Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Review: Evernote Business Model

Founder Showcase - Phil Libin Keynote

The Best Product Doesn't Always Win is a total BS. People who tell you this don't want you to succeed. It is true that some great product doesn't win, but given the choice to invest in product vs marketing/logistic/crm, you should put more emphasis on product and could potentially get the other stuff for free.

2 step plan in making revenue

  1. Make an amazingly great product
  2. Charge money for it


Stick with 1 revenue model for startup

  • Premium Subscription (90%). Not because it's biggest, but because it had the most salable growth.
  • Advertising (little money, promote partner product)
  • Technology licensing
  • Schwag (T-shirt, stickers)
  • Giant novelty checks

Stats

  • 3 Million Users in 2 years, 8,000 per day
  • Free users grow by 10% per month, paid users grow by 15% ($5/month, $45/year)
  • Lose 50% users on the 1st month, then the rest stays month after month
  • Conversion Rate: 1% (1st Month), 2% (1st Year), 8% (2nd Year)
  • Cost per User: 9 cents, Revenue per User: 25 cents
  • If you haven't reach break (gross margin profitability), the more users you add (scaling) means the faster you run out of money; after break even, the more users you add means more revenue

Freemium Model

  • A great long-term retention rate (don't have to spend money to re-attract users again)
  • Product that increases in value over time
  • Low variable costs

Startup Realities Checklist: Coder or Entrepreneur?


So what are some of the harsh realities of a startup that applied to me as well?

Your First Iteration of an Idea Will Be Wrong
Our first product is a property website which allows checking for historical property prices so that you could make a wiser decision before purchase. Though it might sounds useful, but we fail the gain user tractions or wrestle with the big boys like iProperty. Price Analysis is nice, but people use property website to search for property (either buy/sale or rent); and we don’t have the resources or connections to succeed in this manner.

Perhaps it isn’t a fail product (yet), just that it would consume more resources and industrial relationship to succeed (something which we don’t have). Restaurant reviews is something which we could do really well given our limitation, thus we focus on that.

Your Friends And Family Won’t Understand What You Do
It takes years before my dad stop asking me to get a “real” job. When I told people we are running a restaurant reviews website without charging for usage, people would ask how we survived. I would explain it is like The Sun newspaper, a free local newspaper and make money from the advertiser. Wait until they found out I am making less than being employed (sometimes).

Why do it (start a business) if it doesn’t make more money than being employed? The short answer is it’s fun and satisfying, I can work through weekend and midnight and still feel good about it (though I curse at the notebook many times). What if it doesn’t work out? The problem is, I could no longer get myself to do work for others which doesn’t interest me. It’s just painful. There seems to be no turning back (I once wished for burning the bridges, seems like it had happened).

You Will Make Less Than Normal Wages For A While
It could be a long while. I would probably earn more if I continue to climb the corporate ladder 6 years ago. Then again, I would end up in a dead end: a life which I wouldn’t enjoy. I need good mixture of freedom and passion, and a good mix of programming and traveling. I am lucky that my life expenses are low, and I am good at saving money, and pretty good at bootstrapping, and doing something which is within my means and capabilities.

Everything Takes Twice As Long…If It Even Happens
Still remember about thinking about making the 1st million by 25, then 30, and now turned to 35. Still remember about become sustainable within 6 months, then 1 year and then forgotten about how to calculate. Being a programmer, we are always optimistic about launching a new product or finishing the feature within 3 days, which might ended twice or thrice as long. All system must go live and all features must go out the door! Luckily that is still true: late but deployed. Getting it done is still better that getting it perfect.

Titles Mean Nothing. You Will Be a Janitor
I can call myself CEO, Founder, Serial Entrepreneur, Software Architect, Product Manager, etc. It doesn’t matter: I’m still a coder, and a thousand other things.

There Is No Silver Bullet
There is no savior (mentor or VC) which is going to come in and save the day, or any magic formula not known to mankind; I have to make it work though countless iteration of experimentation and error, until I get it right, or stop being relevant.

Customers Will Frustrate You
I like the users and consumers (since they are not paying and happily using our free services); customers could be a bit demanding since they are forking out the money. Then again, I am thankful of Google Adsense which could temporary shield me from sales and customers.

You Can’t Do It All Yourself
Yup, I have tasks piled up for me for the next 12 months if I am going to do this alone. I can pick-up multiple skills, but I could squeeze more than 24 hours in a single day. I definitely need help, HELP!!!

Building A Team Is Hard
Yup, I could be very tricky, but there is no other way. Then again, we shouldn’t just assemble a team just because we need to, we need to find the “right” people; just like we should not get married just because it’s time to get married, and we need to find the “right” girl or else we would be miserable for the rest of our life.

Building a team is like a courtship which hopefully would lead to marriage, and expect a lot of heartbreaks, incompatibility, wrong timing, betrayal, bad judgment, misaligned vision, not good enough, etc.

You will LOSE all of your money that you ever earned, and then a bunch that you still have not earned. If you’re not prepared to put it all on the line, you’re not prepared for a start-up.
When I am Solo, I just need to feed myself and get a shelter (which my parents could temporary provide for me).  Worst case scenario for me is that I might lose that “potential” income per year, or don’t have enough money to get married or have children. Should I take on more risk?

Am I a Coder or Entrepreneur?
I have ponder this question for quite a while, am I an Entrepreneur doing a Startup? I know I am a coder who likes to build stuff, and I am happy when people like to use my stuff. Is my stuff (a product or a website) a startup? Is a coder running some stuff an Entrepreneur? Before the word Entrepreneur doing Startup becomes popular, it was known as Businessman running a Business; and it is common knowledge that technical person are less likely to be a businessman. Technology (and Timing) made it possible for a coder to become an Entrepreneur doing a Startup. We know Entrepreneur consist more than just a coder: the business and management side, the sales and marketing side, and the whole “running a startup” side.

Rather than being all glamorous about entrepreneurship and startup, perhaps I am happier being a coder building some useful stuff which people happens to like to use. I guess I am not getting any VC love after admitting to this :)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jeff Hoffman: How to overcome criticism of your idea?



Kinda missed his talk during the SVC2M event due to an 1-to-1 session, now I know why it's the most liked talk: Inspiration and No holding back (and no excuses).


Notes:

  • Successful people are not smarter. They just wake up and go do something about it, no more excuses.
  • Entrepreneur take gamble on themselves.
  • Info Spunge: read (and gather data points) about things which might not be relevant to what we are doing, and somehow the dots might connect after a few cycles to form a new picture.
  • You'll fail, so what?
  • Leader: build a team who is smarter than you.
  • Ask what your future team member want? Do you share the same value or vision?
  • 299 vs 300: It's what differentiate Heavyweight Champion and other boxers.
  • Should I do something which make instant money, or work on the product? Hardwork & Sacrifice are the nutients
  • We always know we are going to sell everything, but let's focus on selling one thing. Amazon got so good at selling books, people start asking what else are they selling. Same goes of Zappos.
  • Protect Idea: Patern, Switching Cost, Industry with Relationship
  • Blue Sky: Pretend there is no gracity and rules, don't try to innovate by making more lanes in the highway to solve traffic.
  • You cannot control of being a victim, but you can control if you want to continue to be a victim.
How to take on Negativity?

  • Don't take advice from golfer if you want to play baseball (find the right mentor/advice)
    • Great Multi-tasker = No Focus
    • The Drive to get it done now = Impatient
    • Not afraid to try something no one else had tried before = No Respect for Authority
  • Quit taking opinion from the guy you are not going to sell your product to
PS: I always knew I am pitching/talking to the wrong kind of people: they are not the users of my product, they do not understand the dynamics of consumer Internet and they are definitely not entrepreneurs. Thanks Jeff for the validations.


It's time to do more with less excuses.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Why users' desires and needs are the most underserved?

