TimothyTiah.com

How listening shaped my past and is shaping my future in business.

This article was written in partnership with HP

Starting and building a business (Nuffnang) at a young age was the best decision I ever made in my career. It’s not the money I made (I’m far from what anyone would consider wealthy in this day and age), it’s not the memories (because I think I would have great memories in whatever I did). No… it was the mistakes.

In those 9 years of business I’ve made so many mistakes. Mistakes in trusting the wrong people, in managing teams, in making decisions or even in handling situations.

That all came useful about a year ago. After 9 years in Nuffnang, I left the company post-IPO, and decided to start a different business. I wanted a model that was able to be profitable in the short term and my dream was to build a P&G rather than a Facebook even though the latter is worth more today.

My ambition after all these takes is to build a profitable company. The thing about building businesses that focus on profit in the short term though, is that they tend to take heavy capital investments. Starting Colony took a scary 7-digit investment. Not just that, we also have to commit for leases that go from 9-15 years because any less than that and the window to make money and a return on the initial investment is just way too small. So, what made me make that leap of faith?

One of the biggest things I’ve learned though is how to listen more. I resist the mental block of thinking “Ah he’s saying what I already know” because I’ve learned there’s a lot more to listening than just what people are saying. There’s always something to learn from a conversation and the worst thing I could do is shut out any form of learning.

That is after all how I stumbled into the co-working business. I was in Jakarta one day when a friend of mine asked me to come visit his. A part of me wanted to be lazy and close my mind to it… that I’m familiar with the concept and I didn’t necessarily believe in it. But fortunately, that fateful day I didn’t and I learned that knowing about it and experiencing it is something completely different.

There I learned about how co-working spaces addresses the needs of not just start-ups, freelancers but anyone who needed office. Months later I came back and started a co-working space that was very different than the one I visited, but I would probably not have started it if I didn’t go that day.

Today, Colony is the most luxurious co-working space in the country. We’re looking to redefine not just the way people work but change the experience of work. A decade ago, we wouldn’t have sat in smaller spaces or in open offices or not in an office at all. We’d also expect to have technology evolve together. As businesses are forced to change with society, so do offices – in order to not be left behind.

And it’s not just where we work, it’s also how we see work that has undergone a transformation. The blurring between personal and work time is propelled by a generation who doesn’t draw a line. We see people using whatever device or app fits their location, who’s with them, even their mood state.

Now of course my job as the leader of this company isn’t to celebrate on past successes but is to look at the problems we’re going to have 6 months or a year from now and address them. And boy I can tell you there are many!

I don’t exactly sit down and try to have visions of what problems I have. A good part of this process is actually talking to people, so it really helps that I make it a good point to listen these days. So recently I’ve had the opportunity to speak to some reps at HP and learned of their new PC and a need they feel will become increasingly important in the short to medium run. Security.

The belief is that as we live in a world where we work in open areas like co-working space or the neighbourhood cafe… people more than ever are going to have be at closer proximity to our hardware. And now, security for devices have been an importance for not only big companies but SMBs as well.

So, they created a PC that addresses that need. A convertible laptop that has privacy screen that can hide your screen at a tap of a button to finger print censors to unlock your computer. The HP Elitebook x360 series reveals some key security solutions such as the HP Sure View, a built-in privacy screen, that delivers protection against visual hacking instantly as well as the HP Multi-factor Authenticate which allows for controlled access with fingerprint censors, facial recognition and a login password. Privacy is more important in today’s society, especially if you’re always on-the-go and travelling.

HP Security Solutions is embedded across the entire spectrum of security needs for companies; from Pre-Intrusion Features (e.g. Device Protection to Theft Prevention, Identity Validation, Information Protection) to even the Post Intrusion Features to help companies recover from cyber-attacks quickly.

(You can get one for yourself here!)

I found their vision of the future really interesting and it inspired me too to think about how I could address the need for data security among our guests at Colony. Making the right choice of devices for businesses has never been more important. Every PC decision is a security decision.

In the past we’ve done it by limiting physical access to room, CCTVs and heck even providing laptop locks that lock a laptop to a workstation. But maybe there’s another level… maybe HP’s on to something….

You can check out a video HP made with me in it on this. I think it’s awesome. Click here.


