Lessons on storytelling from David Lian, GM of Zeno


I attended the DMM360 gathering today, and met David Lian who is the GM of Zeno, an international marketing and communications agency that recently established a presence here in KL.


He shared really good ideas about what engages your customers, and that storytelling is coming back in a big way. Here is my key takeaway from the session.

The bigger the VILLAIN, the bigger the hero

Using infamous Apple’s 1984 commercial that portrayed IBM as the enemy, David showed that every compelling story will always have a big villain to define who the hero is. The villain does not need to be another company, but it could be about emotions, circumstances or maybe even ourselves. Another example he mentioned was a recent Dove commercial (which I saw for the first time), about how women perceive their own beauty.

Check out Apple’s video here:

Dove’s commercial (if you haven’t seen this, you MUST watch it!):

So when crafting a message to your customers, make sure that they understand WHY you exist, and which villain you are fighting to take down.

The website is almost ready!!

Today was a very important day for me. It was the time I can finally see a prototype of the site that I have been trying so hard to build.


So I turned up at Shock Media Studios (my web developer), and I am so so pleased that the site, although still needs some tweaking, looks and feels more or less like I imagined. I’m super excited, and now I can finally have a product to show for all the talk and ideas I’ve had before.


Also, their office was actually quite cool, I took several photos, and I really need to reach out and find more companies like them. Hopefully I can help their business succeed in future!


Inspiring lessons from Alvin Ung, renowned author of Barefoot Leadership

I met Alvin Ung today, he gave a talk to the guys at Teach for Malaysia, about building Super Teams. He was very friendly and encouraging when I told him about my little project, and he also gave me ideas of authors I should also check out, including Jeffrey Fox and Adam Grant.

The culture in Teach for Malaysia is amazing, there was such a supportive vibe in the room, and you could tell that they cared a lot about self development, for individuals and also the organisation. As soon as the talk ended, they immediately discussed possibilities of implementing some of Alvin’s ideas.


Here are my two personal interpretations and takeaways from the session:

– Super teams are created when companies are able to align their goals with each individual’s personal values and goals

Alvin shared a story of a company in Netherlands (it had a very unique name, which I cannot remember now), which won several awards as preferred employers. This particular company included each individual employees personal goals as part its performance management process (think goals such as “losing weight” or “travelling more”), allows time   for employees to achieve these goals, and also takes these personal goals into account when rating the employees’ overall PERFORMANCE in the company.

It seemed to be such a strange and unique idea, but it makes perfect sense if you pause for a bit to think about it. Of course, its not all about personal time. By evaluating how aligned an employees personal values are to the business, it also ensures the right employees are hired and retained.

– Super teams are full of “givers”, it’s not all just about skills, people are genuine friends with each other

It’s important for teammates to work well with each other, or be friends, in the context of a work environment. When this happens, the support and sharing of ideas happen naturally, which flows through to planning and then execution. When people do not work well with each other, teams will struggle to move forward as a unit, as individuals look out for themselves, resulting in an overall poorer team performance compared to a united team.


To conclude, frankly there were many more lessons and ideas discussed and I do not think my interpretations do justice to Alvin’s research and work on the subject. I would highly recommend people pick up his book Barefoot Leadership (I am not paid to promote this), and I hope it will inspire and show many Malaysians who think they are ordinary, that they can be great leaders too.

CPPS and the 11th Malaysia Plan


I paid a visit to Parliament today to attend the CPPS Youth Public Policy Roundtable on the 11th Malaysia Plan. Today is also the day there was a meeting in Dewan Rakyat about MH17, so the place was pretty packed out, with a lot of attention from the media, and traffic going into the building was quite bad.

I almost turned up in my chinos and casual shirt. Until my buddy Shie Haur told me that he was going to suit up. I think he gave me the right advice!


It was a full day session, and there were a lot of topics discussed over four key areas – Resilient Goverment, Liveable Cities, Human Rights and how Malaysia  can become a Competitive Nation. As some of our brightest young Malaysians were expressing their views, I picked up some key areas that many of them agreed on:

1) Education solves many things

There were many topics that kept circulating back to improving education, although there were also some views that this would of course help the next generation of Malaysians, but how about a more immediate answer? I completely agree that access to a quality education is key, and we should really start there as a long term sustainable approach to fixing a lot of the issues we have in Malaysia.

