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My 2018 and the year I became proud to be Malaysian

As I lazed around in my family home in Penang, the one thing at nagging me at the back of my mind was to write my customary year end review post on my blog. It did cross my mind about why I would do such a thing. It’s not like many people would read it. It’s an article about myself, and who cares about me.

Then I remembered why. I do it because the process of reflecting on my year helps me to remember the failures I’ve made and appreciate the success I’ve had in whatever things I’ve done. It’s also perhaps something that one day Penny and Fighter could read back to hear what his Daddy was doing with his years.

So here goes.

1. Colony closed another round of funding in the first half of this year valuing the barely 1 year old company then at over US$15-20m.

When I first started Colony, I didn’t expect to grow this fast so quickly but I’m grateful that it did. The best part is that a chunk of this new round of funding came from a PE fund that was introduced by one of our existing investors. I’ve learned that if we do a good job, treat our own investors with respect and radical honesty, they’ll be our strongest advocates in introducing new investors.

2. Colony continues to grow

We opened Colony @ Eco City in July 2018 with a huge anchor tenant deal and as I write this, we’re about a couple of weeks away from opening our 3rd Colony @ KL Sentral. We’ve also signed two more deals for two more locations. One at Star Boulevard and one more that hasn’t yet been announced.

The company is a good place, growing well but of course not without our own set of struggles. The best part though is that I enjoy every day at work. I once told a colleague of mine that I can’t believe our job is to build beautiful offices and work in them.

3. I’ve built many new relationships.

I don’t know if it’s because of Colony or serendipity but this year I’ve had the opportunity to meet and build strong relationships with a lot more people. I pass on the favour best as I can too, introducing people I know to others so they too can maybe start something.

4. I’ve picked up my reading habit again.

I’ve always been reading books all my life but sometimes I go into periods where I fall out of the habit. This year I’ve quite consistently had a reading habit and I’ve learned that it has come at the expense of Netflix and iPad games. Though in the last month of the year I’ve just picked up PUBG with some enthusiasm so lets hope that doesn’t get in the way.

5. I’ve never been skinnier thanks to intermittent-fasting.

Somewhere in the middle of this year I hit 75KG which was my peak weight. So I started intermittent fasting and I don’t know if it’s the fasting itself or that I stop doing my late night munching while watching Netflix (because I watch less TV), but I went down to as low as 69 KG. Now I’m about 69-70KG and I’m trying to stay around 70-71.

6. I’ve learned how little I know about managing people.

Before this year I think I belonged to a group of people who thought we knew how to manage teams because of our past experience. Well this year, thanks to my reading habit I’ve read a lot about management and it became obvious to me that I was doing a lot of things wrong in the past. That really whatever success I had with managing teams in the past were a fluke.

I’ve learned so much and implemented the things I’ve learned in Colony and I think that’s a big contributing factor for the success we’ve seen this year. The thing about learning though is that the more I learn, the more I realise that I don’t know. So it’s still a work in progress to me.

7. I’ve learned to truly be proud to be Malaysian

I’ve always loved my country which partly explains why after graduating in the UK, I wanted to come home. Loving my country and being proud of it is another thing though. I used to love my country but hate what the leaders were doing to it. The corruption in the ruling government and the regular stupid things our ministers would say that would make me feel so embarrassed that these leaders were meant to represent my country.

Then 9th of May happened. Our country showed that against odds and a rigged electoral system, we threw out the corrupt ruling government at the time. It’s hard to describe that feeling but I felt a sense of camaraderie with my fellow countrymen who worked together through the ballot box to say no to the way the country was being run.

Since then, every day that passes has been a delight. News about politicians in the past that we suspected were corrupt being charged and scandal after scandal being dug up. Our new government was given a daunting job of repairing a damaged country but looking at the way they were handling things, I was and still am happy. For the first time in my life I am able to say now that I love my government. Yes I sometimes disagree with some of the new leaders on some issues, but in aggregate I’m happy and proud of the new government in aggregate.

I realise that I wasn’t the only one experiencing this newfound pride. My friends, family and fellow countrymen were all experiencing it as well. For the first time, in spite of the situation our country’s finances are reportedly in, I feel hopeful. For the first time in my life I’m thinking that maybe I don’t have to have a backup plan for my kids to migrate overseas and have a better life. For the first time I am truly truly proud to be Malaysian.

That is something I never expected 2018 would give me. And that is something I am so thankful for. May 2019 be a great year for us all.


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Why I think we should disagree with our bosses

Not long after Ching Ern picked up her phone with a “Hello?”, I went into a passionate argument about why I disagreed with one of the decisions she made at work in Colony.

Ching Ern is one of my colleagues at Colony Coworking Space. Before joining Colony, she was an engineer for a Korean firm in Seoul, having landed the job after she finished her university there in Korea on scholarship. After her many years there, she speaks, reads and writes Korean fluently.