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How the fear of openly supporting the opposition disappeared with GE14

I woke up this morning and like all mornings I reached for my phone. This time though I had purpose beyond just checking messages. I wanted to know the final tally of the election results.

When I pulled out the Malaysiakini page, I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that Pakatan will be taking over the federal government but that feeling was quickly replaced with disbelief. Disbelief that this managed to happen in my lifetime. Just the day before I was telling my friends that it was impossible for BN to lose given how the odds were so in their favour and even though the opposition had all the urban voters on their side but because of the gerrymandering it wasn’t enough. But now it had happened. Pakatan is no longer the opposition.

I didn’t know what to feel. On one hand it’s too early to tell if our new government will be uncorrupt, allow freedom of speech and restore the institutions we have in this country be it the police or judicial system. But on the other hand I felt something lift: a fear, a burden that I’ve had all my life. The fear of speaking out against the (previously) ruling government.

My parents have always taught me that a businessman must avoid politics unless your business depends on politics. The fear is that if a businessman or entrepreneur stands up openly against the ruling government, we could be punished via our business. I realise this is a common fear among entrepreneurs though to be fair, it’s a fear that is not necessarily material especially if we’re business owners of small private companies. Still it doesn’t help that we’ve seen examples being made of people in the past.

Over the years though I found it hard to not care about the country I grew up in. It became increasingly difficult not to be passionate about certain issues or angry whenever I see Malaysians being let down by the government. My wife too shared my sentiments and we would talk about it behind close doors but publicly, I acted like I was indifferent to politics.

Then the issues our country faced got worse… and worse and finally I caved.

First I started donating money to Pakatan parties since two elections ago, and even then I was afraid to do it in a manner that could be traced back to me. I would draw out cash, and then do anonymous cash deposits into the party bank accounts. Or I would donate via other people like more recently through my friend Tim Teoh who started Pulang Undi. We ended up chartering two busses with the money and sending voters (regardless of whoever they were voting for) back to Malacca and Kedah to vote.

Then I started going for rallies starting with ceramahs, then Bersih. At first not posting about it, then eventually posting about it openly on social media. I wasn’t sure if Bersih was effective but this election proved to me that it was. It created a lot of awareness of how one could cheat in elections, so everyone was prepared for it this time round. Still I stopped short of openly saying that I support the opposition.

This morning though that fear dissipated. It’s the first time in my life that I’m openly blogging about politics on my blog. When I think about this new start we’re given I can’t help but feel gratitude for the collective of people that made this possible.

From the opposition politicians that joined up as the underdog party and risk being prosecuted like Lim Kit Siang and Rafizi, to people like Ambiga who fought for free and fair elections to even Sarawak Report or The Edge for exposing one of the biggest financial scandals of our time. On the ground too the polling and counting agents and to voters that made it in the middle of the week to cast their votes. One paragraph will never be able to do an exhaustive list of all the people who made this possible, but it happened. To all these people I owe my thanks and gratitude, for giving our country this new chance.

In the beginning of this article I said that it’s not certain yet that the new government will be uncorrupt or keep their promises of fixing our broken country. But I do know two things: I feel less afraid now and more importantly, Malaysia finally has a two-party system. Some people ask me how I can support Mahathir after what he has done in the past but the truth is that I don’t necessarily vote for parties or people, I vote for country. I ask myself if our country is better off with one dominant party, or two equally strong parties. The answer I found is the latter and that is what we Malaysians achieved yesterday.

That in itself is a big win for me. That in itself, makes Malaysia a better place for us and for our children.

Thank you Malaysia for making me so proud to be Malaysian.

How to Inspire Confidence in Your Investors

I’ve never been CEO of a company until Colony. Well to be precise, my name card in Colony states “Executive Director” because I’m not big on titles, but I carry the responsibilities of its CEO. I work out the vision and strategy of the company and I find a way to execute it.

One of the important roles of a CEO though is to manage relationships with the company’s investors, something I’ve never done before. My saving grace though is that I’ve been a board member and shareholder before so I’ve learned how it feels to be on the other side. So when it came to managing investor relations in Colony, I’ve had an idea of what to do and what not to do.

