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Her Father’s Tragic Death Led Her Into A Business That Keeps M’sian Youths From The Same Fate

Jazz Tan Yee Mei was 27 when she was named as one of Forbes 30 Under 30 last year, honoured as one of the entrepreneurs to watch. Before that, she was named one of Prestige’s 40 Under 40. This is all thanks to her efforts on a startup named YouthsToday.com, formed in 2012. Its goal is to take kids off the streets, and into student programmes. Instead of starting a youth programme, Jazz took on slightly different approach: helping the students to find the sponsorship they need to run their programmes. On their website, YouthsToday.com markets itself as a brand and youth linkup platform. Those between 18 and 25 may have great project ideas that they’re ready to jump into, but getting funding for that can be a Herculean effort—between red tape, lack of connections, and the general unapproachability of big corporates. Meanwhile, big brands like KFC or Sony may have CSR requirements they’d like to fill, and they may want to do so by helping out students with their projects. YouthsToday.com works together with over 100 universities and colleges in Malaysia, and has gathered a collection of different brands who have the interest and budget to fund all types of student activities. To monetise, the platform takes a cut out of each project. “Our month to month revenue fluctuates between RM50,000—RM150,000 depending on the holiday season in colleges and universities. We are profiting and reinvesting the profits back to strengthen our technology,” said Jazz. A seemingly simple idea has propelled this startup into high grounds, particularly in 2014. YouthsToday.com has seen awards from the Prime Minister, the ASEAN Entrepreneurship Award, and was even named the best startup by the USA Stanford Program Achiever 2014 in Silicon Valley. It has also seen backing from Cradle and Gobi Partners. And now, Jazz informed us that the Forbes 30 Under 30 feature helped her team secure more six-figure projects, and has been a life-changing experience for her.

To think all of this started in 2003 with a death in the family.

Whenever asked about how it all began, Jazz will speak of a sombre tale. “My father was involved in gangsterism,” said Jazz. “He was murdered when I was around 14 years old and that created a really big impact in my life. It was a really tough time growing up.”
“I told myself, I want to help the youth communities so that they don’t end up on my father’s path.”
She carried this passion with her, while she worked and studied at the same time to keep the lights on. At 18, she discovered she liked running big events. So Jazz Tan formed YouthsToday.com at 19, while she studied computer science in KDU Penang. Jazz was a recipient of a full scholarship, but she applied for a PTPTN loan which helped her start her business. “I relied on my PTPTN loan to survive and reinvested the remaining for the business,” said Jazz. She assured us that she’s cleared the loan since then.

The experience has been a trial and error process, over and over again.

Winners of a truck-design competition held last year / Image Credit: YouthsToday.com
When asked about the journey, Jazz called it one of trial and error, while she learned from other entrepreneurs too. “Spent more than RM100,000 on building something the market didn’t want and the youth didn’t like using, back in 2012. Had to redo the whole website after a lot of iterations.”
“I used to create solutions looking for a problem, until I learned that it’s the other way round.”
Jazz speaking at YouthJam, a yearly event where students pitch ideas and YouthsToday.com helps execute them / Image Credit: Cheramiche on Blogspot
The platform also only has a 10-strong team even after running for close to a decade, which Jazz described as one of her biggest challenges. “Definitely finding the right talent,” said Jazz. “I have learned to fire super fast and hire really slow.” Up next, YouthsToday.com will be venturing in Singapore, but this would hardly be its first foray overseas. “Our venture investors have helped us in our global expansion and also with networking with other circles of media and collaborations,” said Jazz. She turned one of the biggest tragedies of her life into a passion for helping people, and gave it her all. Now, her enterprise is both a moneymaking venture, and a way to do good at the same time. Jazz cites her father as the reason she keeps going despite her lowest moments. Today’s business landscape leans towards more awareness of the social costs of your brand, and the existence of something like YouthsToday.com taps into that mindset. It is also clear proof that business and do-gooding can go well together, with the right hand on the reins.
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