Our heated debate carried on for a while until finally she remained quiet for a while and said she understood. At that point, sensing she wasn’t fully sold on my reasoning I asked her to tell me why she still disagreed with me. I said

“I hate it when people just agree with me because I’m the boss. Agree with me instead because you really think I’m making the right decision”.

I pushed her a few more times until she finally let out a few more points she had inside her until I felt like she was finally fully convinced.

Why did I go to this extent when she seemed to agree with me the first time round?

One of the biggest traps that I’ve seen leaders fall into is the trap of confirmation bias. That we believe in a business decision so passionately that we only want to look at reasoning that supports it, ignoring the reasoning of those that does not.

How often do we see in companies where we think the boss is making a mistake but we keep quiet because we’re afraid to stick our neck out and offend the boss. Worse still, how often do we know he’s making a mistake but continue to openly support his decision because we’re afraid to get scolded for not being a “team player”. That isn’t culture that will lead to a company making lots of good decisions.

How do we prevent this? The answer to me is to have a culture where people are willing to argue against any decisions even by the boss. The tricky part though is forming the culture to do so especially in Asia where people are non-confrontational and in many companies for better or worse, it’s almost seen as disrespectful to argue against the boss.

I disagree with that. At Colony I take great pains to make sure people feel safe enough to voice out their thoughts especially if it’s in contradiction to my own. How do I do that?

  1. Before I make a decision or answer how I would handle a situation, I normally ask my colleague what they think. I hear out their thoughts first before I deliver mine. I do this because it helps them commit to a position without being influenced by my position.
  2. I have never said to anyone in the team “I’m the boss so when I say do it, just do it”. The problem with pulling the Nike (ie Just Do It) is that it imbues a culture where the leader isn’t up for debate anymore. It turns the whole organisation into one that takes orders rather than one that thinks on their feet. So no matter how painful the process, I take it upon myself to convince my colleagues on the merits of my decision or ideas.

But… don’t leaders have to be decisive?

I think being decisive and never changing your opinion once you commit to it is overrated. We must always be open to changing our opinions when there is new information in play and the way to have new information is to create an environment where people aren’t afraid to give their thoughts and opinions. A leader’s role isn’t just to make a decision and stick to it forever. It is to curate an environment where the best ideas win based on merit and not because the boss says so.

A lot of my time as the leader of Colony is spent trying to find the best people and then coaching them to peak performance. What’s the point of having the best people if we’re going to tell them what to do?

I’m going to end this article with a quote from the late Steve Jobs,

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

To my team at Colony, we owe it to ourselves to always argue against me if I make a decision that you think is wrong. Always have the courage to convey the merits of your argument and stay true to the commitment to let the best ideas always win. I can tell you often that my ideas, and my decisions… are often not the right ones. Your role is to show me how they aren’t.

How I once again resisted the temptation to “fake it till you make it”

I’m constantly paranoid about how well Colony does as a business. Since we started we’ve been lucky, constantly beating targets. Every quarter that passes we break new occupancy, average prices, revenues and EBITDA records so things look like it’s doing very well but I’ve always told people internally and externally that some shit will happen eventually that will cause us to miss a quarter’s numbers.

That quarter is this quarter. How do I know even though we’re not even 1/3 through the quarter?

At Colony we set up these things called leading indicators that are meant to tell us in advance how our business is going to do in the next 2-3 months. The idea behind this is to see a problem before it happens and fix it before then. This has worked very well for many aspects of our business. There is one problem though where the leading indicators started showing cause for concern as far back as 6 months ago, but while I took some steps to solve it, I didn’t do what needed to be done.

The unfortunate thing about this problem is that the solution isn’t something that I could fix before the quarter ends. It’s something that will probably take 3 months to fix, so that’s how I know we’re going to miss our targets this quarter. To add to the problem, this last quarter of the year is especially important to us because we’ve been having talks with some parties on a really big fund raise next year. Missing targets in Q4 would make us look bad and may scare away the potential investors.

So for startups in my situation there are 2 potential way-outs for this.

  1. Even if it comes out bad, just sell on the other metrics that are growing and easier to fluffFor coworking spaces, when revenue, average price per workstation or EBITDA numbers are bad, coworking spaces can just rely on talking about how many “members” they have or “occupancy rates”. Both metrics that are easier to “pump” and “fluff” and could be used to show some growth story. I didn’t want to do this because I believe in having a consistent set of metrics that we share with investors and with the team so the team knows exactly what we’re going after every quarter.

