Welcome to Episode 55!
Our guest for STIMY Episode 55 is Karl Mak.
Karl Mak is a Singaporean entrepreneur and co-founder and CEO of HEPMIL Media Group: a holding company that owns SGAG, MGAG, PGAG, SGEEK and HEPMIL Creators’ Network.
If you’re a fan of memes, then you’re in for a treat because that is precisely what HEPMIL specialises in!
Karl shares how he almost became a professional swimmer, how he built a flourishing real estate career while in school, his experiences (and failure) with his first startup & how he ended up co-founding SGAG with Adrian Ang, whom he had first met back in 2005 in junior college.
Here is Karl’s story.
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Who is Karl Mak?
Karl Mak grew up in the expat community of Singapore as his parents had immigrated to Singapore from Hong Kong in the mid-1980s. Karl shares how he loved sports, notably swimming, and was even on the verge of trying out for the national team trials. But his mother refused to let him swim competitively after the age of 12!
- 3:32 Swimming competitively
Exposed to Entrepreneurship
Karl shares how he first got exposed to the world of startups and entrepreneurship and how he ended up starting SGAG with his co-founder, Adrian.
- 9:53 Entering the real estate business
- 13:28 The gift of the gab
- 20:26 Learning from Professor Soon Loo
- 22:23 Attending a coding bootcamp to find a co-founder
- 26:26 “Crazy” things Karl did to get enterprise clients
- 28:22 Why Televate, Karl’s first startup, failed
- 33:43 Meeting Adrian & starting SGAG
- 38:27 How they come up with memes
- 40:32 The Ah Lian meme, which was picked up by mainstream media
- 42:36 Milestones to track
- 47:47 The early days of SGAG
- 49:04 Land grabbing tactics used by SGAG
- 51:42 Distinguishing SGAG from other similar pages
- 56:40 Selling vulgar T-shirts
- 59:18 How the business deal with Scoot happened
- 1:00:57 Changing the engine of a plane in mid-air
- 1:06:03 Your failure makes you more valuable
- 1:07:26 Building a creators’ network
- 1:15:58 How COVID-19 impacted Karl & HEPMIL Media Group
If you’re looking for more inspirational stories from creatives, check out:
- Kendrick Nguyen: Co-Founder & CEO of Republic – one of the top equity crowdfunding platforms in the US
- Nick Bernstein, Part 1 & Part 2: Senior VP, Late Night Programming (West Coast), CBS & executive in charge of the Late Late Show with James Corden
- Ning-Geng Ong: Founder of Chocolate Concierge, who creates unique Malaysian single origin chocolate
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I’d love to include more listener comments & thoughts into future STIMY episodes! If you have any thoughts to share, a person you’d like me to invite, or a question you’d like answered, send an audio file / voice note to [email protected]
Some of the things we talked about in this STIMY Episode can be found below:
- SGAG: Website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- Nubbad TV: YouTube, Instagram, Facebook
- MGAG: Website, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- Hepmil Creators’ Network
- Subscribe to the STIMY Podcast for alerts on future episodes at Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher & RadioPublic
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STIMY Ep 55: Karl Mak - Co-Founder, Hepmil Media Group (SGAG, MGAG, PGAG) & Hepmil Creators' Network
Karl Mak: We were childish kids, right. So we were at this very awkward stage of growing up where we figured, like we're not like the cool jocks of the school. We're not like from the cool sports, CCAs and all that. We were just regular guys. And we also maybe reach a level of puberty where we were quite comfortable in our own skin. So the five of us would just like sit in the highway or sit in an empty room by ourselves and literally crack lame jokes together.
Like we would entertain ourselves for the two years. Like we would spend so much time just giggling at each other's jokes and trying to outjoke each other. And that was really the DNA of the five of us. And this carried on into university when people thought we were crazy because we were just talking nonsense all the time.
Like that was a big part of who we was a group. So like naturally our brains when we are together is like wired to talk nonsense. We were talking nonsense all the time since we were 17. So naturally when we were in uni and Adrian was brilliant at this, his brain is just wired with nonsense. Like he would just come up with all this.
Like I remember the haze came, right. And he was like, Oh my God, we should take a vacuum cleaner and go through the window and try to vacuum the haze. And can you take a photo of me doing it so that I can make it into a meme? And I'm like, who thinks of stuff like that, right? So I'm like, okay, that's what we're going to do.
So he literally holds his mom's vacuum cleaner at the window, and he's like going to vacuum the haze. And the meme goes viral. And I'm like, Wow. Like nobody thinks like you, right? Like nobody has the time in Singapore to think like you, so that's really how we were as friends. And I suppose it carried on into the culture that we have today.
Ling Yah: Hey everyone!
Welcome to episode 55 of the So This Is My Why podcast. I'm your host and producer, Ling Yah, and today's guest is Karl Mak. co-founder and CEO of Hepmil Media Group, a network of technology driven media companies to include SGAG, MGAG and PGAG as well as the hat mill creates a network.
If you're a fan of memes, then you're in for a treat because Karl is a master in this field. Having built a highly successful startup centered entirely around memes that highlight current affairs in Southeast Asia.
Karl and his co-founder Adrian first began what is now known as Hepmil back in college. Where they would create viral memes that captured for instance, the outrage surrounding the lack of McDonald's Curry sauce in Singapore, to the bat Hayes, and SMRT train breakdown in 2012. Karl shares how he went from having a prolific career in real estate while studying to founding his first startup, which eventually folded and how they've built Hepmil into what it is today.
As well as his thoughts on the creator economy and how they come up with their wacky memes.
Are you ready to learn more?
Karl Mak: My parents were immigrants. they came from Hong Kong to Singapore in the mid eighties.
And I was born when they were still at the crossroads of whether they wanted to be in Singapore for the longterm. and I think that was actually an interesting environment for me because I was born into the expat community. I was hanging out with international kids and then suddenly my parents decided that they wanted to be Singaporeans and they were offered to be Singaporeans in the very early nineties.
So I grew up with an international community and then I went to local school for primary school. So in that sense, I grew up with a perspective of, hanging out with people from all races.
I was also quite athletic. I loved sports. Notably swimming. I actually swam a lot as a child. And I was invited to go for the national team trials when I was probably about 11 years old or so. it was a very clear path from the coach and from the team that by 15, I had to compete in my first SEA games.
That was the goal. To train for the next four years intensively. Go for gold. And back in the nineties, Singapore was doing quite well in swimming. So that was like the dream right, for a lot of aspiring professional swimmers. And the funny thing is my mom was the one who got me into swimming and she was also the one that pulled me out of swimming.
She refused to let me go for the national team trials. She refused to let me even continue past the age of 12 swimming competitively or semi competitively, because she didn't want me to be a national swimmer. So I would say that was probably one of the defining things of my childhood, you know, training so hard, being forced to train and then suddenly pulled off the system and like, okay, you can train at all.
She wanted me to have the life skills swimming. She wanted me to have the discipline of training, but she didn't want me to have a career in professional sports. Because I think traditional Asian parent, you need to have a job that's more stable, right?
You need to have something that doesn't require you to retire by 25 because swimmers a lot of them especially in this part of the world, you retire quite young. Definitely not like some of the global athletes like NBA where they play till they're close to 40, I think for swimmers, the journey ends quite early.
she didn't want me to go down that path. She wanted me to be Asian in that sense.
Ling Yah: And your grandparents were quite a big influence on you as well. Right? Growing up.
Karl Mak: I wouldn't say they were big influences because I actually didn't hang out with them as much. because I was an expat kid.
But the one thing that I know was that my grandparents were extremely, extremely poor. So my, grandfather was a Cooley where he would carry rice from the boats into the ports. And then my grandmother was a cleaner in apartment blocks.
And so, I grew up with stories from my parents, that my grandparents had six children, they couldn't put food on the table and they live day to day.
Which I think formed a lot of the values that my parents had when it came through frugality, when it came to the value of money and opportunity they themselves, came from a very, very poor environment in terms of not having money constantly, there are days that they had no money.
So when they came over as ex-pats were given a expat package and Singapore, and then the nineties was a big deal for the family. It was a big deal for them because they were the first in their household to kind of break out of that cycle of poverty and to live an ex-pat life here in Singapore was the dream for many people, not just from Hong Kong, but from all parts of the world.
But I think what struck me was never lost sight of where they came from. And I think in Chinese, does that phrase, or chen yu called, yin sui si yuan right? Where they always remember where the stream came from. and so I grew up in that kind of environment where I think my grandparents and the lives that they led formed a lot of the value systems that I was brought up in as a child.
Ling Yah: And do you feel like that influenced you greatly in the sense of, I need to find a stable job probably as a lawyer engineer, doctor as all Asian kids are probably asked.
Karl Mak: What was interesting was my parents, because they were able to provide for us as middle income as a middle-income family, we were never in lack.