We don’t have many investors in Colony but the ones we do are very sophisticated. They’re very discreet too so we don’t publicly talk about who they are but they’re among the wealthiest families in SouthEast Asia. So they’re very savvy investors who have invested in many things before and know bull crap when they see it.

Why is this important though? It’s important because investors who trust you, tell their friends about you and recommend their friends to join in subsequent rounds. It’s important because there are times you need an investor to help you pull a string, or back you on a risky business decision or invest more in you and they’ll only do it if you have their confidence.

So here’s how I do it.

  1. Nail down 4-5 key metrics in your investor reports to make it easy for your investors to understand.

In Colony those metrics are revenue, profit, occupancy and average price per workstation. Every quarter, we report these numbers and they’re supposed to grow. The good news is that since we started, all 4 metrics have been growing consistently every quarter so they’re a joy to report.

But what if they don’t? What if suddenly one or two metrics fall.. or all four fall? When that happens, we know there’s something wrong with the business and something has to be done. Everyone in the team is accountable for these four metrics one way or another.

I know there is a fear some entrepreneurs might have of pinning down these metrics. A common reason is that “our business is unique” or “our business can’t  be pinned down to four metrics”. That’s not true in most businesses. Every business performance can be pinned down to four key metrics, it’s just whether we want to do it or not. And if we can’t pin down four key metrics then how is the organisation going to be clear on what matters in the business and what doesn’t?

The thing about metrics is that they force you to be consistent and they take away any avenue you have as a CEO to bull crap your way out of a bad investor report. If you miss your numbers in a quarter, it will be very clear. You can’t fluff it otherwise and you can’t just pick another metric to make yourself look better that quarter.

Yes this means that you’re more accountable as CEO. But hey if you want to be CEO then you HAVE to be accountable. CEOs who don’t want to be held accountable or don’t take full responsibility for their own failings don’t make effective CEOs. Besides if you’re a shareholder of the company, then wouldn’t you want that?

I’m a majority shareholder of Colony so I want what’s best for the company. If the company does well, then so do I right? And if I fail as CEO then wouldn’t I be better off if I let someone else take on the role and achieve what I wouldn’t be able to achieve on my own?

2. State FACTS in your investor reports. NO FLUFF.

What are facts? Well facts are whatever your 4-5 metrics are. Or that something tangible has been done or achieved.

What is fluff? Fluff is using bombastic words to sell an intangible immeasurable point.

It’s tempting to fluff things when we miss a tangible metric. An example of this would be a statement like this:
“We didn’t hit our revenue targets this quarter but morale in the company is very high and I believe we are PRIMED for future growth”.

That’s bull crap because the second part of the statement has no proof or data to back it.

Facts of the same statement would be
“We didn’t hit our revenue targets this quarter. I take responsibility for that. The one leading indicator I have that we’ll do better in the next quarter though is that morale has improved. This can be seen from our employee Net Promoter Score increasing from -50 to +30. “

If we’re going to quote an intangible, have a way to measure it and measure it consistently. Don’t NOT have it every quarter and then suddenly have it appear on one quarter when you need to show something.

Why does this matter? Because INVESTORS KNOW WHEN ANYONE IS TRYING TO FLUFF THEM AND IT ERODES CONFIDENCE.

I put myself in their shoes. How would I feel if I knew someone was trying to fluff me?

3. Always make yourself available

Always make yourself available for investors and for any questions they may have. Answer their messages, pick up their calls or return them if you miss them. Never avoid a conversation with them. In fact, avoid answering questions just on email. Pick up the phone and let them hear from you. That’s a lot more effective than what an email can convey.

4. Spend investor money like it’s your own.

We’ve raised quite a bit of money at Colony and while it’s tempting to take a chunk of it and throw it on Google/FB ads, we don’t do that. We count every penny we spend and measure ROI for it. Every project we invest in must have a clear ROI and payback period and if it doesn’t meet our expectations of a good payback period, we don’t do it.

When I travel on my personal expense for holidays I’d stay in St Regis or the Westin., When I travel for Colony work, we’ll stay in reasonably priced but comfortable 3-4 star hotels. Now most investors don’t expect us to slug it out at the doggiest hotels, but unless the company is pulling in strong earnings, no business class tickets and no 5 Star hotels.