    Which brings us to the alternative solution…

  2. Spend to pump the metric we need just to get us over Q4 and finish the raise.This would mean if I need to pump revenue I cut prices, or spend more on advertising just to boost occupancy even though I know it’s a short term game because cutting prices means taking on customers that will leave us eventually when we try to normalise prices. That means we’d be spending money on acquiring the wrong kind of customer.The problem with this method is that this isn’t what anyone would do if they had their own money at stake. For example say my problem is that our website has below average conversion rates because of the way it’s built. Before I spend a boatload of advertising money, it’d make sense to fix the website first right otherwise it’ll be an inefficient use of marketing spend. But in this scenario, if you’re chasing a Q4 number, you do it anyway because you have to hit that number right now to show consistent quarter to quarter growth all the way. In other words you fake it till you make it.

To be sure I called up two of our biggest investors at Colony: Oak Drive Ventures and Cornerstone Partners (a hospitality sector focused private equity firm).

I explained the problem I faced and then told them that if it were my own money, I wouldn’t spend more marketing money to pump the metric for Q4. Instead I’d rather take a miss in Q4 so I can fix the problem and then spend the money next year when I’m ready. I also explained that even after allocating all the investments for all the new locations we’ve committed to open next year, we still have millions in the bank as a safety net so even if we don’t raise money, we’re not going to go broke.

When I was done explaining, Cornerstone’s CEO asked me

“Tim. Do you know why we invested in you, when we have the chance to invest in so many other coworking spaces? We invested in you because of all the spaces we’ve seen, you’re the only one that makes money. You’re able to do so because of a combination of financial discipline, to picking the right locations, to negotiating good landlord deals and executing the business well. That is the value of the Colony and I think the type of investors we want would value that beyond just what you report in metrics”.

Oak Drive too agreed and explained that they were in this for the long term. So any decision I make should be for the long term. That was settled then. I would just focus on fixing the core issue and not throw good money after inefficient results.

At the end of this whole episode it really made me realise how important it is to have the right kind of investors with us. It doesn’t matter whether we’re selling coworking space, serviced office, event space or virtual office in KL… the end goal is to do it in a profitable and sustainable manner.

Why having high barriers to entry in your business doesn’t matter as much as it used to anymore

In the startup world, before any VCs invest a typical question they ask is “What are the barriers to entry for your future competitors?”. Often the answer is scale in which the entrepreneur will then explain is why they need to raise money, grow fast at all costs and achieve that scale before anyone can beat it. That’s how I always thought of business. That’s not how I think about it anymore.

First let me argue against the notion that barriers to entry make a business unassailable. There are two types of super high barriers to entry that businesses can have: Government licenses /concessions awards to a company or companies with an immense network effect.

  1. Government Licenses / Concessions

I know this guy who’s very wealthy and made most the money in his life from getting government jobs in a developing Asian country. I used to tease him about how great it is to have a business like his with the license to print money. Unlike many other companies, he doesn’t have to worry about sales or how big a market is going to be. He’s already got all that covered in the form of a concession.

One day I decided to open my mind and ask him if indeed his business was difficult and he said yes. Why? He explained that while has had the concession to do what he did and print money for many many years, there is always someone else trying to get it from him. Someone else who can give a better price or if a bribe is necessary pay more or someone else who always knows some other powerful politician or all of the above. This is made harder because politicians come and go all the time so he has to constantly stay on top of it.

What happens if he loses it? He loses a lot of money. In many concession businesses like him, it requires a huge upfront investment to build something big that will have a long payback period. To come up with the money he often has to both find investors and take on a lot of bank debt. Now if something happened midway and his concession was canceled or renegotiated, he would stand to lose a lot of money and these things happen too.

So while government concessions from highways to power producers have turned our well for some people and made some rich, it’s still a business that is constantly challenged by others who want to get into the game. The barriers to entry aren’t as high as one on the outside might think it is.

2. Strong Network Effects like Google or Facebook

Okay what about companies that don’t have high barriers to entry because of government but just because they have an insane network effect. They have far more pricing power, far more distribution, far more everything. How would you compete with that?

I remember some 10 years ago I was sitting in the audience in the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco. Up on stage for a fireside chat was Mark Zuckerberg himself. Facebook then was getting a lot of press for its immense growth and people were saying the network effects they had were unassailable. I mean who else would join another social network if everyone was already on Facebook?

At one point of the chat, the moderator put up a map of all the other social networking companies that existed at the time. On that list was MySpace, Friendster, Bebo and more. The moderator then asked the magic question:
“Which one of these companies are you afraid might eat your business?”.

Mark Zuckerberg took a few seconds to think and then replied that he wasn’t afraid of all the companies in that list that existed today. He was afraid of the companies that he didn’t know yet existed that may come out of nowhere and eat his lunch. He was particularly conscious of his blind spot.

Years later it all added up. He ended up making some of the most brilliant acquisitions of all the time. Imagine what Facebook as a company would be like today if it didn’t own Instagram and WhatsApp. Or imagine if both these companies were owned by Tencent or Google or if they were large independent companies in their own right challenging Facebook for the social networking pie.

Ok so what about businesses that have no barriers to entry? Don’t they suffer from pricing pressure and increasingly lower margins?

