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 (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

  • 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.


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).


  • 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?


  • 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%)


  • 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


  • 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.