5. Always be open to listening

Investors often want to be heard and it’s our job to listen. A capable CEO is one who keeps an open mind and listens, then empathises with the investor. Some investors want to be heard, some have great ideas that they think might work. Our job is to listen to them all and not be defensive or close minded about any of them but to really consider them and if not appropriate explain why.

This is how I’ve done my investor relations this far and the result has been crazy. When the time came to raise subsequent rounds, some of our investors not just followed on but doubled down. The reason they gave? They felt like I respected and valued our relationship and that made me worth the bet.

I hope these learnings help you the way they have helped me.

Remembering where Colony was this time last year….

This time last year, I took this picture with Shorty at the site of what is now known as Colony @ KLCC.

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We had just signed the lease and immediately started work on renovations. If I told you how little we knew then about construction, renovations or even about running a coworking spaces, you may have been worried for me. Heck if you were an investor in Colony you might have had your doubts.

Both of us have been in advertising almost all our working lives. We’ve never ever had to build a project of this scale. Yet some 3 months after we started work we managed to complete it and shortly after launch Colony @ KLCC.

8 months later till today, we just announced that Cornerstone Partners, a company that owns hotels around the region just took a 10% stake in Colony at a US$15-20 million valuation, and our 8 month old startup has raised US$5 million to build more spaces. The best part… business is doing well. We’re firing on all metrics showing consistent growth each month in revenue and profits with March revenues and profits breaking a new record.

I’m not trying to be modest or anything but the truth is that I never expected we would make it this far this quickly. My sincere belief is that by some miracle, we made it in spite of what I am, instead of because of what I am. Perhaps the one thing that helped was openly admitting at an early stage that I really knew nothing and I needed all the help I could get.

So I constantly sought out help by hiring the right people, finding the right mentors and working with the right investors and landlords. Once I surrounded myself with these people I asked questions, and I listened. It didn’t matter if you were a small or larger investor in Colony, if you were an executive or manager in Colony, I wanted to know what you thought about a decision I was about to make. All the guidance I got and the blessing of having such an awesome team is what built this company today.

The truth is we’re still early days. There is still a very very long way to go. Our mission is to empower life at work. To change the experience of work as we know it and we can’t do that with just one location. We need more… and we want to do it not just in KL but all over South-East Asia. There are no short cuts here… I’m not about to take all this money we have now and simply open up Colonies everywhere.

I strongly believe that we have to get things right. That quality is better than quantity. Heck even today I still think we have a lot to work on when it comes to our service levels and hospitality but we’ll get there.

I guess the point of me writing this entry is to make a note in my blog. To remind myself that this is just the beginning, and I’m lucky to have made it this far so quick.

Thank you God for giving me this blessing.

How realising that I am a NOBODY changed my life

Google for any videos of motivational talks and you won’t have to look far to find a video that tells us that that each and every one of us are special. Heck just like we tell our kids how special they are, so did our parents do unto us. Hence we live a life of constantly trying to live up to us being special. We try to achieve more than others, we try to stand out, and when we fail, we feel bad about it.

What if I told you that you are nobody? How would you feel?

I came to that realisation less than 2 years ago. I can’t even remember which book it was that I read but all I remember was how I felt when I read those words that were hard for my ego to swallow. It told me that contrary to what I believe. That I… Timothy Tiah am not special. I am not unique. I am different than everyone else in ways where it doesn’t matter, but similar to everyone else in ways where it does. And contrary to my belief, people don’t give a crap about me. I AM NOBODY.

My bruised ego at first reacted defensively to the authors words. I thought of all the counter arguments… how I’m different because nobody else in the world looked like me or spoke like me or could exactly what I could do. Yet again… that would be me being different in a way that didn’t matter. So what if I looked different than everyone else, I still looked the same. Human.

Once I got past the ego and fully accepted that I was and AM NOBODY…  my life changed. Here’s how.

  1. I Get a Lot Less Emotional

I had a terrible temper. But think about the things that make us angry. We get angry when someone is rude to us, when someone mistreats us, when someone does not do something they promised us to do and the list goes on….

The one thing all the things above have in common is that we get angry because we feel our self-esteem is being attacked. So when someone attacks our self-esteem, we feel the need to defend ourselves and fight back. When I came to the realisation though that I AM NOBODY, I no longer felt the need to fight back when people are rude to me or even betray me.

