Welcome to Episode 7!
Our guest is Jan Wong – a Forbes 30 Under 30, Malaysian serial entrepreneur, youth advocate & founder of OpenMinds – a data-driven martech company he bootstrapped for 8 years, generates millions in revenue with offices in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong and at one point, Kazakhstan!
Who is Jan Wong?
Jan’s entrepreneurial spirit was present from a very young age.
In this interview, you’ll see how he displayed his entrepreneurial spirit time and again. To the extent that over the past 15 years, he established 8 different companies in the areas of e-commerce, Facebook app development, fashion, events and digital marketing consultancy!
University College of Technology & Innovation
He pursued an IT course at college.
At the age of 17, he spotted a gap in the market & established his first company while still in college: Genesis IT Solutions & Services. Genesis started off with him reformatting computers for his friends – given that he had no prior knowledge in this area, his services didn’t always bear fruit!
And yet he preserved. And when he spotted a gap (again) for data recovery services, he pivoted. And grew a business so successful, it attracted the attention and partnership of conglomerates like Seagate, Microsoft, Fujitsu, and Samsung.
The Entrepreneurial Journey
Jan’s story is full of tremendous highs but also tremendous lows. Some of them include overcoming a teacher’s “prediction” when he was 10 years old that he would never amount to anything. Of facing the lack of support and confidence from those around him when he first established Genesis. And how he had to confront the heavy consequences of allowing his pride to get in the way of his business.
We dig deep into those low points. Of how Jan approached them and continued on his journey.
And how he was willing to go out of his comfort zone, even to this day!
Founding OpenMinds Resource
In 2009, Jan founded OpenMinds Resources.
Some of the things we discussed included:
- Why he decided to not pay himself a salary for the first year & a very low stipend for the next few years;
- His priorities in the early startup days;
- OpenMind’s unique selling point;
- Things Jan would’ve done differently;
- How Jan created a people-first work culture; and
- How he led OpenMinds to triple its revenue in 2015 and expanding to Singapore, Hong Kong and Kazakhstan!
Other Things We Discussed
- Jan’s drive of always seeking to “stand out” & doing something that no one else can easily copy;
- His biggest mistake behind starting his first company at the age of 17 in college;
- The role of faith in his life;
- Why he continues to invest in other people;
- The impact that being Forbes 30 under 30 had on him;
- The impact that COVID-19 has had on him and OpenMinds; and
- His biggest piece of advice for those wanting to start a new venture in this day and age.
Jan’s story is truly one of great perseverance and a willingness to always learn & never let fear hold you back. I have nothing but admiration for him & hope you learned something from this episode too!
If you’re looking for more inspirational stories, check out:
- Austen Allred: Co-Founder & CEO of Lambda School – a coding school that lets you attend for FREE using the Income Sharing Agreement (ISA) scheme, where you have to pay back only after earning above $50k/year. Graduates of this Y Combinator backed startup have gone on to work in Fortune 500 companies like Facebook, Google & IBM
- Rahul Chaudhary: Managing Director of Chaudhary Group – a 140-year-old family business empire that is currently headed by his father, Binod Chaudhary (Nepal’s 1st & only Forbes billionaire)
- Lincoln Lee: Founder, RICE Inc – which won the prestigious USD $1 million HULT Prize award for social enterprises (organised by the UN & former President Bill Clinton)
- Guy Kawasaki: Chief Evangelist of Canva & Apple
- Barbara Woolsey: Freelance journalist based in Berlin who’s interviewed everyone from Venezuelan gang members to German DJs & Bernard Trink. Has written for euters, The Guardian, The Telegraph, USA Today, AFAR, Condé Nast Traveler, Tasting Table, Thrillist, Time Out, Roads & Kingdoms, Vice, and others
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- Jan’s blog
- OpenMinds Resource
- Jan’s book, Building Your Digital Net Worth – get it here!!
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Jan Wong is an entrepreneur, youth advocate, and founder of OpenMinds; an 8-years bootstrapped, data-driven martech company based in KL, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Starting at the age of 17, he has ventured into eight businesses, a part-time lecturer at the Asia Pacific University (APIIT / APU), a certified e-commerce consultant, published an academic journal during his Masters degree, sits on the Academic Advisory Board of KDU, Sunway College and Sunway University. In 2020, he was also offered a scholarship to pursue a PhD with Monash University.
Through his passion, Jan founded OpenMinds in 2012 that serves as a MarTech firm to provide strategic solutions, data analysis, technology development, consultancy & training programmes, and a venture division to also assist startups. The venture division has also seen the birth of startups such as CLOVR (a virtual reality tech startup), RoundUp (a data analytics startup), and OpenAcademy(an education and training platform) in 2019.
Having bootstrapped from zero and being a new player in the industry, OpenMinds managed to acquire world-class brands and renowned agencies as clients and in 2017, set up a subsidiary in Hong Kong, after placing the Kazakhstan office in hiatus in 2015 due to the declining oil & gas outlook. In just 4years, OpenMinds has grown to a valuation of USD5 million and is featured as a company with one of the best workplace culture in Malaysia.
His entrepreneurial experience also enabled him to work with different startups, and the opportunity to speak at various entrepreneurship and marketing technology events in universities, corporations, workshops and conferences in the region of over 5,000 pax in attendance and has spoken on more than 150 stages globally. He is also a mentor for multiple startup communities including Techstars Global and the NEXT50 Singapore initiative; and a corporate innovation mentor for Nestle and Vinda Group in Malaysia.
Jan has also been featured on various media such as The Star, Focus Malaysia, Personal Money, Malaysia SME, The Edge, Astro, Asian Entrepreneur Magazine, Forbes, and more on his entrepreneurship journey, digital media expertise, and the SME industry.
Jan is also a regular contributor on BFM, a 2-time TEDx speaker, recognized as one of the top 10 new generation businessmen to watch in 2020, listed on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia 2017 list and recently published his first book campaign on Building Your Digital Net Worth.
Ep 7: Jan Wong - Malaysian Serial Entrepreneur & Founder of OpenMinds
Jan Wong: I still hate public speaking to be honest, every time before I go upstairs, I always still have this jittery feeling.
My heart beats, I don't know how many BPS per second, it goes crazy. It's not something that comes natural to me until today.
So it was a period of time when I started my company. And then I took the whole certified e-commerce program. That is when I realized that I cannot skip this. If this is what I want to do, if I want it to be different, if I am serious on this path or so called this career, or this skill that I'm trying to build, this is something that I would just need to do despite me not liking it, or despite me being not good at it.
So whatever that you are seeing now, it's actually just a result of me forcing myself and tremendous amounts of practice.
In the early days it was hell. I had to practice many, many times. You know, I wrote a script, I tried to memorize it in practice in front of a mirror. I run through it over and over again, just for that 15 minutes, just to introduce myself and my company in a networking event, I needed to go through that.
Hard work. Like. Hard H A R D and H E A R T, hard work. Combination of these two things, because I really need to force myself.
To be honest, I could actually just say no, I don't want to do any of these things, you know, I'm comfortable not doing any of this, but again, it's what I want to do.
It's how I also put myself in a position that I'll need to do it and therefore I did it.
Ling Yah: Hey everyone, welcome to episode 7 of the So This Is My Why Podcast.
I'm your host and producer, Ling Yah, and today's guest is Jan Wong. A Forbes 30 under 30 Malaysian serial entrepreneur who did his first sale at the age of eight, his first company at the age of 17,whilst in college, which attracted the attention and partnership of the likes of Seagate, Microsoft Fujitsu, and Samsung.
And founded 7 other companies thereafter leading to the formation of OpenMinds, a data driven martech company based in KL, Singapore, Hong Kong, and at one point, Kazakhstan.
Now all that sounds very impressive, but if you're a longtime listener of this podcast, you know that I like to dig deep into the genesis of each of my guests. Their childhood and the pivotal moments that led them down the path they're now on.
And when you hear John's story, where his teacher told his parents at the age of 10 that he would never amount to anything. And how he overcame that other many moments in his life where, of his own volition, he spotted a need, a gap in the market and immediately pivoted to fulfill that demand.
I think when you hear the many stories he shares - the highest and the deep lows, you'll come to conclude as I have that. Jen is a truly remarkable person whose grit, humanity, and generosity with time and resources is one we can all strive to emulate in some way.
