1. Let Go of Your Pride
Dato Henry and his brothers started this business partly because they wanted to help rebuild his family’s pride. “The 1997 financial crisis took a really big toll on my family. My family was under a tremendous pressure. Money was one thing that we could spend less, but it was the reputation of the family that put us all under pressure.”
Dato Henry and his brothers considered all things to help rebuild the family’s reputation and they settled on doing business. Soon after venturing into business, they knew that they must let go of their obsession with pride. “We learned, over the years, the social status thing must be the first thing to go if you want to be successful in business.”
When asked how he came to that realisation, he said that “when you start to face roadblocks, you have to wake up. We started because we wanted to rebuild the pride, but we know that we need to through the difficult part, such as begging people — customers, investors, staffs, etc. After going through many rounds of that, the process itself humbles you.”
For Dato Henry, his biggest challenge was the pressure he put on himself. “Everyone has a situation challenge — you cannot get staffs, you cannot get money, production issues, customers, shareholders — all kinds of pressure. But these are very normal pressure in business. The worst pressure is the pressure you put on yourself. If you can keep that off, it is good.”
2. Admit Your Failures
In Asia, failure is a taboo. It is all connected to the pride issue. Competition starts young. While there is good but it is also not very helpful. “Coming from a very competitive family (extended family), when you fail, they will make you feel very, very bad. When you fail, you can really feel like a failure.”
It is indeed not easy to share failure stories in this culture, where it is all about saving face and preserving your social status. “Admitting to failure is a very, very difficult thing to do. And that, to be very honest, is the first barrier to success. If we can talk about failure and own it, we can then move forward in a new direction.”
3. Open to Feedback and Criticism
As an investor, Dato Henry put strong emphasis on founders’ attitude. “We met some founders who think very highly about their products. It is good that you are confident about your idea but you must also be open to criticism, ideas and feedback.”
“Attitude plays a very important role in business. In the fast changing world, your business plan will change in the next 8-10 months. Business challenges faced today are going to be very different tomorrow. What makes you break through the cycle is not your business plan but your ability to navigate through your business plan in difficult times.”
4. Response to the Market
When the three brothers started the business, they didn’t know Macrokiosk was going to become this big. However, they are always listening to the market, seeking out opportunities. They had a major breakthrough when Maybank, Malaysia’s largest bank, took up their mobile solution services in 2003. To them, customers help validate the products and help set a clear direction for the company. When Maybank expanded oversea, the brothers also saw the opportunity to expand Macrokiosk. “Our business was validated at several stages. It is very hard to have a very big vision in the beginning because you typically design your business models based on the opportunity. These days, whatever the tech is, it becomes obsolete very easily. It is very hard to have one vision.
“We always try to look for opportunities for the past 17 years in terms of our products or countries to expand to. We keep building our vision along the way. When Maybank accepted us, we started to want every single bank in malaysia to use us. Now 95% of banks in Malaysia uses us. Then, instead of one country, we can now do business in Southeast Asia. We grow along the way. Business environment, circumstances and opportunities shape the vision of the company.”
Being versatile is very important in business. Not only does it help shape the company’s vision, it is also instrumental when dealing with competition and disruption.
“Competition was tough — on pricing and many other things. We were quite lucky. many of our competitors closed down. Initially, there were 20-30 companies doing similar things. We started selling our products to the banking industry. And then we moved into airlines, hotels and the leisure industry. And when Malaysia became too competitive, we looked at Thailand, Indonesia and etc. to spread our risk. About four or five years ago, the industry has a very big consolidation. I would say that the fittest survived. We were quite lucky. If you focus a lot in Malaysia at that time, you would have closed down because the harsh competition, especially on pricing. When investors’ money runs out, you can’t subsidies the price anymore. We were quite lucky we had other countries to support us. And now Malaysia has become a very strong market for us and it is supporting our business in other countries.”
5. Build Each Other Up
Dato Henry observes that Malaysian companies are not working together enough, and as a result, there were many missed opportunities. Malaysia has built up a rather substantial hard infrastructure with a network of government initiatives, funders, accelerators and entrepreneurs. However, what is missing is the cohesion of the community. “We need to think about how to get the community together. Form a support group where people help each other solve problems and grow together.”
6. Build a Solid Business
Nowadays, there are a lot of headline stories on how much money a startup has raised. Dato henry reckons that while getting funded may be a good motivation but it may not necessarily good for business. “It comes to a point where the CEO of the company’s job is not about driving more sales, but finding more people to invest in them. And that is a wrong business. Business is about finding money through selling your products.” Dato Henry does not deny the fact that it is having sufficient funding is important, but one must not forget the core of business. “Building a solid business is very important. Take enough money to make money. Use the money raised to make more money. When you make more money, you can then take more money.”
7. Always Validate Your Idea
When Dato Henry and his brothers just started the business, there weren’t any proper ways they would use to validate their idea. They would just talk to each other and share what works and what does not. However, a notable part in their early journey was that they never really faced any major problems in selling their products despite them being young and having to operate in an environment where tech was not yet a buzz. However, fast-forward to today’s reality, Dato Henry believes that there is a structured way of five steps in validating one’s idea:
- It is a plus point if the idea you have had happened somewhere in the world.
Many people feel bummed out when they discover their ideas have been executed by someone else. But Dato Henry thinks it is a good sign. “The first validation of your idea is that you have someone already doing it. So, you should go ahead and do the second step of validation,” Dato henry urged. He then related that Apple in fact did not invent the idea of a digital music player that could fit in your pocket. What apple did was improving on the existing idea that was already out in the market at that time and did it a lot better than everyone else.
- Talk to people about your idea
Many people are reluctant to speak to others about their idea because they are wary that people might steal their idea. In Dato Henry’s opinion, you should let that go because it is very important to get feedback. After all, there isn’t really any more original idea left in this world. “If you talked to 10 people, 9 people say that your idea is bad, then your idea is bad. It is a very honest world. When you go out there and you receive 60% positive response, it is a good sign to proceed to the next step.”
- Build a product prototype and try selling it
It is important to test the market with a product prototype. It is a lot easier to build one nowadays with availability of different tech tools. “If you have 9 out of 10 people not buying your products, please scrap the idea and start over again. But if you have 60% favourable majority, that means you can then go to the next stage.”
- Build your brand
If people are into your product or service, it is time to build a brand with clear identity. “The key thing about building your identity is not about doing buntings or buying digital ads. You are expected to do those thing. But what needs to be done is to identify what you can do so well that others cannot do. You must look at your own expertise and other key points, such as geographical and cultural advantages.”
- Build a business model
If your product or service sells, and people can connect with your brand, you are ready to build a business model. You can now think of more ways to acquire more customers and distribute your products. Your journey in business continues hereon. “In a business, if you can’t think of a way to charge your customers, then it has not begun. The beginning of a business is when you think you can start charging your customers.”
All the above seven pointers are of things that we can control if we put our mind to it. Apart from all the hard work Dato Henry and his brothers has put into building Macrokiosk, Dato Henry also attributes his achievements to luck and blessings from God. Dato Henry revealed that entrepreneurship is a lonely journey. It is also a journey of emotional roller-coaster. You may find comfort in people but people come and go, and you can never if they truly get you. Hence, it is very important to find a place where you can be at peace and seek a clarity of mind, which is crucial because building a resilient company requires a resilient mind.
Dato Henry Gohis the Co-Founder & Chief Operating Officer of Macrokiosk. His also an angel investor and mentor to startups in Malaysia.