will then question if the goal is actually too big, hence we compromise and reduce our goals.

However, if we focus on the steps, irregardless of how many steps it takes and just continuing taking the steps, we will eventually get there.

My coach once told me, there’s no unreasonable dreams, only unreasonable timeline. Hence, all we have to do is to take the steps, and continue taking them. Know our goal but don’t look at it took often. We just have to focus on the steps and trust that we will eventually get there.

2. Self Sabotaging

Half way through my climb from the basecamp, I was really sleepy. Every 2 steps I took, I closed my eyes for 2 seconds – almost similar to sleep hiking. I was really tired because I didn’t sleep much for several days before my trip – averagely about 4 hours a night, as I was rushing to finish off my work.

Self sabotaging for some people is what they do best, whether it’s consciously or subconsciously and I’m one of them. Knowing that I was signing up for a suicide mission, yet I didn’t prep myself better to get my work done way earlier to get enough rest.

And with that, I had to pay the price of attempting it a second time, with extra money and time and that same goes with life. When we self sabotage ourselves, the price we have to pay could be a lot. And Rinjani has taught me a painful lesson.

Taking a step back to recognise the pattern of self sabotaging will really help us to propel further in achieving what we wanna do.

3. Failure

Then again, if it’s not for the failed 1st attempt, I wouldn’t be able to write this article, as every failure, it’s a feedback for us to be better.

Failure is always just a feedback on how much we are we deviating from our own goal. It doesn’t mean that we can’t.

Once we go through failure, it just means success is closer, cause we now know how tough it is. It builds our body, mind and soul to adapt to the toughness.

When I was in the car to the harbour after my first attempted hike, my mind was questioning whether it is actually possible if I were to attempt it again. When I think about the mistakes I made, and what other strategies or solutions I need (a walking stick and just focusing on the steps in this case), that is when I know it is possible to get back on track and achieve it.

That was when I knew I have to do it again. And when the intention is clear to do something, we will do whatever it takes to achieve it. With that, I bought a new plane ticket to extend my stay and signed up for a 2D1N climb before I head back home.

I just know that I want to give it a shot again. In my 2nd attempt, it was so much easier mentally and physically as compared to the first attempt as my mind and body as grew to adapt what was coming.

That is what I would encourage everyone in just taking a step to do what they need to do to achieve their goal. Because once we gone through something for the second time, everything just becomes much easier and that is why getting back on track to try it again is crucial.

4. The people and the environment around us can be a strong conditioning factor.

Hang out with fast pace hikers will condition yourself to be fast pace. The people we have on our side will condition how we think and react and that is why there’s so many articles saying that we should surround ourselves with positive people and that’s true.

Want a bigger impact? Take the environment around you as a conditioning factor. The porters at Rinjani are humans out of this world that I have high respect for. Carrying weights of at least 40kg on a bamboo shoot with/without sandals and could go triple the speed of us is so commendable.

I just can’t help but ponder how growing up in such community and environment has made them my superhero. This means that it is possible for us to always to learn new things or to achieve a high standard. If we want to wake up at 6am daily to kickstart our day, then surround ourselves with people who wakes up at 6am daily.

We just have to either be in such environment or create one for ourselves to achieve such goals.

5. Taking control of my life to move on.

Reaching the peak made me realised that I still have it in me to take control of my life to chart out what I wanna do and achieve in my life.

It was almost a year’s of struggle moving on after knowing that I was cheated in my previous relationship. Some people say that it should be something that’s easily to move on because it’s not about you, but the struggle is really tough when the question “Why” surfaces and self-doubt is the only answer that I could came up with.

What I have learnt since then is a lot of us have a dogma that humans are are creatures of monogamy and have to be loyal. Our attachment to what a relationship suppose to be is the one that brings along this suffering.

The event is a neutral one, but the feelings associated with the event is what affects us.

It was a constant battle of me controlling my life versus letting the event to control me for the past months. After the climb it felt good again to know I can take control of my life, my mind once again and it all starts with forgiveness.

My empathy goes out to those who went through the same. It’s not as easy as what they show in the movies, but it’s something that we would have to go through to make us stronger and make us appreciate what life has turned out to be.

Dear 1337, Maybank & FinTech Startups Wannabe

FinTech seems like the next big thing among the startups community, especially in the Southeast Asia Region and I’m excited that Maybank has finally decided to partner with 1337 ventures (big shoutout to Mike and team) for a FinTech startup challenge this quarter.

With that, I’m writing this insights from months of frustrations which I have encountered as a business owner that are real pain points that I have always dreamt of taking it into my own hands and solve them. I hope that this article would spur many FinTech startups team to look at opportunities which are deeper than the surface level and help Maybank to improve their technology even faster. There are many areas in the Financial Industry which has lots of opportunity gaps for development and the 2 main gaps are always consumers and corporate, with investments being the 3rd.