We know Malaysians are crazy about food (the further we traveled, the better the food taste), and there are plenty of restaurants popping up and closing down every month, yet there are very little successful websites which help consumers to look for good food and restaurants. There are probably 2 dozens of food websites (non-blog) in Malaysia versus a few hundreds food bloggers, and Malaysians actually get makan advice from food bloggers rather than using a food website like Yelp (for Malaysia).

We know fairly sure most Malaysian eat out and there are plenty of thriving restaurants, but why the supporting web services to help match foodies with their desired restaurants is not quite there yet? In fact, most food websites are started as a hobby project; and some done by small companies, and the big players are certainly not in sight.

Is Malaysian web sphere not vibrant enough? I don’t think so. We have Groupon and dozens of its clone such as MyDEAL and Dealmates. For online property, we have iProperty, ThinkProperty and PropertyGuru. For job hunting, we have JobStreet, JobsDB and Monster. For e-commerce, we have Lelong/SuperBuy, Postme, AirAsia Megastore and Jipaban (in fact, most individual setup a blogshop).

Why are certain segments more vibrant and filled with bigger players? I have a theory: short cycle to profitability. Most of these segments require low development time and cost, perhaps high marketing spending, and the ability to monetize and be profitable within 6 months (or gone out of business). Almost everyone can setup a Groupon shop, though you need to have sizeable capital for marketing and hiring sales people, and there are multiple proven local models and success stories where the top 10 local Groupon clones are hitting the revenue of RM 200,000 to RM 5 million per MONTH! It’s like a gold mine, and everyone is getting the shovels. Success story like iProperty and JobStreet shows there are millions of ringgit to be made from the local market, thus people are willing to invest in and try to wrestle some market share from the big established players. How about e-commerce? We never really heard about most of the websites besides Lelong. My theory is E-Commerce = Sales = Money, thus people inherently thinks there are always money in this segment (just like a brick and mortar shop which sell things). E-bay could be an inspiration for some.

So, does that mean there is no money in helping people to discover great food, but tons of money in selling restaurant coupon? Let’s just say selling restaurant coupon is easier and faster. There are basically 2 type of consumer Internet business: Type A) one that focus on the users and help them to get what they need. Type B) focus on the merchants and make it super easy for users to buy the merchant service. TripAdvisor and Yelp is Type A (focus on users); while services like KAYAK, Expedia, Booking.com, and Agoda is Type B (focus on merchant). Bigger companies would like to venture into Type B kind of business, because it’s nearer to the money (there is profit in every booking).

What is Type A (user-focused)’s business model, like TripAdvisor? TripAdvisor is more costly to develop (platform, content, community), which might take 1-3 years to gain traction with minimum profitability; once they became the market leader and everyone goes to TripAdvisor’s website to plan for travel and seek recommendations, then it became a valuable platform. All Type B business like Expedia would want to be featured on TripAdvisor website, because there is where their customers are. TripAdvisor make its profit from referrals bookings made on Type B’s platform, without the need to handle customer service and all the work. Click and KaChing!

What is the different between TripAdvisor and Yelp's business model? TripAdvisor is slightly luckier as they could make profit from travel booking business like Expedia, and they don’t have to do the hard work of engaging every hotel and travel agencies in the world. Is there a booking service for restaurants? Perhaps there are some, but nothing as elaborate and vibrant as Expedia. My guess is Yelp! still have to do a lot of ground work, engaging restaurant owners and merchant to do some kind of advertisement or promotions on the website. Each travel deal could average RM 500, but each restaurant deal is only RM 50. For restaurants, there are more work and less money.

So, why would we want to do Type A (user-focus) business if most of the money is in Type B (merchant-focus)? I guess I am a believer that if I do something which actually helps others to solve their problems, it means I am creating value and good things will happen. A lot of people are trying to look for great places to makan (including me) every day, and I am serving that need. Though that might not sound very business-minded, but I do believe in its value (though I got criticized a lot by business-minded person who thinks I am delusional for treating this as a business). Basically I believe we solve a problem, serve a need and acquire users who like our services.

Mr. Stoppelman (Yelp) said that the site deliberately tilts its rules to support the reviewers. “We put the community first, the consumer second and businesses third,” he said. - Source: NYTimes

Besides personal and philosophical reasons, there is a long term strategic reasons as well. It might take you 3 months to start a Groupon site and start making money, and it’ll take any guy 3 months to be your competitors and reduce your profitability. The barrier of entry is very low, and it’s a very hot gold mine; and money can buy success easily through marketing in this case. How many people are willing to invest hundreds of thousands and be patient for 1-3 years to gain traction; and have the opportunity to monetize in the end? There are hardly any competitors left at the end, and new comers will take years to play catch-up, and we gain the priceless reward in becoming the market leader. Most importantly, we have gotten the content and the users; content attract the users, and users attract the merchants (and profitability).

Jeff Bezos said, “It’s all about the long term.  If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that. Just by lengthening the time horizon, you can engage in endeavors that you could never otherwise pursue. At Amazon we like things to work in five to seven years. We’re willing to plant seeds, let them grow—and we’re very stubborn. We say we’re stubborn on vision and flexible on details.” - Source: Forbes

In Malaysia’s context, the idea of pouring hundreds of thousands and taking 3 years to make real profits might be unbearable of most investors. The idea of food hunting using websites (or mobile applications) is quite alien to users above the age of 35 (they like to read reviews on newspaper, and ask for advice from friends). Thus, most investors would think I am a young ciku who know nuts about business. Then again, I still have a lot to learn.

In the meantime, we will make Malaysia Most Wanted the ultimate gateway to all Malaysian food and restaurants; provide satisfactions to all the foodies out there.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My Last Bite at Government Grant

Hi, I am Desmond, and I am jinxed with Government Grant applications. For the past 6 years, I applied for 4 government grants (from 3 different agencies) and entered a reality TV pitching show, and all of them sunk. You can read about my journey.


In the early years, I thought I am half-hearted with no track records, thus I fail. Then I manage to develop a service with great traction (self-funded), yet they still doubt my capability to venture into new markets and criticized my inability to monetize on the traction. When I mentioned Twitter secured millions of dollars in funding, with hundred millions of users, considered wildly successful and still hardly profitable: everyone keep their silence because they can’t come up with a reasonable answer, but I know none of them agree with the statement. I was asked why I have 300,000 visitors and still can’t make great profit, and waiting a year before profit comes in is labeled as “pathetic”. I try to explain to them that this is not a software product which you can profit immediately per sale, this is consumer web (product > traction > trial & error / pivot > maybe profit): and I know none of them understand what that phrase means.

At the end of the day, government grants are KPI-based to improve the country’s GDP (towards the ETP): so you need to prove that you can make tons of money, or already making tons of money (Ironic, isn’t it?). They are not going to invest in Twitter or YouTube which can’t generate great profitability in the early years, in regardless of how many users you have. Government grant is about short term profitability (will be better if it’s proven profitability); but there are some exception. Why TryMasak is portrayed as a success story for ICON fund? Traction? Profit? Perhaps is the collaboration with MOSTI, ability to watch cooking video on Hypp TV and featured on Malaysia Book of Records.

Forget about what Silicon Valley taught us about 1) Team 2) Product 3) Traction, it doesn’t work for government grant in this country (it’s like some weird idea from a different world. I dunno what are these crappy stuffs? Show me the money!). Though I suspect the forth element, social proof, might still work very well. If you are like me, who have no connections with the “right” people; don’t try to focus on the product or tractions, and don’t even try to promote your team because we are all crappy little minions begging for money. I am not encouraging this, but I guest boasting about your current profit or instant profitability within the next 6 months is something they would like to hear; and perhaps some partnership with big names like AirAsia, Maxis, and TM would ring the bell as well.

Government grant evaluation panel nowadays include “industry expert” besides a bunch of bureaucrats, which sounds more promising, but not quite so. These experts might not be entrepreneurs themselves, perhaps managers or CEOs (which have a very different mindset from entrepreneurs, but confident of their personal achievement due to the 5 figure monthly salary). I am guessing none of them have experience with business like Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, TripAdvisor, Yelp!, etc.; and I am not sure if they even read about them, or at least use them. There is a high probability they might still be traditional-minded: build some product with 3-6 months, spent tons on marketing and branding, sell like hotcakes and become profitable. Spending millions and years before profitability is just crazy, something they genetically couldn’t comprehend.

My conclusion is:

  1. The expectation and benchmark of Silicon Valley VCs are different from local government grants. So it's Product + Traction + Team vs Profit.
  2. At the end of day, it’s all about proven profit and fast profit (within 6 months – 1 year, not beyond). They are not interested with traction, though they might criticize you if you don’t have it.
  3. Although they say there are looking for the next Google, but we know they won’t invest in Google during their early days (for God’s sake, they don’t even have a business model then, forget about profitability). So do something proven, especially proven locally; so that they could smell the money.
  4. Know the “right” people. Social Proof works globally. 
  5. Sometimes it's like selling a bat to a golfer; or Tech and Business person speak a different lingo (it's like why Man couldn't understand Woman). Choose you investor wisely, if there is a choice.


I hope I learned the final lesson from the grant applications spree, which cause a lot of distractions. I conclude that they are not interested in my kind of startup: focus on content and user tractions, not proven business model locally and no proven or instant profitability. I do admit I didn’t focus on monetization, because I felt that someone could do a better job than me, so I focus on what I do best (my theory is, the inability to monetize doesn’t means the platform has no value). More work required here.

Am I being delusional or arrogant here, sometimes I asked myself? My brother said, “If you still know how to ask yourself that question, you are pretty much safe.”

What’s next? Do more, complaint less. If I don't believe them, the next thing to do is to prove them wrong :) Malaysia Most Wanted Rocks!

 Be so good they can't ignore you - Steve Martin

Monday, October 24, 2011

What I learned from StartupMalaysia: Silicon Valley come to Malaysia

I better write these down before my memory fades me again.


  1. There are almost 1000 start-ups in Malaysia, which is really cool (we are not alone); some had gone as far as Silicon Valley to get funding, and some even make Millions (it would be nice if we know who are they, and what they do).
  2. I had read that Silicon Valley investors look into team, product/demo, traction and social proof (be exceptional in one of these) and throw business idea and proposal away; I have the opportunity to experience some of the processes and found that to be TRUE. Sadly, that’s not the case for Malaysia Investors (at least not so for Government Grant).
  3. Investors look for really either really smart people who can rewrite the rule (not just incremental enhancement), never say die or inspire. – Saad Khan, CMEA
  4. In pitching, we need to tell a story. But what is a story? Your experience and hardship? You experience the pain which you are trying to solve? 
  5. If there is a high failure rate with entrepreneurship, there is an even higher failure rate in securing funding. Besides team, product and tractions; pitching is still an emotional sale (admitted by Naval Ravikant of AngelList), which means they won’t invest if they don’t like you. Sometimes people are looking for Apple (the fruit) and you just can’t sell them Orange. So keep trying until you find someone interested in Orange, and then you get the real feedbacks from them. Not all investors are equally experience or brilliant as well.
  6. Code is Power; then again there are many good coders out there. I believe code is the basis, but there is more to be done on top of it.
  7. There is no magic formula: how do YouTube or LinkedIn gain traction? Continuous tweaking, iterations, trial and error, trying something new and measure the results, understand your potential business model and customers, until you get it right.


I believe StartupMalaysia (and Silicon Valley come to Malaysia) is awesome because
  1. It’s the first time I ran out of Business Cards (which is a good sign); so the networking really works here without the need to be a PR expert, and we get to meet many entrepreneurs and gotten linked up as a community.
  2. We get the chance to have dialogues with some real silicon valley people, thus giving us a better perspective in terms of i) is our product really good, or jaguh kampong only ii) what these people are looking for iii) how do we bring it to the next level.
  3. Some acknowledge and recognition given by budding entrepreneurs about MalaysiaMostWated is pretty comforting :)
  4. And the Startup Experience boot camp: learning how to survive as a team and opportunity to know a few budding entrepreneurs closer.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Review: Founders at Work

This is one of the more interesting books I had read in a while, but I am bias since I am doing a startup. What are some of the lessons we could learn from some of the most successful startup in the past 2 decades (can’t believe so many things happened in 20 years).

2 Founders (business and technical). This is the dream team combination, as we have Bill Gates and Paul Alan (Microsoft), Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (Apple), Jerry Yang and David Filo (Yahoo), and Max Levchin and Peter Thiel (PayPal). The coder can just concentrate on building great product, and the business guy handles funding, board, operation, etc. Then again, business would break if the founders couldn't get along (choose carefully, don't get a co-founder for the sake of having one).

To sell out, or not? Most founders agreed to sell out, for one simple reason: you could use the money to fuel your next dream. Hotmail (Sabeer Bhatia) was sold to Microsoft, so does Flickr, Blogger, etc. What if you don't sell? You might crash fantastically, or be as great as Facebook.

Uncontrolled public “disputes” and lawsuits could kill the company. Dan Bricklin of Software Arts (VisiCalc for Apple II) was suit by its distributor due to disagreement with software loyalty, which in turns affected their chances of an acquisition and distracted their product focus (and overtaken by Lotus); and end up being irrelevant at the end.

No one is King forever. First we have VisiCalc, then Lotus Notes, and finally Microsoft Excel. Not too long ago, we have Friendster, followed by MySpace, and now Facebook.

Beware of VC (they could "kill" your company, or you). Though most founders have VC funding, but most agreed that they would preferred not to take VC funding if possible. VC naturally will act on their best interest, which might not be the best interest of your company; some VC might even try to take advantage of you since you are a first timer in accepting funding. If you have 2 almost similar deal from 2 VC firms, try to go with the smaller VC firm who actually focus more on your company (make sure you are their top 5 clients, rather than bottom 5). You want their founders to be on your board, not some junior stuff who knows nothing about running a company, and try to run your company. ArsDigita was basically destroyed by junior members of as established VC firm. Please know that they can even fire you, the founder!

Spent little as you can, and bootstrap.

No Business Model. Most company in the early stage doesn’t know how to make money (most of them didn’t make any but end up being acquired). TripAdvisor eventually found a business model by sending leads to hotel booking sites, and earn commissions; HotOrNot end up charging for dating services.

Hang on. Pyra Labs (Blogger) have to let go of their entire staffs as they run out of funding, but the site (or company) still continue to operate in minimum state by one of its founder, Evan Williams. He asked for donations to keep the site up, and eventually make some money by selling premium bloggers accounts (pay me $5 and I’ll the take ads away). Eventually it was acquired by Google.

Not every great idea is accepted. Initially, Gmail was not accepted as a great idea within Google, yet today it became an important part of Google. You need to work your way through, prove it and earn it. When Y Combinator started, most investors and media aren’t interested; it caught fire 18 months later, and there are various clones out there.

The original idea might not be the winning idea. Pyra Labs (Blogger) initial focus was a web-based project management tool; Flickr was originally a photo-sharing feature in an online game.

Crazy idea does work unexpectedly. How could you make money out of a site which rate if someone is hot or not? Well, HotOrNot started with some advertisement and end up as a dating site. Now, who dares to bet male geeky stuff couldn’t make money?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How to Kick-ass in VC/Grant Pitching (Malaysia)


They are on the lookout for the Innovation / Disruption / Breakthrough. 
There are a few problems. New Innovation are very risky, and most people don’t understand it. Can you actually see Innovation or did you see a Clone? Google in the Early days, you see it as new Innovation, or just another young kids trying to challenge Yahoo (and they probably would fail). VisiCalc is new innovation, but what about Lotus Notes and Excel? Can you foresee Facebook overtook Friendster and MySpace? Can you identify them before it happens? iPhone is Innovation, but what about iPad? What do you think of Android and iOS? iOS wins because of better usability/interface/experience? What if I tell you that we are going to build a better TripAdvisor, because we will create a better user interface and great user experience? How are you going to quantity and evaluate that? If you recognize an innovation, are you ready to take the risk? The idea sounds good, but the evaluation method is just not reliable.



How much track records is enough?
Do they investor really focus on the idea, or the team? Big time VC always say it’s all about the team, but I get more questions about the Idea than the team. Maybe they doubt my team, but you don’t get a chance to defend it and they never openly question your capability (they’ll conclude that you can’t, and that’s it).

I had seen a CEO fascinated with someone graduate from Oxford, so I guess if you graduated from Harvard or MIT, it helps. I guess it helps if you worked in Microsoft, Google, Facebook before (agreed by AngelList). And perhaps it you are a Celebrity (or a pretty Girl), it helps as well. If you have the connections which helps the business, that's valuable as well (if you try to sell online musics, and you have connections with the music labels).

If you are a serial entrepreneur, it helps (but some agreed that people who had make the big bucks before, aren’t pushing as hard as they used to, but investor still think it’s a safe bet). If you are a first timer or done some small projects before, then you are screwed.

Since I don’t have any of the above, I try to leverage on my best project: Malaysia Most Wanted Food & Restaurants. My pitch is that it’s the best online Food & Restaurant Guide in Malaysia (proven by Alexa), that it had 300,000 monthly visitors. Somehow this track record doesn’t really work its magic. Maybe I need the number to be 1 million (then I won’t be here begging for RM 100K), or people just never really use or heard about it before (thus they don’t really believe me, but they don’t question me publicly as well). Perhaps I sound too arrogant? My thought is, if I repeat this statement enough times, people will actually pay attentions and start to believe.

Knowing their prejudice or preferences?
I guess everyone have their own preference and prejudices: some like apple, and other like orange. If you try to sell an apple to someone who likes orange, you are going to have a tough time; if you sell it to the right person, then the magic just happens.

While I was proposing my Travel idea, there is all kind of oppositions (perhaps people like to take a travel package instead of planning their own travel?). Then one of the panel browse through our sites and found Malaysia Price Checker, and he was amazed by our database; his words, “There are many people proposing a price checker, and none of them have the database; and here you have it.” Then I mentioned maybe there are limited potential with price checker, and they actually defended the idea and say, “You never know.”

This brings me to human psychology: people always like their own idea better than others. I like my own ideas better than the panel, so it’s hard to get them to like my idea. If I can turn my idea to become their idea as well, then miracle will happen. I am no longer selling my idea, but they will automatically buying their own idea.

Tips: turn your idea into the investors’ idea. It’s not the same as changing the idea (from Travel to Price Checker), but get them to believe that Travel is their idea as well. I know this could be tricky, but it’s extremely priceless as well.

It’s facts and words, or emotion and personality?
As a technical person, I tend to focus on facts rather than emotions. I believe in reasoning, thus my slides are populated with facts, features and numbers. I found that though I may speak a lot, but very little of those actually goes into the head of the Investors. I show a slide about our unique selling points, but people still ask me again. Someone asked why I don’t have XXX, and I just show a full slide talking about XXX.

Something is not working here. Either my presentation skill sucks or I speak too fast, or I talk about too many things which loses focus. Last time I jumped straight to be point, thus some people don’t understand what it is basically about; now I add in more basic information to cover the grounds, then people got bored and lose focus on the in depth stuff.

Again, I think emotion and personality play a very important role. Most of the time I am quite nervous, so I am not sure I portray what kind of personality or emotion (Confident? Rookie? Defensive?).

A guy wanted funding to setup a photo studio, and he bring along all these beautiful child photos for display. Though the judges criticize his business plan sucks, but they are still willing to give him a chance (I do feel the photos do stir up great emotions). Perhaps they judges don’t know much about photography, thus can’t comment much, haha? (Tip: if they judges don’t understand about your industry, you might have an advantage). And he got a pleasant and humble personality, and perhaps I am too “arrogant” and “defensive” thus not so likeable?

Then again, do we want mister goody two-shoes as entrepreneur?

Attack is the best Defense?
Most of the time, we are playing defensive as the investors throw questions at us and challenge us. I try to dissolve that with reasoning and arguments; which might work or might not (you might have the right reasoning, but some people just don't buy it; but neither do they voice it further). My feeling is we are always at the disadvantage here.

Perhaps we should break an attack with a counter-attack. If people say your site sucks, so what are the better sites? If they say your number is low, so you mean you actually have a higher number than us? Be careful playing with fire thought, as sometimes people takes these things quite personally. If they are not happy, they ain't gonna invest either. So, how much backbone do we need?

Experience, and more Experience.
Yes, experience is doing presentation and giving pitches do helps. There is always room for improving the slides, and improve your presentation focus. Once you kick the “nervous” element out, perhaps you would be more aware of what is actually happening. Perhaps we can kick the “defensive” element out as well, and be as cool as a cucumber.

Though I usually come out quite dissatisfied from each presentation, but I did learn how investors behave, how to improve the focus of the presentation so that the panel really get it (avoid confusion, avoid lost focus) and maybe some new idea about my product. And perhaps how to handle the usual questions as well.

Warning: You are getting advice from someone who had never secure any funding before :) Read about our failures and lessons.


Understanding the mentality of Investor in Malaysia (and about fund-seeking entrepreneurs)

I had applied for 4 government grants before, and entered 1 pitching reality TV show, and I am still out of luck with 1 chance still pending. I might not know a whole lot about success, but I do know about failure, haha.

There is this hype about government grants many years back, with the launching of Cradle, Mosti and MDEC funds. I was still employed then, but I guess it’s the best time to write up some business proposal to see if I can get some FREE MONEY to start my first business.


My first idea 6 years ago is Document Management System (DMS), as I was in software business consulting and companies are paying a few hundred thousand for such system. I thought maybe we can create something simpler and better and sell it for less than one hundred thousand, but then there are many such solutions out there (including open source one).Our proposal is accepted, and we went to the 1st meeting, and it kinda end there with no feedbacks whatsoever (it’s common practice for them to keep silence about the reason for rejection).  I guess we don’t have much of a unique selling point, except that we think we can do it better and cheaper than others (and the market is there). I guess we fail because our idea is not unique, and we probably don’t have track records to show as well. Then again, they are approving “funny” projects like Sang Kancil animation, some sales system, etc.; eventually they stop publishing about the projects they funded. Learn about what they don't fund.

My second idea about 5 years ago was Property Prices and Statistics, where the website will show you the current and historical prices, and you can do a comparison. Our business model is selling report (or premium access) for detailed records. I think it’s pretty cool and useful. But the same thing happens, our proposal is accepted, and we went to the 1st meeting and then it stopped. About 1 year later, one of the grant we applied finally get back to us (there have a 1 year backlog, OMG!) and ask us to do a presentation. One of their panel say the people don’t need such services (there is no need to compare property prices), because he doesn’t need it. Then he say RM 20K is too much money for such project, then he tried to slash it down to less than RM 10K (OMG, just pathetic). At the end, we didn’t get an offer as well. Why did I fail? Perhaps we don’t have track records; is it my failure to persuade them there is such a need, or they don’t have the foresight? For me, how can you ask a bunch of middle management who didn’t start any business before to provide insights into evaluating other businesses? A few years later, I did start Malaysia Property Price as a sub project, to test if it really works. It gotten some eyeballs, but not enough traction (I can’t afford to spend more resources on this idea at the moment, perhaps later). Maybe they are right? But it still sounds like a good idea, shit.

Then I stop to believe in these Grant thingy. If I have so much faith in my own idea and capability, why not use my own money and start it instead? I finally quit my job and started MalaysiaMostWanted.com (MMW), where the initial focus is on new property launches. It gains a small traction over one year, but not enough. I left to start a consulting business with a friend, and come a year later to “reboot” MMW. This time we are slightly smarter and better, and we venture into Food & Restaurants (because the other similar sites in Malaysia are just not good enough, and the best stuff actually comes from bloggers). After a small success with Food, we redo Property, launch Event and Map. Event and Map didn’t quite pickup, but Food is great, and Property is doing well. I guess I got complacent for a while, because iProperty is too big for us to challenge (not something can be beaten technologically), and other food players just didn’t keep up. In 2011, I decided to take MMW more seriously (I cut down my freelancing jobs, but sometimes couldn’t resist the temptation of money knocking on my door). I manage to launch MMW Foodie (Android App) and Malaysia Price Checker. I started to think perhaps it would do me some good if I can get some funding, so that I can resist these freelance jobs, and employ someone to speed things up. So I applied for a grant, and saw a chance on a reality pitching show, and go for that as well.

My last proposal is about Travel, continuation from MMW Food. The reality pitching show didn’t turn out good for me, mainly due to 1) Some judges misunderstood my idea (my fault) 2) They feel I shouldn’t do Travel because I have no track records, and I should focus on Food 3) They feel the market is saturated. What can you do when people don’t trust you, and ignore your track records? Market is saturated? It’s like because there is Yahoo (and Altavista), so you don’t need Google; at the other end of the world, another VC just invested USD 4 Million into Gogobot (a travel website), WTF!

My last adventure is a presentation for a grant, and we have the usual doubts 1) We don’t think you can handle Travel, just stick with Food 2) TripAdvisor is so great, so you can’t be better than them 3) MMW is not that great (Ouch!). We are a failure until proven success, so I should ask for Grant for something which I already did (Food); perhaps I should. I did list out our “unique” features which TripAdvisor doesn’t have, but I guess we “speak” but no one actually “listen”; then someone get very “emotional” about our food search cannot sort by popularity (which I later tested to be working, maybe he is using a Mac/Safari, which we didn’t test on because the user base is less than 5%) and start making remarks which make the impressions that we make shitty application; and he love TripAdvisor so much that I have an uphill battle (is he really emotional, or it's a "test", hmm). I am not saying TripAdvisor sucks, but they are the champion because they have the content and reviews, but they are complacent with features and usability (and user experience); actually the same happen to us with MMW Food, thus I want to make things right and better. Is 300,000 monthly visitors an achievement? You can say it is pathetic, or it’s okay, and maybe it’s great. Can you build a website with 300,000 MAU?

Everyone knows Google is great after it is successful. Given that if you have the chance to invest in Google in the early days, are you the one putting in money, or you are the one saying “There is no money in search” How sure are you about the remark and decision you make today, and how much are you willing to bet on it? I guess this are the questions investors (or evaluators) should ask themselves.

As a fund-seeker, there is a lesson to be learned from the Kentucky Guys: fail 3000+ times before finding an investor. Keep trying, haha. Prejudice, everyone have it; both the Investors and Entrepreneurs. Keep trying on a bigger data sets to get the "real" picture.

This post is getting too long; read the next post for How to Kick-ass in VC/Grant Pitching (Malaysia).

PS: Will my "exposures" back fire on my reputations and future chances? Probably, but then again; this is who I am. If you can't accept this, then probably we can't work together.  道不同不相为谋; 千里马要伯乐。

Monday, October 10, 2011

Review: Paul Kenny's Building Sales



Notes:
  • Love your inner Sales person?
  • Sales is sharing story with customer?
  • Dialogue: reach a mature understanding of what the client values most
  • Quality of Dialogues = Quality of Customer Acquisition
  • Dialogue builds rapport: if the perceived value is almost similar, people buy from the person you like the most.
  • To get the customer to reflect their unique needs to you
  • You cannot tell your way into a solution (you need this, that, etc)
  • Perception of your product matters to customer
  • Knows the Customer's DNA: Drivers (Ego, Security, Ease, etc), Needs (Function, Scalibility, etc), Aspirations (Project, Team, Personal)
  • Better Dialogue: Selfless Questioning, Listen (don't assume, non-judgemental)
  • Don't allow sales person to focus on monetary reward only (tie them to growth, customer happiness, feedback, etc)
  • Hire the person who asks the most interesting questions. Don't hire Franks (hot-shot salesperson at big companies)

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Steve Jobs' Wisdom: 2005 Stanford Commencement Address



Steve Jobs, R.I.P 05 Oct, 2011. Though he was not my favorite, but I do admire his talent and how he manage to change the world (in a not so subtle way, and a good way, IMHO). I am sadden by the lost, the fall of an icon.

Notes:


The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only collect them looking backwards.

You have to trust in something, your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.

I had been rejected, but I was still in love.

The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it.

Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith.

You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As will all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it.

If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heavens don't want to die to get there.

Death is the very single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by godma which is living with the results of other other people's thinking. Don't let the noice of others' opinion drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Review: Dharmesh Shah's building a great Software Business


Improving one often degrades another

  • Sales Velocity
  • Acquisition Cost
  • Lifetime Value


Invest in the Experience (not product)

  • Don't make customers happy; make happy customers. It's not subsequent thing serviced by support team; it's a whole end-to-end process.
  • Monitor customer happiness from Sale, Support, etc.
  • Customer Happiness Index: use metrics (call them once you know they are unhappy)


Put virtual customer in meetings, what would Moly (customer) say?

Make not just great products, but superstars of your product. (Customer focus).

What do we have to do, to turn non-users into users. A better or simpler product? Is iPod a higher performance product? Or easier to use with easier access to music? Tap into a blue-oceans of users who are waiting at the sidelines.

Extreme trasnsparency with employees.

Brand is what people say about you after you've left the room.

Don't screw your customers.

The path of truth and justice to gain profits. Don't be evil.

Dream big. Execute small. Sell your company for a good price, then you can fuel your next dream.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Review: Geoffrey Moore's Making a Business in Software


Geoffrey Moore wrote one of my favorite book, Crossing the Chasm (can't believe I didn't do notes on the book).

Innovation

  • Differentiation (Core)
  • Neutralization (Context): The market moved, but you didn't (getting back into the competitive set)
  • Optimization (Context): get the cost down


Core vs Context: Core is processes that amplify differentiation, Context is everything else which support the business (the necessary evil)

Innovation Waste

  • Differentiation that didn't go far enough (people like to play safe, but Steve like to go far)
  • Neutralization projects that go beyond good enough
  • Unaligned Innovation

There is never a game-over. Sun is the dot in dot com? IBM controls the PC market? Kodak moment?

Markets

  • Niche (Bowling Alley) -> Early Adopters -> Mainstream Market (Tornado)
  • Growth -> Mature -> Decline

Buyers (Performance, Relationship, Value)

  • Early: Performance (75%)
  • Growth: Performance (50%), Relationship, Value (25%)
  • Mature: Value (60%), Relationship (25%)
  • Decline: Value (75%)

Models

  • Product Leadership (Performance): Disruptive (Google), Solution (Autodesk), Product (Apple), Platform (Microsoft)
  • Customer Intimacy (Relationship): Line Extention (HP), Design (IDEO), Marketing (IBM), Experiencial (Facebook)
  • Operation Excellence  (Value): Value Engineering (TSMC), Integration (SAP), Process (Dell), Business model (Salesforce)

Winning in Solution Innovation (B2B)

  • Target Customer: Pragmatist (follow majority's choice) manager in target niche
  • Compelling reason to buy: Fix a problem (top 3 problems) business process
  • Whole Product: End-to-end solution
  • Partners and Allies: Solution complementers
  • Distribution: Direct sales
  • Pricing: Value-based
  • Competition: Horizontal offerings
  • Positioning: Niche market focus
  • Next Target Customer: Adjacent niche market

Definite Separation

  • Pick a core (laser-focus)
  • Go really far (beyond reason)
  • Optimize Context
  • Small Competitiveness: Agility


Saturday, October 01, 2011

Review: How to delve into Sales



Notes:


  • Sales Organization: get people excited about your product, so that they'll share their needs with you
  • Interview: don't lead, let people talk (so that they don't prime their answers to your needs)
  • You want to hire someone who are interested in your start-up equity, at the same time most Sales people care about instant reward (show me the money!).
  • Compensation: don't user percentage, but maximum absolute figure (negotiated quarterly or so)
  • Weekly Pipeline Meetings, though Sale people don't like to be managed tightly.
  • Team Selling: post-moterm after every sale. What happened in the meeting?
  • Called before office hours and after office hours (to bypass the secretary); Friday afternoon is best for setting up meeting next week.
  • Call as high as appropriate
  • LinkedIn connected histroy: to find out about your competitor's movement.
  • Ask for favour in return for reduction in fee. Leave room for people to have small victory. Margin?
  • Forecasting: 10% if you understand client's needs; 50% if you given a presentation, and the client have something to buy from you; 75% if customer ask for negotiation; 90% you are told that you got the contract.
  • Don't hire too quickly, don't hire too senior; trying selling by yourself to get a feel, get sales service consulting company.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Review: Seth Godin. Are you afraid to truly make an impact



Notes:


Wisdom of Selling a "Traditional" Software Product


  • Who can i reach
  • Will they talk about it with their peers?
  • Can I earn and maintain permission to continue talking to them
  • Will they pay for it after they learn of its values
Wisdom of Selling a "Connection" Software


  • Does the connections create demonstrable values
  • Is there an easy and obvious for someone who benefits to recruit someones else to join
  • Is it open enough to be easy to use but closed enough to avoid becoming a zero-cost commodity


Stuff

  • People like to do what others are doing.
  • People are waiting to be led.
  • Marketing = Tribal Leadership, create a Tribe of followers
  • Connecting People: Connect users to one another
  • Creating & Inventing something Interesting
  • FREE is a marketing tool (marginal ZERO cost production) to get connections, leads to perception of a better services and end up paying for it
  • Customer paying to be connected?
Review:
Seth Gordin is a famous Sales & Marketing Guru, but he is not my favorite. He is a believer that Marketing/Business triumph, not technology/technical skill. On the surface, I do agree with him that pure technology or technical competency is not enough to prosper in the market in most cases, but neither pure Marketing/Business is sufficient to bring success to tech companies. There need to be a balance, combining Technical brilliance with Marketing brilliance. But it's true that sometimes coders over emphasize on the coding side that they end up with a great product which no one use. 

Nowadays, a coder (especially founders) didn't just code, we innovate and create something new (or disruptive); we are an inventor/designer/artist, who happens to be the implementer/manufacturer/coder as well. Why do we need to code? Because it's difficult for another coder to realize our creation. Can someone draw on behalf of Picasso? Do we admire his painting skill, or we admire his creativity?

What did I learn from Seth? Spreading of Ideas, Connecting People, Building a Tribe and Create something Interesting.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Review: Eric Ries's The science of lean startups



Notes:

  • Stop wasting people's time: build something someone would actually use
  • Identify value-creating vs wasteful activity
  • Learn what we need to learn at the lowest cost: can a 9 months mistake be learned within a month?
  • Fisher Price Model: Learn -> Ideas -> Build -> Code -> Meassure -> Data -> Learn (Loop)
  • Agile Development with a Continuous Feedback Loop
  • Why do we build products: delight customers, get them to signed up, make a lot of money, change the world.
  • Continuous Deployment Principle: Make very kind of mistake only once, Quick Deployment, Cluster Immune System (to warn of potential mistakes)
  • Minimum Viable Product: 1/8 of the original features, talk with early adopters

Friday, September 23, 2011

Review: $0-100million with no sales people (Atlassian)



Notes:

  • 2 founders: someone to depend on
  • Freemium: product must sell itself
  • Use your own product
  • Measures everything
  • Test everything
  • ABM: always be marketing
    • Send T-shirts to customer
    • Cool Benifit for workers: 1 week holiday before startwork, welcome kit of T-shirt and Chocolate
  • Your 1st idea will fail
  • Long term thinking
  • Know when to switch gear: when not to bootstrap anymore?
  • Build somewhere you want to work
  • Give experience as reward: Treasure hunting game

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Review: Fundable Startup (AngelList)


7th Founder Showcase - Naval Ravikant Keynote from Founder Institute on Vimeo.

Be Exceptional at one of the following (Importance is ranked by sequence, where Traction rules)

  1. Traction (Perhaps 20% per month)
  2. Team (Reputation, not self acknowledgement)
  3. Product
  4. Social Proof (Reputation, Reference by someone known, Herd Mentality)
  5. Market ...

Markets & Approaches (Unfundable)

  • Services, multiple products
  • Small Markets
  • Desktop Software / Dead Platforms (Silverlight, Flash, etc)
  • Conquered Markets with Network Effects (beating eBay or Craiglist)
  • High atom content (required brick and mortar)
  • Not too large, not too small

Team (Unfundable)

  • You don't get to call yourself visionary
  • Outsourced development, business-heavy
  • Sole founder
  • Part-timers
  • 12 years experience (too genetic, what have you done)

Exceptional Team (Fundable)

  • Keywords: MIT, PHD, Columbia, CS, Cisco, Sun, Google, Microsoft
  • No adjectives / opinions of yourself
  • Show, not tell
  • Quantitative and precise, not qualitative and vague
  • Branded or measurable output
  • Recruit only the best. And if you can't, you're not ready.

Product Guidelines

  • No promises / vision
  • Show, not tell
  • Quantitative
  • Something hard with specific knowledge
  • Expect competition
  • Build only the best

Real Hacks

  • Advisory Round (Notable VC)
  • Cast a Broad Net, move simultaneously
  • Easier to pitch a new investor than to convert one
  • Sell the option to invest more later?
  • If you're having a hard-time, restart (go back to drawing board)
  • Don't sell more than 20% at seed round

Summary

  • Get to a funding hub
  • Recruit an exceptional team
  • Build something you are passionate and knowledgeable about
  • Test it against customers
  • Get social and customer validation
  • Raise on at least once exceptional characteristic

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Friday Thoughts

I like Friday night, where it’s always calm and quiet, where I have time to digest TEDs video before hitting the movie for another 2 hours pass midnight, and it made me realizeor think of something before I hit the bed. A little bit of time for self-reflection, I would say. To understand how we are going to come to terms with our own life.

I guess there are too many shits going on around us, we have corruptions which made us uneasy, people with their own agenda until they start to hurt others and good people have their hands tied. Are the politicians whom we voted still looking over our backs, and does the laws still uphold justice? Does Democracy and Capitalism still works well enough, or the rich and the immoral are running the world and the country now?

As an individual, it’s easy to escape the undesirable environment. If the company we work for sucks, we can always find another one, or start our own. If the country or government sucks, we can migrate to some other place as long as we have the cash. After a while, you realize there are always shitty people and shitty places; as if there is nowhere to run. No place is ever safe or good enough, and the knight in shining armor which we hope will come and clean the mess, just doesn’t appear anymore, or fall short of our expectation. Is it there is no one left to save us, except for ourselves? Like it or not, perhaps we need to be the hero to save the day.

I guess we do need a lot of hope and faith to live in our time. Sometime we need to forget, and sometime to look at the brighter side, and sometime to remember again. It’s like the movie where a group of people completed a big heist after facing numerous obstacles, and they get their dream and freedom in the end. Life is full of shitty challenges … you never know what you’re going to get.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Jason Cohen: Six ways to work out whether advice is helpful to you


  • The Rules: There are no fixed and fast rules. 1 short post per day might work for professional bloggers with focus on impressions, but maybe not for a product blogs which might require lengthy detail.
  • Sales: Can a geek do sales better than a “professional” salesman? Perhaps. If you are building a software development tool, you probably understand the problems and its benefits better than any other salesman. You can answer “hard” technical question, you can execute a perfect demo and provide great support: which in some sense are sales. If you are selling a frying pan, it might be easier to train a professional salesman about the product and let him do his magic talk.
  • Trust your inexperienced gut: your “unconventional” ways of doing things might be the right thing for you. Pick things naturally right for you. Perhaps not doing the normal way is your competitive advantage.
  • Stuff changes, rules changes. What used to work might not work now.
  • King or Rich? Do you plan to run your business for life, or you plan to sell it for the right price? Is your business a lifestyle business, or business with high growth?
  • Bootstrap or Funded? Bootstrap needs to generate revenue stream as fast as possible, while the funded can focus on land grab and market share (think about monetization later).
  • Perhaps there is nothing wrong with running a one-man business with no sales team?
  • Less reading and more doing?

