Sunday, January 20, 2008

Met Tengku Zafrul & Others at Youth '08

Finally, I managed to meet the guy who is on display in many RapidKL buses and in newspaper. Tengku Zafrul .

He is the CEO of Tune Money. One of the younger generation leaders who have made it big. If I don't remember wrongly from facebook, he is around 35 in age. Gosh, I am already 27, and I am no where near what I think I would achieve by 35.

Despite a small crowd at the Main Stage of Hall 4 when Tengku Zafrul made the appearance at Youth '08 Expo , he still spoke passionately. Together with him was a comedian, as well as another young CEO, Azran Osman-Rani, CEO of Air Asia X. Both are really new breed CEO!

They are very willing to share their personal experience and I managed to catch small chats with them. Was very surprised when Tengku Zafrul mentioned that he had been to my this blog, which is really nothing. Don't think my blog attracts much traffic, but having a CEO who even bothered to visit a blog of someone he never met before, really said a lot about the character of this CEO, who resigned from Citibank to be the head of this StartUp called Tune Money.

Tengku Zafrul has been very direct in admitting on mistakes or shortcomings of his product. He is not the type that said that everything is perfect. He takes feedback very well and he acted upon them.

A few days back, upon Firdaus's invitation, he gave a speech at Rumah UKEC. I had to miss it as I was in Singapore, but that is definitely a great experience for those who made it.

Tengku Zafrul blogs about that here

His full speech is reproduced here for those who are lazy to click on his blog and read it. :)

By Zafrul | January 16, 2008

The CEO series kicked off yesterday. There was a better turnout than I expected and some really interesting questions posed. Overall it was pretty informal, just me sharing my experiences, although I did notice that some people had their notebooks out and were scribbling furiously. I guess they haven’t quite kicked their university habits!

I would definitely recommend that you go to the next talk in the series as Dato’ Azman Mokhtar of Khazanah is supposed to be speaking.

Here’s my speech in case you’re interested:

When Firdaus contacted me on Facebook to do this, I asked him, what do you want me to talk about? He said, talk about how you got to where you are. So I thought about it.

Where am I? A little start-up called Tune Money. Some of you may have heard of it. Others may have been stuck behind a bus with my face grinning at you from one of our advertisements. Yeah, that one.

How did I get here? Firstly, there was an opportunity. I was in a comfortable job with a corner office and company car when it came along. I was not thinking of moving, but you know, opportunity seldon strikes when you are looking for it. It just strikes in its own time.

If it’s big enough, it will probably scare the pants off you and you’ll want to crawl back into your comfortable hole and hide. You do so at your peril! Opportunity doesn’t hang around forever. And you could be kicking yourself somewhere down the road for not taking it.

All it takes is a little courage and a lot of foolhardiness. You hold your breath; you take the plunge.

I notice that people an do so much more than they give themselves credit for. I once read the phrase: “throw your heart over the bar and your body will follow”. What this means is, take the chance and do your best. Somehow, you will find the resources to do it. Because if you were offered the job, it means someone, somewhere believed you were capable of doing it.

So now, what’s left, is for you to believe in yourself. And work your butt off to justify their faith in you.

So my first piece of “advice” if you will, is to take the opportunity. As I’ve said in my blog recently, if you have the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.

Secondly, never underestimate the value of good mentors. I have been very blessed in this way. I’ve always had good mentors. From my earliest days there was my grandfather, Atok, a brilliant businessman who practiced very simple principles, both in life and business.

Since then, I count among my gurus, Dato’ Tony Fernandes and Dato’ Nazir Razak.

If you ask me how one goe about looking for mentors, I would say, keep your eyes open. They turn up in the most unlikely places. Your mentor’s advice could even be buried in the next book you pick up. But you have to be humble enough to accept guidance. Don’t think you know it all or that you know better, because believe me, you don’t. And if you would just accept this, you would progress a whole lot quicker.

How do you evaluate a good mentor? Self evident. Look at his or her track record. What has he achieved? Do you respect her? Do you want to be like him? This is important as you cannot have a mentor you don’t respect and look up to.

When I helped start-up Tune Money I found it was a matter of managing the 3Ps -people, products and partners. That sounds like management-speak, doesn’t it? You know how management consultants always like reducing concepts to letters of the alphabet. Anyway it was about hiring the right people, designing the right products and working with the right partners.

