He’s a pioneer of the coworking space in Malaysia and admits that he thrives in
the notoriously tricky milieu that is the startup. As one of the minds behind
Common Ground, one of the largest coworking companies in Malaysia, this tech
entrepreneur has done it tough in the world of business and now has a few pearls
of wisdom he’s able to share. One thing though – don’t expect him to sit through a horror movie with you.
Describe yourself in three words. Optimistic, flippant, messy.
Where did the inspiration for Common Ground come from? I spent the bulk of my career working for the Catcha Group. When you work at a place for so long it’s hard to not let the ideas and the thinking rub off on you. One of its pillars to success is its dedication to mitigate ‘innovation risk’ and focus on operational and executional excellence. This is a set of ideas that I took with me. Common Ground is a great example of these ideas in action. We looked for a proven business model from another market that needed strong local execution. We saw how amazing the coworking model was and how well it was doing in other markets. That is what drove us to pursue the model here.
What is the best lesson you have learnt from being in a startup? There are no quick tips or tricks to success – that is not how things work. Nothing trumps experience. I’ll share two key points in my life that have contributed to my success.
The first was when I was made CEO of a company called Dealmates. I spent my first two years at Catcha running around like a headless chicken doing any random task I was given. Looking back now, I definitely didn’t see the whole picture. It’s hard to describe, but it’s like looking at a painting for the first time with a magnifying glass when you can see individual things in the painting but because you’ve never seen the whole painting you can’t describe what the painting is actually about. Everyone is talking about painting in its entirety but you are still focusing on only the individual parts you see.
Towards the end of my second year, I found that because I now understood the moving pieces of a business and how they fit together, I was suddenly able to take that and apply it to how I analysed business. I was seeing more of the picture and the whole image was making sense in my head, not just the individual parts.
The second experience was after I started Common Ground. There was so much at stake. I’d been in this situation before but now there wasn’t someone there to sort things out when I messed up. I had to push myself to a whole new level. It’s like rock-climbing without a harness. You reach further, you hang on harder and you push yourself more because you know if you don’t you will fall with no one there to catch you. That experience changed me in a big way – it showed me the true effort needed to make things work. I think that’s when my mindset changed from being that of an employee to being an entrepreneur.
Basically, nothing trumps experience. It puts things together in your head in a way that no amount of reading books or listening to other people could do. It shows you the limits of the world around you and your own limits. If you really want to get good at anything, start, try, fail… learn.
What is your philosophy when it comes to doing business? Build value above all else. It is the underlying currency that we as businessmen/women trade in and success is found in the space between a product’s value and its price.
I truly believe that when building any business you have to start with this. If you don’t then nothing else will work. You have to constantly ask yourself what do you have of value that people are willing to pay for. That value can be refined and evolve but you’ve got to start with something of value.
What is your biggest fear in life? I once worked for a production company doing documentary films. I thought I would love it because I love documentaries. But after working there for about a year, I realised something was wrong. I loved the work and I loved the people, but it just didn’t feel right. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I didn’t like about the job. Then one day it hit me – it was that no one really cared about what I did. I would tell people about a project we were working on, or a trip we were taking and they just didn’t seem to care. It killed me. I hated it. I realised that I would never be happy doing something that didn’t mean anything to people.
What do you do in your downtime? I do a lot of stuff, I just don’t do it well (laughs). I cook and play golf. My wife and I have spent many a weekday cooking for six and eating for two. On a regular weekend it would be golfing, maybe fishing. I’m into surfing lately. I get a kick out of the idea I’m living my life well and trying new things.
What’s your favourite scary movie? I hate scary movies. PASS.
What scares you most in movies? When you start watching a movie and five minutes into it you realise it’s a musical.
Who would you go as for Halloween this year? I don’t want to spoil the surprise – you will have to check out my Instagram to find out. However, I will say I have an affinity for tasteless Halloween costumes. Last year, I went as Salt Bae and spent the whole night sprinkling salt on people. As you can imagine, I was not well liked by the end of the evening.
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