This was one of my favorite interviews and the one that I hope you enjoy.
Are you ready?
Hi, Jan. Thank you so much for spending time with me today.
Jan Wong: Hi, thank you for having me really, really. I think this is going to be a very interesting interview.
Ling Yah: I think so, too, because you have done so many, many things. You are, if we can put it, a true entrepreneur at heart. You've done at least eight companies in the past 15 years.
And it seems as though that kind of spirit has thought that since you were a child, and I understand there was an incident when you were young, there was a need for A4 paper and you just went around selling to your classmates. Can you kind of relate that story to us?
Jan Wong: Actually, there were two incidents when I was young, when I really looked back at hindsight, right.
And at both incidences, including my first official business, I didn't actually see it as starting a business. In fact, to me, it was just me wanting to do something fun, picking up something different and just doing it because I just enjoyed the process.
So for that particular incident that still lingers in my mind, because I still don't understand why did I even do something like that?
I think I was either Standard 2 or Standard 3 at that point of time . It was the whole exam period. And everybody was taking a rough paper to do maths. And I thought to myself, well, if everybody needs paper, why don't I just sell paper?
You know, I would just go get scrap paper somewhere. I will sell a blank sheet for 10 cents. And I thought that hey, since everybody draws the equal sign on the paper anyway for maths, although it was a draft paper, I will help them to write the equal sign on this blank page and then sell it for 20 cents, you know? So 10 cents for blank, 20 cents for paper, with the equal sign.
And surprisingly people bought it. I don't know why they would buy it, but people bought it. People bought the convenience . So I was actually quite happy. I didn't see that as a business. To me, it's just like, Oh, okay. People will pay me to do things like that.
But another incident back then in primary school, there was always these people that come and exhibit and get you to buy story books, a lot of them, right. They're trying to encourage reading and all of that thing.
And I remember my parents didn't allow me to buy any of these books. They think it's too expensive. It's a waste of money. I should read other books, blah, blah, blah, typical Chinese family, you know. So I told her, Hey, my friends are buying it.
I'm not able to do it. I should start a library. And that's exactly what I did . So I went to all my friends that bought these books. I told them, look, I'm going to start the library. All of you after purchasing these books, you're going to leave them with me so that you can also get access to books other friends have bought, right? You bought one, but you didn't buy the other So you actually have the chance to read all these books.
But the condition is I am the library. You give all the books to me. And they did. Right? So, I took home all these books. I read all of them at the same time. I didn't charge money but I managed to gain free access to all the books just by handling them.
And you know what, until today I still have all these books in my parents' place until today. It was never returned. So I hope some of my friends, if you somehow stumbled upon this interview, you know, you can still collect them back from me. It's somewhere. I don't know which one is yours, but it's there.
So the incidents like that, that was pretty interesting, but I really did it just because I had fun doing it.
I just saw that there's a need to do some of these things. That's all.
Ling Yah: No one ever commented like your teacher saying, Oh, you shouldn't be selling paper. Why do you have so many books?
Jan Wong: Surprisingly, no, surprisingly, no. I mean, not so much, maybe they wouldn't say too much about the books one, because I think that's quite straightforward and there was no monetary transaction.
Until today, I'm quite surprised that the teachers allowed me to sell paper because I actually went class to class, knocked on the door to say, look, I'm here to sell paper and allow me to teach it. Allowed me to walk into class to sell paper to students from not in my class.
Ling Yah: And how old were you then?
Jan Wong: I was only like what standard two. So that's what, eight years old.
Ling Yah: So you were eight years old walking into classrooms of like 12 years old and just -
Jan Wong: selling paper.
Yeah, that's what I did. This is so fresh because until today. It's still a huge question mark in me. Two things, right. Why would somebody buy blank paper from me?
And number 2, why would that allow this kid to go from class to class to just collect money like that? So I think it will continue to remain a mystery, but that was fun. That's really something I love talking about even until today.
Ling Yah: Do you remember how much you earned from all of that?
Jan Wong: I don't, but I remember it not being overly significant, but back then when I was a kid, I mean, it sounds very old when I say this, but things were a lot cheaper back then. At the canteen, you can buy a meal for 50 cents, one Ringgit.
So every paper l sold at 10 cents and 20 cents was quite a bit of money. So yeah, I managed to get a good sum of pocket money then to buy erasers, to play games and do all the kinds of things that you grew up with.
Ling Yah: And I think you spent it on comics and model cars as well.
Jan Wong: Yes. Eventually most of those went into yeah.
Ling Yah: So is it fair to say that you are quite an extrovert when you were young. You were fearless to just go around to our class and just say, Hey, I have something. Do you guys find it?
Jan Wong: Well, according to my parents, I was actually a lot more of an extrovert when I was younger, but as I got older, somehow, that changed. I became a lot more conscious of who I am and I became a lot more self-contained, I became a lot more quiet as I grew up as well. So maybe something changed in between.
Ling Yah: And I wonder if it's because of an incident that happened when you were 10. And I understand you as a parent teacher conference and your parents basically went and spoke to your teacher and you heard the teacher point to you and say, he will never make it.
Jan Wong: Well, I did consider that point, but I can't say that that is the tipping point. That incident definitely affected me because it also affected how my parents have a different outlook on me.
I mean, as every parent, wants their children to do well in their studies, grows up, becomes somebody, right. And a comment like that can bring quite a bit of a negative effect towards them.
And that trickles down.
Ling Yah: But do you know why that happened? Like, what was the reason? Was it because you weren't studying in school cause you were focused on other things?
Jan Wong: Not so much of not studying in school. So what happened was that from standard one to stand 3, I was doing right away, I would say.
Right. So I was at the top of the class. I was always in the back of the classes and from Standard 3, I jumped to Standard 5, but it was at standard five, that's where this comment happened. Right. So I wasn't in the top of the class anymore. I was among the bottom.
And in that comparison, that's where the teacher's raised this comment that I am not being, I'm not keeping up with my studies. I'm struggling therefore I'm not performing. And I wouldn't be able to do well in the future because everybody seems to be doing better than me.
Ling Yah: And did you have an idea of what you want it to do at the time?
Jan Wong: No. I mean, at that time it was just like 10, 11.
If you asked me my ambition back then, I would just give you a whole list of policemen, fireman, whatever that was cool on TV at times. I really had no idea. It was just me going to school, doing what I'm supposed to do as a student, as a son to my parents.
Ling Yah: So you were 17, it is 2005. And you entered the University College of Technology & Innovation. And you did an internet technology degree. What was the thinking behind it? Were you drawn to it at the time?
Jan Wong: Yes so Somewhere I think when I was 15 or 16, uh, you know, in school, that's where you're supposed to choose your stream between science and arts.
And you're supposed to write in that book what you want to become. You did all these psychological tests and all that. And at that time I was pretty keen on two different paths. One of it was business. I mean, just business in general . The other one was technology.
And I remember that I almost enrolled myself to a business management courses instead of technology, but after some thought, I decided that business is something that if I'm really interested, I can just read books to learn, but I wanted to pick up something that is tangible, of a skill that I have to be forced to learn, guided, and therefore I posted the technology path back then. I think it was also where the.com boom was happening. Many people were going into technology fields.
And I just thought that it would be interesting to have this skill. So that was the motivation why I got myself into IT school.
Ling Yah: And what interested me was that, somewhere along that point, you had a mindset shift where you told yourself that I want to make a difference and leave a life that inspires others. Can you share with us what happened and how that came about?
Jan Wong: So there is a small backstory before arriving at that point. And the backstory is relatively simple because when I entered college as a foundation student, the first semester was really just orienting myself, right?
This whole new environment, what's going to happen, going to classes and all that. Of course. Through the classes, I reaffirmed my interest with programming.
And then I listed myself as one of the technicians of the college. So I basically helped people troubleshoot PCs. They have problems in the labs, you know, one of those getting a part time thing.
But while doing that, I started having this thought of, actually what am I gaining out of this? I started looking around and I realized that a lot of my friends are doing the exact same thing, you know. We're In the same clubs, we are attending the same class Some of them are also these technicians doing the same thing.
I realized that whatever I'm doing is nothing special. Although I'm enjoying learning these new skills and all that, but also there was a little bit more that I can do. I didn't know what to be honest. I really didn't know. I just knew that I wanted to do more. So I started looking around asking myself, what can I do?