Getting the right team together was probably the most challenging of the lot. I mean you can hire based on brilliant CVs and good interviews and still find that the person comes up short or is not the right fit for the company. Then it is my unpleasant job not to confirm them, or to let them go. I know I got some practice for this on The Firm but there is a difference beween real life and reality TV, however slight.

You see, large companies can afford deadwood or people who just chug along, not contributing 200 %. A start-up cannot. Our staff must be versatile enough to take on multiple roles. We throw you in the deep end and you do whatever it takes to swim to shore.

There’s no training ground like it but it’s not for everyone. And it helps if your colleagues are stakeholders, meaning they have stock options in the company. It puts them on their best creative incentive turning them into entrepreneurs rather than employees. They think and react in a different way.

Getting the product right is always a tricky one. You have to think of the end customer, who they are, what they need, and work backwards from there. Of course, this bit is always a work in progress and you keep modifying your offering based on feedback. so always be open to feedback and thank your customers for it, even if it comes in the form of rude or nasty complaints. I realise that while there are some people who just love finding fault with no desire to work towards a solution, others are genuinely concerned. I know that at Tune Money we have been very blessed in our customers. Many of them contact me directly via my blog and they are very patient and our best cheerleaders.

As for partners, this was a tricky one. When negotiating, especially if you’re a start-up, realise from the outset that you’re not going to get everything you ask for. The big companies you’re talking to have the advantage over you. Stand your ground and don’t let them bully you but be flexible enough to arrive at a compromise or the negotiations will take forever. And you really don’t have time for that as there’s too much business to be done.

When selecting your key partners make sure they are companies you can work with. Ask around for feedback from their present clients. Don’t go in with your eyes closed or you’ll have to pay for it somewhere down the line.

When we launhed our insurance products, there were technical glitches that we discovered close to midnight the day before. (If you want to read more about this saga, I gave a blow-by-blow description on my blog). I had to re-call the staff who had gone home and we did user acceptance testing until morning.

We went through the actual launch with no sleep and couldn’t go live at that point because the system didn’t work. It was an exhausting, nerve-wracking period and I spent most of my time, on the one hand, trying to push our technology partner for a quick resolution, and on the other, trying to manage perception. The blog came in very handy here. Eventually it was solved and everything was working but that was a harrowing few days, especially as it was our first product launch. Similarly, there are technical glitches with our prepaid cards as our customers write in to tell us.

The thing about problems, the 4th P if you will, is that you need to solve them. Don’t waste time pointing fingers or passing the buck because while that may relieve you temporarily, the problem still exists. So solve it and move on. Be sure as CEO to take personal responsibility for them, whatever they are. No one respects a CEO who needs to point the finger and blame his or her colleagues. If you’re a buck-passer, pass on this job as you’re probably not cut out for it.

From quite a few things I have already said you would probably get that our communications strategy is key. At Tune Money we have come up with a variety of ways to talk to our customers. There is my blog which I started two weeks before the launch of our first product, there is my column in the NST in which I talk about life, the universe and everything, Facebook, the hottest networking site at the moment, and our call centre. In fact, as I said before, Firdaus found me on Facebook and I believe that most of you here received your invites to this event through Facebook.

Understand that we’re in the era of Web 2.0. Nearly everyone is connected and if you want to communicate with the public you are going to have to use the tools they use. Blogs and networking sites are not “out there”. They’re the communication tools of the new age. And tomorrow there will be different ones. So talk to a lot of people, get a sense of the trends and always be willing to modify your strategy. The key thing is to communicate and you do whatever it takes.

A CEO today has to be hands-on. He or she cannot delegate and go out for another round of golf. That may have been what it was like before but that time has passed. You need to know what’s going on at every level. Things are likely to slip if you let them. It helps if you’re an insomniac especially when you find yourself in meetings at three in the morning. You have to learn to be a performer because most likely you will be the face of the company and if people like and trust you, they will like and trust your company.

Although you may be tempted to oversell, don’t! Try to keep it real. A little credibility goes a long way. You’re going to have to work harder than you ever have.

Being a CEO is not a glamour job.

It just appears that way.

Do you have the stomach for it?

No comments: