Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Black Knight

Recently, my trusty Dell Inspiron 6400 (I named it "mostwanted" as in my web app) had gone into semi-retirement after faithful service of almost 5 years (quite remarkable for a notebook's lifespan). I bought it for RM 2000++, with 2GB RAM and the budget Pentium Dual Core Processor (not even Core 2 Duo); and it had brought me much profit and fun. Recently the system is getting pretty unstable and I am afraid the Hard disk might got off without prior warning, thus I had bought in the replacement.

I choose DELL again, as the system is reliable, I can buy it online (save the hassle of driving to the shop) and it's home-service warranty is amazing (again, don't have to send it to the factory for repair, and collection). This time I up the budget slightly as faster performance equal more productivity, getting a Dell Inspiron N5010 with i5 Processor (with noticeable hot air blowing out from the left) and 4GB RAM, and throwing in a 1GB ATI Radeon 3D as well (so that it won't used up my RAM, and better performance for future apps) - for only RM 2699, plus few hundred extra for 3 years warranty. The outlook and design of this new generation is much better than the older model, with shiny one-piece metal casing which look solid and classy (the only flimsy component is the keyboard), even the charger have a nice circle LED light. The only drawback is the Seagate Hard disk, where I have better confidence with Western Digital one. I named this baby "optimus", as in Optimus Prime.

I do have a thing with gadget, with my Camelot PC and Garmin eTrex Vista HCx GPS. And it's almost time to get a Android Phone, probably LG Optimus One (only RM 899).

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Book Review: Turning Points, the UMW Story

It’s not everyday we have a local enterprise success story to read about. From a small business which started from 1960 to an enterprise with 11,000 strong workforce with more than 90 companies in 12 countries. There are bound to be something interesting and something to learn from.

It all started from a small bicycle shop in Singapore by Chia Yee Soh at the age of 14, then upgrading to an automotive (motorbike) repair shop named United Motor Works. On the Malaysia side, the hero is Eric Chia who works to expand UMW business in Kuala Lumpur, by focusing on industrial equipment by distributing Mitsubishi, Kamatsu (Tractor) and eventually the most successful Toyota Forklift.

Eric Chia is a true entrepreneur who would stop at nothing to expand the business, venture into the unknown and could excel within chaos. He setup multiple branches, multiple related businesses (such as construction, recon, credit, etc), and multiple joint ventures with foreign company and multiple distributorship. He is dynamic, extremely hardworking (means working until late night and weekend for his employees) and very generous (take care of his employee like family), and forward looking by employing graduates and training up local talents.

During the 1980s, Eric Chia lost control of the company due to aggressive expansion and little risk management (the thread of early entrepreneur: this thread brings the company its early success, also causing the problem it faced at later stage), and faced with heavy financial crunch when the economy is bad. His business comrade Shiew Wan Shing was nominated by shareholders (and PNB) to take over the management and turn the company into a more professionally run (and less chaotic). 4 years later Shiew died in robbery.

I felt sad for Eric Chia when he lost his company which his is so passionate about. I admire his spirit and entrepreneurship, but his ad-hoc and common practice of working long hours isn’t exactly everyone’s favorite. No matter what, he is still a man to be admired, and I truly believe the man of his caliber and success, he wouldn’t go so low in the incident of Perwaja Steel (unless the author had misled me).

UMW continue to prosper over time, starting with industrial equipment, then to Toyota franchise and Peroduo second national car, and finally into oil and gas and beyond. There is an evolution and major shift of business focus every 10 years, while the core business still maintains a healthy operation.

Book Review: Fast Boat to China

What I learned for the first two chapters of “Fast Boat to China”?

What do we know about China? We know
  • China is growing strong with great potential
  • China is the World’s Factory
  • China is consuming a lot world’s resources, and driving up raw material prices such as steel and oil.
Do we know what the Impact of China’s Growth is? We suffer job lost due to outsourcing to China
  • Low-end blue-collared job such as factory worker for Textile, Furniture, Apparels are outsourced to China, causing Factory in other parts to shut down and many low-income group lost their job
  • Low-end white-collared job such as Call Center, Accounting, Back Office Paperwork are shipped to China (and other cheaper part of the world), causing many low-income group lost their job.
  • Middle-class engineers and technicians loose their jobs as well as most High-Tech Electronics and Automobile factories are setup in China.
  • High-end programmer, engineer, scientist and research loose some of their job as more company setup R&D centers in China (including HP, Microsoft, IBM, etc)
  • Expatriate who demands high salary working for multinational in China are slowing being replace with local talent with a fraction of their cost and benefit.
What kinds of job are safe from outsourcing? Lawyers, Doctors, Policeman, Postman, Rubbish Collector, Plumber, Waiter, Maids and etc. That’s given the influx of immigrants doesn’t take away our job as well.

In return, we get cheaper goods from China in exchange for our unemployment and dying economy. And we get cheaper maids and cheaper restaurant food thanks to immigrants.

Why business move to China? Initially china is cheap with abundance of cheap materials and labors, thus it’s cheaper to produce things in China to sell to the rest of the world. Then China grown bigger with a large domestic market and middle class citizens, with more business moving in to sell to the China market. The cost is growing, the labor will “shrink” as the growth of foreign investment outgrown the growth of local labors and talents. Too many companies are fighting to employ the workers and professionals, where not every one of them are qualified with the right skills and correct mentalities. Slowly, it is no longer cheap with abundance of workforce, but the domestic market is growing. Eventually, China will be like United States. Will China still be attractive by then? Probably yes, but in another way.

Most Multinational Corporation spread their operation all over the world, but how many of their workforce is actually in their home country? How much taxes the pay to their home country? Is it a national pride, or there are issue of patriotisms and loyalty in question here? Or it is supposed to be purely business with economic consideration? If the company loose out in competitiveness because they didn’t outsource, it wouldn’t do good to the home country as well.

China will probably grow into an economy superpower, but it might not take away our jobs for long. Then again, other country like India, Vietnam and Indonesia will probably follow China’s footstep. Will our job ever return to our shores?

My Conclusion
Again, we can’t stop the change (impose trade restriction or abolish free trade, which are not a popular policy by today's expectation), but to change oneself (what used to work before might not work now) and adapt with a newer model (we move from agriculture to industrial to high-tech, and continue to evolve). The transition period is unpredictable and tough, but it presence a good opportunity, and things will eventually stabilize (until the next wave of change).

Friday, November 19, 2010

Book Review: Man and Boy

Somehow, I was quite hooked to Man and Boy, about a married man (Harry) who screwed up his life after he slept with other women: his wife (Gina) taking his son away and he lost his job. I am curious on how he manage to “restore” his life. I pick up the first chapter of this book in Nepal many years back, and I am fated to finish it now after I found it in my house few weeks back.

It’s funny that how such an unfortunate event can actually be good for someone, fulfilling the prophecy that there is always a silver lining no matter how hopeless something might seems like. I guess we always hated when things turned upside down (or not within our grasp), but it is these incidents which actually elevate us to be a better person. I know, “exam” is hard, and no one actually likes “exam” although it is supposing good for us. I guess we like the serenity and predictability in our life.

Anyway, the Gina felt that she had sacrifice a lot (especially her career) to build the family, and now she felt betrayed and regretted all her sacrifices for him and the family. She takes the son away from Harry, put the son with her father who actually abandoned her when she is young, and flew off to Japan to a job opportunity that she had always wanted. Harry pick up his son again and eventually learned to become a real father (a role he had conveniently neglected all this time). Gina promise to come back for the child, once she had settled in Japan. I guess the role switching is quite an irony here.

Anyway, the focus is on Harry: he gets a chance to “restart” his life. He learned to become a father, learn to put his son before his career, learn to get closer with his parents, and perhaps learn to really “love” someone. Love is not just about having a good time together, enjoying each other company and sleeping together. Love is having to accept something inconvenient, and having the heart to accept it for the rest of our life. Having said that, it also made us with wiser and more logical as we grow older; thus harder to fall in love based on emotional feelings alone. We get to think about many things with consideration into the far future, and we are not just thinking about ourselves anymore. Selflessness is something we have to learn eventually; and it is a requirement when we build a family with children. It’s no longer about what we like or what we wanted. Will we loose ourselves? It’s a bad thing? I am not there yet.

I like the style of writing, when the writer never dwells on the same issue more than 2 pages. Each chapter is separated into a few sections, where it switches focus on different events and perspectives. Without one realizing, he is back with the story I am interested again.

I seldom read fiction, because I think it’s a waste of time; perhaps Alchemist changed my mind. Not sure since when I started with Business & Marketing book; perhaps I was never quite a reader, as I can’t recall reading anything else besides the Chinese Kung Fu Novel of Jing Yong (金庸) – that was also for the purpose of improving my Chinese.

Life is full with surprises, doing something I never quite expect: hiking, dancing, karaoke. I still wonder why life is like a box of chocolate? With many flavors?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Review: The Long Tail

Sometimes it is easy to forget about some important detail of a book, if we don’t make notes (which we are usually lazy to do so while reading).

The Long Tail is quite an eye opener, another brilliant theory and observation in the same category like Crossing the Chasm. Basically most business focus on the top best seller, as 20% of the goods contributes towards 80% of the sales. If I only have 1000 shelf space, I better put in the top 1000 best seller in my store to maximize profit (assuming best seller can sell an average of 1000 copies per year, it would be 1000 x 1000 = 1000000 sales per year). What if I have unlimited store space? If I can put 100000 items in my store, within 99% of them selling an average sale of 10 per year, I would still have extra of 99000 x 10 = 999000 sale per year, which is very significant. What if I have 1 million items?

The Long Tail is all about having more products and more variety as possible (extend your sales volume beyond the best seller), given that the cost of holding stocks is almost ZERO (think Amazon, iTunes, Pandora, Netflix, etc). Even if non-best sellers only sell an average of few items per year, their large number of product do make up the sales volume.

For Example, Google AdWord’s flexibility and low entry barrier allow any business owner in the world to put up advertisement as low as USD 0.01 per click. Rather than depending on a few thousand large corporations to put up advertisement, AdWord allow millions of business owner around the world to put up advertisement based on their own budget.

The local books store chain could probably carry ten of thousands of product, while Amazon offer millions of items yet at a lower price. The local music store is dying, while Netflix and iTunes are flourishing with millions of offering, yet cheaper again and allowing more flexibility (you can buy just one song rather than the whole album).

How can we make long tail work?
  1. We need a large volume of products or contents, and the cost of making these items available must be almost ZERO
  2. We need to reach a large audience, most by utilizing the Internet (with the help of online marketing through Ads and Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Viral Video, Blogs, Social Media like Facebook and Twitter, etc)
  3. We need a powerful search engine, so that people can find the needle among the haystack (and recommend similar products, like Amazon)
  4. We need a good review system, so that people know what’s good and what’s not. Even a niche item could be a potential best seller.
  5. By learning the customer shopping pattern, we could recommend niche product which could be of their interest.
  6. Sampling is possible by allowing downloading one chapter of a book, or preview 30 seconds of a video or music.
The Long Tail is not for every business, but it’s something to look into besides focusing on the blockbuster.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Money in Life

In life, we need a constant reminder of what are we actually doing day in day out. Sometimes we easily had forgotten about our objective, determination and what we passionately set out to do in the beginning. The passion is no longer burning, the urgency is lost, the determination is weaken, and we live day in day out without remembering what we set out to do in the beginning. We slacked. We need to be reminded. Perhaps we still know what we need to do, but we forgotten the feeling and emotion which prompt us to do it in the first place. We lost the emotional part of it, leaving us with logic which might not be very inspiring.

There are probably 2 groups of poor people: 1 group which are very determined to make a better living, and another which accepted the fact that they shall remain poor forever.

For middle class, most will subconsciously choose to remain a middle class due to comfortable living with less motivation to strive for a better livelihood. Middle class don’t face hunger or living without the roof; we might have overspend in shopping, with less money for travel, or cursing about money lost in stock market, theft, accident or pure stupidity. We get a bit troubled by minor financial stress at times, but still worry about some major catastrophe which might strike us or our family member. Generally, we are still living pretty comfortable most of the time, though our financial security might not be guaranteed (but only a small group of paranoid will worry about this).

What is our reaction when we lost our money? We can accept it as fate or luck, and just forget about it. Or do we become more determined and motivated to make tons of it so that it doesn't bother us anymore (I am the latter).

I am one of the paranoid, which worry about major catastrophe which might happens, and get upset by minor financial lost a long the way. The thing is, I don’t want to get upset due to minor financial lost, and I don’t want to spend my entire life making money. I get worry about the health risk of my parents, and my wife’s parents, and probably my children if I have one or two. I get upset due to money lost from theft and accident, having to spend countless hours just to get a better bargain, and not be able to do things spontaneously due to financial consideration.

Most people would accept these as the norm, the norm of middle class where everyone faces the same problem. If the middle class is to make a change, how? It’s too risky to quit the job, and it is either too stressful to start something part-time or there is no time to spare. The solution seems too complicated that most of us don’t bother to give much thought to it. We accepted the fact that we are normal and its okay since most people around us live in the same condition as us (except a few rich or poor dude which we don’t know really well). In fact, we felt that we are much better off than most people. It’s too difficult to have a breakthrough, to up one notch; why bother. Can all of us to rich? Why not. But not all us are determined to be rich, and most of us are satisfied with the current.

