Upon hearing that I’ve gone off to venture on something of my own, people often ask me
“Don’t you want to gain some work experience first? Now you’re still too young!“
When I people ask me this, I often reply by saying
“I know… I may be making the biggest mistake of my life”.
Yet, deep inside I have an answer to that question that I don’t reveal often enough. But since all of you who are still reading my blog (which has turned from humour to boring stuff) are either my friends or my most loyal readers, let me share the answer with you.
A word of caution before we go on. My views and my philosophy of life tend to be very radical. So feel free to be critical. I love criticism, especially constructive ones because they make me think. But please don’t take it too seriously.
I am after all a naive little boy who is probably misinformed into having the following views of life and career.
Now let me start by saying that I have the bad habit of questioning everything people tell me.
So naturally, when people tell me that I should gain some work experience first before starting on a business, I asked WHY.
When you work you gain 3 main skill sets.
1) You gain experience on how to work and deal with people.
2) You gain insight of how specific industries work.
3) You learn from people above you.
Yet, I will always remember what Richard Branson (Virgin Group) often advocates: Entrepreneurs are made in their early life and not in their thirties.
I look at my life now more like a ticking clock. I start thinking that ok, now that I’ve graduated and got myself the minimum of academic papers (a degree), I have till I’m 40 (18 years from now) to make sure that I am fairly wealthy by then.
If I am not ‘fairly’ rich by the time I’m 40, it will probably be far too late for me to be very rich in my lifetime (still possible… but unlikely).
Take for example Phillip Green, the retail mogul in the UK that owns Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and everything else under the shopping sun in the UK.
By the time he was 40, he wasn’t a multi-billionaire like he is today. He had wealth in the hundreds of millions of pounds but it was with this that he was able to jump to being a billionaire.
But the question remains… is it wrong to spend time working to gain work experience?
In my opinion, the answer is “It depends”.
And “It depends” on one thing.
What kind of work experience?
Today, if I decided to spend 3 years working as a cashier at McDs or as a receptionist at a cyber cafe, it’s still work experience. But is it useful work experience and would whatever I learn there help me much when I start a business.
Let me give you an example.
When considering whether to take up a job at an investment bank in KL, I started thinking about where I would be 5 years later.
The conclusion I came to was that in 5 years, I would probably be earning a 5-figure salary and would probably know plenty about stocks. Since I would be in finance, I would also probably learn a bit about some of the successful companies listed on the stock exchange.
So I might learn a thing or two about a company that makes rubber gloves.
I might learn how their business works, how their products sell and how they earn money.
So is that enough for me to start a successful glove manufacturing business like Datuk Lim Wee Chai of Topglove did?
The answer is probably NOT.
Sure, I would learn the things on the surface but you don’t have to spend years working in an investment bank to learn that.
All you have to do is buy a share of the company, pick up its Annual Report and go for its AGM.
Then ask plenty of questions.
Any man on the street could gain that knowledge.
What the man on the street won’t be able to learn are the more crucial things like
What exactly goes into the rubber that makes the gloves?
How does the chemical composition of each glove differ from the composition of its competitors and why is it better?
How do they keep their quality control on each pair of glove?
The man on the street would probably tell you
“Blow it up with your nose and see how much you can do that for before it pops”
The only way to really learn things like that would be to work in the industry.
Therefore, I decided that if I was going to work in an investment bank, unless I planned to start a Merchant Bank of Penang (which is highly unlikely), everything that I learned on the job wouldn’t exactly help me too much in any business I might pursue in future.
Sure, I would be highly paid at first.. but would I be a very rich man 20 years from now?
Pic info: If I had owned a Bank of Penang… this Maybank building would be MINE!!! And you guys would open accounts with me right?
Of course, there will be the general skills that I would be able to take with me like working in a team or organising time to meet deadlines.
But who says that an entrepreneur that starts fresh won’t be able to gain these skills?
Being the one to run the show, an entrepreneur would probably be forced to learn/gain all of these skills and more.
For example, an entrepreneur would also learn how to manage his cashflow, how to take calculated risks and how to react when faced with problems.
With this mindset that was far at odds with the traditional thinking of gaining work experience, I went to talk to one of my father’s friends.
A very successful Malaysian internet entrepreneur that has made millions after millions. He started doing business early in his life too, but not before he gained a few years of work experience as an engineer.
His answer to me was simple but made perfect sense.
“Timothy. Today the world’s economy has changed. During my time, people had to work in order to see opportunities. Today, with the internet coming up and plenty of visible opportunities at bay, you don’t have to work to see the opportunity. All you have to do is turn on your computer. So if you have an idea that you believe in. Go for it.”
What he said made perfect sense to me: That the world today has changed but so many people are not adapting to it hence the old belief that it is a MUST to first gain work experience.
Decades ago you would never hear of self-made billionaires that made became billionaires by the time they reached their thirties, but today it’s becoming increasingly common starting from Michael Dell of Dell Computers
and now on to people like Sergey Brin of Google Inc.
The world has changed in almost every way. Even in financing your business.
Many years ago if you wanted to do a business, you either put in your own money or borrow money from the bank.
(The latter can be very distructive especially if you’re doing a dotcom since you’ll have to be servicing bank interest when you probably won’t be generating any revenue or making any profit for the first few years.)
What has changed today is that there are venture capitalists. People who’re willing to invest in your company for just an equity stake.
There are also government grants and government support for dotcom companies down in the Multimedia Super Corridor.
Having no money to start a business has become less of an excuse now for the complacent.
How hard is it to get venture capitalists to invest in you?
Well, a few weeks ago, my little dotcom was unsuspectingly approached by a wealthy businessman looking to obtain an equity stake upon hearing of our business idea.
If an inexperienced and naive 22 year old boy (with nothing but an idea) could do get the door open… why can’t everyone else?
Now if you managed to read this far in this blog post, the next question you should ask is
“So what’s wrong with working for a few years first before I even attempt to start a business?”
That will be a question I will answer some time in the future.
PS: Of course, in life there is no one way to get to a certain place. So I’m not asking everyone to forget working and go straight into business. This is just what I’m doing… and something I may regret later in life if things don’t work out…