2) If you care about something, have a hand yourself in making a difference

Many agreed that it’s not enough to debate what the government can do from a policy or regulatory perspective. Those who believe strongly in a cause should perhaps work with some of the existing NGOs to bring change themselves.

3) The ability to innovate is the key to making us more competitive

Strong support for innovation will help take Malaysia to the next level, as it will lead  to a high income nation, reduce dependence on foreign workers, make us much more competitive, and will result in better quality of life. Someone gave the analogy that instead of hiring five low income workers using a broom, why don’t we provide a vacuum cleaner, and only hire ONE worker, but paying them a much higher salary.



The people I met in this round table showed a lot of passion for bringing change to Malaysia, and it gave me a sense of comfort that our country has the people to help move it in the right direction. I was quite tired when I got to the end of the day (yes it was a full day event), but would I do this again? Yes, of course.

Checking out space @ MaGIC

IMG_1967Turned up at MaGIC today, met Jen Lin, we discussed my little project and she seems quite excited about the whole thing. The only thing on everyone’s mind seems to be, what’s the prototype going to look like…? And that’s the same question on my mind too! But I’m quite reassured that it should look and work fine, with a bit of testing.

So here’s what the co-working space looks like, lighting’s a bit poor using my phone, so you might want to check out the actual site for better photos. Right now it’s new, there’s not that many people, but after Raya they’ve got quite a number starting out, so should be fun. The drive was actually okay, took me about 30 mins from PJ, it’s actually faster than travelling to KLCC (traffic jams!).

IMG_1968  IMG_1970

Visiting co-working spaces in KL

For anyone who is interested to start a business but doesn’t want to have to spend huge amounts on office rental, you can check out some of the co-working spaces in KL. I found some cool ones in the Bangsar area, and tomorrow I will be visiting MaGIC in Cyberjaya.

What are the benefits?

Inexpensive, low commitment and most importantly you get to work in a community! If you are starting out on your own, nothing beats having people around you, for advice, help or just conversations. The startup community is actually pretty helpful, I’ve met several people over the last few weeks, and they have all been very supportive. Probably because they’ve understand the challenges I would need to face at the start.

So here are the locations I am looking at right now.

1) space @ MaGIC (Cyberjaya) – Lots of facilities and events to help startups grow. Over time they will even have Entrepreneurs in Residence (I’m told they will have technical and/or business experience) to provide guidance and mentoring to startups. And it’s really cost effective! Even if you’re not looking for an office, you can check out what MaGIC is doing, you might find something relevant to you, it’s pretty cool.

IMG_19642) Nook (Bangsar) – Quite a “hipsterish” feel to the place, and their virtual office option is only RM80 per month. They pride themselves as a bit of an anti-office co-working space. Lots of parking right outside the building, which is rare in the Bangsar area, so you could stay in an entire day and not worry about your car park costing more than your office.

3) Whitespace (Bangsar, Puchong, Mont Kiara) – Clean, modern design. I visited the office in Bangsar and it’s right next to Bangsar Shopping Centre, so pretty convenient if you prefer meeting clients outside the office, they’ve got some good coffee and lunch places in the area. Also, certain packages give you access to all three locations.

I think it’s best to visit the places yourself to see if the place “feels” right to you. After all, your office is probably where you will spend most of your time in. I’m still deciding on a good location and may visit more and update this page as I go along.

How to handle an upset client, when its NOT your fault

I saw this video some time ago, and it reminded me of a time when a close friend of mine got a call from a client who was very upset at something the his team did. We all get these every now and then.

The obvious way to react would be to just apologise and to move on. But his biggest challenge was that he did not believe that the team really did anything wrong, and his defensive response made the client even more upset, which clearly made things worse. So what’s the best way to react without being a pushover but still appeasing the client?

Steve Jobs, well known for being a strong communicator, was put to the test in public. Here’s a video of someone from the audience being very upset at Steve Jobs and accusing him of not knowing what he’s talking about. And how he responds made the crowd cheer.

The key lessons from this video are:

1) Be calm, do not respond emotionally

When he first heard the question, Steve Jobs paused, and took some time to think, and responded in a very calm manner. When you respond with emotion, this aggravates the situation, and your upset client will no doubt respond by being even more upset.

2) Agree with them

What? Why should I agree with them if it’s not my fault? Steve Jobs started his response by saying “this gentleman is RIGHT, in some areas”.

In the beginning, its not about assigning blame. It’s about validating their feelings, and letting them feel heard. When you do this, you can then use their energy and direct them towards solving the problem rather than being upset.

3) Apologise (of course!), and help them understand the positive intentions behind the mistakes

Steve Jobs actually apologised and admitted that sometimes he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But he also pointed out that everyone was working really hard to do the best work possible, and that he’s not perfect either. He also mentioned that “some mistakes will be made, and that’s good, because decisions are being made”.

If your client can understand WHY those mistakes were made (maybe you had a short time to make a quick decision, or it was a new employee in the team that was trying too hard), that the intentions were right, they are more likely to understand and feel better about you and the situation.


Remember that once you have calmed them down, the next thing to do is to agree on how to improve things moving forward, and also if you can get them to play a role in some areas, for you to make things better for them. Because very often, when things go wrong, both parties may have contributed to it in some way.

Dragon boat racing is awesome, here’s what you will learn!

It was my first time on a dragon boat. And I was going to be there with a big group of first-timers also. People said without training, the boat might struggle to move, or even capsize. But the only thing on my mind was “I want to win this race”.

My friend Rachel is a seasoned dragon boater, and she told me, “when you are on the boat, it doesn’t matter whether you are a Director or a Country Manager. You’re just a guy with a paddle”. And, of course, she was right. My boat lost the race, with me leading right on the front row.

But I really learned some important things, about life and leadership. And I hope people realise these things also.

1) Leadership is not about you, keep your ego in check

Shen was much younger than me, and he was paddling to my right. When we had our first trial run, I asked him to “follow me”. I focused on moving at my pace, expecting him to do the same. He tried really hard, but in the end the boat was slow because we were out of sync.

For a moment, I thought to myself – how do I get someone to follow my lead? And then I realised, the goal is not for him to follow me, but for us to be paddling at the same pace. So before the second run, I said to him, “Shen, now I will follow you”. And suddenly we were much more in sync and the boat moved faster!

In that moment, I learned to keep my ego in check. Because in leadership, the best ideas don’t always come from you. If you’re not the best person to lead a project, be willing to let others shine.

2) Leaders work the hardest, not the easiest.

When we were the front of the boat, we basically paddle into still water. You pave the way for the rest of your guys, so when they paddle, there is already some momentum and its a bit easier. Everyone behind follows you, you have to be one to show the way.

Too many times I have seen leaders work the least, take the back seat, let their guys pull all the weight, and call it “empowerment” or “delegation”. These are good things, but at the extreme, it means being a non-manager. Leaders should always be the first ones to run towards fires, not their people. Show them, and invite your people to follow.

3) Unity, not individual brilliance

When we had a trial run, both of us got too excited and paddled very quickly, but somehow our boat was slow. When we stopped to check in with the rest of the guys on the boat, some of them were struggling to follow our pace. In dragon boating, its all about rowing together. So the second time we tried, we slowed the pace down, and the boat actually moved a lot faster.

People need to move together at the same pace, in teams, in life, it’s not about individuals. So don’t tolerate brilliant jerks in your teams, even though in the short term it may feel like it’s better to have them around. In the end, teamwork is always most important. Because the paddle of one strong person can never surpass the paddles of many, even if they were average performers.


So why did our boat still lose? I guess its because the other team were so much more in sync, and I could have done so much more as the leader. There’s an old African proverb that says:

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

And it’s so true. So to every leader out there, take care of your people, because they are the ones who have carried you this far, and they are reason the boat is moving.


My first day on a new adventure



Today is officially my last day being an employed person. Sad when I realised that I will see my ex-colleagues much lesser now. Since I came back to Malaysia, they have been pretty much the friends that have I kept closest to me. And I will miss them all very much.


Well, time to start the first page of my new life then!

Whenever I tell people that I am leaving to try and start my own business, I could see their curiosity along with “Hey, I wanna do that too someday”. The truth is, I will be worse off than anyone in employment right now. I will make so much less money, it will be such hard work, and there is no quarterly appraisal for me as guidelines to measure how I’m doing.IMG_1952

Basically I need to find my own way. And it’s really scary, to think that I decided to leave employment just based on an idea, with no clue how to achieve it.

Am I a bit silly to leave my job and then “figure it out”? Time will tell.

I follow Richard Branson on Twitter, and he recently posted quite a timely comment:

“Entrepreneurs are the crazy people who work 100 hours a week so they don’t have to work 40 hours for someone else”.

I love that quote, and I shall start my first post with this.