Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Reflection

It’s the last Sunday of 2012, it’s night, and it’s the perfect time to reflect, ponder and feel good about wasting time :) Looking back on what I wrote for the beginning of 2012, it feels like a wasted post with nothing to look forward or reflect on. I guess I had forgotten about my feelings back then.

The shitty part about setting goals is we shall feel miserable if we didn’t achieve them, and not necessary happy if we did. But without goals, it feels kinda lost and empty. The heart yearns for something, and goals are just translation of the wishes.

My “Shitty” Startup

I think the end of 2011 is around the time Silicon Valley Comes to Malaysia hits town, and I was pumped up about applying for funding, join some incubators and competition, looking for co-founder and looking forward to develop a “real business model” for my startup. The funny thing is none of these happened or work out and perhaps I had made a fool of myself, but today I am fairly please that none of these wishes came true. Today I still own 100% of my “shitty” startup, with no co-founders or investors to disagree with, and it had a 150% income growth without a “real bossiness model” which is really good for me, financially stable to embark on the next adventure, and I feel really happy and tasted some freedom (something which I always look forward to).

I didn't actually accomplish much in 2012 in terms of productivity, but I guess the time is ripe to rip the fruits after years of ploughing. It is true a true reflection of opportunities awaits those who are prepared for it.

Sadly, Malaysia Most Wanted Prices and Events didn't work out, so I will probably shut it down soon.

End of Consultation & Freelancing

Year 2012 marks the end of consultation and freelancing for me, partly due to my startup business is picking up and I got tired of freelancing after 5 years, and made worse by a couple of collection issues and bad debts.

Freelancing is tough (dealing with customer expectations), but it does pay the bills. Sadly, the experience isn't very satisfactory, as it feels like selling your soul for money: the customer will never pay you enough to produce the best product, or understand the price and elements of a good product. What is the difference between mobile apps with a development budget of RM 5000 vs. RM 50,000? Most of the time customer pays for features, but it’s very difficult to price the user experience, look and feel, fragmentation support, scalability, etc.

In a very crude sense, a prostitute can’t be a wife. You can pay for sex, but you can’t buy love and care.

Life and Travel

Freedom of life is important to me, which include financial freedom, having time to do other things besides work, and don’t have to sell my soul for money. With the growth of Malaysia Most Wanted Food and retirement from freelancing, I felt that it’s a big step towards the right direction.

If my memory serves me right, I only manage to do one significant travel in Vietnam for close to a month. I do enjoy the last travel, not too rush, not too complicated. I was probably hooked with the idea of travelling about 8 years ago, and I am still looking forward to achieve my one year travel plan someday :)

Sometimes life comes up with a little extra challenge besides work and love. I ended having to revive my teaching affair at my cousin’s school due to a strange twist of fate, which I never quite truly enjoy because it doesn't feels right. Teaching PowerPoint to students so that they could pass some Microsoft Exam is not exactly my idea of education or fun, but it does reminds me that sometimes exam could bring the best out some someone. Two of my students try to take the exam twice but failed. I could sense that the idea of failure does bother the students, and one of them does stand up to the challenge, being more focus and determined, and I could really feel his improvement and confidence built-up, and I forecasted he would pass on the third try, which he did. As much as I dislike the idea of exam, but totally abolishing it might not be a good idea as well.

In the last month of 2012, I became the unglamourous chairman to save my apartment from turning into a cowboy town, with only RM 7,500 in the bank account, RM 40,000 of water debt, 30% cost overrun and residents reluctant to pay maintenance due to the worsen situations. It’s a tough challenge to handle, which I forsee could easily takes 3 months to turn the tide (with some luck on our side), and plenty of things happening in between. I believe things happen for a reason, and running away or ignoring it is probably not the right way to do it.

Good or Bad?

I think 2012 is probably one of the better years for me, with more “excitements” as well. As we get older, it’s sometimes tougher to hang on hope and trust, believing that human are naturally good. Some people decided that it’s okay to not pay someone after engaging their services, while some people decided its okay not to pay maintenance fee because they are not happy with how things are, and not to mentioned all the bad things people did to each other on the news everyday. I wish everyone would be more understanding and think of others beside themselves, where the employers mustn't forget how it feels like to be an employee, and the employee trying to understand the difficulties of the bosses. Why do I need to believe that everyone is naturally good? If not, I shall be living among the scumbags, and that is not a good thing.

The world we live in, need a little bit of care, understanding and forgiveness, so that we can start living as human in this humanly world again. When you stop caring about others, others shall stop caring about you; and what kind of world would all of us be living in? That shall be the end of life as we know it. Never do something to hurt others intentionally or unintentionally, neither shall we do something we shall regrets.

I hope everyone could still feel their good heart.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Unglamorous Chairman

Unexpected in the month of December 2012, I volunteered myself as the committee member of the Management Corporation (MC) of my apartment while the ex-committee and management company decided to quit due to financial difficulties and disappointment with the residents. In the next 2 days, I was voted as the Chairman because I was late for the meeting 5 minutes. Now, I am the Chairman of the MC of my apartment, on a rescue mission to save the apartment from turning into a cowboy town, with only RM 7,500 in the bank account, RM 40,000 of water debt, 30% cost overrun and residents reluctant to pay maintenance due to the worsen situations.

I landed on an unglamorous job (with a glamorous title) with a whole load of shits to handle.

Why shit happened?

The apartment is having a water leakage problem since 2007 (suspected due to aged water pipes), and our monthly water billed had increased from 2007’s RM 7000 to 2012’s RM 13,000 (at its peak, we are paying RM 17,000 per month). Countless committees and management companies for years had tried to solve this issue, but the water bill fails to go below its RM 13,000/month mark.

Poor man can’t be chooser; as we get poorer due to the water leakage (loosing between RM 6000 to RM 10,000 per month), we still try to maintain the “luxury” life of 3 security guards per shift, a private management company, full-time cleaners and etc. Even though the maintenance fee is raised 50% last year, it just couldn't sustain its current operations. Any logical person would ask why not reduce the services? I believe the answer has very much to do with the psychology of the residents, which I shall explain shortly.

To Rescue or Punish

Like all company with in bad financial situations, it’s time to come up with some serious cost cutting measures and prioritize spending. It’s slightly “easy” for us that the previous management terminated all the services, thus we basically start with zero cost.

In the beginning, some residents suggested that we should “punish” those who didn’t pay the maintenance charges by not restoring the security guards and let SYABAS terminate the water, thus forcing these people to bear the consequences of their actions. I was swayed by this argument for a while, until I realize this is not wise for various reasons (I got persuaded by another Committee member):

  • We will end up disappointing 70% of the “good residents” just to punish 30% of the bad apples
  • If someone get hurt due to the lack of security, it shall haunt my conscience
  • Water termination will cause much inconvenience for the children and old folks
  • If we punish everyone (even though some agreed to be punished), there shall be no hope in restoring support and order

Basically, we acted against the will of the vocal residents and restore security guard. Then we went to SYABAS to negotiate an installment plan for the debt, the tabled the solution in the resident meeting, where a majority (sadly only 10% of the residents attended the meeting) voted to pay SYABAS to avoid water termination.

Our plan is to control the expenditures, increase the collection rate, solve the water leakage, restore operations and restore fairness. Luckily we have a cooperative committee, and some helpful residents.

How people think?

After talking and interacting with lots of residents, I realize I learned a lot about human nature in one month than the last 30 years of my life.