Instead because I believe that I am NOBODY, I don’t focus on myself and my feelings but instead I try to focus on the other person’s feelings. I try to empathise. When the opposing side feels like you’re trying to empathise and understand them, they often really cool off and don’t feel the need anymore to get angry.

There was an instance where someone angry had come up to me to complain about something at work and instead of cutting him off or defending myself… I just listened. Listened like what he said really mattered and it showed in my face that here was someone who sincerely wanted to know what he was angry about. In less than 30 seconds what would have otherwise escalated into a shouting match completely defused and before I knew it we were talking like we were good friends.

Being less emotional and level headed doesn’t just help us handle conflict better, it helps us make better decisions too even in situations where we’ve messed up. After all, someone once said that success is a road paved with mistakes well handled.

2. I Truly Started Caring Less About What People Said

People who say “I don’t care about what people say” generally DO care about what people say. If they really don’t care, they wouldn’t even think to say it. Heck I used to be one of those myself.

But here’s the thing… when I realised that I was nobody, I didn’t care not because I was strong enough or stubborn, but because I knew in reality, nobody will really care about me and what I do. Think about it, we live in a social media world where we’ve been random people go into instant viral sensations when they do things that are shocking to other people, like that lady who went viral because she waved a steering lock at an older man years ago. She became famous and known as…. heck I can’t even remember what which proves my point. PEOPLE DON’T CARE ENOUGH TO REMEMBER. Even if you’re famous for some viral story or a scandal, that will last a few days, and then everyone else moves on to the next thing.

 

So what do people care about?

People care about themselves. We are all motivated by self-interest. So if we care about anybody else outside of our family and loved ones, it’s because that somebody else could affect our lives. That’s the reason why many people care about Donald Trump, because as President of the USA he could do things that affect his people. But unless we’re Trump, or the Pope….. NOBODY CARES ABOUT US.

So we can stop living our lives to look good for people or to impress people… because no matter how hard we try, people just will not care about you than they do about themselves.

3. I Started Learning More

Because I am NOBODY, I realise that I need to learn more. I started being truly open to listening to everyone’s stories no matter who they are or what they did. Here’s the most amazing thing I learned: I learned, that I could learn something… from EVERYBODY.

Learning is important to me because it keeps me growing and I feel like the more I know, the more perspectives I have and the more perspectives I have the better I am at life.

So if there’s one thing that has really changed the way I live for the better… it’s coming to the realisation that I am NOBODY.

Startups: Why do we feel like we must expand overseas?

I’m at a bit of a crossroads for Colony. Our first centre at Kia Peng is profitable and doing really well. We’ve experienced consistent month and month growth since we started which is something that surprises even myself.

When we first started Colony I told investors that I wanted to open one first, and make sure it was profitable before I opened another. I forecasted that it would take one year to break even but we did it in 3 months so I started looking for a 2nd location much quicker than I expected.

Today the 2nd location is being built while I’m looking at other locations since I notice we’re really running out of space in the first one and in order to grow I need more inventory. At the same time we’ve been blessed, we’ve been given opportunities by interested parties regionally to bring Colony to their countries.

“Regional expansion” plays really well to the ears of investors. It tells a great story because the effective market is a lot bigger than just one country, and it allows us to raise money at higher valuations. That’s the theory… in practice though there are challenges to that.

In practice, an overseas operation is rarely run as well as the local operation.

Neither can a company grasp dominance of an overseas market like they do at home. In the cases that they do, it requires the founder to literally live and breathe the air there. It’s hard to effectively run a business remotely.

So how do multinationals do it? How does Shangri-la have so many well run hotels all around the world.

Well for that the company has to be ready. The culture, process, training and team has to be established and strong enough to introduce a new country and assimilate that into the mix. That’s something that often takes time and can’t be rushed. So the limitation in regional expansion is often time… not money.

Start with why

When I thought about whether we should expand, I decided to start with why. Why expand regionally?

If you ask many companies, the answer is “To find growth” because the Malaysian market isn’t big enough. Now don’t get me wrong, the Malaysian market is certainly big enough for many Malaysia-focused companies that are valued in the billions today ranging from property developers to oil and gas businesses. So when we say the market isn’t big enough, it often means that in our vertical, the market just isn’t big enough.