Not too long ago I met someone who owns what he calls a transportation business in Penang. Their business model was to provide factories the service of vans and small busses to ferry workers from their homes to the factories. They started not too many years ago and now have a fleet of hundreds of vehicles to do just this. I was very interested when I heard about this because if anything this was a very highly competitive market with low barriers to entry (anyone with a van). They were not the oldest provider so what made them so big ?

As I dug deeper the answer was simply, they were simply run better than everyone else. That was a lesson to me. That there exist many many companies out in various industries there be it in logistics or F&B or manufacturing that don’t have a moat or huge barriers to entry, have lots of competition and still do very well and make a lot of money. Their secret? They just make sure they run things better than everyone else.

That was a mindset shift for me. From instead of thinking of how to build a moat that would eventually get broken down anyway to how do I make sure Colony is constantly at the top of its game, running things the best?

We live in the world where even huge businesses with far more economies of scale than any of its competitors are falling to disruption. History has shown that the time always comes when the disruptors get disrupted.

Why I can’t buy an iPhone XS for myself

As I was rushing to my gate at Sydney airport I passed by an Apple store. It didn’t escape my eyes that they had a sign up to say that the new iPhone XS was available for sale today itself. Australia is one of the first countries to get the latest iPhones and yesterday was the first day.

I thought of my parents. Both are iPhone users and my Dad has been using an iPhone for 2 years. My mom’s on the other hand is about 4 years old. I quickly decided to buy them each an iPhone XS. An iPhone XS for my mom and XS Max for my Dad. The total bill was something along the lines of RM11K or something.

When I got home later that night, my parents were in town so I gave them both the phones. My Dad was happy and gladly accepted it because he’d been thinking about changing his phone. My mom on the other hand protested strongly. She agreed that her phone badly needed a change (lots of features stopped working) but she insisted on buying an older version iPhone itself. She felt this iPhone XS was too expensive.

I don’t disagree with her. iPhones have gone up so much in price in the past couple of years that it’s just gotten really ridiculous. I no longer find it in myself to be able to buy an iPhone especially when other phones are so much cheaper. I currently use a Huawei P20 Pro which cost me only RM2.8K (and comes with free powerbank and all sorts of accessories) and it’s an awesome phone. It has every high end feature I could expect. It has a really awesome camera, finger print, face unlock, great size and screen, big battery… everything! And it only cost me RM2.8K.

Full disclosure, years ago I used to be a Huawei ambassador but for the past year I haven’t been. I bought my Huawei P20 Pro myself and even though I no longer work with the brand, my personal opinion is that it’s awesome. It’s a good value for money phone.

So when I’m used to paying RM2.8K for a top spec phone, the stretch to pay what… RM7K for a top of the spec iPhone XS Max is really too far. I can get over buying it for my Dad and my Mom because they’re used to iOS and don’t want to go through the learning curve of Android. But for myself… it’s just too much money to pay.

I’m getting messages from people now asking why not I just use it myself. Well the truth is that… it’s just way out of my budget of what I would pay for a phone. There are just other things I’d rather buy with the difference I would have to pay in price.

The good news is that I kinda just convinced my mom to just take the phone. She was looking at the iPhone 8 Plus 256GB which costs about RM3.6K. I worked out the math for her and based on a 4 year depreciation of the phone, she’s better off just taking the iPhone XS I bought her. Even when it comes to value for money and since she’s only limited to iPhones.

I think iPhones are a great phone and I admire Apple’s ability to price phones so highly and still drive demand. I just fell out of their market with the prices they charge for their latest phones. That and that I like an Android phone because it works well with my Google Home.

What my 5 year old son just taught me about true happiness

I was taking a morning walk with Fighter this morning when I turned to ask him:

Me: Fighter… are you happy with your life? Like are you happy every day?

Fighter: Yes.

Me: Are you ever sad?

Fighter: No.

Moments passed as we took a few more steps and then Fighter turned to ask
“Daddy… why are people not happy with their lives?”.

It struck me then that this was a foreign concept to my 5 year old son. That people could be unhappy with their lives when every day is awesome for him. As I thought deeper, it hit me that the lives we live as adults are incredibly stressful. We live in a world where we’re told that nothing is good enough, that we have to always strive harder. Get better results, more pay, more money, more recognition, more everything.

At the same time we’re surrounded by a small group of people who support us but by a bigger group of people out there who compete to best us at work or people who try to bring us down in life for whatever many reasons of their own.  We’re also told that we’re unique, but to conform. Try to be too different and people call you “weird”. Try to fit in with everyone and we’re not standing out in life.

How did we come to live a life like that? It’s as if modern life was designed to make us unhappy. But we weren’t always like that. As 5 year olds we were probably as happy as my son is. What’s the secret to happiness that our children have?

