toh chun ho

In Loving Memory of Toh Chun Ho, 1955 to 2017

Every man’s story is different, and this is a story about a boy from Muar who started with a simple life and went on the have an adventure of a lifetime. He was the son of a taxi driver, and spent most of his childhood collecting stamps and reading books. He loved reading stories of big adventures and beautiful journeys. But the boy from Muar wouldn’t have guessed that he would have quite the story of his own.

He landed himself a scholarship to go to Kuala Lumpur to do his degree in Universiti Malaya, and in Kuala Lumpur, he met a girl from Ipoh. They fell in love, got married and started a family with two boys.

He loved his wife, and did everything he could for her, always patient and trying his best to be a good husband. He tried so hard to be a good father to his sons and did what he could to be close to them. His elder son became an Arsenal fan, and suddenly, he was an Arsenal fan. The younger son got into tennis at school, and until today, he has become a big tennis fan too.

When asked what was his advice for raising kids, he would say “I’ll bring them to the playground. Because every child only has a few years when they are truly care-free. Don’t take their childhood away”.

He lived his life giving to his family and taking very little for himself. Because he wanted them to be happy, and to live a better life than perhaps he ever could.

But six years ago, he had a heart attack, and that reminded him of his mortality. So he decided that he should try to see the world more. Together with his wife, they’ve walked the streets of New York, London and Paris. They experienced the snow storms in Japan, bathed in the sun in Maldives, cruised through the seas of Russia. They swam around the islands of Phuket, rode bicycles in Perth and hustled in the night markets of Taipei.

He was happy. In the past few years, not only has he seen the world, he’s watched his sons mature and was very proud of them. The younger son was doing well in his job in Paris, and his elder son had started a business that was getting popular. Whenever he spoke about his family, he spoke with pride.

Sometimes he would remind himself how much time had passed since he had the heart attack, because it always felt like he was on rented time. He knew he would have missed all of this had that heart attack claimed him six years ago.

Then on 28th May 2017, life brings you back full circle. While sitting on his sofa at home, watching his elder son’s favourite team Arsenal win the FA Cup, his story came to an end. As he sat there, he passed away peacefully alone.

What an adventure. An adventure that a simple boy from Muar, sitting there collecting stamps and reading his favourite book, would not have thought he would have. It was a beautiful journey that deserves to be celebrated.

Thank you for everything you have given to us. We always thought that one day we would have the chance to take care of you the way you took care of us, but you probably wanted us to remember you at your best.

We love you papa, with all our hearts.

“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”

Marcus Aurelius

derek toh malaysian fresh graduate

Malaysian Fresh Graduates Have Attitude Problems?

Here’s an interesting article that’s been going around social media recently about why many Malaysian fresh graduates remain unemployed. It seems, we can all basically sum it up to them having attitude problems. In fact, the article breaks this down into several key reasons:

  • Unrealistic salary expectations – RM3.5k to RM6.5k
  • Poor communications skills
  • Dreaming too big (it seems, if you are from a “small” university you should work with a small company)

Understandably, employers who agree with this are furiously sharing this article on social media, along with expressing their own frustrations with their experience of hiring Malaysian fresh graduates.

But many of the fresh graduates that I have interviewed or hired did not actually show such “bad attitudes”, therefore I am a bit confused. As a startup, our salaries are fairly modest. Yet we’ve hired many quality Malaysian fresh graduates. They are matured and capable. Their communication skills are good, their attitude is decent, and they certainly could work in any multi-national company, yet they are working in a small startup (are they dreaming too small?). Continue reading →

Winning Youth Leadership Academy 2015

The team I was mentoring for this year’s Youth Leadership Academy (organised by McKinsey & Company) won first place!

I had a lot of high hopes but it was a bit unexpected because the team had to change their idea several times. But I’m glad eventually they settled on one, and then focused hard on really good execution. I remembered sitting down with them at Starbucks, and was explaining to them what they needed to do to show that the project had a huge potential, and to show traction.