So as a student, the most natural thing or get a part time job, right? A lot of people are getting part time jobs. you get paid and then you get to learn something different. I thought, yeah. Okay. Let's see, right. So I went around asking people, what kind of part time jobs and there are the usual, right? The weekend exhibition is going to give flyers, go carry some boxes, become a barista , sell some kind of product and then get some commission out of it.
And I didn't find interest in any of those things.
These are things where everybody is still doing. There's still nothing that sets me apart. There's nothing challenging to it. There's nothing different. And somehow was really hungry for that difference, that change.
And then I thought, since I'm a technician in college, maybe I can put some of these skills to use. Again, I didn't know what, and then that led me to start picking up computer formatting and all these different skillset services that I could offer eventually as a service. And so I started my first company and also doing these things.
Then I realized that actually it's not just about the product and services that I'm creating. What I really enjoy is the process of what I'm doing and how the output of this is not just money and revenue, but also the opportunity to inspire others. And through that, I find that I gained that energy again, that drive that in the process, I'm also inspired to do even more because I'm inspiring other people. And that's where the dots are really connected.
Ling Yah: So, what do you do after that? When you meet that connection? Was that when you started going into lecturing?
Jan Wong: Not so soon, not so soon, because that connection actually came when I was maybe about what, 18, 19 years old.
So that's about one or two years into the business. You know, when I got to hang out with, when I started interacting with more people, then I found this drive and that connection actually happened.
So in the early days, this connection was just as simple as just a motivation for me to continuously do what I'm doing.
So it was nothing more than that. It was just a motivation, but through this motivation and as the company grew and as my skill sets grew as a business owner and also in the technology field, I realized that again, I could do more. so one thing led to another, and then of course, eventually the opportunity came for me to also become a part time lecturer at the age of 20, 21.
Ling Yah: And what fascinated me is that your entire story is that of you just recognizing that there was a need and then you just pivoted as required.
So you started that company you mentioned in January, 2006, it was Genesis IT Solutions and Services, and it was very clearly just, you know, troubleshooting, but then you started to pivot and you pivoted quite efficiently as well.
Was it a difficult thing for you to decide, I want to do something different. This is the need.
Jan Wong: To be honest, it wasn't. That pivot was relatively simple. Why I say that is because when I first started Genesis, I always imagine it to be a computer shop. That was the angle. I just wanted to start a shop now yet sell computer parts, nothing wrong with that.
But my biggest mistake in that dream is that I didn't know how the business worked. I didn't know the model behind starting or something like that. A shop, the model, the competition. I wasn't aware. All I did was I just enjoyed doing these things right.
And when the opportunity finally came for me to be exposed to how these businesses run and how realistic this situation is that the competition is in LA Jolla and within the hardware world.
And that's the way it clicks to see that. I don't think this is what I want to build anymore not just because of the high costs, but how the business is being run. And also the extent of, again, many people can do this, the barrier of entry is so low, somebody can just come in and open a computer shop as long as they're for money.
So then I started again looking at, what else can I do that is different, that allows me to stand out? So it has always been about standing out right as a student to stand out and become the tech assistant, but then understand how that becomes even more. And right now with this to become even more, right?
So that's the way I started doing a little bit more research now, a bit savvy, right. So I did a bit more research. I looked around and I realized that, hey, this data recovery business seems to be interesting. It seems to be a niche by itself. It seems to be like, not many people can actually do this well, maybe it's an industry that I should go in and that's where the pivot actually happened. Right.
So it was not so much of a need to say that, Hey, I think this will work. It's more of, I know what I'm doing now. Definitely won't work. Let me find something special.
Ling Yah: And how did you figure out how to do data recovery?
Was that something that was being taught and was there a lot of competition in that area at the time?
Jan Wong: There was no competition in the area, like zero competition in the area. Everything was self-taught. It was Mr. Google, mr. YouTube being very generous, just learning and trial and error. It's the same process I went through in starting the hardware business in the beginning, I had no clue. I had to pick up from scratch. Learn it myself.
It is the same thing that applied over here. So in fact, my first few clients was that I wasn't able to solve the case, whatever, right. Because I was learning at the get go , well at the expense of my client.
So I wasn't able to solve their problems, but through that I learned. And it was also at that time, I got exposed to the world of marketing, how we can use not just the internet, but also offline media. To basically get yourself out there. So I recognized the importance of branding. I recognized the importance of marketing and that actually helps.
So a lot of the marketing skills that I have today, all attributed to that point where I was forced to pick up all these skills, search engine optimization, social media marketing.
I think all these terms were very foreign back then, but forced me to pick up some of these skills and that actually allowed. This pivot caused Genesis to attract attention from bigger players around the world.
So we had partners - Seagate in the US, a very large hard disk manufacturer that came and appointed us as the Asia representative.
Big companies like Microsoft, Fujitsu, Samsung , actually came to us to ask us to become their official data recovery partner.
Ling Yah: And what was the feeling like when these guys came?
Jan Wong: It was amazing, right?
To be honest in the beginning, it was questionable . Because it was just such a small team. It was just me and my partner. There's just two of us. We have no official training on how to do this. All we did was rely on Google, rely on YouTube, rely on experiences, trial and error rely on search engine optimization.
Good marketing I think to attract this attention and they came. So it was questionable at first, but as we went along and as we continue to improve our skill , that was quite an eye opening journey, to be honest, because we have never expected something so small could catch international attention and to be able to service quite a number of big brands and reputable rents in Malaysia.
Ling Yah: And I'm wondering about the people around you as well, because you are just college students, you were still studying. Were people around you supportive or were they questioning what you were doing, whether you should be partnering such big players.
Jan Wong: Not at all. It's very sad, but during that time there was actually little to no support from every layer that you can ever imagine.
So friends at the time, because at that time, there's little awareness about startups. The tech scene isn't as robust as it is now. And business is something like a huge adult thing to do you know, when you have experience, when you have money, it's not like today when you speak to a 12 years old, I want to become a startup owner.
It's never like that.
So friends were skeptical. The way they approach this, it's like, Oh yeah, Jen, just has a part time thing, you know. Even in college lectures are like, yeah.Okay, he's just doing something on the side, nothing serious. My parents weren’t particularly supportive as well. They will go about and say, Hey, now you're a student and pay attention to your studies.
Do well, get a job next time. You know, you have your whole life to work. Why work now? Even when I go into business challenges and problems, I nobody to speak to because back then Friendster was social media, right? And we all know friendster isn't the best or there's no such thing as using social media as a business at a point of time, mentors were very hard to come by.
There was no such thing as accelerator programs and coaching, mentoring programs. These things were nonexistent. Back then, and to make it even worse because of the young age, approaching suppliers was difficult. None of the suppliers took me seriously, either thought I was just an errand boy for my dad coming around, asking for stuff.
When I meet clients. Clients also don't trust me because I basically looked like a kid. So I had to kind of find ways, you know, to dress up all the wear leather shoes, wear formal shirts , just try to appear older at least a year or two, just to win that credibility to have the conversation.
So early days were very tough despite me starting so-called early at a point of time.
Ling Yah: And did you never feel like it was too hard and you wanted to give up.
Jan Wong: Well, I come back to the point where I was actually really enjoying the process, but these things were real challenges, but I find joy in solving the problems and really building and doing all the execution work back then.
It isn't a whole season of being very curious in a lot of things, right? How do I do this better? How can I do things faster? And I was very invested into all these processes that these challenges came by to be like, Oh no, it's okay. It's fine. I'm happy with what I'm doing. I'll just find somebody else also.
So it was quite easy to navigate at that point of time.
Ling Yah: And then while you were in college, you also started a second company while running the first one, which was in fashion - Shirts for real. Can you share with us why you thought it would be a great idea to start two companies while you were also pursuing your degree?
Jan Wong: So there were many reasons for this. One of the main reasons is because of one of the two of my childhood friends. So we came together, it was just over a normal non-black session. And one of them is a designer and he also has interest in doing something when it's on. So we thought, Hey, you know, you can design, I have some experience running a business.
The other guy was a marketing guy. We thought we would be a good combination in just trying something out, you know? And the costs weren't that high or we thought it wasn't that high. So we thought let's just try doing this. So it was really just trying, there was no written business plan, no real strategy.
