Sunday, March 23, 2014

Building A Business By Solving People's Problem

It is well known that a business transaction happens between willing buyer-willing seller, and almost all the time, the product or solution tends to either give people pleasure or solve people's problem.

While it is a good direction to think how we want to solve people's problem, finding the problem to be solved in not an easy task though. You may have to run through many webpages, facebook postings or talking to many people to get their input. Often, we like to be the hero in solving people's idea by starting to think from other people's perspective. However, a rather reasonable way to start this activity is from ourselves because we don't realize that we can start from within.

I recently read an article by Paul Maplesden in on "How solving people's problems builds awesome business ideas". This is an interesting way to start creating a business on our own, by looking into our activities, and consciously capturing the problems and finding the solution. Here are some steps given, and this would be one of my guiding ways to finding the next problem solving products.

Step 1 – Develop the right frame of mind to record your activities
> Starting from the right place
   >> Examine the activities you carry out, services and products that you use and the little things that can cause annoyance. The reason is to find the idea to these annoyance.

> Being aware of your thought processes
   >> Actively observing your daily routines, tasks, chores and other interactions and can identify the areas that might cause problems. Note down the areas of frustration.

> Having a calm and relaxed emotional state

> Reviewing this whole guide for ideas and techniques

Step 2 – Prepare to track what you do through the day and week
> Pick a time to start tracking your activities

> Ensure that you can track activities for a reasonable length of time
   >> Give yourself enough time to note down plenty of issues for review later

> Have a way to capture your thoughts in a coherent, structured way

> Remember this doesn’t just need to be ‘business’ interactions

Step 3 – Notice and note down potential difficulties and problems
> Have your forms / notepad ready

> Go through your normal daily routines

> Pay careful attention to the things that annoy or frustrate you and capture them

   >> Observe the things that irritate you or that you think could be done better. When you come across a problem, note it down.

  • Your activity – What were you trying to do?
  • The problem – What was it that stopped you or made things more difficult?
  • Notes – Any useful notes; website URL, where you were, other information
  • Reference – There’s also a reference number for each item so that you can easily identify it

> Continue for the time that you’ve given yourself to use the tool

Step 4 – Review what you've captured for potential business ideas

> Go through each problem area in detail
  • Is this a problem that other people might face?
  • Is this a problem that I can think of a solution to?
  • Do I have the ability or know other people that have the ability to create a solution?
  • Do I think that the solution is something other people would pay to use?
> Write down potential ideas for a solution
   >> If you can answer ‘Yes’ to all or most of the questions, you have a candidate for developing into a full business idea.

Step 5 – Create a Shortlist of Ideas

1Joke: Our Politicians Talk This Way

Being a politician in Malaysia seems to be a relatively easy job. Most of the time, they seldom need to perform duties like a general manager or CEO in a private company does. They have people under them doing all sorts of work, and they just come out to show face and talk "no any sense" things.

I am wondering if these comments were thought and drafted by PM's hired consultants. To the outsiders, these are funny. But to our people, this is pitiful. There are still politicians, especially in the government circle who addressed to people in such a manner. Even more pathetic is that our PM was among the people in the group. How can we be a progressive nation when we have ministers who cannot give intelligent answers, or treat the citizen as non-intellectual.

There will surely be a day when one of these clowns will say "Kalau tak suka kerajaan, pergi undi pembangkang".

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Praising Spain Again

Spain is one of my favorite country, ever since my first visit there in 2002. What started as a simple plan to visit Madrid, Cordoba, Granada and Barcelona, turned up to be an eye-opening experience when I discovered that the smaller towns from these main cities are packed with wonderful offering. Spain has one of the most sites listed in the Unesco World Heritage List.

> Segovia: Famous for 2nd BC aqueduct. Unesco world heritage site 1985 (Went by bus from Madrid)
> Cuenca: Famous for Hanging houses. Unesco world heritage site 1996 (Can go by bus from Madrid)
> Figueres: Famous for Teatro-Museo Dali (Can go by train from Barcelona)
> Bilbao: Famous for Guggenheim Museum


Besides, a visit to 2 free museums (on certain day in a month), Museo del Prado and El Museo de arte Thyssen-Bornemisza introduced me to the beauty of Spanish paintings. Here are some painters and one of their most famous paintings that I can still remember. Included are the links for your further reading.

> Pablo Picasso: Guernica
> Diego Velazquez: Las Meninas
> Francisco Goya: The Third of May 1808
> Salvador Dali: The Persistence of Memory


Not to forget that Spain has one of the most famous architect, Antoni Gaudi. I have promised myself to make my 3rd visit to Spain, particularly Barcelona in 2027. The Basilica de la Sagrada Família will be completed by then with 18 towers: 12 dedicated to the apostles, 4 to the evangelists, one to Jesus and another to Mary.


*p/s: Amended title from Talking About Spain Again to Praising Spain Again (20 Mar 2014)

Handling Winning Ideas

Having winning ideas are important to any entrepreneur. Without winning ideas, you may think you have the next big thing, but in fact, it may turn out to be not. Stephen Key rightly put it as ideas that are profitable, quick to license, and inexpensive to venture.

The recipe for a successful product birth should have the following traits.

1. A substantial market.
> This points to recouping of our investments for the product from birth to launch. A good indicator of a substantial market is the existence of other products that aim to solve the same problem.

2. Existing manufacturing technology.

> It is logical that product made using existing technology will have the advantage of cost, speed and time.

3. An acceptable retail price point.  
> The general rule of thumb is that products retail for five times the cost of manufacturing.

4. A benefit that's summarized in a single sentence. 
> One sentence tagline on its benefit is essential to capture customer's attention. What motivates purchase is the benefits customer will get, not the features. 

5. A user-friendly interface.
> Easy-to-use and user-friendly products are more easily accepted. Product with complicated operation steps will deter users from picking it up again.

Protecting winning ideas from competitors or contract workers are equally important in the early stage of the idea incubation. We may not consciously know that we have revealed our brilliant idea over a harmless lunch chat or after some beer. Often, there is a need to sign some binding documents as a way to avoid the element of sabotage or undercutting in business.
Non-disclosure agreement (NDA): usually between product owner and suppliers.
Non-compete agreement: usually between product owner and contract or own workers.
Work-for-hire agreement: usually between product owner and contract workers.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Good Pointers For Entrepreneur: Part 1

Here is a collection of some good pointers I took from my read-ups in

"I had to think of things from the customers’ perspective. One expectation from a service like ours was for customers to have xxxx: from Jay Barnett, founder, Priority Pickup, a marketplace for private chauffeur rentals
> What I learn: Think why a customer needs my product.


Spalding encourages business owners to acknowledge that they will be deferring income for an indefinite period of time and to incorporate rent, food, health insurance and utilities into their business’s financial plans.: from Steve Spalding of Project MONA, A platform for multi-disciplinary thinkers.
> What I learn: Include current expenses and lost income in financial plan

When you're in the latter position (nothing is going the way he or she wants) and the outlook seems dire, it's tempting to become overwhelmed with worry about the future. One way to move forward is to focus deeply on what's happening right now and work your butt off to achieve a small success -- and thereby gain some momentum.: from Charu Chandra of
> What I learn: Take small but definite steps to move closer to tackling and finishing off a big problem

More to come.. Cheers!

Managing Time As A Precious Commodity

One of the most important tools that each of us need is to master, manage and control our time. No matter at which level our career is, if time comes and go like wind, all the opportunities to make good of our time will be lost. Here is a very good reminder from Michael LeBouef; "Waste your money and you're only out of money, but waste your time and you've lost a part of your life.”

Most of the time, I am impressed with young entrepreneur who are already practicing good time management and be successful as a result. I was reading a post by a college guy, Nathan Resnick and found  that his tips and advice on time management are pretty wonderful and practical. He is the owner of Yes Man Watches, and has launched a few successful Kickstarter projects while still in college.

Set short-term goals to achieve long-term ones.
> This is a good pointers, as we are usually obsessed with stretching ourselves to meet a long-term goal. It doesn't mean there should not be any long-term goal. Instead, it meant that there should be some short-term goals that will eventually bring us to our long-term goals. It is like stopping at rest areas while we are going for a long distance journey. It will be more pleasant this way.

Use apps.
> I would rate this as an essential skill to pick up. Entrepreneur should take time to learn which apps are useful and helpful for them. Unfortunately, I haven't take this seriously and I know I should be doing it as soon as possible.

Plan your day.
> Planning for our day should focus on the free time we have, instead of what we don't have. When our mind is committed to making a good planning, we will soon realized that we have more time and bank in more activities than previously thought. Often, intervals during lunch, meetings or trainings can be a long 20 minutes, and we don't realize we can actually accomplish some short-term goals to bring us closer to our long-term goals.

Time wasting and not fully utilizing the time are some culprits that will bring the downfall of any startups. By applying 80/20 rules, where 20% of the customers bring 80% of the sales, we will make sure our time are correctly spent on doing what is best for the time we have. It is not surprising many entrepreneurs are choosing to do menial work that bring less money per hour, rather than doing productive work such as meeting new clients, sending emails to prospective customers or negotiating for a contract that can bring in better returns.

Here are some practical advices from Perry Marshall that I find very useful, but not necessary applicable here due to our cultural and lifestyle difference.

Hire a maid, Get rid of your $10 an hour stuff and Hire a personal assistant.
> These advices seem to be logical and reasonable to me. By sub-contracting household chores, managing documents and running errands to others, we can focus on the more high paying activities. At this juncture, an entrepreneur should be result-driven. Sometimes doing house work may be therapeutic and can divert our attention from work stress temporarily, but when it is performed too often, we are actually losing time and opportunity to become better.

Don't feel guilty about relaxing.
> What he meant was there should be time that we should "donate" back to ourselves. It is impossible for us to continuously working and achieving great results at the same time.

Focus on your most productive time slot.
> This is true for most people, and we need to be conscious in looking for our own time slot. I used to have an early morning time slot many years back, but now it became a night slot. It would be good if I can return to the previous time slot in order to capture more useful time in a day.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Tahun Melawat Malaysia or Tahun Dilawat Masalah?

Malaysia and Malaysians are experiencing some disastrous moments lately. One of the worse one is the unresolved disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines MH370 plane. The whole world is watching and waiting anxiously for the latest update on the search and rescue (SAR) of the ill-fated plane that has yet to be found. This would be the biggest airplane accident/incident/disaster in the country, and also the longest accident that left all of us clueless on its whereabout. Each day we are hearing new theories and findings, but none of them is bringing any conclusion, though there are close to 10 countries participating in the SAR.

When the whole nation is focusing on the lost plane, they didn't realize that there is another 2 big issues happening right here at the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur and administration center, Putrajaya.

1) The haze and air quality is deteriorating each day, and yet it is not significant enough for the ministry to take action. The only thing that interests them is to announce the air pollution index with no follow up action. The hazardous areas such as Port Klang and Banting can have a API reading of up to 350. We will be seeing more places getting into the ranking soon. Previously, we can blame our neighbours. But now, the problem comes from domestic sources such as forest fire and irresponsible open burning.

2) Water in the dam in many parts of the country is drying up. In Selangor, most of the dam are at below 50% of the max capacity. Hence, the people in Klang Valley has to undergo water rationing. Water supply can only be given to each area in alternate manner, where 2 days of supply to be followed by 2 days of rationing. What is worse is that the water supplying time is only 41 hours, whereas rationing time is 55 hours.

Though the haze and water issues are happening right in front of our PM and relevant ministers, none of them took any action to mitigate and prevent the situation from getting worse. We don't hear the Ministers of the affected ministry coming forward to voice out their concern. It is as if they accepted these phenomenon as fated and beyond control.

Since this is Visit Malaysia Year 2014, I wonder who still thinks it is a good place to visit when they can't even take a decent photo of the Petronas Twin Towers on a clear sky. It would be a bad image for the country when they are forced to stay inside the hotel the whole day to avoid the smelly and choking air, no water condition, and hot and heaty weather.

This makes me wonder, if this is Tahun Melawat Malaysia or Tahun Dilawat Masalah?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Preparation Before Pitching

Getting funding for your startup is not an easy task, especially when you don't have prior experience before venturing on your own. Most of the time in Malaysia, we depended on our own savings or on rare occasion, getting some soft loan from family.

However, for those who like to challenge this norm, pitching to investors who are like-minded and can value-add to our venture will be the way to go. From my experience, investors may like the concept and give good response during the meeting. The challenge comes in the later part when it is time to inject the fund.

Here are some tips on pitching to investors for funding extracted from This article listed 4 topics that we need to master and present convincingly in order to win the investors attention. Focus on them and pitching will be a breeze.

Our strategy is sustainably differentiated
What's special about your company and how you'll keep that strong position
Show that you have something different from the pack

We are the right team for this endeavor
For early stage companies, the team is the most important aspect an investor considers.

Our business model will make money
You have to show how your business model -- the costs to acquire and serve customers -- will be profitable. Understand the margin structure of comparable companies, and show how you will track versus their paths.

Market size
For the nascent markets startups, since there is no current market size, so focus on the total addressable market (TAM). TAM measures the potential annual revenue for your industry.

At the product level, it is also important to make sure the concept or product we are planning to push to the world has been well thought of and researched. Here are some crucial questions to tackle in order to get the right product out. These are also the things investor would be interested in as well. So get yourself prepared to explain clearly during your pitch.

Concept: Is it a good idea? 

  • Is there a need?  How significant is the need?
  • How much competition currently exists in this space?
  • How large is your potential customer base?
  • Do you have a unique ability to provide this product/service?
  • Do you have experience/passion in this area?
  • Are there trends in the marketplace/industry that might make my produce/service more or less attractive going forward?

Execution: How Well Can You Execute the Concept?
  • How will you provide great customer service?
  • What is the quality level of your product/service?
  • How efficiently can you produce your product/service?
  • What is your time to market?
  • How is your product/service produced?  Fulfilled?
  • How easy/difficult is it to market the product?

Profitability: Is Your Business Model Profitable?

  • What is your cost structure?  What are your expenses?
  • How much does it “cost” to gain a client? 
  • What is the anticipated demand (quantified)?
  • How will you sell? Online, brick and mortar, using party concept, through resellers?
  • Are you focused on B2B or B2C selling?
  • Are you selling to individuals or groups? Bulk or individual products?
  • Are you using a franchise model?
  • Are you selling products, services or both?