Continue reading →

Speaking About Culture to Malaysian CEOs


It was an interesting experience for me to speak about work culture to a group of CEOs in Malaysia. When I was first invited to do it, I was quite skeptical about how receptive this topic was going to be. After all, these are very experienced business people who have successfully built multi-million dollar businesses without having much thought about culture. Why would they even care?

To my surprise, they really did. These were very forward looking people who wanted to know where the wind was blowing, incredibly dynamic people who would want to hear every idea, realising that resistance to change and evolve according to what the world has become, will have a negative effect on their companies.

The one thing some of these CEOs could agree on, was that culture increasingly mattered to a lot of the younger jobseekers, and therefore this could no longer be ignored. In fact, while the need to change and start caring about culture may not be immediately obvious, by the time you realise you need to do something about it, it’s probably already too late. Because the culture of your organisation is made up of the people you hire, and how they think, and any change is extremely difficult and time consuming.

A special call out to two companies that really stood out for me during this talk – Feruni and PosAd.

Feruni is a ceramic tiling business, and was probably one of the last businesses I would imagine to start caring about culture. Yet the senior management team took a trip to attend a course in Zappos in Las Vegas, to learn about what culture means to them, and they have since been passionately implementing a lot of these ideas back here in Malaysia (separate blog post coming soon!)

PosAd is a diversified advertising business that recently embarked on a culture change initiative, as they hired external consultants to help them make their workplace a better environment to be in.

I hope more companies in Malaysia will look at these companies as amazing examples that caring about culture is important not just to attract talent, but to succeed as a business, before it’s too late.

Is Sillicon Valley really better?

So a group of us were lucky enough to be part of MaGIC’s e@Stanford program, which is a program that brings young Malaysian startups to Sillicon Valley, we had the opportunity to network with other startups there, and also attended a course at Stanford University that’s tailor-made for entrepreneurs.

During this trip, many of us learned how amazing it was to be building a startup in the Valley. And it didn’t take long for us to start noticing how different it was for us in Malaysia. I even heard comments being whispered such as “It’s a much bigger market here” and “It’s so easy to grow in a homogeneous market, SEA is so fragmented, it’s difficult for us Malaysians”.

And just to make me feel worse, when I met the founder of a startup that had similarities to, I was incredibly surprised when he told me he managed to raise almost $2 million USD for his seed round, gradually and at different stages, of course, but this was before he had a clear strategy how he would charge. Me? No one was interested to give me a single cent in those early days.

So, do startups in Silicon Valley really have such a huge advantage over us? Or does the phrase “the grass is always greener on the other side” apply here?

Well, the answer is yes, yes and yes, they do have those advantages. However, there’s a big “BUT” here. Because what people choose not to see are the advantages I believe we have here in Malaysia. And we need to know this so that we can capitalise on it while it’s still there. Here are some of my own thoughts as to what these advantages are.

1) Yes it’s so difficult to grow in ASEAN. Almost every country speaks a different language, has a different culture, and certainly different regulations. It’s simply not the same as growing a business across America. But that’s also the reason why it’s difficult for an American or European business to penetrate into our market. Without local knowledge, and someone on the ground who can understand and maneuver around these cultural differences, it’s simply too difficult for them.

And that’s why it is so easy for an ASEAN business to defend it’s position here, especially if the business resides in the physical world, and not the virtual world. Because if you can’t figure it out, they probably won’t. Had it been easy, these American businesses would long have been all over ASEAN, and this opportunity wouldn’t be here for you. Which leads me to our second advantage.

2) There are still so many opportunities and gaps in the market here. While the guys in the Valley have better access to funding and support, it’s also incredibly saturated there. I could easily walk into a group of startup founders and find that half of them are working on ideas that have never been tried before in Asia. Because it’s so competitive, entrepreneurs have no choice but to keep pushing boundaries, and try new ideas, which is much higher risk than starting something that’s proven to work before.

In Asia, many of these ideas have never even been attempted. I’m not suggesting you should just follow what’s been done before, but you have access to actual lessons learnt from other startups which will give you an edge when you start your business.