That makes me wonder, if the market isn’t big enough in a country, and if expanding overseas has always been met with semi-success, then is it even a business worth starting? Why not go for a business that is BIG enough in ONE country?

In expanding overseas, should “finding growth” be the main question we ask ourselves or instead “how much money can I make?”.

That’s the dilemma I face with Colony now. Is it time to go overseas? Many companies are racing to expand regionally, do we have to be one of them? Or can we dominate one country, one city even. The real estate market after all is HUGE. Malaysian companies spend about RM6 billion a year on office rent in KL alone.

What do you think?

What I look for in a mattress

This article is written in partnership with Goodnite.

I remember the first time I went out to buy my first mattress. My mom told me to go buy a good one and spare no expense. I was a little surprised because my mom is really careful with money. When we eat out at a restaurant she would discourage us from ordering fruit juice because she could make it for much cheaper at home.

So when she said that I must find a mattress that I like and spend even if it’s more expensive than other mattresses, I was surprised. She later explained her logic. We spend a minimum of 8 hours a day on the mattress. That’s 1/3 of our lives. So why settle for anything but the best?

The best to my mom of course isn’t necessarily the most expensive, but the most comfortable. A few weeks ago I found myself in a situation of buying another mattress again. We had a tenant in our house moving in and she spotted that the previous mattresses we had were a little thin. She asked if we could change it and remembering what my mom had imparted on me, I quickly obliged.

I went around to look for a good one of course and about that time I started talking to Goodnite in working with them on getting a new mattress for my home. The one I went for is the Goodnite Statfree Love Series Mattress from the True Love Mattress range. It comes with anti-static Belgium technology and is woven with carbon thread which is as thin as hair to discharge body static permanently.

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The most important thing I look for in a mattress is how firm it is. It has to be firm enough that when I lie down I don’t feel like my back bends into the bed. Instead it’s firm enough to hold my back up straight, especially important to me because I tend to sleep straight. This mattress covers that need of mine pretty well. It comes with a Double Posture Coil (DPC*) System which Goodnite patented spring for extra spinal care.

I also got Fighter to test it and I think he approves.

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The mattress 14-inch thick mattress costs between RM1,999-RM2,399 depending on its size. That’s the other thing to look out for when it comes to mattresses: durability. The cost of not getting a good one isn’t just in how firm it is or how good it is for your sleeping posture but also how long it lasts.

The Statfree® Love Series also has DPC® System for extra spinal care.

All in all I think it’s a great mattress and is good value for money. If you’d like to check it out you can go to their website here.

The backstory of Shorty’s birthday party

“So what do you want to do for your birthday?” I asked casually a few weeks before the day.

Shorty replied with a “Nothing… just a simple dinner”.

When I hear responses like this, alarm bells go off in my head while my in-brain FBI march from the napping area at the back, all the way to the front. Standing behind my eyes with lab coat scientists, every possible resource in my brain studies the body language of my dear wife as she said those five simple words.

The biggest question everyone seeks to answer is “Is she serious? Or is this a trap?”.

Many husbands have felt the wrath of their wives for simply missing the cue. I was determined to avoid that fate but hey how do you tell? What does she want? Ahh.. what women want… the age-old question then men have been asking for centuries but never finding.

Shortly after, one of my wife’s good friends Sieu Ee messaged me and asked what I was doing for my wife’s birthday. It was clear then that I had missed the cue. That I had better plan something and if “just a simple dinner” was all I had put together, I may find myself a very single and divorced man the day after her birthday.

The one thing my wife is blessed with is many many good friends. Sieu Ee and I brainstormed and chatted about what we would do and on deciding on a venue, Sieu Ee recalled a memory. Once upon a time Shorty was having dinner with Sieu Ee at one of her favourite Tai Chow places called Siew Siew. The happened to say in passing “I wish I could celebrate my birthday here”.

YOUR WISH IS MY COMMAND I THOUGHT!! The hard part had been done ie figuring out what to do. Doing was the easy part and heck if there’s one thing I’ve good at it’s execution. Unlike previous years I decided to keep the party small so that Shorty could relax and really enjoy herself rather than feeling the need to go around and entertain people. Besides many of her other friends had planned early birthday parties for her before the day.

