“If you pour your heart into your work, or into any worthy enterprise, you can achieve dreams others may think impossible.” – Howard Schultz, Starbucks
I’ve spent the majority of my Oct back in the motherland, Malaysia, where I had the privilege of speaking at the inaugural Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) Startup Academy. As a quick backdrop, MaGIC was established in Oct 2013 by the Malaysian Prime Minister and was launched officially in April of this year. Their mandate is to catalyze the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Malaysia and make it the startup capital of Asia. As one of their major initiatives to achieve this mission, MaGIC hosted an Academy from Oct 15–19 that brought together an impressive:
- 500 entrepreneurs/participants from across Malaysia and the region
- 200+ hours of mentoring sessions
- 40+ instructors and 40+ investors
- 70+ technology startups and companies hosting a Career Day
- 5 days of learning, sharing and continuing to build entrepreneurial ecosystem
MaGIC’s mandate is building on a blossoming landscape, where the country is well on its way to become an entrepreneurial hub in Asia. To share some exciting data-points, out of the eight largest internet companies in the ASEAN region (based on market cap), six of them are Malaysian-based (Business Insider, Aug 2014). In addition, during the time that I was back, two significant events occurred: 1) MOL Global Inc (MOLG) IPO-ed - Malaysia’s and South East Asia’s first technology IPO on the Nasdaq in over 10 years; and 2) GrabTaxi raises US$65M in a Series C and is in 16 cities across South East Asia.
After the whirlwind trip and on my 25 hour flight back to U.S., I spent some time reflecting on my time at the Academy. Here are my top takeaways:
1) Going from zero to one means having the grit to show up consistently overtime
The creation of something out of nothing is hard. In an infant startup environment like Malaysia, where you are up against creating and developing everything from infrastructure, content, community to policy - that’s even harder by several multiples. The MaGIC team taught me that vision and execution is important, but the key to everything not falling apart and to keep the momentum going is pure grit. 3am emails. Back to back 15 hour schedules. 8pm team meetings. Grit is like living life as a marathon. Not a sprint. This takeaway reminded me of this really quick TEDtalk by Angela Lee Duckworth on grit as a predictor of success.
2) Establishing an ecosystem is about earning trust
When I think about establishing an ecosystem, I tend to think about three elements: the ratio of transactional and relationship driven activities, creation of entry/engagement/touchpoints and range of players/ participants in the entire system. The past week has made me think hard about adding another key ingredient: trust. Understanding how to gain potential participants/customer’s trust should be at the core. Other elements just layer on top of this.
3) Design for the future and then design for demand
During my mentor lunches, I had a lot of conversations about understanding the marketplace for a product or service. While I think that is crucial to understand, I think that entrepreneurs should begin the creation of a company with the question of “what do I envision the future to be?” It doesn’t matter which it is a future for yourself, or for your users or for the industry — the context will manifest itself different with different entrepreneurs and what they want their business to be. I used to sit on the other end of the startup table, on the investor side where I shared some of the responsibilities I believe that investor should have one of them including “living in the future.” Now, working in a startup and helping establish other companies, I believe that entrepreneurs have to hold themselves to set of responsibilities. One of these responsibilities, is that entrepreneurs should be able to answer the question of their deepest “why” and be able to imagine what the intersection of the future and demand would look like.
4) Compulsion loops are a secret weapon
I learnt this term from one of the other speakers, Noah Lucas, who is currently a mobile designer at Expedia (highly recommend the app if you don’t use it already!). I don’t know whether it’s this newly found vocabulary but I started looking for compulsion loops in all of my apps (darn you Instagram and your well designed loops!). Compulsion loops are a habitual designed chain of activities that will be repeated to gain a neurochemical reward: a feeling of pleasure or relief from pain. Compulsion loops also showed me how you can exploit inbuilt human instincts to create a better product and service. I particularly enjoyed this post by Pete Collier on short, medium and long term loops.
If you’re interested in finding out more, here are additional resources:
1) Cezary Pietzark, one of the keynote speakers: posting on challenging startup conventions
2) Heislyc Loh, MaGIC Program Director: lessons learned from the Academy
Thank you MaGIC team and especially to Cheryl, Heislyc, Ken, Afiq and Warren. You guys continue to show me what it means to build something incredible in Malaysia.