3) Sure, investors in the Valley are more willing to invest in ideas that may not be financially sound yet. But it’s very easy to forget one of the sole purposes of running a business, which is to make money! Most investors in Asia want to know what are their returns before investing in your startup, and therefore this notion that you can keep getting funded until you figure out the best way to monetise, just doesn’t work in Asia, and that may be a good thing.

Entrepreneurs who build businesses with the hopes of getting acquired run a huge risk of not focusing on a solid long term strategy, and if you don’t get acquired, you’re probably left with a business that cannot sustain itself over time.


MaGIC e@Stanford program – What I’ve learned so far!

It’s week one of the MaGIC e@Stanford program, so classes haven’t started yet, but we’ve had the opportunity to meet so many amazing startups and businesses in the Valley, including Google, Thumbtack, Twitter and many successful Malaysians who currently live here. I’ve already learned so many things, not just from the people I meet here, but also from the other Malaysian co-founders travelling with me.

Here are some of the top things I’ve learned for e@Stanford!

1) Collaborative communities

Entrepreneurs in the Valley are generally incredibly collaborative. The ones that are still at early stages of their startup discuss ideas with other startups and share resources, and the ones that have “made it” try to give back by giving advice and mentorship to those still in their early stages.

This is something I really admire, and it’s this community spirit that we need to create and replicate if anyone is ever going to want to be the next Silicon Valley.

2) Appreciation for innovation and long term

Startups in the Valley can fetch high valuations when they try to raise funds, even before a clear monetisation strategy. The matrix in which investors evaluate startups move past just looking at financials, as they consider whether your product has any network effects, or is potentially game-changing, and trust the entrepreneur (if they have a proven track record) to be able to monetise and bring the product to market at the right time.

Put simply, to get investors interested, startups will of course have to be able to show traction, but traction in the Valley is not measured just by looking at money.

The good news is, there are more and more investors looking to Asia now due to it’s high growth, so over time, some investors in Asia will start to look past the initial financials, but it will depend on the nature of your product.

3) If you want a mentor, you have to be coachable

I heard this quote and thought it was pretty funny “Don’t be an *sshole, if you’re not Steve Jobs, you shouldn’t act like him.” And he was referring to how some people want to have a mentor, but because very often mentors may not come directly from your industry or have product knowledge, it’s easy to think that you know better than them. When you start to think like that and are not open to hearing the mentor’s input, you will be seen as uncoachable, and it’s something that would also concern investors.

4) Strategy to grow in SEA

Almost every country in SEA has different cultures and speak different languages, and governments have different regulations, therefore when it comes to scalability in the region, there are a bit more challenges compared to trying to scale in the US. However, it will be the same for your competitors as well, therefore if your startup actually executes its regional expansion well, this creates a significant barrier of entry for your competitors, and therefore it can turn into an advantage.

To plan and execute a strong strategy to scale your business, consider where your product falls within this matrix:

– Culture specific, or culture neutral

– Physical world, or virtual world


It’s true that culture, conditions and the mentality of the entrepreneurs here in the Valley are different from that in SEA, and because of that many people say that it’s almost impossible to replicate Silicon Valley.

But we don’t have to be an exact replica of Silicon Valley. What we can do is to continue supporting entrepreneurship, not just through funding, but also through events and communities to bring people to together, and continue to share ideas. Entrepreneurs can learn to adapt and communicate with investors in Asia. And we need to bring brilliant and talented non-Malaysians into our ecosystem as well, as the flow of ideas, optimism and sharing of skills is what makes Silicon Valley such an amazing place for startups.

The MaGIC e@Stanford program is so much more than just attended classes, it’s about networking, sharing of ideas, and learning directly from actual startup founders here in Silicon Valley. No textbook or class can be better than that.

If you’re as aspiring entrepreneur, definitely check out when the MaGIC e@Stanford program is running again!

Supporting our Malaysian talent


Was at the Yayasan Sime Darby Arts Festival on Sunday, and wow does Malaysia have a lot of talented people in the arts scene. From music, dance and films, it’s great to see that the community is buzzing with people who are very passionate about what they do.

I’m guilty of only watching some of Yasmin Ahmad’s work for the first time at the festival. And I have to say that I really enjoyed her films. Even though these were old films, they were so relevant to our Malaysian society, and is still very relevant today.

I think the arts have always been one of the least favoured “careers”, mainly because there is a lot of uncertainty about whether it will pay well, therefore most people have always preferred to go to the safe jobs, such as accounting or engineering. And parents and schools tend to advise children to focus on these safe jobs. This doesn’t just apply to Malaysia, it applies to almost every country in the world right now.

Yet, when I was standing there watching these people perform, I saw a lot of passion, enthusiasm, and they look so alive. They were clearly very “into” their performance, and you could tell from their facial expressions, body language and the sheer energy that was in the room. Some of these performers do this while holding on to a day job, and  I wondered if they were the same at these day jobs. My guess is probably not.

So it all comes back to this – choosing to do something you love, is the best way to make you happy. We spend most of our time at our jobs, why shouldn’t we enjoy it?

There is an iconic TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson about the importance of doing something you are passionate about. And he extends this to education’s role in ensuring that the arts should be given equal weight as the other more traditional subjects such as math and science. I was surprised when I found out recently that many people in Malaysia have not actually seen this talk, so I will share this video here. And I hope it changes your life.


Is social media really networking?

Networkers and recruiters pay attention, because this really applies to you. Social media is a good networking TOOL, but most people confuse it as being networking itself. There are many social media platforms right now, including Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter. In fact, the other day I got an email from Linkedin asking me to download their “Connected App” because apparently using this I can “network without the work”. Since when did clicking a few buttons and sending a few messages become networking?

Yet that is what a lot of confused people are doing out there right now. They are adding people on these social media platforms, sending them a couple of messages, and in their minds, they are busy NETWORKING. No, not really.

Here’s a little TEDx talk by Michael Goldberg about the Rediscovering Personal Networking, which I believe pretty much sums up what people forget as REAL networking.

Here’s a summary of some of the most important ideas from the talk:

1) Your “friends” on social media are not your real friends

He joked (maybe not a joke) that if you really wanted to know who your real friends are, send them all of the a message telling them that you need help moving to a new house. Only those who respond are your real friends. Everyone else should be “unfriended”.

2) Real relationships are built when networking is about them, not about you

He defined networking as “a proactive approach to meet people to learn with the prospect of helping them”. Not to sell your stuff, or pitch your ideas.

3) It’s okay to network only with people you actually like

Goldberg says that he only likes about a third of the people he meets, and he spends most of his time networking with them.

4) Strategic networking is about technique

Goldberg offers a technique that he summarises as PEEC (Profession, Expertise, Environment, Call to Action). By building a PEEC statement with a clear call to action, you are always prepared when doing strategic networking.



Why hiring the “perfect candidate” is a bad idea

If you have ever done recruitment or even applied to a job, you’ve seen the job specification. This little document that basically lists all the ideal qualities of the “perfect candidate”. This perfect candidate will already have all the skills and experience you need to hit the ground running. Basically someone who has all the experience performing the role you need them to do. No training required, no need to figure out if they can or cannot do certain things. They’ve done the exact same role before.

Hiring this “perfect candidate” is actually a very bad idea.

A recent worldwide study by Gallup shows that only 12% of employees in Southeast Asia are engaged at work. Only 12%. That’s quite an alarming number.

If you look at the top reasons for employees to get demotivated, two of them are lack of progression and boredom.

And that’s precisely what that perfect hire is going to feel coming into the job. You see, when a candidate takes up a job that he or she can already do, with little progression, then the reason is likely to be purely money. And that is a very short term reason.

However, if you hire what I call the “80% candidate”, this person can do many of the things required, but not everything. Or they have a strong foundation to perform the new role but perhaps have not actually performed the role before. THIS candidate is the one that’s going to come into the role fully charged and motivated to learn. Why? Because it’s a progression for them. It’s the next step, its career development.

So if you ever come across a situation where the “perfect candidate” is sitting in front of you, ask yourself “Will this person be motivated to perform this role?”.

Hiring by purely looking at skills may be a good short term answer, but to build high performing teams, it’s also about attitudes, motivation and long term potential.