Everything was planned, reservations were made when I decided to test the water a little bit. A few days before the big day I mentioned in passing “How about we go to Siew Siew for your birthday?”.

“WHAT?! NO! That’s a Tai Chow place! I want somewhere nice!!!”.

If my mind it was like a 100-ton Russian Nuclear Warhead had just gone off. I went into panic mode and I messaged Sieu Ee.
“ABORT MISSION. ABORT!”.

We then discussed what else we could do for her when I finally thought about something else. Maybe I could do a surprise birthday party for her at Colony, with a buffet of all her favourite food. Now here’s the thing about Audrey and I, I like steak, Audrey likes Japanese food but that’s as atas as we get. We’re not fans of fine dining. Beyond that we love duck rice, siew yoke fan, yong tao foo, bak kut teh and the likes. So I had the idea of buying her favourite street food or tai chow food and bringing them to Colony and form a buffet of all her favourites.

Doing that was a little harder than expected because her favourite food was Kam Heong Duck Rice in PJ, Pangkor Fishhead in Subang, Siew Siew in Sungai Besi and more. If you open up Google Maps and just punch in the location of these 3 areas, you’ll learn that they all exist in opposite directors of Klang Valley.

To make things more complicated we had to buy the food just before dinner so it doesn’t get cold and all. Plus her birthday party was going to be on a Friday.. after work on Friday which meant traffic was going to be worse than Chinese New Year traffic in Mainland China.

But it had to be done and I did say that I’m good at execution (heh my investors say so as much when it comes to Colony).

All that was missing was a cover story. Fortunately just below Colony is a famous Japanese restaurant called Oribe. So I told her we were going there for dinner. On the day itself I told her that I needed to go up to Colony for a second to sign some documents so she followed me up.

As I walked into the front of Colony she paused, saw a mirror and decided to take an OOTD picture. From where I was standing I could see all her best friends hiding in a corner, waiting to shout “SURPRISE!!!!”. What do I do? I stood there frozen for a second trying to decide what to do.

She looked at me a little annoyed and said “HEY! Get out of my shot”. So I awkwardly walked through the cafe in Colony and towards my office. When I realised she still wasn’t done with her OOTD, I went to join her friends hiding in a corner waiting to shout HAPPY BIRTHDAY.

After what must’ve been the time it took to invent electricity, Shorty finally emerged and walked through the corridor. Everyone shouted SURPRISE!!! and Surprise she was!

It was a great relaxed dinner party for her and she was so happy. How did I know she was happy?

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Well halfway through the dinner she said “I’M SO HAPPY!”. So yeah. Doesn’t get more obvious than that. All the best brains in my brain went back to the back and turned the TV back on.

Shorty later explained that she didn’t want Siew Siew because she thought it was just going to be a dinner with me and her and if was just going to be the both of us she wanted something better than tai chow. But if she knew it was with all her friends, she wouldn’t have mind.

No matter. Either ways she had a great time and that’s all that matters.

How social media has taken away my ability to focus

I was looking for Ted Talks on YouTube recently when I came across a video by a guy named Dr Cal Newport about the damage social media has done to us and why we should quit.

The first part of the video was something I already kinda knew about like how social media works like slot machines and play on your dopamine kicks in order to get you addicted. The second part though was something new to me. Here it is. I’ve forwarded the video exactly to that part.

In this part he talks about how social media apps are not just meant to capture as much as your attention as possible but they’re engineered to do so at many many fragmented times throughout the day, constantly breaking our attention. The result of that is that we’re so used to being interrupted that we’ve actually lost our ability to focus. And when we’re not able to focus, we’re not able to do things that would make us successful because the point he makes earlier is that the economy today rewards activities that are rare and valuable. Activities that take a lot of focus.

So I reflected that upon myself and I realise that. I suffer from a very severe ability to focus. When I’m in meetings, when I’m at dinner tables, even when I read books I have to interrupt myself just to look at my phone (even if it doesn’t beep) or do something else every few minutes.

Even doing something that is meant to be immersive like watching a movie, I can’t help but still take out my phone to play a game or check for updates or something like that. It’s horrible. To be fair it’s not just social media but anything that plays on our dopamine kicks like games. I’ve been playing Sim City recently and it’s so bad for me, I keep going in every 20 minutes or so to make sure I harvest the stuff that I’ve produced.