In comparison, there are always many more who are worse than us, and many more who are better than us. Each of us has a different kind of worry, and a different objective. Perhaps deep down I hope that people will be like me or have the same kind of thoughts with me. Just like not everyone like hiking, perhaps it’s unrealistic and futile to expect others to understand or agree with my way of life. Rather than worrying too much about others, perhaps I should focus on the things which I have control of, which is myself. I guess we all subconsciously hope to have more comrades and more people of the same kind, where we hope to assimilate others into our world. Everyone chooses their own way of life, either we agree with them or not. Not everyone wants to get married, and not everyone wanted to start a business.

It’s true that there are more meanings in life besides money, but we can’t deny that money affect a large part of our life as well (we do live in a material world). If I can solve 50% person of life’s problem, why not. Perhaps this is the easiest part to solve, while others are either too subjective or out of our grasp.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Inception the Mind Game

I found that the Mind (or more precisely, the thought of an idea) had a very deep and powerful impact on me. Once I thought of doing something for several times, I found it very hard to shake it off my mind by not doing it. Once I found something better or more comfortable, I found that it’s very hard to go back to the old ways. I guess it’s good in a certain ways that I am always improving and “evolving”, rather than repeating the same old thing over and over again.

I have the idea of being an entrepreneur planted in me by my brothers during my secondary school years; and after numerous tries, I am self-employed and a semi-entrepreneur with still very motivated to move forward. I couldn’t shake the idea off even though I fail for a few times; and opportunities shall creep in again and again for me to do what my mind set to do. I am dissatisfied with the ex-bosses and ex-companies, and felt that I could do a better job on my own. Though I couldn’t be exceptional in every things, but I could find a formula which work for me eventually. I continue to find ways to do it; I couldn't give it up. Now, I couldn't go back to the old ways.

After I gain some success being a freelance software developer, I have an idea to move up one notch. Along the way I kind of ditch the idea of starting a software house to develop business application or do consulting; I wanted to something I like, something fun. Software Development for Business is frustrating at times, due to clients who aren’t quite sure what they want, business process which are either too complex or uncertain, and requirements which forever changes. Basically, I am just doing it for money, where my client pays for my services and patient. The only consolation is that I like programming, which keeps me going for a few years, until I found something better.

Still programming, but programming for something I like, something which I found interesting. I develop web application for people to find great places to eat, a way to compare and analyze property prices, and hopefully a few more fun projects like travelling guide (which I had been trying to do for the past 2 years), product price comparison or developing the most comprehensive archive of every places in Malaysia. Once I started on these idea, I couldn’t stop thinking about them and gotten very motivated on work on these idea. On the other end, my productivity on developing business application had gotten lower due to the lack of interest.

This dilemma is killing me slowly, where I end up procrastinating a lot while developing business application for others. I end up wasting even more time and doing less, with even less time to do what I wanted to do, and satisfaction level is at all time low.

My mind had taken control of me, and perhaps I had found something which I really like to work on (which is really great!)? It’s time to make a firm stand and stop “lying” to myself and not doing the right thing. I need to dedicate more time to do what I wanted to do, and make it work. To have peace and satisfaction.

OMG! How am I going to say NO the next time customers come knocking on my door? Say NO?!!! It's tough.

I get to know Edison better lately, because Mei Ru and I got him to be our wedding photographer, and he started sharing a bit of himself to us. He doesn’t want to turn his hobby (which is photography and editing) into a profession, thus he just does it on a “part-time” basis and he picks his clients (usually friends who are less demanding). At the same time, he don’t mind doing boring Graphic Design and Publication Work as his main job; as he treated that as work, not a hobby. So he got a very clear separation of work and hobby, and he doesn’t mix them. Just like Si Theng (another friend of mine), just treat baking and card making as hobby and don’t intend to turn them into business (just doing it for friends), while working on her maybe “boring” day job while she get to go home on time to play with her hobbies.

My problem is like I mix work with pleasure. I wanted to build a sustainable business which I would be happy to nurture it everyday; something I would like to work on for long term in the future. I still have my hobbies like Hiking, Dancing and Travelling. Another thing is there is limited time, as I can’t segregate 50-50 for work and hobby; thus I want my work to be something I have passion for, and something I would spend a lot of time to build upon. I have big plans for myself, where I refuse to walk the conventional path, something most people are willing to compromise because it’s a norm. I wanted a satisfactory change, I wanted something better, and I am trying to build something better while I can.

I am trying to build something better, while I can. I do need to remind myself that constantly before I loose track of it. I wanted something "perfect" for me.