This article can only speak my experience of a Maybank user. Why? Cause all my businesses are using Maybank and for me to switch to other banks is a pain in the ass cause the nearest branch to my office is just a 3 minute walk away. The switching cost to me is too high, even though on some occasions other banks have better technology and are charging cheaper prices for some services.

Consumer Market

The consumer market has a lot of opportunities which can already be innovated from what’s out there in USA and Europe which I don’t want to elaborate more – from Microloans, mobile payments, consumer saver app, to peer to peer reminder & payment and many more. The consumer market is really huge but whether a consumer would adopt it and how fast consumers would adopt it is always a challenge. Plus, consumers would always most of the time want services to be free. My vote for the consumer market has always been microloans and I believe it would work well in developing countries like Cambodia. Having said that, i’m really excited to see what comes out from the 1337 challenge over the few months for the consumer market 😀

Corporate Market

Now for this (which I’m really passionate about), Maybank has a lot of work to put in for the corporate system. My plea to Maybank is allow the teams from the challenge to have a list of contacts to your corporate clients who are using your corporate systems, especially M2E so that they can do idea validation and see what pain points users are experiencing. I’m a fan of Lean Startup Methodology. If it would cut their time by half to deliver a great product, please help them out.

If your team is too slow to react, then have these agile startups to execute them. They are hungry, believe me. If you are spending that much of effort into creating a challenge, might as well go all out and provide them your resources.

And why I’m all in for this, cause corporate will pay if they see value that allows them to save TIME and SALARY in their finance and accounting department. I personally would!

  1. M2E systems has bugs in them still and the steps to retrieve certain information involves way too many steps. Each additional click to me is money, cause that’s how much time is wasted. And batch upload transactions are so limited due to software capability mismatch for some and the mobile app is still buggy. Break the team down to be leaner and have the team to work on more important and frequently used features. I can’t even pay bills, I kid you not.
  2. Maybank Automatic Payroll Crediting system. @FinTech startups, this area has a lot of opportunities for you to cut the processing time for companies by half. The software needs work and now that everything is in the cloud, take the opportunity to do something about it.
  3. Opening Accounts for employees. CIMB Kwik is the bomb for this. I still don’t know how they get away with so little credentials needed, but it definitely speeds up the processing time to open up an account (minus the wait time to get the debit card).
  4. Integration of corporate accounting and payment system. What really still sucks is the need to take a pic of the bank in slip and email to some one and let them know the payment is for which invoice. In this day and age, it’s all about integration of APIs. If I can make payment to my supplier which can know right away which invoices is it offset for, imagine the number of employees we can reduce on both ends and how streamline the whole process flow will be.
  5. Simplify verification processes. There’s a lot of processes in the banks which require verification and often it’s still traditional signature on paper and that’s time require. This day and age is about simplicity and speed.

If a bank wants to get an unfair edge over the others, then it has to ensure it’s innovation surpasses its competition. While you are reading this, other banks would have picked it up and may have start to work on these after this.

FinTech folks, I admire your courage to do something about this industry, cause the Banks have no idea how powerful they can make the country grow if they put their mind to it. You definitely can change that. They can speed up a country’s progress and make the whole country more efficient. I’m sure lots of money is lost because of the efficiency gap that is available in the industry. Of course the blame game will always come to the importance of security and approval procedures from the central bank, etc.

Well why compete when you can collaborate. If you are a FinTech startups working on features, look for other FinTech who are working on securities, I’m sure there has to be some! Banks are already eating each other up to be bigger, so if you are a FinTech startups, I suggest you guys to collaborate and make things bigger.

To all who are joining the challenge, good luck. You guys will be in good hands under the care of 1337. Please bring ASEAN to a whole new level. If you guys need a market study/user to validate, I’m up for it during my available time slot.

The One Thing If You Want to Start Your Own Thing

Happy New Year Guys. Here’s to a great 2015, with lots of challenges and excitement ahead of us.

Startups culture are most likely gonna take Malaysia by storm this year with so many initiatives and community building coming up. And often times, there are many knowledge sharing about how to start something the lean way, test ideas, validation. Though those are just techniques and methodologies, there’s one element that is very consistent among all the successful business people which I met.

Previously I was doing my own study to see what kind of people were made leaders or are on the road to successful entrepreneur. I was wondering whether would an extrovert be a better leader than an introvert, cause leadership is always branded with good with people anyways. Or are they more of the outgoing person or the more educate ones?

After meeting people from various background who are successful across multiple age groups, I realized 2 things.