It was just your friends trying to do something on the side, trying to fund, just explore. What could this potentially be after all? How much can we lose? So it really just happened like that. So I was running the company. I was running two companies. We registered it. And yes, at the same time I was still studying.
If you were to interview some of my college friends, you'll probably always hear you know, Jan is often not in class, often during slipping in class, but somehow Jan still passes, you know, that has been the reputation of my entire college life, but yes, I survived college.
Ling Yah: And after you survived college, do you have an idea of what you wanted to do or was it I've got these companies I'll just run with it.
Jan Wong: Yeah. So I think it was a phase that I was just fascinated with starting companies, because I really enjoyed the adrenaline that comes with it. I enjoyed the process of really trying to find solutions to problems, getting clients, trying to grow things. And I was really invested into the whole process.
Even through my entire college, I was always looking out for business opportunities. What can I double myself in? What else can I do? Are there any more exciting ideas? So it's like that. And to be honest, it's like that until today. That still stands true today.
Ling Yah: One of the things I want to pick up is what you mentioned earlier, which is the whole like SEO, social media exploration, because I read on your blog that you said you didn't really use Twitter, but at the same time through Twitter, you found a business venture that led you to being a director in Blinkd.
Can you share with us what happened there and what it was like?
Jan Wong: So in the whole exploration of social media, marketing and SEO and all that, Twitter's relatively new at a point of time. And it's fast growing. Many countries are adopting it. And because if I'm interested in social media and that's up and coming naturally, I was also very curious.
How can this tool be uh, something is beneficial for business. So I went into it. I invested quite a bit of time, really trying to understand how this thing works. What is this only 140 characters? What's this follow you follow me? You follow me thing. What is retweet, you know, all this technicality, cause it's just so different from Facebook, right?
I mean, if Facebook was the staple platform that everybody was familiar with back then, and then this new guy comes 140 characters. Really?
I can't even type a status. Back then you couldn't upload photos. But I was so curious, but it's yet still growing. So when through this exploration, I found that there is this thing called tweet chats in Twitter, where people will literally host discussions on Twitter on a specific time and day where you will use hashtags to communicate.
So you imagine hundreds of people tweeting using the hashtag. There'll be a moderator asking questions as silly as you think answers and all that. And it was a thing. And it's still a thing when Twitter I do today, actually.
But back then, I was very fascinated because I get to meet a lot of people from a lot of different countries, all doing very similar things. I was learning a lot from some of these, I call them seniors in the industry. And then came this guy, which I keep bumping into in almost every tweet chat that I was.
This name keeps coming up. This face kept coming up and we eventually started following each other through the chats and all that, then we moved into DMs. So we started DMing each other, and we found that there's quite a bit of things in common. We share similar hobbies, similar passions , the vision is similar as well. We started sharing about our personal life, so it's all on DM, right? There was no Skype call, no phone calls, no nothing.
It was purely on Twitter DMs and then one day we decided, hey.,You know, you are doing this, I'm doing this. I think it's a great combination. Let's do something better.
And lo and behold, we actually started a company through Twitter. We sent across borders, the documents to sign. We started a company, we pumped capital into it and it was a real legit company that ran for a year and a half.
Until today, I don't know how he sounds like. I don't know how he looks like in person. All I know is his supposed name & his avatar. Until today. That's how crazy it is.
Ling Yah: It is crazy because I'm just thinking that you have never met this person yet. You trust it enough to pump capital into it, that you never have doubts. Did you never think this guy might be pulling a fast one on me?
Jan Wong: At that point of time? No, that's, that's the honest truth. Right?
Because it's so interesting that because, okay. One thing. That it has to be clear is that this Twitter relationship developed over a long period of time, right? It was not just two conversations over a week and then we started a company , it was over months, you know, uh, it was also a session where, I mean, of course, if somebody would really want to put up such an elaborate calling, they probably could, but it was a very genuine thing, you know?
Uh, I got to know his wife. I've seen pictures of his kids. Again. Somebody can say somebody gets fabricated, but this was over months. Right. And I felt that was a genuine friendship that was building. Uh, and I think that added to the level of confidence in us coming together.
Ling Yah: And I also read that for Genesis and your second company, actually, you never actually invested in advertising, but you managed to make it float. Could you share a little bit about that?
Jan Wong: So it's not just the first two companies. It's all eight companies, uh, open minds included. We've never invested in advertising.
We have always been believers of organic traffic. It's all about how you are able to optimize a presence, create the awareness, create credibility.
We used credibility as the main currency for so-called selling, right? The more you put yourself out there, the more people recognize without relying on ads.
Of course in the earlier days. And there were other reasons as well. One of the main reasons was that because all these companies have bootstrapped, very little capital or capital comes from myself or within the few poor students, therefore advertising, wasn't something that we can just blow away? Right.
So we have to be very independent. We need to be very resourceful. We need to scrape and find whatever ways that we can get free publicity or to get ourselves out there. And through that I think that has helped me gain a different mindset was how we approached advertising and marketing for company and it's possible and because I've done it and because it's possible, therefore, I always try to replicate it until today.
Ling Yah: Are there particular tricks that you have found over time to be very helpful or successful?
Jan Wong: Actually, the only trick is that you need to spend a lot of time in building your own presence in investing into your website. Again, search engine optimization. It's extremely helpful. Until today, when you go on social media, it's all about the content you post, how you achieve balance between selling and creating meaningful conversations.
Getting to know people. There's a lot of time invested in building these relationships, using social media and that helps.
The thing is that many people approach marketing in the aspect of really just posting something and expect somebody to just engage automatically without building a relationship, you know.
Ads, yes, that's great, don't get me wrong. If you have the capabilities to buy ads. That's awesome. Go ahead and do it because if you fast track a lot of things, but as we know as consumers, we don't really play very well with ads as well. We would rather a more meaningful relationship bill. And to be honest, it also depends on the industry and the company you're building.
If you are going for mass consumers, a mass product, then of course, ads will be the fastest way to build. You can't build one on one relationship just to sell a product that costs you $9. That's going to be insane, right? So you want the mass. But for a service type business like us is more relationship driven.
It's more about credibility. It's more about how you are positioning yourself out there. Then time becomes a very great investment in marketing.
Ling Yah: Yep. So all that you're talking about right now is all the things that you're doing with OpenMinds Resources, which you started in 2009, but then there was a major pivot in 2012.
Again, clearly you saw there was a gap and then you went there because you knew that this is something you could provide. Could you share with us those early days? Cause I understand that you started as a tech based startup. It was a job application management company. How did the whole idea come about?
Jan Wong: So the job application company was very simple. Back then in 2009 was the year that most of us graduated from uni.
And of course, obviously everybody's applying for jobs and there's always a common complaints, the big job portals and doing enough, you're very traditional. The user interface is lousy.
You know, it's so cumbersome. Why do we still need CVs? Isn't there a better way of doing this same problems? Like some of them we are still hearing today, right? So I thought, Hey, we are a bunch of tech graduates. Let's build a product and solve this problem once and for all, let's go to war with the big boys, you know, let's just do something big.
So, and that's what we did. We put in, I think almost a year of our time in building this platform, the four of us building this.
And when we had an MVP, we started of course looking for clients . Trying to get companies to come on. What is a job matching platform? So you need the students, you need the unemployed and you need the employers.
Right? So talking to employers, so we did tup pitch decks, have the price range. And I started speaking to some corporates, right? Some banks and bigger corporates, because you wanted the volume and the name. Of course, we spoke to some of them.
Well, to cut a long story short, they didn't sign on. None of them sign on. In fact there was a lot of interest, but none of them signed on for very typical corporate business reasons, reputation, too new risk, too high, blah, blah, blah.
But there's one constant comment that came back over and over again is that you guys, I like your marketing ideas, how you're planning to market this platform, because there's always the go to market strategy in the pitch deck.
Right? I like this. Would you be able to do this for us? This was very consistent across many corporations that we spoke to, but of course at that time we were very focused on our product. To us it was like, no. IWe're going to market this for ourselves. We are not going to do that for you. So we turned down all of it.
Ling Yah: You turned down all of it. So you didn't want their job, even though they were offering something different.
We didn't want
Jan Wong: it is because we are not built to be a marketing company.
We are built to become a job portal. I mean, we were very focused on that. But that went on for a long time and you reached a point of time where my other team members were already under stress to get a job . For financial reasons, family pressure, and basically moving on in life. They can't just fingers cross two years without, you know, unemployment investing into this.
