After living over 16 years of my life away from Malaysia, I finally returned home in 2013.
While it seemed like this was a natural progression considering the market focus(SEA) of my second startup(Storehub), I knew that there was a deeper purpose behind this move. Although it was not clear what this was at the time, there were a bunch of ideas I’ve been toying with for a few years now. Community development, encouraging entrepreneurship, solving real problems and adding real value.
What I didn’t realise however, was that I had stepped into an environment where entrepreneurship was everywhere. Because it was difficult to grow rich, or even make a decent living from chasing a career as a professional, many Malaysians turned towards building their own businesses. Whether it was as simple as a single cafe, or as ambitious as a large chain of coconut ice cream stores, there was a desire in many Malaysians for the chance to break out and build something big.
Of course, we at Storehub believe the same. We believe that the work we do daily form the foundations that allow us to serve a bigger vision: 100,000 SMEs around the region whose businesses are made awesome because of us.
Yet, this journey has been full of the difficulties and complexities of such an endeavour. How I wish there was someone to guide me as we navigated through all the challenges of scaling and hiring and raising money and other startup mountains as we journey towards our goal. The number of days where I feel inadequate far outnumber the days where we know exactly what to expect and what to do. Everyday is a learning experience, but most days I feel like the frustrated learner more than the enthusiastic beginner.
And so I seek.
For those willing to speak wisdom into my constant searching. For clarity and meaning and understanding. But there are few who could. And even fewer who would spare the time.
This was when it occurred to me.
That if I, a second time entrepreneur, is struggling this much to make my startup work, wouldn’t it be equally if not more difficult for my fellow entrepreneurs? Most of whom are doing it for the first time?
The reality is, the entrepreneurs are plenty, but the teachers are few. Not because there aren’t many qualified to do so, but rather that there aren’t enough willing to do so. And in the wave of new startups popping up everywhere, the kind of mentors we need that have the kind of experience worth sharing, those are even scarcer.
Perhaps this is why I’m always lending myself towards helping out whenever I can. Speaking into the journeys of those entrepreneurs who I can see myself adding value to. Taking up offers to share my learnings and stories in talks and conferences. But truth be told, we can do so much more.
Perhaps it’s as simple as dedicating my Saturday afternoons to entrepreneur coffees. To listen and understand and share and encourage those that believe that they may benefit from a conversation with me.
Perhaps it’s a small thing. But perhaps it’s a good enough start. And perhaps if enough of us do it with enough of us, it’ll create a big enough ripple to stir up our hearts and lift each other up towards the great heights we all have set for ourselves.
Perhaps what it’ll really take for some of us to build great businesses that have real, tangible and meaningful impact on our communities is for all of us to believe in one another.
My deep hope is that we all learn to believe in one another. And that as these seeds are planted, some will get the chance to grow into trees of shade and rest and refuge for the community at large. Let us not wait for the teachers to come. Let us first start with being teachers ourselves.
P.s. If you are reading this and feel that you relate and might benefit from a Saturday afternoon coffee, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter or LinkedIn. I’d love to connect.
So I had the privilege of being a part of the 100 selected for the Brightest Young Minds 2010(BYM 2010) Summit held at Sydney earlier this month.
Folks have asked me, so how has the week been for you? In a short answer, I simply replied:
“It’s been one of the most inspiring weeks of my life”.
So how has it been inspiring?
1) Amazing Speakers
With a line up of speakers including Hugh Evans(Global Poverty Project), Steven Persson(CEO – Big Issue), Prof Ian Harper(Economist), Peter Williams(Deloitte Digital), Charlie Regan(CEO – Nerdsonsite) and many others, there was an abundance of wisdom and inspiration to draw from.
2) Fellow Delegates
Each of the nearly 100 handpicked delegates that attended are amongst some of the brightest, funnest, most passionate people I’ve met. Socially aware, responsible and wanting to go the extra mile to do something about it, the buzz in the atmosphere was electric. Project work was fun, engaging, fiery at times, but that only made it more fun!
3) Brilliant Sponsors / Supporting Corporates
We had the opportunity to consult sponsors such as the ATO and Tourism Australia, which to me felt like a very empowering experience. We spent heaps of time at the Google offices in Sydney too. Very Cool. They had like a whole shelf of lollies and really funky deco i.e. a whole living forest for a reception.
I came with many questions about what it means to be socially responsible, what it means to be a businessperson that cares about the earth. I came away with some answers, but even more questions. I now know how important it is to build profitable enterprises but with purpose(social, environmental and global impact). But I walked away with even more questions of HOW?
My TakeHomeMessage from this conference is simple. Be Salty and Lighty. Being salty and being bright light in this tasteless and dark earth is really about taking a good hard look at who we are, finding our place in the grand scheme of the challenges and problems that face our humanity and giving it all we’ve got in the influence and affluence we’ve been given by grace – undeserved, unearned, almost just pure ‘luck’.
As Hugh Evans so aptly put it, “Sleeping on that cockroach infested house built over a waste dump that Sunnyboy lived in, I realised that the only thing that was different between me and him is that I was born in Australia and he was born here.”(paraphrased as I can’t remember everything exactly)