Catching Up

2018 Threw Massive Challenges At These 4 M'sian Founders. Here's How They Kept Going.

Entrepreneurship isn’t easy and the startup life is a grand challenge of its own; you will need the talent, money, skills, connections, tenacity, and a dash of luck to launch a successful startup in this day and age. As a founder, you would have to spend most of your time devoted to your business and you often don’t get the leisure of working a 9–5 job; your job is 24/7, with no breaks.

There will surely be bumps along the road of achieving a successful startup, be it business-wise or on a personal level.  Knowing how tough being an entrepreneur is, we reached out to these four entrepreneurs to get their take on what painful lessons were learnt in 2018 and how they are coming out of the problems better.

1) Zikry Kholil, Co-Founder & CCO of Incitement

Zikry Kholil from Incitement/ Image Credit: Monsta

As the co-founder of Incitement—a social business that aims to connect youth, social causes, and corporations to tackle global issues together—Zikry has his plate full with work and didn’t have time to take care of his health over the past few years.

Before that he was outgoing and led an active lifestyle, playing ice hockey and going to the gym regularly. But as he focused more on his work, his health deteriorated.

“I stayed inside mostly, not socialising as much as I wanted to as I was making sure that I had the growth of the business in place; all of that caused me to gain almost 20kg,” said Zikry.

Furthermore, he was so stressed that he started losing his hair, which for him was the toughest part as it hurt his self esteem and confidence.

“I’ve been shaving my head and trying to own that look, before that it was way worse because I didn’t want to go out on dates, meetings or even show up for conferences.”

“I didn’t tell my colleagues or friends about it, because I didn’t want them to say anything because I was embarrassed.”

Only until during a team retreat did Zikry finally let loose and told the team what he was going through and in June this year, he managed to pick himself up again.

“A lot of things have changed since then, I’m more confident than I was before. I won’t say I’m 100% over it maybe about 65–70%.”

He now heads to the gym five times a week and also undergoes intermittent fasting to lead a healthier lifestyle. Zikry cheekily added that his goal was to become like Dwayne Johnson by June next year.

“These things aren’t what entrepreneurs will talk about, they don’t mind sharing business-wise but not many people will come out and share their darkest times on a personal note.”

2) Jeevan Kumar, Founder & CEO of Zoom

Jeevan Kumar from Zoom/ Image Credit: Jeevan Kumar

Awarded by the ASEAN Rice Bowl Startup Awards as Best Logistic & Supply Chain Startup 2018, it’s no surprise that Zoom has seen their fastest growth rate this year since its establishment. However, with a fast growth rate, many problems arose such as hiring the right talent.

“Being able to manage that growth was a problem because we couldn’t hire good people as fast as we thought that we could,” said Jeevan.

Jeevan mentioned that the current market is starved of good talent as it’s hard to get new talent on board. He added, “We actually had to bootstrap our growth by sending our current people to other parts of the market to help stabilise it while we were looking to hire and we’re still having a hire crunch.”

In view of that, he is also trying to change the way how their HR recruits talent as he realised that the old-school way of recruiting talents is not effective for recruiting millennials.

He compared it to his past experience.

“When we were looking for jobs we were looking for perks that could give us a KPI, what is our bonus and how much increment per month. This was the kind of perks that we were looking at.”

However, the mentality has changed nowadays as millennials especially those who have just graduated and are looking for their first jobs aren’t attracted by those perks but more towards “soft perks”.

Jeevan gave an example of “soft perks” such as working eight hours a day as supposed to nine and allowing employees to work from home once a week.

“Things like this are what we’re trying to look at from an offering perspective to attract talent to come and join us. We just started this, it’s something new and we hope that it could be the recipe to success for us to hire staff,” he explained.

“I think the only thing is for us is to start looking at recruiting people who have a passion to learn as they will learn quick and adapt fast.”

3) Gwen Yi, Founder Of Tribeless

Gwen Yi from Tribeless/ Image Credit: Gwen Yi

Gwen Yi is the ex-CEO and founder of Tribeless—a global movement and experience design firm that aims to create safe spaces for open and honest conversation.

As the face of Tribeless, it became intertwined with her own identity and kept her from taking risks or making big decisions as she feared of tarnishing Tribeless and her own reputation.

With the launch of their first product this year (The Empathy Box), Gwen and her team managed to ship 120 Empathy Boxes to 22 countries around the world.

However, it wasn’t as rosy as it sounds, as she said that it was a total mess.

“I was in fight-or-flight, and for the first time in my life, I chose the former… But I had no idea how to do it right. And it was a mess — not just because we didn’t sell as many as we hoped we would, but because of everything that came after,” explained Gwen.

The Tribeless team had to market the product, design the manual, plan, film and edit two 40-minute Udemy courses in two days, pack all 200 Boxes by hand, all in a 10-day timeline.

However, throughout that stressful period, her co-founder Shawn kept the business afloat and they managed to pull through.

After the campaign was over, Gwen reflected back and realised that she had no idea to run a company but Shawn did.

“He’s smart. He’s resourceful. And he’s resilient as hell, willing to deal with all the stress, uncertainty and failure that comes with the job description,” said Gwen.

“I’m not perfect. But I’m learning that to be a leader, I don’t have to be.”

Which is why she let go of her role as CEO of Tribeless, passing it to Shawn who is now the de facto decision-maker and CEO of Tribeless.

“I’ll continue to be actively involved in the company, serving as the ambassador and lead facilitator, but running the business is now Shawn’s responsibility,” explained Gwen.

“I can finally allow myself to just be… me. And I honestly couldn’t be happier.”

4) Alvin Tan, CEO of FinSpark

Image Credit: FinSpark

After a turbulent year where FinSpark was caught in a controversy which was the result of a fallout with one of their co-founders, Alvin is looking to put it behind him and look forward to next year with a different business direction.

Note: We’ve asked for details about the aforementioned situation, but Alvin declined to comment until they have an official statement.

“Our initial thoughts were to build an online financial platform (paid subscription base) that allows users to watch financial videos and record what they have learnt from our notebook system,” said Alvin.

The plans that they had painted for FinSpark got the team high on cloud 9, but they had to come back down to reality.

“Having too many promising goals may have directed us into many possibilities that we eventually lost focus on all necessary tasks. We over-projected our ability and underestimated the uncertainties that might happen to us,” explained Alvin.

After much consideration, the FinSpark team have now restrategised what was written previously in their pitch deck during their crowdfunding campaign and decided to focus on affiliate marketing—a campaign that fully utilises their strength in marketing and having collaborations with financial product provider/platform to serve FinSpark users.

For 2018, he has learned how to lead a team and the importance of it.

“Being a jack-of-all-trades may have its perks but one must always learn how to delegate their tasks.”

“Effective delegation can be one of the best ways for startups to build their businesses, freeing up their time for various business activities that require more of their unique expertise, and building a strong team well-positioned for future success,” added Alvin.

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As the year comes to an end, it’s clear to see that there were many struggles for these entrepreneurs, be it in business or on a personal level. However, cliched as it may sound, it’s important to pick up and move on after facing a difficulty. As the founder of the Japanese martial art of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba once said, “Failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something.”

The more you fail and struggle, the more you will learn. However, one shouldn’t get addicted to struggling or failing as it doesn’t guarantee that you will succeed in the end. If you’re caught up in an endless cycle of struggling and failing, perhaps that’s something to stop and examine as well.

  • To read about what other entrepreneurs have to say about struggling, failing and “hustling” to succeed, head over to our article here

Feature Image Credit: Monsta/ eFM & eMAG/ Gwen Yi/ Ata Plus

 

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