And then nothing happens. Right? So some of them have started to have a so-called part time job. Some of them started going into full time jobs. It became more difficult to meet again. I was the only one without a job . But they went on to different things that they're doing and I couldn't let them down because people need to survive.
So I let them go.
So, okay. Backtrack a little bit. While doing this at the time, I was still really going deep into brushing out my digital marketing skills. So at that point of time, I used to take a certified e-commerce consultant costs.
So with that particular certification that allowed me to start giving very basic consultancy services to very small SMEs and all that. So I was also doing this on the side as well. The other companies that are also running concurrently. So I thought, I will just focus on that for now, since this whole job thing doesn't seem to work.
And that was the time where social media started to become interesting. Facebook came into the picture. Companies were talking about how they can use Facebook as a marketing tool. And e-commerce wasn't just e-commerce anymore. E-commerce was how you can promote it on social media.
How can you gain fans?
How can you get likes?
There was a huge competition on that. So through that I realized that there seems to be a demand for social media marketing. There seems to be a demand for digital mapping. And that's where I decided that that's a path that I want to try it. So it wasn't even a real pivot , I wanted to try and then came this particular friend that gave me a call that said, Hey, Jen, you do this training thing, right. I don't know what you do, but you do this back thing, training thing, right. I was speaking to this company the other day, and I think they want something like that. Like if you had a contact, then you see what happens.
So that's exactly why this is. Okay. Let's see what happens.
I went in, we did a pitch and it was successful. They were very interested in, and they wanted to come aboard. Okay. That's something. And that's where I seriously consider this needs to be a business.
Ling Yah: At that point in time, you purely had a certificate, but you never actually applied to it in real life?
Jan Wong: No. So I already was conducting consultancy sessions on a one to one basis to smaller SMEs, business owners and all of that, but that was more than e-commerce route.
That was more than a search engine optimization, but when this came about as a company, it was quite a sizable company, you know, at that point of time, it was a SMI industry.
So I was the time I was intrigued. I never knew that, that this has a potential to. Grow or to have that kind of interest that people would actually want to talk about it or to dive into it. And that became the turning point. And then that's where I re registered a company.
Officially put aside a whole job portal and to build OpenMinds. That is year 2012
Ling Yah: And you also entered into this with a new team as well.
Jan Wong: Yes.
Ling Yah: And I understand that in those earlier years, you said before in your first year, you decided not to draw a salary. Second year, you had a small 300 ringgits stipends and the third year was a fresh grad salary.
How did you come up with that decision? Because that is quite a sacrifice to make.
Jan Wong: I mean, to be honest, you kind of have no choice, right? Because at the early stage, it was very clear that we needed money to roll the company. I think when me and my partners came to be. He was very clear that we know that we need to hire.
And the only way to hire is to sacrifice our own, cut our own pay. And that's exactly what we did. So until today, I'm very grateful for my partners to take this very big step of sacrifice in the early days to not draw salary and that really led onto us being to employ our first team member at the expense of all of those.
Of course, of course he doesn't know that when we're getting paid. And so he was the highest paid person within the company, you know, and we were all not getting paid at all. Yeah , but that allows us our first step to grow the company to do more than what we can do. and since then it was just a journey of looking back.
Ling Yah: So you weren't drawing a salary. So how did you survive if you will, that you weren't from a particular rich family, as I understand it?
Jan Wong: No.
Ling Yah: How do you manage it?
Jan Wong: So. On expenses, point of view back then my expenses were extremely low as well. I mean , looking back that time, we were still students coming out, so you didn't have too much commitment.
So that really helped by the same time, because open minds was my first company. So I did have some savings for previous companies as well. And then of course my site, the whole consultancy thing that I was doing for e-commerce, so that gave some income every now and then, and plus since expenses weren't very high.
So that really worked out. For some of my partners as well that's the same, but they have also been working before this. So they also had some savings and all of us were agreeable to come and put together this sacrifice. So this sacrifice wasn't made just because it was a sacrifice. It was a sacrifice that we came to say that look, we need to close our first client before we can officiate this company. Right?
Even for all of us, we needed to prove to ourselves that this company can make money before we even decide to make the sacrifice. And we managed to prove that hence the sacrifice, because now we know that the company is profitable from day one.
It's not something that we're coming together to say, I don't know what we have done in the next six months that it could be zero income. No, we went in knowing that we have closed our first client and that made a whole world of difference.
Ling Yah: So what were your priorities in those first few days in terms of building this company from the ground up
Jan Wong: The early days, the priority was really very simple.
just two things. One is to be able to generate cash flow. Good cash flow that is able to sustain a company and number two, to be able to pay us as founders as soon as possible. Because realistically speaking, of course, we all need money to survive. We can't all work for free forever and ever.
So these 2 were pretty much it, the biggest focus of priority and important time. There was no such thing as scaling the company, trying to go international, those big plans. No, it was just basically survival and being able to pay ourselves.
Ling Yah: And I wonder, how do you differentiate yourself from your competitors?Were there a lot of people doing the same thing? What was the ecosystem like then?
Jan Wong: So at the point of time, technology and marketing were two separate worlds. So if you're in a tech company back then a tech company, it's pretty much just coders. You build websites, you build systems. It's the system integrator company.
It is extremely technical. It's basically really the tech geeks do have that you have in mind. That would be the tech industry back then. And then the marketing industry would be advertising the hipsters and these two industries do not actually talk to each other. In fact, rarely do you find a company where these two competencies.
Together. Right. And that was our unfair advantage. We came together as a team of people that can understand both marketing and technology. So that gave us a very unique proposition where a lot of companies can't give. So when we went on a pitch, we told them the mapping strategy and we told them how tech can help them in marketing and how we can help them achieve these things.
And you don't need to go look anywhere because we can do this all hundred percent in house. So in terms of competency, we were already offering something very unique. Of course, today, when you look at it everywhere, you see a digital company that has a tech guy sitting with it, it's a lot more common these days.
But back then, we were really one of the handful in Malaysia, if not the only one that was able to create such a concept. And that was a good start for us.
Ling Yah: I mean, it's clear that you have a very clear vision. You had people who just bought into that vision as well. At the stage that you're at now, looking back, are there anything in particular that you wish you had done differently?
Jan Wong: Quite a number of things I would say, but I think one of the main thing that stands out is that we should have put in a little bit more clarity in conveying our vision to the employees of the early stage. I think in the early stage, there's some pros and cons . so in the early stage, we were very invested into the process of execution.
We were all highly skilled people. We all have our individual skills. I was still coding in those days, you know, so I was building websites. I was writing codes and we were very, very hands on. And while that helped us get to where we are today, at the same time, we also lacked the ability to translate some of this vision of where we are going to get that to the earlier team members.
So that means that there was a period of time. There was some confusion, there was some disconnect, even among the partners where we are going, because it was always the routine of just getting a job, do the job, getting a job. So in hindsight, there should be some efforts put into making sure that it's the right thing to do as well.
And to even establish clear, real measures in job roles, or even how communication should be done. Because all these things start when you are small, not when you are at the larger size.
Ling Yah: And clearly you have made a big difference because your company was voted as having one of the best workplace cultures. And every time I read about OpenMinds, they always talk about the fact that you put people first. And I wonder how you came to create that culture.
Jan Wong: This culture was actually very intentional, even when openMinds started off with five partners, but in the much earlier days, it was just the three of us as partners.
And even at that point of time , there was a session where all the show was set down to talk about what kind of company we would want to build. And there were few things that we were very sure we don't want to build, which is a company where people dread coming in, a company that has a lot of red tapes in communication and a company that basically just sees employees as workers.
We really disliked these three things and we thought to ourselves, if that's the thing that we don't like, we should not follow what a conventional company is built on.
So this went on from revamping the working hours, revamping how an office should be like revamping how we would want to term certain things when we eventually have a team. We never had a team, the first team member came in months later into the game, but we already said that this is a company that we want to build. And ever since we sat down and placed those so-called ground rules or culture foundation, we started practicing it.
Even among the three of us and ever since then, there has always been the focus. We were always trying to find ways to do better, tighten things up, add more to it.
How can we be even more people centric?
Although we are already trying to do our best, always trying to push our boundaries because it all comes down to these three things that we really, really didn't want to do.