Patrick McKenzie: Software for underserved markets



  • Selling to women: Groupon, Farmville
  • Not Feature, Benefit? Software is boring, but people are interesting.
  • The Emotion Business: Make people feel smart, make beautiful things.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Karl Treier: 20 Tips When Starting a Busines


  • Be very clear why you are doing it
  • Don't judge by appearance
  • Once you decide to start a business, go for it.
  • Lead, Manage, Inspire, Make it happen
  • Don't be afraid to seek advice
  • Trust but verify
  • Be very careful about hiring friends
  • Retain your competency
  • Keep cash close
  • Buy second hand stuff
  • Use free software
  • If you decide to take investment, it'll cost you an arm and leg
  • Don't be overly optimistic about your financial projection
  • Sometimes you might fail for reasons you cannot predict
  • Keep striving for the goal
  • Negotiate with customer: Show me the money
  • Bad things happen, Don't Panic!
  • Give back to the community
  • Don't procrastinate, just do it

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I demand FASTER and CHEAPER Internet in Malaysia!


Watch the full episode. See more Need To Know.

  • The Government need to FORCE Telekom Malaysia (TM) to open up the last mile connection to other competitors (leasing the connection to them at an affordable rate, like what is done at UK's British Telecom)
  • Broadband is not 512K/1Mbps connections, it is supposed to be 10Mbps by today's standard
  • Broadband should cost USD 10/RM 30 per month, not RM 50-100. It some of the most expensive cities in Europe can provide that, why can't Malaysia?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dan Bricklin: What have I learned in 40 years of developing software products that people use?

Dan Bricklin is the chap who invented VisiCalc (a spreadsheet app) for the Apple II, and nowadays he seems to have fun making Notetaker HD for iPad. Father of Spreadsheet having fun making productivity iPad apps? Sounds like a wonderful life :)



So, what can we learn from him?
  • What is a Product? to get a required job done.
  • 2 week payback rule: make it a no-brainer for people to buy it (significant cost saving). 
  • General Purpose tool? Meet wider a range of need. Spreadsheet not only does accounting, but you could create timetable and tons of other stuffs.
  • Must Have: people make the decision to buy for something very specific
  • Right channel of distribution: magazine, web, app store, etc
  • What the new power can do? PC make computer games possible, and iPhone made computer games possible while on the move. 
  • Smartphone: Since it's a phone, u carry it anyway.
  • What to leave out (limited by resources or design)
  • Engineering: Keep trying, failing, get it right, make something better that your had dream of. 
  • Many people assume you would fail when you take off (which is statistically proven true). Hopefully you can keep you cash flow on a up-drift path.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Free: The Future of a Radical Price

How does free really works? Usually by giving something away for free, and get paid for something else instead. It works better in the digital world, will giving away more copies doesn’t cost significantly more money.
  • Jello – free cookbook to introduce jello to the world
  • Gillete – cheap razors expensive blades (same goes with printer)
  • Free Sample Store – charge for member entry, charge for rental of shelf space, charge for feedback collection. The Sample Store in Singapore.
  • Free Music – promotions, make money through concerts and endorsements
  • Amazon – free shipping when purchase 2 books
  • Free Newspaper – more circulation, more advertising. The Sun Newspaper anyone?
  • TED – free online video, high ticket price for networking opportunity
  • Free Stock Trading – free 10 trades per month (25% make more than 10 trades), make money through additional services like tax planning and portfolio management
  • Free Healthcare Software – sell anonymous data
  • Free Garbage Collection – recycling value

Nigel Marsh: How to make work-life balance work



Watch this video quite sometimes ago, and the speaker is quite an interesting guy who takes Work Life Balance close to his heart. So, how to make work life balance work?
  • Honest Debate: Certain jobs and career choices are fundamentally incompatible with being meaningful engage on a day to day basis with a young family. People work on the job that they hate, to buy something they don't need and to impress someone they dislike.
  • Face the Truth: Government & Corporation aren't solving it; it's up to you to design your life. Commerical corporation are inherintly designed to get as much out of you that they can get away with. Daycare at the office is nice, but it just means you would end up working longer hours.
  • Timeframe: a day is short, waiting for retirement is too long. You cannot delay life and happiness until your wife divorce you, your health fail on you and you have no more friends and interest.
  • Balance: small things matter at the right places. What's important and what's success? More money or a more meaningful life? Buying a PlayStation for your kids, or spend time bring them out and play silly games together?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Place Promised in Our Early Days



Premonition: anticipation of an event without conscious reason.

Velaciela: the Vessel to bring you to the place, where you always know you should be.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Review: Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything

When I first saw the Wikinomics title, I jump to the conclusion that I know most of the things about Wikipedia, Crowdsourcing, Openness and User Generated Content thingy. I assumption about the book is right, but it’s case study still provide some insights of Wikinomics beyond the common boundary of tech and web.

  • Goldcorp – A Canada gold mining company have problem identifying gold deposits after years of work and millions in expenditure. They decide to open up their data (this is a highly guarded secret) and offer a challenge to the world to identify gold hotspot based on the data. An enthusiastic army of geologist, computer scientist, mathematicians come up with ideas and suggestions never thought of before. The company went from $100 million to $9 billion.
  • Lifan – we know of open source software like Linux and Apache, how about open source hardware in motorcycle manufacturing. Company like Lifan in China, and a thriving ecosystem of suppliers in Chongqing, had built a motorcycle like building a PC (with its modular components, and standard interface). Manufacturer and Part Supplier sit down to discuss about making cheaper and better parts together.
  • Boeing – it’s no longer the time where time where Boeing come up with a 20,000 pages specifications to the suppliers to build its parts as it is. Boeing and its hundreds of suppliers sit down together since the early stage of design to decide on the best way to design and built its components together (the guys who will manufacture it should design it). They share the cost, risk and reward together. All components are assembled in DC about 3 days (much like LEGO).
  • Ideogras: P&G post up their problems and challenges, and offer rewards for those who come up with a solutions (50% of their IP are generated by outsider). Besides, they offer their IP (which many remain dormant and not used) for easy licensing by outsider. Certain market might be too small for P&G, but they are happy to license out their IP or technology.
  • Prosumers: Encouraging/supporting customers who "hack" your products, creating new features or uses that your company would have never thought of on its own. DJ like mixing of music (sadly it’s illegal to do so most of the time), Lego Mindstorm, Hacking of Kinects, PSP, etc. Kinects object it initially, but eventually embraced it; Music industry, iPod and PSP definitely rejected the idea until suing its consumer in court.
  • Human Genome Project
  • IBM contributed millions in Linux, make a profit by providing services or selling related products, while savings billions in developing their own server platform.
  • Platform for Collaboration: Contribution of idea, Open API, ability to build application on the platform and make a profit from it (Amazon allows other to create a customized version of Amazon store), etc.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Michael Pawlyn: Using nature's genius in architecture



After viewing this video, there is a sudden surge of hope for:

  • More design based on nature to increase efficiency (up to 100x)
  • A more closed loop system: nothing goes to waste, all by products is fed into another system
  • The integration of sea greenhouse, solar tower and greenhouse to create an optimize ecosystem.
Besides depending on superb design and technological breakthrough (which might be out of the reach of most people), I think we should at least have a more efficient waste management system: stop everything from going into the landfill, think of various ways to use them. Example are bio-composition of food waste to generate power, worms for fish food and fertilizer.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Web Development Skills

Web Developer used to be a lowly paid bunch as compared to their client/server developer counterparts, until the boom of Web 2.0. Web Development used to be simple, involving only ASP, Access, HTML and perhaps a little bit of JavaScript. If you are a web developer today, you probably need to be equipped with more than a dozen to programming language, skill and technology.