I was talking to my sister when she pointed out one thing. She said that the thing about our kids is that they don’t worry about the past, nor the future. They just live in the present. So when they’re happy, they’re happy. Nothing gets in the way of their happiness.

Ever felt that you were enjoying yourself on a holiday only to have the moment destroyed by thoughts of worries of the backlog work you’d have to go back to when you get back to the office. Or get a good bonus only to think that you’d have even more money if you didn’t lose money on that one investment you made some months ago. We’re constantly living our present, in the context of our past and our futures.

Why can’t we be more like our kids? Worse…. at what point do our children lose the ability to live in the present as they do now? Can we protect them for that or is that an inevitable future?

My sister ended up with a quote she said she got from a TV show but when I googled I couldn’t find the exact quote.

She said “True happiness is when we can live in the present without recollection of the past or fear of the future”.

If that’s what true happiness is… then it’s not something that can be bought. How do we get there?

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How do we become as happy as my 5 year old son?

How having money can sometimes make you more sad…

I spent the first decade post-graduation chasing money. Well to be exact I spent it chasing a career which had the indirect goal of making money. I’ve at this point of my life where I don’t think I have a lot of money, but I have enough to cope with our not so simple but yet not so luxurious needs.

I’ve always thought more money would make me happier. More money would mean I could eat out more, buy all the nice things I want, or buy gifts for the people I love who would be happy and pass that happiness to me. Money would give me new experiences, a trip to Disneyland or Europe, a stay in a nice resort. All those kind of things.

It’s only this year that I realise that money has the ability to make me sad too. I didn’t come across this realisation myself or from meditating in the Himalayas. No I got it from books that I’ve read that have given me perspective.

Now let explain why money has the ability to make us sad. Have you ever heard the saying that the pain of losing is stronger than the joy of gaining?

That’s why it’s hard to leave a casino table when we’re on a winning streak, but even harder to leave when we’re on a losing streak. Because while it’s great to win, it hurts to leave on a loss and accept that we have loss. That’s why when we invest in a stock, we tend to take profit too early but cut losses way too late.

Therein lies the problem. Having more money means that you have a bigger risk of losing that money and going through the pain that comes with it. The more money we have, the more we think about how we’re guarding it. If we keep the money just in a bank, we think to ourselves if we’re maximising the yield it could give us and when we get into investing, we feel terrible when we lose.

Let me share a personal experience I had. A few months ago I bought some Facebook shares. It had come down because of the data scandal but hey I thought that Facebook is a good company to invest in so I bought it. Within a few months I had made RM50K on that investment. I was over the moon.

The stock hit its all-time high when it neared it’s earnings announcement for the most recent quarter. I considered selling it and taking profit but I thought hey, what’s the worst that could happen., They’ll most likely beat expectations like they always have in the past and the stock will go up a few percentages more, or if they miss it, it’ll go a few percentages less. I decided not to sell.

The next morning I woke up and checked my phone for the news. I half expected to see news that Facebook had beat expectations once again and Mark Zuckerberg is now the 2nd richest man in the world or something like that but instead they posted results that were below expectations. Their stock tanked 20% in a single day, one of the largest loss in market cap in history (or was it the largest), wiping out most of my RM50K profit.

I felt terrible. The saying goes that it’s not your money until you sell the stock and take profit but there I was already feeling as if I made that money only to have it all wiped out. I felt crap that day and the next few days, even though other things were going well with my days.

Then I thought about this other friend of mine who’s my inspiration of how to enjoy life. She doesn’t save too much and instead makes it a point to buy things that make her happy all the time. I compared those few days with her. When I was feeling shit, she was feeling happy. She’s happy…. because she never made that investment and had that paper profit in her pocket only to have it disappear. I did. I was going through the pain of loss.

That put things in perspective for me. I tend to hoard money, I don’t spend too much on myself (though I admittedly spend a bit more on everyone else be it friends, family etc). But hoarding money and the fear of losing money that comes with it makes me a lot more risk averse. Like I’m afraid to make investments that could either financially pay off in the future or just make me happy.

In the past year it has really helped that I realise I don’t need too much money in life. I don’t crave European or Japan holidays, nor watches, or fancy cars.. or any of these things. There is one luxury that I really appreciate and that’s having a driver though because he helps me send our kids to school or my car to a workshop… and also because I hate driving.

But really if I don’t need too much money, and the fear of losing money makes me sad… what am I chasing here exactly?

Don’t get me wrong, I never want to take money for granted. I appreciate every cent which is why I hoard it and am very careful with it… but now is the first time ever I realise… that having money… can make you sad too. I suppose that’s why we hear so many stories of lottery winners go into depression or suicide.

Perhaps the answer is to have just enough money… but how much is just enough? That’s the million dollar question.

Why it’s worth buying a super TV for our homes

This article is in collaboration with Panasonic OLED TV.