Because they took that leap from moving from Hong Kong to Singapore and then being an ex-pat a professional. Yeah. My dad was a professional here. we were comfortable, we were middle-class expat package. We were taken care of. And I grew up, I had everything that I wanted, we never had anything in one.
I was the beneficiary of the first-generation where I would say I had freedom, right. I had freedom of choice. I had freedom the ability to pursue passion, for example, but strangely enough, my parents never imposed on me. Growing up, they just told me I can't be a professional swimmer. Which I, I, looking back, I agree. I wouldn't have wanted to be a professional swimmer. But you know, they never gave me that pressure to do well in school.
They never gave me that pressure to follow a path. In fact, they were really liberal in allowing me to pursue my wants and my path. I see it as privilege, right. I see it as privileged that I never had to choose a path because we needed the stable income. I never was forced to take engineering or medicine or law because my parents wanted it.
I was free to choose. And for that, I think it was a unique environment that I was in.
Ling Yah: So given that you have so much freedom to choose, w ere you clear on the kind of passions you were interested say by the time you went to eight levels,
Karl Mak: Oh no, absolutely not. I was a mess, like any other kid, right. I had no idea what I wanted to do. A levels was, just a blur for me. I was having a lot of fun. I made a lot of friends and, you know, I realized. the benefits of being around great friends, great people, people that spur you on. And I had that environment growing up right through my teenage years.
I was blessed to have friends that were high achievers way more successful, way more smart than me. And I think in the environment that I was in, people were striving to go to Ivy league universities. They were all getting scholarships to go overseas. And here I was, just trying to figure out what I was going to do next way I was going to go, but they would always challenge me.
I think the great thing about some of my friends that I have is they will always questioning. They were always challenging. They were always striving. And that inspired me a lot to really ask myself, wow, look at my buddies. they're really going for it. What can I do for myself? In the same manner emulating some of those traits that they had.
Even up to university. I had no idea what I wanted to do. And I went to a business school, I did a degree in economics and the natural path for a lot of us in a business school was To work in a bank.
And investment banking back then was the Holy grail of the path of the more successful graduates. So naturally again, being ambitious, being a young striving student. Okay. Let's aim for investment banking because that's where everybody says we should go. And actually that became my North star for a short while.
Because I realized I was not very good at finance. I was not very good at math. I was not very good at numbers in general. I couldn't keep up. I couldn't compete in the same pace in the same rigor as a lot of the people who are smarter than me in university. And I was by no way, even close to getting an internship or placement in an investment bank.
And I didn't like it at all. Like I was so bored of it. And so I realized that's really not the path for me I didn't know where I wanted to go, but I knew where I couldn't go.
Ling Yah: So I think second year at uni that's when you started exploring alternative paths and you got into the real estate business as well.
Karl Mak: Yeah. So I, at that point I figured I was not going to get an internship in a prestigious bank. Well off my friends, I realized that neither did I want to do nine to five internship and get $500. I really wanted cash. I wanted to make money. I wanted to support myself because as a young uni student, I want it to have the ability to pay for my own things.
My own exchange programs, I do whatever I want, right. And that was probably the first thing I thought about like, I wanted cash, but I also want it to work or do a job that required little time. So I didn't want a job that paid by the hour. I wanted a job that would pay super high for doing the least amount of work.
So that's the lazy, lazy side of me, right? Like maximum payout, least amount of work. And one of my buddies from junior college went to uni with me. He actually became a real estate agent and he bought his first condo at 22 years old. And this was a Spanky new condo in downtown Singapore. And I was like, dude, like we went to the same school.
We've been friends for years. How are you buying a condo at 22 years old? And here I had figuring out how to make money by the hour. And he told me like, yo, it's the real estate boom. It's 2010, 2009. Real estate was really heating up in Singapore. It's so easy to get a license and just guided me.
He was like, go get a license and you'll figure it out. And that's what I did. I got a license. I went for the course after school. It was really easy to get the license. And then I had to sort of figure out how to get the deal flow. I knew that I didn't want to stand at show flats and handing out brochures and cold call people.
I knew that that was probably not going to work because you're just competing with like 20,000 other people doing the same thing. I needed a unique advantage. And I realized that I had one because my parents were expats. So they have expat friends who probably have money and they had spare properties that they wanted to lease out.
They maybe had friends that were migrating over, who wanted a place to stay. And so I told my mom, like, can you call all your rich friends and tell them like, your son is a real agent and ask them to let me represent them. And that's what she did. My mom was super supportive. She was like, okay, here's a deal.