Ling Yah: And clearly your industry initiative transformation, you transformed the work culture, but you also transformed this company from making nothing to, for instance, in 2015, your revenue tripled as compared to 2014, and you even expanded it at one point to Kazakhstan and Singapore and also Hong Kong as well. So at what point would you consider there to have been a turning point where you thought I can make it go to work.
Jan Wong: Well, I wouldn't call it a turning point. In fact, we actually just see it as an opportunity. So as we were scaling, I was very conscious that this is an industry because we were enjoying the benefits . Being one of the pioneers, we are growing. Like you said, the revenue as you tripled, things were going well.
And it was at that point all the time, I realized that, hey if this is really going well, this means that we wouldn't be unique very, very soon. People will be catching up. The industry is seeing more and more experts coming up. Technology is changing. And there are a lot more other opportunities out there for other people to explore as well.
We are no longer as unique as we think we are. So the only way to break free is to either change, offer unique services or skill. At that point in time, because we were also doing rather well financially, we thought that, hey, let let's scale, right? Let's go into other markets and tech markets today. We can present ourselves to recreate this pioneer situation, right?
Because we went through the whole pioneering phase and we reaped the benefits. So we thought let's replicate this pioneering phase. And that's why we went to Kazakhstan. So we knew somebody from Kazakhstan. We had a few conversations. He's also very passionate. It's that thing where something similar. Why not?
Cause I said, it's a very new country. This is brand new to them. Very similar climate to how we first started that. So we thought, okay, let's go in
Costs wasn't very high in Kazakhstan. So we thought let's give it a try. So it was just a method of building more grounds for us. Of course, unfortunately, the story also goes two years in, we had to shut down the Kazakhstan office because of the oil and gas crisis that had been in an appalling time. And most of our clients were oil and gas or whatever. So we had to shut it down and it was a good run. And then we explored into more mature markets like Hong Kong and Singapore.
Ling Yah: And how do you maintain that kind of culture when you were already multi jurisdictional?
Jan Wong: So we started a Hong Kong office by sending one of our Malaysian team members to Hong Kong. So ever since then, she has been based in Hong Kong for the past two years. Was it three already in Hong Kong? And she was the one that single handedly grew the Hong Kong team.
After what she has experienced in Malaysia, how she has grown with us, how she has also built a relevant skill set. So she's just successfully transferred all of this within Hong Kong and built a team of her own in terms of. Vision and direction. I think that's still very much aligned because as a group, we all see a common future.
They want to achieve together. But when it comes to what culture, that is some sort of a difference because the pace between these countries are extremely different, even within Kazakhstan, the way we do business is very, very different ? So what we realize is that, Hey, you know what? Culture could be different.
However, the company's values remain the same. And that is what we have kept across all the countries in how the company is run operationally, that could be different and, to take on whatever is effective for their country.
Ling Yah: I want to talk about one thing that you mentioned before, which happened in 2017, and you said you let your guard down and that led to a lot of impact on relationships.
And I wonder if you could share that and what happened.
Jan Wong: Well, it's a very long detailed, dark and personal story.
At that time, I have to say that I allowed quite a bit of ego to get to me. It was a time where we were doing pretty well as a company.
It was a time that on a personal career side on a personal life site. Things were going very smooth. It was one of the highest point in life. And I think it was also the time where I kinda lost myself. I was in a state thinking I was able to solve- probably going to have to run this company.
Right? So many challenges, technically there is nothing I cannot solve, you know, kind of that kind of a mindset.
And that was a huge trap . That led to a series of decisions that I shouldn't have made. Even until today. In hindsight, when I look back, I wasn't proud of some of these decisions I've made because it has cost me very, very dearly.
A lot has been lost. I lost friends, I lost close relationships. I lost many things and money involved as well quite a bit. And that brought me from my highest point to my lowest point in life. Almost- just within months. Right. And the worst part of it is that while going through this. I was still very adamant that I was able to solve this problem. I thought I was still very capable of doing it.
And it's just spiralled and spiralled and spiralled and spiralled until we hit a point where none of it can be salvaged, I realized that I had no power. I had no ability to save myself from this situation. And there's nothing I do, but to just let go and move on.
And that was the start of a series of very, very dark and lonely months ahead at that period of time.
Ling Yah: And how do you dig yourself out of that one managing your own business?
Jan Wong: It was extremely, extremely, extremely challenging. I mean, I can only attribute it to the grace of God to be honest, because. I was really, really tough.
I mean, I still can recall some days I just didn't want, I just couldn't find strength to get off my bed because the stress, the pressure was so real and there was really nobody like, literally nobody I could talk to that would sympathize or empathize or would just listen to me without judging me at that point of time.
It was a moment where it feels like you're just locked into a box and you have nowhere to turn to and you are just waiting for the days to pass. You know, it was to the extent where I always describe it as, you know, people say take it one day at a time. At that point of time, to me, it was one minute at a time.
I really could not function as a human being. I could not focus on work. I couldn't focus on doing whatever that I'm doing. You know, all the things that used to say, how that, you know, when you're low, you need to motivate yourself, as an entrepreneur, to this mindset, I channelled all of that, but I couldn't do anything of that is to the point where I actually had to openly tell my partners to say, look, I, I need to take a break.
I need to be totally cut off from the business for some time to really find myself again. So I was out for about two to three months, almost three months, completely detached from the base. Of course I still received emails and all that. I do read them just to stay abreast, but I wasn't actively involved in activities in the company, but it was still tough.
I was literally wasting time. Mindlessly browsing Netflix, mindlessly browsing YouTube. I was just really waiting for time. To pass.
I did some minor traveling here and there, you know, because they said, if you travel, get your mind off things, but it didn't, it was a huge period of time.
But as time goes by the feelings slowly lifted bit by bit. And when I one day realized that it has reached a point where I can work again, that's where I re-enrolled myself and started doing what I'm supposed to do. But that doesn't mean that I was over the whole thing. I still struggled for quite a bit.
In fact, this whole saga was a total of two years, right? It was only 2019 where I actually started to feel like myself again, it was two years of really hell and despite work and all that going on, it was a constant struggle behind the scenes were not many people would have known actually.
Ling Yah: And you mentioned God, so faith is something that's very important to you since you were young. And you're part of the youth team, the ministry, the music team as well. Can you share a bit about how faith has played a role in your life?
Jan Wong: Faith has always been a big part of my life.
I mean, I was born into a Christian family. But that real encounter where I realized that, hey, this faith thing , it has become very real to me was about the age of 12 and 13 years old.
And that's where I really wanted to serve and give and to be able to contribute in whatever ways I can at an age. Right. So at that time at church, one of the easiest ways was through music. And a lot of my friends were already musicians because they were learning, practicing from young and all that.
So I thought, yeah, maybe I could pick up an instrument, you know, and start serving. So that was really the start of it. And of course, through music, then I started getting involved in different parts of the church that also build different leadership qualities and all of that. and that whole part of my church journey played a very important role in helping me hang on to be honest.
Although I have to also say that in the two years, I couldn't find myself to go to church. It was also a period of time where, because I grew up in a church, I said, all my friends were church friends. And when all these things happened, it wasn't also the best place to be.
I just didn't want to be around people. But somehow at a personal level, the faith was still there. That kept me going day by day, minute by minute.
Ling Yah: And as I understand another thing that keeps it going is the fact that as you mentioned earlier, you love to serve. You love to give back, and we can see that in just a number of free webinars you've given during COVID-19, you've done like 10 in the past month and you have been a TEDx speaker, keynote speaker.
You are an advisor on BFM radio. You are constantly speaking on stage in front of a crowd, even though, as I understand you were an introvert and you actually hated public speaking when you were young. So how did that pivot come about? And all these opportunities?.
Jan Wong: I still hate public speaking to be honest, every time before I go upstairs, I always still have this jittery feeling.
My heart beats, I don't know how many BPS per second, you know, it goes crazy. It's not something that comes natural to me until today.
So interestingly, I keep track of this sheet. They put down all the number of events I've spoken in and crowd size, right? So up to now, I've actually spoken to, I don't know, more than 30,000, 40,000 people or across hundreds of stages across the world.
I still have this feeling . So I can assure you that I've never gotten about it, but you're right. From a young age , even in high school, when we had to do oral exams, . For English and VM, I hated every part of it, I tried to push it. I try to tell teacher that, Hey, I can't do it today.