Recently I’ve read a book called Mastery. About what it takes to master something, to do something really really well in life. True mastery requires years and years of apprenticeship and practice. If anything it requires relentless focus. Losing my ability to focus because of all these social media apps now though means that I may have lost my ability to do something great.

Now when I say do something great I don’t mean that we can’t advance in our career or can’t do our jobs at all. Heck… we can. But do something great like do an Elon Musk, or Steve Jobs (apparently Steve Jobs hated social media for this same reason and never used it) or Leonardo Da Vinci…. that we can’t.

It made me think about the world we’re bringing our kids up in. We’ve really fucked things up for ourselves but heck my kids aren’t hit by this. They’re still able to focus and play with their toys without being interrupted by a buzzing of their phone or the urge to jerk a newsfeed upwards with their thumbs. But the day will come when they too will have their own phones and go through the same trap we did.

How do we stop that? How do I protect their mental ability to do the one thing that could help them do great things with their lives…. to focus. More importantly, Dr Cal says if we keep this up, it can “permanently reduce your capacity for concentration”. Is it really permanent? Can we get it back?

25 Quotes My Father Has Imparted on to me

You know how our parents often have a huge influence in our upbringing and hence who we are as adults. I’ve been doing some thinking about that lately and it’s so true. The lessons my Mom and my Dad have taught me growing up have really shaped who I am.

So starting with my Dad I’ve decided to compile the things that my Dad has said so that perhaps one day my kids can grow up and read these quotes. Some of these are not necessarily his exact quotes (because I may not remember them word for word) but reconstructed based on his meaning of what I remember him telling me.

Here they are:

1. On investing in Property

“There is no such thing as ‘cannot lose money in property’. I’ve seen in my lifetime many sharp property market crashes that have bankrupted people”.

2. On Banks

“Bankers only want to lend you money when you don’t need it”.

3. On Taking Things For Granted

“Never take anything in life for granted. Even your wife or your kids could leave you”.

4. On Health

“When you don’t have health, nothing else matters”.

5. On investments that sound too good to be true

“I am cursed to never successfully earn easy money in my life. So I avoid opportunities to make easy money and only focus on making it the hard way”.

6. On Kids

“When you are old and helpless and only then will you know which of your kids really love you”.

7. On reading contracts

“Always read a contract line by line 3 times before you put pen to paper”.

8. On Sports

“Always buy the most expensive equipment. So if you lose you have nothing else to blame on but yourself”.

9. On being a professional in a powerful position

“Never be cocky when you have power as a result of a job you have. For once you lose it, you will once again be a nobody but everybody will remember what an asshole you were when you were somebody”.

10. On cars

“You can tell how safe a car is by the sound the door makes when you shut it”.

11. On the money in your bank account.

“Never tell anyone how much money you have.”

12. On religion

“Believe in whatever religion you want but don’t impose it on anybody”.

13. On appearing too smart

“Remember that empty vessels make the most noise, and nobody likes a smart alec”.

14. On the value of money

“Always remember how hard it is to earn money, and how easy it is to lose it”.

15. On making decisions 

“Never make a decision when you’re emotional. It is most certainly always the wrong one”.

16. On planning something

” When planning something, always be patient. Get everything in perfect order before you strike”.

17. On the need to have a check and balance on everything

“When there is an opportunity to cheat or steal, it’s not a matter of who will do it, but when it will happen”.

18. On envy

“Never create jealousy. It will only bring harm to you”.

19. On being wronged

“When someone does you wrong, forgive but never forget”.

20. On the way to treat people around you

“Treat everyone with equal respect irregardless of who he is”.

21. On choosing an opponent

“Never pick a fight with someone with less to lose than you”.

22. On family

“Blood is thicker than water until money gets in the way”.

23. On humility

“Always treat people well on your way up, because you will see the same people on your way down.”

24. On keeping with the law

“You can do anything you want in life but never anything do illegal. It is never worth it.”

and here’s a last one

25. On Traveling

“When you travel you only need to remember to bring 3 things.  Passport, air ticket and money. Anything else you forget can be bought”. (This was from the days where we couldn’t just buy air tickets online).

Colony