Can you go and rent this house out? Can you go and sell that for my friend? And it was game. It was not as if I was given exclusive because I was a friend's son. was given the same opportunity as any other agent. And there were multiple agents on these deals, right? So it was like a free for all kind of scenario, but I was quite lucky I was able to sell or lease out some of these properties relatively quickly, even though I was a rookie.
It was my first year. And I got paid commissions and it was like a luck thing, right? Like you could literally do like 10 viewings and not close a deal, or you could do one viewing and close the deal. And I was able to close a few deals quite early on that were on the lucky side, right?
Like one viewing the guy sees it for 15 minutes and he buys a $3 million property without batting an eye. And I was like, Whoa, you get paid really quickly in this industry. There's no work to be done except for administrative forms. And the payout was handsome. So I was like, wow, this is it. This is my career path.
This was so fun. And I spent three and a half years through university, just deep diving into industry, getting my network out there. Just expanding deal flows. And I was having so much fun doing it. It was a whole lot of fun to be able to see beautiful properties, to be able to talk to people from different walks of life who were coming through some of these properties and go through the art of negotiation and sales.
So I did all of that through my university.
Ling Yah: So it sounds like you had something of the gift of the gab. You could just sell anything you wanted to.
Karl Mak: Yeah. I realized that like, I was not very good at studying. I was just very mediocre at best. But then I realized, like I had the ability to sell. People trusted me. I realized that it also helps that I look a bit older. So I was literally 21 years old when I sold my first apartment for my client. And I remember the guy who was buying, it was a older gentleman. And then when he looked at my ICU, I was like, dude, you're 21. And I'm like, yeah, I'm turning one years old.
And he was like, are you kidding me. Like, I just bought a house from a 21 year old. Did you scam me or fool me into this. I was like, no, this is what it is. You saw the houses. It is everything. And he just looked at me in amazement. He was like young man. You're going to go very far in this industry.
And he was like the managing director of a big MNC, right. I appreciate it. Those compliments and I started to think, right? Like what are skills or talent that I had that could really allow me to pursue my career in a certain field. and I knew sales, was it right?
I knew I was good at talking and convincing people to do things. And so I guess, yeah. Give off the gap. Selling physical properties was the first real sort of work that I did. That allowed me to discover, uncover a little bit off what I might call a bit of talent that I had. Cause I couldn't find anything else.
I was not like super smart. I was not like super intellectual or I couldn't do. A lot of things. And this was like the first thing I realized I was better than most other people my age. So, yeah, was a bit of a discovery for me.
Ling Yah: Weren't you inclined to go into this full-time after graduation? Because it pays well and you were good at it.
Karl Mak: So this is a transitionary point, right? Like I was finishing up uni. It pays well. the market has softened by 2013 when I was graduating, the market has softened with cooling measures from the government and the market changed. I wouldn't say crash, but it changed in the early 2010s or late two thousands, it was like a bull market.
Right? You close your eyes, you would sell property, right? You didn't need any skills or connections. Everybody was just buying because all these rich foreigners are coming in to Singapore, just snapping up real estate. But then the government called the whole market down with all these cooling measures and taxes and the market became more of a leasing market.
There were lots of expats coming in. They were hoping it opening up immigration policies. So I changed to become more of a leasing agent instead of buy sell, because that was pretty much dead. And I was able to do that quite well as well. I became a bit of a relocation specialist where I would help big MNCs relocate senior management from New York or London and convinced the vice-presidents to move their entire family to Singapore.
And it was my job to convince them. So HR gives me a job. Okay. You got one week with my VP of this department. Convince him, right? And show him around. And usually they will have fancy real estate budget. Right. And, it was good money because I was getting paid by the day and I was getting paid every time I closed.
Or I convince them and I was able to convince like a whole bunch of senior management and move to Singapore. Right. And they were like, Oh, you're really good at this. Oh, let's do like the entire through a two-year contract. But then I was driving home Monday after, , closing a deal. And I realized I was nothing more than a glorified tour guide.
And it hit me, right? Like I was just a tour guide showing people how to use the MRT. This is the school, there's this orchard road. this was also the time and that era where startups were starting to really come up. And I looked around and I, I saw a lot of interesting things happening globally.
Like Airbnb, I remember was just starting out and I listened to the story of Brian Chesky and how he formed Airbnb. And then I heard about the Y Combinator and Paul Graham and all these guys coming up. And this was early, early days, right. and I was like, wow, like, it's so interesting because in the world of real estate, it was all about commission.