Have you ever been in a mall, standing in front of a TV shop admiring whatever big TV they have on display as it screens high definition nature videos to show off its colour?

I know I have. I would watch it for a while and imagine how beautiful it would look in my living room and fall into the temptation of checking its price. When I make eye contact with the price tag, my body would exhibit a natural jerk backwards as the words “SIAO!” would leave my mouth. I watch a lot of TV but I find it so difficult to fork out anything in the 5-digits of Ringgit to buy one.

Then just a couple of weeks ago, I got connected to Panasonic who decided to let me have one of the best (if not the best) TVs in the market now just to see if I might change my mind about how much I would spend on a TV.

The TV they got me was a 65″ Panasonic FZ-950 OLED TV. It’s this beautiful baby right here.

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This TV has such accurate display of colours that it is known to be used by many producers/actors/artists in Hollywood to screen their own videos.

I’m all about aesthetics so it matters to me how the TV looks. I love its super slim side profile and I love how the screen expands to the very edges of the frame. This makes it look really beautiful when I sometimes leave the TV on to look like a piece of art on my wallet than a TV like this.

IMG_20180715_120918

But okay.., beauty aside the big question is… is it worth buying what I would refer to as a “Super TV” or the current top of its class in the market. Well after using it for a few days here’s what I’ve totally underestimated.

  1. We watch a lot more TV than we used to.

I gotta admit. 5 years ago I probably hit the minimum amount of time I ever spent daily on a TV. Why? We would just watch things off our computers or phones or iPads. That has changed significantly for me.

Why? Well… a few reasons ranging from Netflix constantly coming out with binge-worthy content to dominate every free hour to technologies like Google Home and Chromecast. With Google Home if I ever wanted to watch something, I just say “Hey Google, play Friends on Netflix” and it’ll come on right on the TV and pick up where I last left off. Much much less effort than it would take me to search for it on my phone.

Then there is the Chromecast. Any video whether it’s on YouTube and all that I would have watched on my phone? I just click one button and it goes on to the TV.

Because the applications of TV have grown so much more in our lives, I find it much more worthwhile to have one good one. Also I think that the amount of innovation each new iteration of our living room TVs have gone through have largely gone unnoticed. I mean look at the apps that the newer TVs come with now, so much that my TV that’s just 5 years old really feels like a Pentium PC.

2. We spend a lot more time at home.

Another reason why we use a lot more TV apart from its expanded applications is that I find we spend much more time at home. Partly due to technology. We used to go out a lot to socialise but we do a lot of that from our phones now. We also used to have to go out to buy new clothes, groceries or sometimes that irritating one multi-plug we are short of. Well we don’t anymore. I find myself just buying everything online and staying at home much more.

This is even more compounded by the fact that we now have two kids. So it’s a lot more difficult to go out and we really really pick our trips. The rest of our time is spent at home where the kids will play with their toys or watch some TV. The things kids can watch on our TVs these days aren’t the limited options we had as kids from Cartoon Network. Now they have everything from all the Disney shows on Netflix to Ben & Holly on YouTube.

Some of the happiest times I spend at home is when our whole family of four is sitting on the sofa watching TV.

3. There is a noticeable difference with the experience of watching an “okay TV” to a “Super TV” like this Panasonic OLED one.

My mom was watching Britain’s Got Talent on YouTube on it just a few days ago and the way the screen stands out at you with the built-in sound that comes out really doesn’t make you feel like you’re just a spectator to the experience but that you’re part of it. This is one thing that I just can’t figure out how to explain in words.

But then again there is still that thing about the price. How do we justify spending so much more on a super TV?

Well… I did some math.

When the four of us (two kids included) go out for a movie, we pay RM60 for tickets on a movie that goes on for an average of say two hours. That’s about RM30 an hour.

The TV is used by 4 of us at home. I estimate that it’s on about 4 hours a day on weekdays (two hours by the kids dancing to Psy or watching Peppa Pig in the background, and about one or two hours from me and Audrey each night). But just to account for some nights that Audrey and me might go out, lets just take 3 hours as an average for a weekday.

On weekends we watch more. I estimate about 5 hours in total. So per week we watch about 25 hours of TV. That’s 1300 hours of TV a year.

This Panasonic OLED TV that I have cost about RM10,999. If I divide that by the hours I use a year it would be RM8.4 per hour and that’s if I assume I keep the TV only for a year. Realistically though TVs will last us at least 5 years. So If I take 5 years that would be about RM1.70 per hour. That’s gotta be like the cheapest form of entertainment there (minus the electricity which probably won’t be material).

Based on this, owning a “Super TV” is a great investment and I’m glad Panasonic gave me the chance to experience on before I came to this conclusion.