What skills today’s web developers need to be equipped with?
First we have some basic skills
  • HTML
  • JavaScript
  • CSS (don’t underestimate it’s power)
  • Web Development Language: PHP, C# or VB.NET for ASP.NET, Java, Perl, Ruby, Python, etc.
  • Database: MySQL or Microsoft SQL
  • Graphics Manipulation: Photoshop or GIMP skills
  • A sense of design

Server-side Skills (some System Admins doesn't even have these skill sets)
  • Amazon Web Services (and installation of LAMP stack)
  • Linux Commands, Shell Scripts, Configure Cron Jobs
  • APC or MEMCACHE configuration
  • Apache Optimization, HTACCESS configuration
  • MySQL Optimization
  • CDN configuration
  • Load Balancing (1 million visitor range)

And some slightly more advance technology
  • Google App Engine (GAE), using Python, Java or Go
  • Google Maps API
  • Google Web Toolkit, and framework (GWT-platform)
  • Web Development Framework: CakePHP/CodeIgniter, ASP.NET MVC, Spring, Ruby on Rail, etc.
  • Data Abstraction Framework: Hibernate, Objectify, ADO.NET Entity Framework
  • JavaScript Framework: jQuery, Prototype, Ext JS, etc.
  • Database: Google’s Big Table, NoSQL, Amazon’s SimpleDB
  • Chrome Web App Development
  • HTML5: Canvas, Offline Storage, File API, Sound & Video, Web Socket, CSS3, etc.
  • Search Engine Optimization, Sitemaps, RSS, etc.
  • Support for Desktop Web and Mobile Web (Smartphone, Tablets)
  • Support for Multiple Browsers: IE6/7/8/9, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera
  • Flash
  • Social Integration: Facebook Connect, Twitter API, etc.

Supporting Tech
  • Android (A great website probably have a mobile apps as well)
  • iOS
  • Desktop Tool Development (develop supporting tools for offline processing): C#, Java, etc.

I wonder how well a season web developer compensated today, especially in Malaysia. A typical good programmer in US would be paid around USD 100,000 per year (some capable of reaching USD 200-400K). It's quite pathetic that senior software developer in Malaysia get around RM 4,000-8,000 monthly (probably with not more than 1.5 months bonus), but then the rising cost of programmers would put a toll on start-ups.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Whisper of the Heart

It's nice title, nice music, nice anime, nice story, and a nice lesson too precious to be tucked away.



Do follow your heart, as you would find peace, and purpose.

No matter how disagreeing the world or the people around, follow through, as it's meant to be a test.

If you have forgotten or given up, don't be lost and start looking again.

Even if you don't have yours, don't stop others from finding theirs, help them.

Follow your heart, as there isn't any other ways, to live the life you always wanted.



Country road
If you follow this road onward
It continues to that town, I think
Country road

By myself, without fear
I dreamed of going
Shutting up my loneliness
Protecting my strong self, I'll go

* repeat

Getting tired of walking then standing still
Floating closer, my hometown
The uphill road winding around the hill
I'm scolding that me

* repeat

No matter what discouraging times there are
I'll never show any tears
Without heart, I'll hurry and set myself free
In order to get rid of my memories

Country road
Even though this road continues to my hometown
I just can't go, I can't go
Country road

Country road
Tomorrow, the me I always am
I want to go back, but I can't, farewell
Country road

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Raggae Raggae the Dragon Slayer

Put some music in my food for me, and give me some Ragae Ragae source
Hot Ragae Ragae Source

It's so nice, I had to named it twice, I called it Ragae Ragae source
Hor Ragae Ragae Source



It's sad to see that the judges from the retail and marketing background didn't see the potential, while the guys from Technology background supported the idea. I guess there is no single most delicious source in the world (no one said his sauce is good, or bad), but the branding of Jamaica, Raggae Music and Hot BBQ source seems to be an interesting combo.

So 2 dragons invest in someone who can't count really well, probably don't know much about big business, who can write and sing pretty catchy tune, and make decent sauce. Sometimes it is difficult to break it down and analyse it to back our "correct" judgement, but rather it "feels" right.



Thursday, July 21, 2011

Review: Start Now. No funding needed

I still remember the days where I was so excited about the idea of government giving free money through Cradle, MDEC Pre-seed Fund and MOSTI fund; and I scramble to come up with some ideas and gather a team with lost touch friends. I tried three times over a period of 2 years, but I didn’t make it. On the surface, I did blame their “secrecy”, “biasness” and “incompetence”; yet perhaps I fail to write proposal which appeal to VC.


Start Now. No funding needed. from Derek Sivers on Vimeo.

Somehow, I decided that I could start something small without needing any funding; since I can't knock the idea off my head. I am a programmer, so I can absorb most of the development cost. I can do simple design and graphics, and I learn about SEO. By the way, I was trying to develop a property website. I took me about a few months to get the website running and feeding in data, and it didn’t quite take off.

The project was put in cold storage for about a year while I embark on something else, then I feel the urge to restart the whole thing again. I focus on food and restaurant this time, using a new framework. I made a few mistakes with the property website, where I develop my own framework (which was fun, but a nightmare to maintain). By using an open source framework, I can focus on developing features for the website rather than enhancing the framework. I put up some courage to employ people (burning my own money) to help me with the boring but important task, which is content building. I used to do it myself, but I felt it’s better to delegate these tasks to others, while I focus on enhancing the website’s features and performance.

Now, I have a monthly burning rate (paying others) and I am working for free (no income yet). But I feel it’s necessary to raise the stake in order to prove once and for all, either my idea will sink or swim with no regrets. I manage to break even after 12 months (discounting my own salary), and we are doing reasonably well after 4 years. Somehow, I started from a timid entrepreneur wannabe who are afraid to spend money to fund my own idea, and later it become natural to invest in my own idea. The good thing about spending our own money is that we run a very “lean” operation with no big overheads; I observe some well-funded competitors sank within a year or two (can’t keep up with the burn rate).

Recently I am tempted to aim for the ICON2 fund, why? Speed. The problem with a lean startup is that we are extremely careful and try to spend as little money as possible, thus the growth rate could be fairly slow. If I could at least double the expenditure, then I could shorten the time to build a successful product. At the same time, we have more luxury to experiment with various ideas, rather than doing things “safely” which hinder innovation and breakthrough. I think I had gain some maturity and success to move into second gear. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sir Ken Robinson: Changing Education Paradigms



Perhaps it's time to upgrade our educational system :)

  • The route to education marginalizes what you think are important
  • Why would we want to lower the standard of Education (so that more kids could pass?)
  • Many brilliant people think they are not smart (they don't do well academically)
  • Modern Epidemic: ADHD (being medicated from being distracted from boring staff at school towards Internet, iPhone, 100+ TV channels). We are getting our children through education by anaesthetising them (shut off their senses); we should be waking them up to what is inside of themselves!
  • Education System is modeled after the Industrialism: Ringing bells, Separate facilities, specialize into separate subjects, Educate children by batches (age). Kids have different levels of competency at different subjects, perhaps study better at nights than day, or learn better in smaller groups or individually. We are doing standardization, while we should go the opposite direction.
  • Divergent Thinking: essential capacity to creativity; the ability to see lots of possible answers to a questions. Kindergarden student scored 98% to be genius in Divergent Thinking, and their capability deteriorate as they aged. Why are they not getting better? We educate them, telling there is only 1 answer and it's at the back of the book (and don't look). 
  • We have to think differently of human capacity
  • Great learning happens in group, and collaboration is the stuff of growth.