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 e@Stanford 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