Refunding unhappy guests, renovating smoking areas and building prayer rooms: How far Colony goes for its guest experience

The Coworking Space industry is brutal. Last year there was a reported 37 coworking spaces in KL alone, this year I expect the number to be at least double of that. What makes it brutally competitive isn’t just the number of players but because of the amount of investor money pouring into the industry. In this era of cheap money, operators have the opportunity to raise a lot of money at high valuations and use that to open more outlets, spend lots of marketing and cut prices in order to gain market share.

Colony’s strategy isn’t to raise more money to outspend others or open more outlets. In fact in a world where other coworking space operators are targeting to open hundreds of outlets in two years. Our ambition is to just have 20 well run and profitable outlets in five years. Any time we’re in doubt about what to do, we go back to our mission of empowering life at work. To change the experience of work so that going to work no longer feels like going to the office but going instead to the Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons.

In order to do this, we need to be obsessed about our customer experience. If there’s one thing you’ll notice about Colony, is that other coworking spaces refer to their customers as tenants or members, we refer to them as guests just as hotels do. We’re less about creating a community and more about hospitality. We don’t sell desk or office spaces. We sell an experience. The Colony experience.

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Because of this we are obsessed about the guest experience. We send out quarterly surveys and track customer experience with metrics like Net Promoter Score. On top of that, every week at our huddles, our team is asked to present feedback that they have compiled from our guests, good and bad (though we tend to give priority to the bad because that means we need to act immediately).

We take extreme ownership when it comes to anything that affects a guest experience from when the time they walk into Colony to the time they leave. Apart from the great hospitality that my team puts together in terms of anticipating guest needs and always being around for them, here is an example of the things we’ve done.

  1. We killed the industry-old practice of auto-renewing client contracts

A common practice in the coworking space/serviced office industry is an “auto-renewal” term. If you rent a space for 3 months, when it comes closer to the end of your contract, the operator will send you an email reminder that unless you formally terminate the agreement, they will auto-renew your term for another 3 months, That’s great for the operators but it pisses off the customer if they forget to formally terminate because they feel cheated into going on for another 3 months. Nevertheless many just accept it because it’s all in the contract they signed.

The problem I had with that practice though is that even if we do win over the customer for another 3 months or 6 months or even 2 years, it ruins the customer (guest in our case) experience. Is an additional 3 months rental worth forever losing that customer? Since I’m trying to build a long term sustainable business though, that answer is NO. So with Colony we specifically took that term out. If your contract ends, it ends unless you tell us you want to continue. We don’t lock you in anymore beyond that.

2. We have fully refunded customers if they didn’t have a good experience

In fact at Colony we go even further. We had one guest that signed a contract to rent our space for one month. He spent two weeks working at Colony though in his second week we had a number of events going on in the space. So it was a lot noisier and crowded than he would’ve liked. He came to our front desk and vented his frustration as our team listened empathetically. The team offered as many alternatives they could think of to solve his problem but they weren’t good enough so he left angrily saying “I’ve had enough of this place”.

We take these kind of things very seriously so our team had an emergency meeting to discuss how to proceed with this. After listening to everything that happened I suggested that we should fully refund him.

I watched as eyebrows arched upwards around the room. After a few seconds, one of my colleague asked “How much?”. I said “Everything”.

“But he’s already used two weeks worth. Should we just refund him the remaining two weeks?”.

I thought about that for a moment then replied “No. Refund everything, even the first two weeks that he used the space for.”

I then went on to explain that we have to build a company with guests who are happy with what they pay for. Sure this mindset opens us up for abuse by guests who do these things just to get a freebie out of us, so we have to evaluate this case by case to see if the guest has a genuine problem or they’re just trying to take advantage of us. In this case I believed him. He had a genuine problem.

There’s an ending to this wonderful story. A few months later, this same guest came back and rented out an office for a year. He is now one of our strongest advocates for the space. What we did turned an angry customer that we would have lost forever, to a loyal one. Now the Colony team makes decisions like this on their own if they think it will create a great experience for the guest. We do a lot of things like that at the expense of short term profit sometimes.

3) We built a prayer room

In one of our guest feedback recently we were asked if we could have prayer rooms in Colony itself. Coworking spaces and serviced offices are about fully monetising every square footage of space. We worked out converting two existing offices into Suraus would cost us RM57,600 a year (not including the cost to convert one) in foregone rental but we decided to go for it anyway. Why? Because it was an important part of the guest experience.

4) We spent our own money renovating the building’s fire escape because people often hung out there to smoke.

Another thing we did? We noticed that because Colony @ KLCC doesn’t have a smoking area, a lot of our guests resorted to just going to a fire escape to smoke. The fire escape looked really bad with black walls and no light there so it was really dark.

While the fire escape isn’t part of our property, we knew that where our guests hang out (to smoke or otherwise) is part of the Colony experience. So we asked the building management if we could do up the place at our own costs and they agreed. Here is a before and after photo of the space.

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When our guests found out about our plan to renovate the fire escape so they had a nicer place to smoke, one of them said to me “The extent to which you guys go is amazing”.

If we could, I’d put a fan and some seating there but it is a fire escape after all so we can’t put anything there to block it.

Our new Colony @ Eco City though has a kickass outdoor smoking area. Here’s how it looks.

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All these things cost money, so what’s the upside? Did it help us make more money in the long run?

Well Colony @ KLCC is surrounded by other coworking spaces that are cheaper to rent. So far we haven’t lost an existing guest to another coworking space yet even though our average prices have gone up by 25% in the past 12 months. Sure we’re bound to lose some eventually but I believe that if we keep improving on our guest experience, we’ll have a strong retention rate and be able to deliver consistent earnings.

We have a long way to go though, hospitality and service is about consistency and we still have lapses in our service levels every now and then.

Dear TV

This article is in collaboration with Panasonic OLED TV

Welcome to our home. I know lots about you. I know you’re a Panasonic 65” OLED TV of Japan Quality.

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I know you’re OLED which means you produce some of the most beautiful colours with pictures so sharp producers and filmmakers in Hollywood use you for viewings of their own work. I know you’re a really smart TV with all sorts of features and apps built in and I know that Panasonic wirelessly beams updates to you every now and then.

You probably don’t know much about me and my home so let me start.

First let me introduce the two most important people in the house.

The one on the left is my 5 year old son Fighter and the one on the right is my 3 year old daughter Penny.

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Fighter’s real name is Jude but we call him Fighter because he was a premature baby who had to fight for his life when he was born weighing only 1.1 KG. He’s a people person, very warm, loving and caring. When you first arrived at our home, Fighter was the most excited, rushing to you and caressing the box you sat in. He’s that loving to anyone who comes to the house.

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On the flip side Fighter can sometimes be easily scared by the unknown. He once got really scared while watching Coco hiding behind me in the cinema and saying he doesn’t want to watch it again. It’s hard to pin down a trend of things he finds scary because sometimes it can be the really random things. On one occasion he saw an army officer on TV and he got so scared he ran all the way upstairs to mommy.

Fighter is Psy’s biggest fan. So if you ever want to keep him happy, just play some New Face or Gentleman by Psy and he’ll jump for joy like his daddy just bought a toy store. He will likely ask you to max the volume when Psy comes on the TV which you may oblige.

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Do watch out for him though as he tends to dance along with Psy’s videos he’s a little clumsy so he might knock a thing or two over.

Next is Penny. Penny is a loveable 3 year old girl who loves Mommy and her elder brother Fighter, and occassionally loves Daddy depending on her moods. She generally likes girls… not boys so her favourite shows on TV are Super Girl, or any music videos with pretty girls. Girls’ Generation music videos would suffice in most cases.

My wife always says that Penny’s default emotion is “Anger”. Let me illustrate what that means. If you give Fighter a Tic Tac and then you tell him just one is enough, he’ll be sad but he’ll accept it. Penny on the other hand might skip the “being sad” part and go straight to being angry.

Penny is also fiercely competitive. Her purpose in life seems to be to win, no matter how trivial the game. If you play a game with her and she wins, she’s happy. If she loses… well… you got it… she gets angry.

 

Next up is my wife Audrey, also known as popular blogger Fourfeetnine. Sometimes I get referred to as “Fourfeetnine’s husband” though now increasingly she gets referred to as “Fighter’s mom”.

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Audrey is the love of my life. She’s good with people, never afraid to laugh at herself and for that reason I find her very cute. Perhaps that’s why I married her. She’s a very principled person so she gets very offended when injustice takes place and finds the need to do something about it. For example she was really unhappy with how our ex-PM was running the country and beyond just fearlessly blogging or posting about her thoughts on social media, she went out to be a Polling AND Counting agent on election day. She woke up at 5AM that day and came home about 9 or 10PM.

When she’s not out there fighting injustice or taking care of the kids, she’s watching her favourite TV shows with me on our late nights. Her current favourite is Handmaid’s Tale, but Westworld, Unbreakeable Kimmy Schmidt and the likes come close. Her all-time favourite TV show though? Friends. She loves Ross Gellar and you can turn it on at any time of the day and she’ll sit down to watch it the umpteenth time.

Lastly there’s me. My friends call me Tim, though my old school friends call me Tiam (after my Chinese name). I’m the luckiest person in the family, to be able to have Audrey as my wife and Fighter and Penny as my kids. I work during the days and sometimes at night. When I have time I try to read but TV to me is more than just entertainment. It’s the way I bond with my kids and my wife. Some of the best moments for me are sitting down on the living room couch watching something with the whole family.

So you see my Dear TV, you’re not just some other electrical appliance in our home. You are the glue that keeps us all together and helps us grow as a family. It’s for that reason I think it’s fitting that you’re placed in the most prominent place of our home, the living room.

Welcome to our family and please… make yourself at home.

Your new owner,
Tim