  1. Introvert can be a successful business person.
  2. The one common trait among all business people who wants to do business for the long run is “I say what I mean, and I do what I say” period. It’s essentially keeping the promise to people.
    And this is really true from my experience of dealing with contractors and suppliers mainly.
    It is down right frustrating if someone can say what they mean and do what they say. That promise is to built a long lasting trusting relationship. And once the trust is built, switching becomes secondary.

Trust is built by keeping the promise on timeline delivery, product quality and keeping clients updated on progress. Perhaps we are delve into the culture of short run promises and getting away with that by taking shortcuts. But if you are here to stay for 10 years in doing any business, just do this – keeping your promise.

And this starts by being on time guys! Don’t sell out on yourself

Have a good start guys!

p.s thanks for the shares on the FnB article, was quite unexpected.

The FnB Business – Do Your Homework First

2015 is just hours away, and I figure this would be a good time to share my experiences that I have picked up over the years in case some of you who are interested in embarking on this journey in the new year.

I do not have anything to back up my data, but the number of FnB places turnover rate (open and close down) to me is quite substantial. It is one of the most sexy seduction businesses to start cause let’s face it everyone needs to eat and it’s something that can be comprehend by people on how it works, and not some  1 billion dollar funding on some app.

To start off, please take your time to do your homework first and not just in terms of product testing. We are still learning as we go along, and there are a lot more things to learn for this next stage. Don’t be deceived by number of outlets of a brand, they are playing a different ball game, sometimes it’s just money leveraging on money to grow. An easy way is to visit an outlet and do some math. FnB is one of the industry which you can easily calculate the earnings of a business. You have to respect this step before you even thinking of raising funds or pitch to investor.

