He arrived on time, a nervous aura about him, and understandably so.
Preparing to tell a painful story about shutting down your own company, one that you’re extremely passionate about, in front of the camera for thousands to see later on is no easy feat.
He had no script, he didn’t know of our full set of questions and what we would be asking him. Everything he’d say would come from the heart.
Before we dove into his raw sharing, we got to know a little more about the company in question, EYE Project.
A Business Built On Pure Passion
It was Chris’ first stint into entrepreneurship after being in investment banking for 2 years.
Before that (and even in between then), he was already active in the student empowerment and leadership scene.
He ran the first Malaysian Student Leaders’ Summit in 2007, for example.
One of the reasons why this appealed to him was because he noticed local university students weren’t getting the exposure that overseas students did.
So, EYE Project was developed to help students in local universities, both private and public, gain real job experiences with large clients like top banks.
Not only was the company earning money from such clients who wanted to promote themselves to universities, but EYE Project was also training student leaders to get instant career advancements.
Chris summed it up, saying, “It’s a social enterprise meant to solve youth unemployment.”
Since then, his biggest achievement in the entirety of running the company was organising its annual Student Leadership Symposium.
They’d invite student leaders consisting of Malaysian students from all over the world like Japan and Egypt, and these student leaders would later go on to start impactful ventures.
One example of such an individual is Ganesh Muran of Saora Industries, who developed Ethovent, a first-of-its-kind semi-ventilator to aid COVID-19 patients.
EYE Project would then go on to win multiple awards and gain recognition for its student activism, receiving contracts from corporations and the government.
But It Wasn’t Always Good Times
However, Chris revealed, “There were many times that we were supposed to shut it down. Running an events company will always be very costly, so margins weren’t that good.”
He added, “We were competing even against the government, who eventually took some of our ideas and there’s no harm in that, but people like us lose.”
In 2010, EYE Project was supposed to close down, but Chris’ then co-founder decided to continue it while Chris took on the social media side of the company, one department that was doing well.
This would later come to be known as Social Grooves, a social branding digital agency.
Later in 2016, EYE Project’s co-founder was no longer able to handle the company, so it became dormant for 2 years.
“Then a big break happened to me, so I said I don’t want to fail, I want to make this happen again,” Chris recalled.
So, he pumped more money into it again, but it wouldn’t last long due to mismanagement and ultimately, COVID-19.
As he retold this story before us, it was clear that it was an extremely emotional one, so much so that he wasn’t trying to hide his tears.
Having to shut down EYE Project for good was hard, but for Chris, the hardest part was confronting his ego. He felt like he’d failed.
The sadness and bitterness that resided in him went on to affect his new family and even his staff in Social Grooves.
After much internal debate, he broke the news to his staff one by one, and they took it well.
They had been paid their salaries up till the end, but what disappointed Chris was the fact that they said they hadn’t learnt anything at the end of the day.
Chris put that down to the fact that he’d exemplified poor leadership and management.
I didn’t play my role well, didn’t tell them what to do, where to go next, because I was so focused on [Social Grooves].
Mistakes He Won’t Make Twice
Having taken this experience as a major learning lesson, Chris began sharing some of his best advice. The mood in our office lightened a little at the switch.
Firstly, he revealed the importance of finding the right business partner.
“The current partner that I have in my other business, Social Grooves—he was the missing link that I never knew I needed. Someone who was good at finance and could tell me that it’s time to use the Sdn Bhd as it is.”
Essentially, he was telling Chris that his personal wealth didn’t have to be affected by the company’s losses.
“I had someone behind my back who knew how important this was to me, and stop it and continue another day.”
Secondly, he stressed the importance of understanding your company’s finances yourself.
“I really depended on my finance person to educate and advise me and I didn’t want to see the numbers because that’s not my forte.”
“But now, every month I look at the numbers for my other companies and I’ve learnt to face the hard truth and to know that I either need to work harder or set higher targets,” he shared.
He also revealed how his management style had changed.
Something I just recently learnt was the radical candour management style. I used to be really caring but I do not set targets or challenges for my staff. And what has happened is that I actually ruined them, because they didn’t grow into their position that they could achieve.
By adopting radical candour management, he and his partner are able to tell their staff exactly what’s going on with the company, and what they’re expected to achieve.
“This is good, because they now know what they can do to get the company to a better place which eventually helps themselves as well,” Chris explained.
“I think this will be the success factor that the painful experience has given me for all the other organisations and companies that I’ll be part of.”
As we wrapped up on this lighter note, we asked Chris how he felt. He grinned and said that it felt great getting all that off his chest.
Suddenly, he cut in with one last piece of advice from the heart. “Oh! I forgot to mention also: guys, it’s okay to take therapy. I have a therapist.”
This interview was done as part of our new Vulcan Post video series, Open Book.
Chris’ story is chapter one of our new venture, and you can watch the video interview here: