Goodbye San Francisco, Hello Kuala Lumpur
I thought 2013 was a whirlwind of a year, but it looks like 2014 will be an even crazier ride! Last year between November 2013 and March 2014, a confluence of events led me down a surprising path, culminating with an interview with the Prime Minister of Malaysia himself. As a result, I was appointed to run MaGIC (Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Center), a position which would mean I’d be moving back to Malaysia. While I have often thought about being closer to my family (especially given my dad’s health), it was by no means an easy decision to uproot my life in SF, leave my comfort zone, and come back to run a big government-funded company. But personal reasons aside, there are two key reasons I am excited to lead MaGIC.
1) The time is ripe for entrepreneurs in Malaysia, a country of 30M people in the broader population of 618M people in Southeast Asia. Malaysia is uniquely positioned in the heart of Asia, primarily English speaking, has >120% mobile penetration, uber social consumers, and gave birth to 5 out of 7 largest tech exits in Southeast Asia. I can feel the culmination of talent, the brimming passion and desire to create successful global ventures, the community and government support, the funds, and the opportunity to create innovation within white spaces where so many markets are still in its infancy.
There has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur in Malaysia, but I sense that people do not see a sustainable platform to build their companies on. My goal is to bolster that foundation and fill in the gaps. There’s already a lot of good stuff going on in Malaysia, but because of fragmentation and silos within entrepreneurship agencies and efforts, it’s tough for entrepreneurs to find the right resources. I will put in my best effort to make a real difference that will be felt by the entrepreneurs themselves.
2) I found it very refreshing that the government decided to appoint an entrepreneur (and at my age and gender) to enhance the startup ecosystem. Most of these initiatives in other countries are led by someone from the public sector or a big corporation. Such well-meaning folks usually don’t understand the plight and full lifecycle of the early stage entrepreneur, which makes it difficult to create an environment that’s truly conducive for success. Running a startup is already so tough enough; not having the right environment and resources around you makes it 10x harder.
As I was looking for my next challenge, I decided that this was where I could make the most impact, by helping an entire nation of entrepreneurs. It’s certainly the opposite of my comfortable life in San Francisco, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to truly change the status quo in my home country.
My Journey So Far with MaGIC, 6 Weeks After the Launch
I was very fortunate to have the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak, and the US President Barack Obama launch the MaGIC Center on Sunday, April 27th. It was an honor to meet him and it’s a precious moment I will never forget. President Obama has a rare gift for making strangers feel like old friends quickly, warming the room with his charismatic smile and caring demeanor. I would also like to thank the Finance Ministry, led by Tan Sri Dr Irwan, for giving me this opportunity to be a leader in the country.
Right after the launch, we started off with a super bare-bones team. I am proud and excited to say that in less than 6 weeks, I have hired 8 brilliant team members to join me at MaGIC (yes, I’m running this like a startup, for startups) with 4-5 more coming in next week. Hiring quickly is quite a challenge in Malaysia, since labor laws in Malaysia require an average of a 2- to 3-month notice upon resignation. And apparently, you can’t fire employees once you hire them since the law protects them, which is really bizarre to me, especially for startups who won’t be able to afford this.
I have also been out and about the community, mentoring and speaking at the Founder Institute KL, Lean Startup Machine KL, Barcamp Penang, Startup Asia & Echelon in Singapore, Startup Grind, Startup Mamak and Corporate Innovation events. It has been vital for me to speak to entrepreneurs to learn about their challenges and barriers, to figure out how I can best help them. If MaGIC is my “startup,” then the entrepreneurs are my customers. So what better way to do my “customer development” and market validation than to reach out to as many entrepreneurs as I possibly can? I also met with many key players in our startup ecosystem, including MDeC, AIM, TPM, MTDC, MDV, KMP, MavCap, 500Durians, Endeavor, Cradle, Cyberview, Crest, Teraju, and dozens of other agencies. I’ve quickly learned their their respective mandates and how they are already helping entrepreneurs, so we can find ways to collaborate with the resources that we respectively have. All of this has helped me put together a solid plan for MaGIC’s core activities in 2014-2015.
MaGIC Hiring: “No Job Descriptions”
Lately, I have been running 200mph, with very little rest and no weekends. But I’m so glad to have finally hired a pioneering team who’s truly passionate about our mission and our cause (and I’m still hiring!). It takes time to focus and do something really well, and we’re really excited about what we will be announcing in a few months. Some people wonder why I haven’t put up job descriptions on the MaGIC website (which we’re revamping entirely by the way). That’s because Zappos and I have the same philosophy for hiring: by culture fit, personality and potential, rather than a limiting, boxed-in checklist of qualifications to go through. And yes, a poor cover letter hurts. So if you’re questioning my hiring style, you’re probably not the right fit. 😉
With that, I leave you with a few photos from the launch, an eventful surprise birthday party from my new colleagues, and a sneak-peek of new MaGIC team members hard at work 🙂