  • During the week where security is absent, security is not at risk but parking chaos happened. Residents who park used to park their cars outside the apartment compound (they have 2 cars but no second car park) started to park their car in the compound on others’ parking space, or park inconsiderately on the walkway.
  • Surprisingly, when only one security guard is restored and stationed at the gate entrance (there is nothing much a one man guard could do), the parking chaos is 90% gone.
  • Surprisingly, some residents’ main concern is whether someone sweeps the floor of the compound, not about better security or solving water leakage or financial problem.
  • Even in time of crisis, most people couldn't make the painful choice of cost cutting.
  • Most residents despise unfairness, wanted the committee to take action against those residents who didn't pay maintenance charges.
  • Most residents just wanted an avenue to rant about the problems, but still willing to pay the maintenance charges and be a “good citizen” for the common good. The main tasks of committees are listening to the residents, and assure them things are under control. Talk less, listen more.
  • Some of the debtors refuse to pay due to “personal” reasons, such as broken relationship with the committee members, clerical errors and disappointment with the services, lack of communication channels, etc.
  • Even at time of crisis, some people still expect optimum services and refuse to participate in resident meetings, and perhaps think that things will magically be restored.
  • Most people would start to make their own assumption without approaching the committee for clarifications, which allow false rumors to spread easily. I personally believe communication channel are important, where we put notices on notice board, request for resident’s email to send out weekly updates, have resident meetings, but I believe we hardly reach 60% of the residents effectively.
  • The chicken and egg situation: some residents expect “the good old days” and optimum services to return before they are willing to pay the maintenance charges, but the entire operation could collapse if less than 70% of the residents pay the maintenance charges.
  • There is always a 10% hardcore people who resist or oppose, and another 10% who are helpful and supportive. Another 40% are "good citizens" who do their part and continue to pay maintenance, while another 40% sitting on the fence with a wait and see attitude. Our job is to convert the last 40%.
  • Personal conflicts between people, lack of tolerance for people with different views and harsh tone and languages are the main causes of failure in this conflict. Be polite, be listening, willingness to sacrifice, explain your plans and views, and ask for support and show gratitude. It's somehow like a politician running for election, except that there is no financial or power gain here.

Take for Granted Expectation

There are certain things in life where we take for granted, where we assume as long as we pay our taxes, there shall be policemen, firemen and doctors to take care of us; as long as we pay our bills, there shall be water, electricity, communication and Internet; as long as we pay our apartment maintenance, there shall be services like security, cleaning, maintenance of basic amenities and etc.

What if these things suddenly disappear, and what should we do? Suddenly it’s bestowed upon us to take over the management of the country, or become policemen, or required to take actions to restore water and electricity supply.

Would you rather sit still and hope for the “good old days” to return, or decide to take actions and make it happen? Or would it be possible that someone unconsciously prevented order from being restored?

Why become the unglamorous Chairman?

Logically, it doesn't make sense to become the Chairman of an apartment in dire financial where the supportive level of residents are dwindling. The job doesn't pay, and consume plenty of hours and sleepless night, and the committee would probably be blamed if we fail to turn this around, and we don’t really expect rewards or thanks even if we made it. Why not spend the time and effort with our family, or develop our career and business?

Initially, I refuse to accept that this situation could not be solved, thus I volunteered. Then, I hate the lousy feelings of having to quit and give up. Perhaps in a certain sense, I felt it’s time for me to do good to others (besides my family), to give back to the community so to say. Now I try to convince myself this could serve as a valuable lessons in my life, where I could learn something from it. Deep down, I naively wanted to believe that human are intrinsically good in nature, that there is still hope for humanity so to speak. I believe in kindness and hope. I refuse to believe that residents in my apartment are somehow more inferior than others.

In the time of darkness, hope and trust is the only beacon of light: trust that people are genuinely good, and hope that people would be understanding and do the right thing.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Review: What I wish I knew when I was 18 by Stephen Fry

  • Technology is like a Mirror: if an idiot looks in, you can't expect an apostle to lookout
  • Chasing techniques and answers (to happiness and richness) is fatal
  • The worst things you can do to yourself in life is setting goals (goal orientation is disasterous): 1) You don't meet your goal and call yourself a failure 2) You meet you goal and ask, "I'm here, now what?"
  • Work is more fun than fun
  • The things that unsuccessful people have in common is they talk about themselves all the time (I need ...) = Egoistic
  • The real of Heroism is people who quietly get on with their life and think about other people
  • How can you know England if England is the only country you know
  • One of the wonderful given ability in life is the ability to give
  • Would you rather be someone who ask for money, or be someone in the position to give?
  • On one hand you want to belong to a tribe, on the other hand you want to be outside and unique
  • Online comments are usually nasty and resentful, which are meaningless and demoralizing
  • Self-obsessed people are poisoning themselves and people around them
  • The more in the world you encounter Kindness and cheerfulness, the better the world would be (it dwarfs talent, energy, commitment, justice, virtual, truth, ...)