Now for the pointers

  1. YOUR PRODUCT IS KING
    Being a Malaysian, I have to say we are passionate about what goes into our stomach and the level of “virality” of something delicious that goes into our stomach is super high. You do this, you save on marketing to a certain extent. Your product speaks for itself. However, do note that product development requires a lot of time and effort, just like designing the next BMW 3 series for example. Even making good coffee requires a certain level of science. My partners and team do a really good job with this and you got to respect science. It doesn’t mean you have to use imported ingredients all the time to create a good product. There is an opportunity for good product to be created at every price point. Another consideration is the challenge you will faec to scale up your food production. Sometimes you will have to decide where do you stand in terms of scaling up vs maintaining food quality.
  2. DON’T START FOR MONEY, START FOR SUSTAINABILITY
    I once went to a Startup Grind Event, and Carlist ex founder Ewe Jin stressed several times in his sharing “Don’t take Shortcuts”. The reason for this is that if you are starting something for long term (instead of playing the business flipping game) then you have to plan out sustainability rather than starting for money. This means quality of product and service are essential to be the main focus and not overlook them. It’s a people business at the end of the day, and the relationship created between the customers and the brand is highly important as it is a really strong value add for your FnB business. Food is something really personal to everyone. Hence, you will need to provide good training to your team.
    *Tip: Start with why
  3. YOUR STARTING FOUNDERS
    This is one of the most sought after dilemma, believe me. Because of how the industry is such a heavy CAPEX intensive business, I know a lot of FnB startups usually would have averagely 3 shareholders. The reason why this is covered here is because there are also a lot of startups fail due to the fall out of partners. Looking for founders to startup with is really like a marriage. There are a lot of considerations in mind and a certain level of risk taking is needed. Please  get at least 2 people to be hands on if you do start a FnB. Don’t simply burn your cash by putting your money in and don’t bother contributing. You may be better off giving it to me instead. Please lay out distinct responsibilities of each other and what each other can bring to the table. If you are purely an investor, please take a smaller chunk of the business and trust your Founding Team Members who are hands on, if not then why join them in the first place. Give them advice, guidance or pass on some contacts to them as well that would help everyone to win cause if the business wins, you win.
  4. NUMBERS
    Respect those numbers. I’m always sad to see people starting off a FnB and didn’t work out later, cause the initially CAPEX outlay is just a lot. I rather you go and start a blog shop or something if you decide to be overconfident with this. Do your financial forecast with low, medium and high when you are starting out.
    Be realistic! Low would give you a mindset on what’s the minimum of what you are content and happy to live with. High would be a goal you set for yourself to get there.
    Plan out your CAPEX properly with always a minimum of 10% buffer for unaccounted cost and lay out your monthly sunk cost – Internet bills, electricity, water, staffing, pest control, insurance (which are almost consistent every month). This is why I said it’s one of those business which you can study and estimate brands earnings easily.
    Now with all these, it’s important to keep in mind of a net pre-tax margin of 15-20% and a gross margin of 65-75% margin on your food cost. This is the average financial performance of the industry and it would be a good guideline for your budget if when deciding on whether to embark on a mall or a shoplot or a food truck.
    Then again, these industry averages are just theory, it changes at every stage of scaling up and growth, you really need to plan forecast and execution properly for this.
  5. LOCATION
    Your numbers would determine your location. There is no perfect location, cause if you want a good one, you got to pay for the rental. First and foremost it’s important to identify what cuisine are you serving, that would help you to narrow down the adoption maturity of a particular community to what food you are serving.
    Next is your concept, quick serve (eg young hip students) or sit down (eg families or people who would sit down and chit chat couple of hours).  Then the price point and margins of your product. High price point doesn’t equate higher margins (FYI) cause your volume may be much lower than a lower margin price point.
    After that is visibility and neighboring business types/history of location. It doesn’t mean high visibility works for all, believe  me. Some are better off hidden (have to look for kind of place), but your neighboring business types is important to be a consideration because they could be your crowd puller.
  6. TYPE OF BUSINESS MODEL/GAME
    As mentioned earlier, don’t be deceive by what it looks on the surface. Do your numbers. There are a lot of business model out there to be adopted (Franchising, Joint Venture, raising funds through PE; Malls vs Shoplots vs Airports vs Food truck). A good start is to do reverse engineering on where you wanna be in the future.
    A lot of businesses play on leverage for FnB, that’s how you see the big brands thrive sometimes. A lot of hot money can flow into your business when you do it right, but you got to know where/how you gonna spend that hot money to make sure everyone sustains. Your intention does count – whether you want to do it for yourself or you want to do it together to win.
    Different stages of your business lifecycle would require different level of financial leverage. You can Google up what happen to the TGI Fridays family and the Library Group family with their equity divestment. There’s a lot of backstory to businesses. Even the local Burger King take over by Brahim’s is also a good story to learn from. It doesn’t mean that if TechCrunch or Digital News Asia doesn’t pickup, it’s not a good story. I always think in every story we can learn something.
  7. MORE OUTLETS =/= MORE MONEY EARNED
    If you have not learnt economics, please google up Economies of Scale and Diseconomies of Scale and please respect this theory. This is important to tune your mindset when you decide to embark on a FnB.
    Having more outlets does not equate to a guarantee on earning more money. But it sure means that you would need a lot more capital outflow (CAPEX for you accounting, finance geeks).
    Starting one outlet is a different game as opening up more than one. Some concepts work better with one outlet, some concepts work better with 10 outlets, some concepts work better with 100 outlets. And this would help you to plan out and tweak out your business model.
    When you scale up, operationally it becomes really important apart from focusing on the quality of service and food in your one single outlet. Every 10 cents of cost when scaling up means a lot. It becomes a volume game as well.
    Starting small may not be bad idea after all. Two brands which I personally love is myElephant and Red Bean Bag. Both businesses grow at a decent pace in my opinion with a good sustainable culture behind it.
  8. FINANCIAL LEVERAGE
    There will be a stage where you need to learn how to do financial leverage to scale even if it’s opening 2 or 3 more outlets. The 3 most common options are always bank financing or equity financing or franchise/license fee financing. Now this is where your founders have to be financially educated when you do decide to take this route because each shareholder may have to be diluted according to their investment %. This is quite important to be discussed at the beginning of the formation of the company so that everyone would understand each other’s risk profile. There are just a lot of financial instruments at this stage but please start learning.
  9. GOOD AT COOKING =/= SUCCESSFUL IN FNB
    If you are good at cooking doesn’t mean you will succeed in having a FnB place. There’s a lot of elements to it. Which is why it’s important to have at least 2 people to do check and balance with each other. I would highly recommend 2-3. There’s just a lot of areas to cover when you are starting off.
  10. SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING IS NOT EVERYTHING PLEASE
    If some guru comes to you and say how great they can help you on social media and all, please take a moment, breathe and say you will consider it. All platforms are overcrowded now, so please don’t be deceive by it. Your number of fans or followers is not everything in this world. Get the food right, and a certain extent number of people will come. Plus if you are in Klang Valley, EatDrinkKL will definitely pick it up so don’t worry.
  11. YOUR MINDSET
    Lastly, you got to get your mindset right when you are starting up, what more when it’s a retail operation business. If you were working before this, say goodbyes to your weekends and public holidays cause they will most likely be your best days for your business. If you are working long hours before this (like me in PwC for 4 months) you want to thank them for making you resilient already towards long hours. At the end of the day when you start up a FnB place, the focus is shifted to the people you serve from Day 1 onwards, no longer on to yourself. So be prepared!

These are some general basic level tips. I hope this would help you save some cash to pay some consultant for advice if you are starting up. Best way to learn – start small, start fast, start smart.

If there’s a certain level of interest to share more about FnB, just comment below and I see what else I can share the next time around.

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