I forgot my materials. I tried to push it as much as I can. I really, really didn't like it in college. It was worse. Because presentation is mandatory, always back my team leader to say, just let me do introductions. I'll go up there and introduce everybody, tell the topics and you guys can take over it and I'll come up and say, thank you.
I'll do the start. And the end. That was my role over and over again. So it was a period of time when I started my company. And then I took the whole certified e-commerce program. That is when I realized that. I cannot skip this. If this is what I want to do, if I want it to be different, if I am serious on this path or so called this career, or this skill that I'm trying to build, this is something that I would just need to do despite me not liking it, or despite me being not good at it.
So whatever that you are seeing now, in our accommodation or all the webinars, or even the TEDx videos and all these speaking engagements, but how big the stage is, it's actually just a result of me forcing myself and tremendous amount of practice.
In the early days it was hell. I had to practice many, many times. You know I wrote a script, I tried to memorize it in practice in front of a mirror. I run through it over and over again, just for that 15 minutes, just to introduce myself and my company in a networking event, I needed to go through that. And then when somebody gives me the opportunity to share about e-commerce on stage, it was just, I think, just 20 minutes.
Well, that was like, I think it felt like two hours for me, you know, I wrote, I prepared, I did all that I can, and I still do that until today. Of course, I don't take two hours to prepare right now. I mean, it's much shorter because I kind of know my way up with certain techniques that I've developed, but it's true.
Hard work. Like. Hard H A R D and H E A R T hard work combination of these two things, because I really need to force myself to at this webinars as well, to be honest, I could actually just say no, I don't want to do any of these things, you know, I'm comfortable not doing any of this, but again, it's what I want to do.
It's how I also put myself in a position that I'll need to do it. And therefore I did it.
Ling Yah: And in 2017, you were one of the Forbes 30 on the 30, that's clearly a recognition of other things that you've been doing. Congratulations. How was that feeling and did it have an impact on the kind of work that you're doing?
Jan Wong: There is a significant amount of impact with what I'm doing. That's for sure, because the recognition from Forbes it's a reputable recognition. You can't pay for it. You can't bid for it. It's something where they're recognized for their efforts within the region and being able to be listed as one of the 30 under 30 in the Asia list, it was really a pat on the shoulder.
But if you talk about how I felt about it, to be honest, I didn't really feel anything because this was 2017. 2017 was the darkest year, right. It was a period of time. I was going through so much. And despite the announcement, I really didn't know how to feel about it. That's why this whole Forbes thing, it's something where I've never celebrated.
I mean, I looked around at all the other lists, all of them that also made the list, they threw parties with their companies, they threw parties with their loved ones, celebrated, they went out, they had all these things. I celebrate that in silence, I guess. It was a time I was just processing all this. In fact, we talk about fit, right?
It was also a time I was really also asking God, like, why I've really messed up. I did all these things, no wrong decisions. I let you go get through my head, all these things that's coming in. And then there's this recognition right now to say that, hey, you have done well. So I'm like, there's a lot of contradiction within me.
There was a lot of play within my head. What's going on? What does this really mean? So he has never really sunk in. But like I said, the impact of this was great because people recognize the Forbes brand and it definitely helped me in my career in growing open minds and meeting client speaking events and all these webinars also have some sort of attribution to the recognition that Forbes has given me in 2017.
Ling Yah: And I wonder how it is that you were in that period of time, but in 2018, you decided to go even further and you started incubating startups as well, which I imagine took a lot of you. I mean, you incubator a virtual reality tech startup data analytics, coworking space passport, there are all these different things.
How did you even decide that you had the capacity to take this on while battling all these mental and also business related issues?
Jan Wong: I saw that as an outlet. I knew I couldn't sit still. I cannot continuously wallow in the sadness or whatever that I was going through. I knew that it wasn't healthy. I knew that I needed to come out.
There was a company waiting for me. I could not be on a break indefinitely and forever . I needed to still pull my weight. I needed to still do something. And at the very least, those were the things that I thought I could do. And it could also keep my mind off things. And it did, to be honest, these things did because it was a fresh new take.
So those were like a gentle introduction for me to even come back into the formal running of the company. So all of these different incubations, because there were different products that were different teams, there were different brainstorming processes. So that keeps things fresh and exciting to slowly ease me back into the game again.
So all these things actually were stepping stones that helped me recover.
Ling Yah: And I have a question from one of our friends, Jamie, she wants me to ask you, you have always been giving to other people, but what have you done for yourself?
Jan Wong: Wow. Hmm, that's a very good one and a tough one. Well, to be honest, I haven't done much for myself.
In fact, right before this call, I was in another meeting. I was actually asked a similar question as well. And my answer was also the same. That's something that I can see I regret because I knew whatever they are when the shoe was a stepping stone to where I am today. But I also recognize that that actually has been my biggest weakness that it's always putting, not just other people, but other things first, it could be a company.
It could be a new venture idea. It could be my parents. It could be my sisters. It could be my friends. It could be my partners, whatever it is, but I have very little time on my own for me to do what I truly enjoy. And it's something where, to be honest, I actually want it. Some time off this year, like to go on a holiday, bad timing since we are in the center of the COVID-19 pandemic.
So that has definitely differed plans, but this was the year I thought I could finally take a break and spend some time for myself away from the company, away from the business and away from the baggage I was carrying , to really just go and have fun once again. And looks like it's not the time yet.
I'm still waiting for the opportunity for me to create something or do something for myself.
Ling Yah: And how has COVID-19 actually impacted your life then? I mean, when we first met, you were traveling all the time. You were barely in Malaysia and now it seems like you haven't paused. So what has been the impact?
And surely you must be doing something for yourself since you're finally at home more.
Jan Wong: That was actually the initial part, you know,
So I started this year traveling quite a bit as well. There was Bangkok. There was Singapore. I was going back and forth.
In fact, I've never been in Malaysia so long, not flying out continuously. I've never been in Malaysia. So it's been a while I've been here like that. So when I came back from Singapore, there were just days before Malaysia had its own stay at home order MCO. I thought to myself, this would be a good chance for me to spend some time for myself.
Catch up on their Netflix subscription that I've been blindly paying and not watching, and really just catching up all the books. I've tons of books stacked up and not touching them. I thought I would be able to clear this, but it has been extremely busy. I have never been able to do any of those things.
It has become a lot more demanding for many reasons. Number one. Yes, definitely impacted our plans as a company in open minds. This was the year that we were planning to resume some of our scaling plans. China was on our map and of course China was the first country that was hit . So in the beginning we're thinking, okay, that's fine.
It's just China. And yet we have other opportunities. We had another opportunity in Europe and then guess what you wrote. Second because Italy, Germany, and they were all just on domino effects. And then Malaysia came. So we were hit left right center and all this that they put to a stop. And that means that we had to re-synergize, restrategize, replant, everything that we had , for the year in every aspect, from talent perspective, skill perspective, spending perspective , survivability.
And that took a lot of time in readjusting to make sure that we could stay afloat. So there were a lot of meetings, a lot of calls and then came or saw the need to still close deals, to still look for clients to still keep leads warm, to keep the relationship there because we can just go through this and just stop everything and just stay home.
So what still needs to be done? And that has been keeping me extremely busy and one way for us to also stay afloat and to keep ourselves relevant out there to show that we are still there from a branding perspective, from an awareness perspective is through webinars? Now everybody's running webinars.
Everybody's trying to get ourselves out there. And we told her, Hey, this is something we do as well . Live stages. We just need to translate someone listings, do it through video right now. And that has also been taking a lot of my time. Like you rightly said, I have done 10 already in the month of May. I've one more tomorrow, one more Wednesday and yeah, and there's still some, some conversations going on for the, for the weeks ahead.
So I still don't have the time for myself. Although I would really love to say that, Oh yes, I've ticked off all those things on my list, but I am also glad that through this period of time, it gives me some time to also reprioritize some parts of my life.
So for example, I finally managed to work on the book project that I am supposed to complete four years ago. So it's four years since I finally got a chance to really.
I think one of the hidden blessings of MCO is that I know that I'm definitely going to be stuck at home. I wouldn't have a sudden meeting that I need to travel to KL or somewhere at 1am or 8.30 in the morning, leaving home one hour before to beat the jet.
So in some sense, the schedule is fixed. If it's a call, it's a call at nine. I can slowly walk to my computer 8.50 and still make it in time. And that allowed me to deliberately set up where we clear blocks of time. To reprioritize some of these things. So book writing has been rather successful so far.
I haven't been able to schedule it in a bit more frequent workouts. So that's how the hidden benefits, I would say.
Ling Yah: Do you foresee any lasting impact from COVID-19 that impact the way that you do business? Let's say five to 10 years from now.
Jan Wong: I think it will definitely impact in the sense where the approach of us in scaling the company or even running certain parts of business will be, we'll definitely take a turn.
There'll be a change in how we manage a company, even as a whole. And how we look at hiring how we look, how in terms of investing into different tools that we use to manage a company or projects in terms of how we structure contracts with our clients, there will definitely be changes like that.
But I think one of the biggest things that we probably need to adapt and change is to also look into diversifying some parts of a business. I know we already diversified in some sense, but in the past we always took this diversification for granted, like it's possible so we do it.
But we didn't really put that much of an effort. An emphasis in making sure that they achieve his fullest potential. But through this experience, we are reminded of the importance of also putting equal enough effort. And that is something that will stick with this for many years to come.
Ling Yah: And I wonder if there is anyone here who's thinking of starting a new venture, would you advise them to start it now? And if so what would be your biggest piece of advice for them?
Jan Wong: I've always said this and I'll say this again. There is never a right or wrong time to start a business because there are businesses that thrive during a downturn. There are also businesses that close during the upturn. A business is something that's very unpredictable and it's really up to you.
To seize that opportunity to make that sacrifice and put in the effort to basically turn this into something that is profitable for you. So if there's any advice to be, it's really just to be very prudent on your cash flow, especially if you're going to start at this point in time. You want to look for a business that doesn't necessarily just write on a trend or you think it can do well, but to save guard your cash flow , to put that extra emphasis in your numbers becomes very, very important because I think this whole season, if anything, has taught businesses big and small, like that cash flow is King. You look at big companies, big, huge tech companies around the world . They have hundreds of millions of dollars in investments and they're letting employees go.
And they themselves are putting out an announcement saying that, Hey, I may not be around anymore the next three months in the next six months, that shows, right, that you went to how much money you had in terms of investment and all that. If you don't maintain a profitable company, which is the basis of any business anyway, if you're running a business and you're not going to make money, I don't know why you're going to business.
So it's a good time to get back to basics. Start whatever business you have, if an idea of great, start small baby steps, but more importantly, make sure you know how to get the money in. If you are unsure, then maybe this is not a good time to start.
So you need to know, how are you going to earn that revenue before you go jumping into it.
Ling Yah: Well, thank you so much, Jen, for your time. it's been incredible to hear your story and the fact that you just were so able to listen and hear the kind of needs that were there and just pivoting and just answering with your unique set of skills.
So normally before I close, I always end with these questions. So the first one is, have you found your why?
Jan Wong: Yes. My why is achieved by a simple , why am I doing all this? It's really just to inspire others and to be inspired myself.
That is still one of the main things that keeps me moving. That's one of the main things that keeps me motivated on days where I really don't feel like it. On days where I feel that I didn't do a good job. When I come across something that I realized that, hey, I've made an impact on somebody I've managed to inspire somebody in the smallest ways, that keeps me going.
And that is one of the biggest push factor of why am I doing all of these things? Why am I so adamant that OpenMind has to be run in a certain way? Why do we have to be huge believers of positive education? Why are we doing all these subsidiaries? That investment to startups is really to enlarge our base, to inspire many more people and to open more minds.
That's exactly where the name comes from.
Ling Yah: Just the take on that. Who inspires you then?
Jan Wong: Whoa, this is actually tough because I don't have that one person that kind of inspires me. So I look into multiple different people for different parts of life or different parts of a situation I have. I will look up different people for different things.
So if you look at, let's say on the spiritual side of things, I have a pastor that I look up to when you look at how somebody came from nothing, even when nobody believed him and turned into something. I actually admire how Tony Fernandez did it when he bought over AirAsia from nothing.
When I looked into how to run a company, you know, despite being at the top, and so many people clearly don't understand what you're doing. I have a mentor that is a managing partner in one of the big forces in Malaysia that I look up to as well.
So even in marketing, in different aspects of marketing, I also have different sources of inspiration. So I don't have this one particular main figure, but I've many people depending on how I relate to them.
That's where I draw my inspiration from.
Ling Yah: And what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?
Jan Wong: I think for me, one legacy I want to leave behind is that I want people to be able to see me and recognize me that I have made a tangible, positive impact to the things that I do. It comes back very real close to what I said, just now about to inspire and to be inspired.
And this has always been the underlying motivation of why I'm doing what I'm doing. Some people ask me eh Jan, you know, you're running all these things. You really don't have time for yourself, but you're still teaching, but you are giving all this free mentorship to startups, these students where you know, that will fail.
And your idea is probably lousy and you know it, right, but still you are spending this one, two hours a day with them, going on coffee? What, why are you doing this to me? It's, it's really very simple because I really just want to live a positive impact. And if somebody can look back one day and say that hey, there was this point where I spoke with Jen and he changed my life, or he gave me this insight or he helped me come up or where I am and he inspired me to do this and do that. That is something that I really strive for. If I can leave the legacy, then I could say that this is actually a life well lived.
Ling Yah: And thirdly, what do you think are the most important qualities a person needs to thrive as you have in your field?
Jan Wong: I think one of the biggest qualities that one should have a must have is to have the ability to shut off what people are seeing about you.
Although there are a lot of other things you can think of like perseverance and sacrifice , positive thinking mindset. There's a whole long list of things, but I think above all, you need to have the ability to be able to shut off what people are saying about new, because people will talk regardless if you're successful or not successful.
Whether your decision is right or it's wrong. People will still talk. So you need to have your own firm belief. It could be driven by faith. It could be driven by your gut and your own motivation, whatever it is, but trust yourself, trust that voice that you have. Don't get easily influenced or straight by the people around you, because at the end, it's your life.
And you need to make that decision on your own in what kind of a life you want to live.
Ling Yah: And there's a special welcome question again from Jamie, our mutual friend. And she says that there is so much information about you online. And I saw articles written about it. Interviews, webinars. Tell us something that we can find online about you.
Jan Wong: Wow. I don't even know the extent of what's online and now what? Oh, okay. This could be interesting.
One thing that many people may not know that is at one point of time, I was a driver.
I mean, I had reasons for it, it was not for additional pocket money or whatnot, but I was very curious in how the ecosystem worked and I wanted to know how it was like to be fetching strangers and all that.
So I did that for a bit. This was before things became complicated with the license and all of that, right back there, it was just a registration. So when should a whole lot of the training and whatnot, and I actually picked up a few people. Just to see how's it like. It was fun.
And then after that I decided, okay, this is not for me, but yeah, I don't think you can find it online because I rarely talked about this, but yes, I was a Grab driver . And this was just, I think maybe one year, two years ago, maybe.
Ling Yah: That's fascinating. And where can people go to find more about you and just connect with you?
Jan Wong: All the social media platforms, whether it's LinkedIn, whether it's Instagram, you can just search Jan Wong or if not, you can hit straight to my website as well. That's www.janwong.my
Ling Yah: Thank you so much, Jan for the time spent here. I've really enjoyed it.
Jan Wong: No problems at all. Thank you. Thank you for all the great questions. That really got me thinking very much.
Ling Yah: And that was the end of episode 7.
The show notes can be found at www.sothisismywhy.com/7 which includes the transcript and links to everything we just talked about.
And if you loved what Jan shared and wants to gain some of his hardwon digital marketing insights, Jan actually has this new book he just released and it's called Building Your Digital Network.
It's a great book and the link to purchase that can be found in the show notes as well.
And if you're wondering what's coming up in the next episode, well, we're going all the way to Germany.
To meet a freelance journalist who has worked with Reuters, The Guardian, The Telegraph, and USA Today, as well as written guidebooks for the Lonely Planet and Michelin Green Guides hung out with Venezuelan gang members, transgender sex workers, politicians, and Berlin, DJs, and imparts great advice for those seeking to live the life of a freelance writer.
This episode will drop next Sunday. So stay tuned and thank you for listening.