It was all about, let's get the biggest deal, let's get a bigger deal. Let's close more deals and get more commission for yourself. But then when I was looking at some of these startups, like they were all obviously really intelligent people, like super smart founders. And all of them were like broke.
All of them were like, Talking about this ramen profitability concept, they were all wearing flip flops and t-shirts to work and they all sleep under their desk. And I was so confused, right. Because my whole worldview was like, go and get more deals closed on commission. And then you had this really smart people who were like, , I don't care about my current income.
I really care about building something great, something impactful. And the word impact came, right. And a lot of people started talking about impact and why they're solving this problem or why this problem was worth solving. and I asked myself at that point, what problem am I solving? And what value am I adding to the world?
What impact am I creating as a real estate agent? And I realized like that was something maybe I couldn't answer. Like I was making money for sure. But what was I doing with the money? So what if I had more money than last year, right? And I realized that money was not a big driver in terms of motivation for me or purpose.
I was not interested in buying abandoned belt. I was not in interested in buying. A branded watch. Like I had no material interest probably because of my upbringing. And then I was like, so what if I close more deals? Does it change the lives of the people who buy or sell from me? And then I realized these are super rich people.
Even if it was another agent, it would be no different to them. It's just another transaction. I was just facilitating transactions, nothing wrong with that. But for me, I asked myself, graduating, the world is ahead of me. Am I really going to do this till I'm like 50 and just die and just do a whole bunch of paperwork in my whole life and have a whole bunch of money in my bank and have changed nobody's lives in the process.
that was a difficult thing for me to swallow. It was so hard for me to acknowledge that this is it. , this is going to be a life, lots of money, lots of paperwork. And I was like, wow, this was tough. And I think the catalyst that really pushed me off the cliff was my buddy who introduced me to this industry. He told me like, Hey, I'm gonna retire from real estate.
I'm done. Like, we're graduating on that. And I was like, what? We're supposed to be partners at the firm. , the bosses were going to like train us up and let us become partners. And what do you mean you're done? He's like, yeah, there's no impact. And then there's work. I'm going to move on to something else.
And he was aligned in terms of how we were thinking about the world that he was like, you know what? You can take all my clients, your income will double next year. You can take all my clients, but I'm done. So he just bye. And he literally threw me all his clients. And here I was with all his clients. Huge income upside.
But the guy who got me in quit and he eventually became a pastor and that really shook me up. And I was like, wow, like again, , surrounded by amazing friends that really challenged me. And I was like, wow, that is crazy. Like how much we have changed it perspectives in three and a half years.
So I was like, yeah, you know what? If you're done I'm done, right. So he was like, are you sure? I'm like, yeah, I'm sure if you're done, I'm done. It's all right. So all his clients and all my clients, and I just called up a random agent that I had worked with and I'm like, look, I'm going to give you all my clients and my partners, clients want to take it.
And he was like, what? Wait, what I was like, yeah, just take it like without quitting. And he was like, what? I really don't understand why. And I'm like, yeah, just take it and don't ask too much. Just enjoy it. But I'm done. So That's how I quit.
Ling Yah: So you spoke a lot about impact.
Was it something that you heard when you were back at uni and you were doing this business studies teaching assistant for the middle East for 13 weeks. And you met professor Soon Loo as well, who had big impact on you?
Karl Mak: Yeah. So professor Soon Loo was a big pivotal part of my journey with my co-founder. Because he, was radical, right.
This guy was completely radical. he was an entrepreneur himself. He was valedictorian of his MBA classes from Harvard. He was roommates with Chatri from one championship and they built a.com in the nineties that was featured on Harvard business review. Or they had a case study in Harvard business school about their first startup. How they crashed and failed.
I think they raised a hundred million dollars and failed because of the.com burst and he was radical, right? Like he literally would make us do things, crazy things in class. And he gave us a lot of that. he gave us a mindset shift in terms of entrepreneurship. I would say he was. One of the biggest reasons why entrepreneurship was so exciting because he had this mindset that there is nothing you cannot achieve as a young entrepreneur or as somebody who wants to change the world.
Like he had this whole thinking that if you set your mind on something, you can achieve it. And that included climbing Mount Everest, or becoming anything you wanted. And every class for 13 weeks, it involved an activity that would push us to achieve something that we would have never achieved before.
like, there was this one class, right, where we were supposed to like close our eyes and dream about what we wanted it to become in the next year or what we want to do achieve. And then when we open our eyes, after that dreaming session or brainstorm session, he would ask us to pick up the phone, make a few phone calls that will take us one step closer to achieving that.
And he would like, listen to them, let us out of the class to do that. And I was like, Whoa, this guy is ready to go. Right. So I was, by that time, I was really thinking about entrepreneurship, thinking about my transition out from real estate. And, he basically said like, do one thing that will get you closer to your dream of becoming an entrepreneur.
And that's where I signed up for coding bootcamp. I realized I couldn't code. I realized I really needed skill sets. And that actually pushed me to actually register for a coding bootcamp because I want it to be in the world of startups and technology.
Ling Yah: And how was the bootcamp for you?
Karl Mak: The bootcamp was terrible.
You know I, I suck at coding. I actually went for this boot camp after I graduated because I realized I had no skillsets that would facilitate or help me become a better entrepreneur. I had very little knowledge of coding, of technology, of the world of startups. I was reading and absorbing as much as I can.
And I went in knowing that I'm not going to be a software engineer. my brain is just not Wyatt in that way. believe I have a bit of maybe ADHD type of condition where I cannot focus. I cannot sit in a room for a day or even an afternoon to just call, I need to be out and about the salesmen and needs to go out and sell and meet people, right.
So I went into the bootcamp with a very clear objective of actually learning code and understanding how technology works, but not actually becoming one myself. And the deeper hope was to meet a technical co-founder because I had an idea already that I wanted, and I wanted to meet some, like, coding genius, right.
And that was really like this underlying goal. and actually did that. I found my co-founder at bootcamp. Right. So there was. A fixed teacher for 10 weeks. I think there was a teacher and he was all right. He was a good teacher. But then one week, right? I think week four week five, The main teacher fell sick. And then we had this relief teacher come in and he was this young Malaysian guy school drop out, drop off. I think it was, university of Georgia. He dropped out, went to San Francisco or build some startups, came back to Southeast Asia and he was trying to look for the next thing.
And then he was teaching coding. And I remember like watching his slides and I was like, wow, this guy is African coding genius, man. Dan I went up to him during a break told them about it. Well, my idea, and I was just like, will you be my co-founder right? That was literally what I said to him. I was say, I need you to do my co-founder.
You're a coding genius. You're the coding genius. I wanted to meet. And he was like, wait, who the heck are you? And like, why would I ever be your co-founder? And I'm like, yeah. Cause you're in the middle of it transition and you have no nothing to do, right? That's what you said in your intro.
I have an idea. Why don't you build it and I'll sell it. Okay. You can sell anything. And he was like, you're crazy, dude. Like, I don't even know you. And I'm like, no, trust me. Like, this is a great idea. So the salesman in me, right? Like I sat down with him. I was like, meet me after class. And I'll talk to you about this idea that I had and that's exactly what I did.
And he was so convinced by my idea. He was like, wow, that's probably one of the best ideas I've heard in a while. But he was like, okay, fine. Like give me some time to think about it. I just met you.
Ling Yah: Do you still remember that pitch that you gave him?
Karl Mak: I told him, about the idea for Televate, which was the first startup that I wanted to build.
Right. So I told him there was a problem with the call center. The history. Consumers were pissed by waiting on the line. Technology needs to solve the customer experience of big banks and telcos. and I felt software apps could help solve that problem. And he was like, Whoa, that's a really interesting idea.
I never thought of it that way. And eventually he, told me this, like I'll build that MVP and then you go sell it. I'm not going to be a co-founder, but I'll build it for you for free. Give me two weeks. I'll build you something that works. And then if you sell it, I'll be your co-founder.
And so he disappears, right? Like he disappears for two weeks and he comes back. He calls me up. He actually takes a bus to Singapore coach. Right. And he shows up and we, me and this China hostel and, he was like, Okay, test it, test the app.
So he built this web app that basically allows you to get a call back after you navigate phone tree via digital interface, for example, you, instead of using the phone, you just select, like, I want to talk to an operator about credit cards, about fraudulent transactions.
And instead of waiting on a line for the operator to pick up, you would get a call back, come in, the operator was ready. And he built that in two weeks. And I was like, brilliant, this is it, right? Like, this is enough. I'll build a deck and I'll sell it. And that's what happened. , he disappeared.
He was like, okay, call me when you sell something. And I was like, how do I even sell to banks? Like, why would any like CTO or CIO from a bank ever pick up a call from me? Like, I'm a nobody. So I figured I needed to really hustle because I had like a window where this guy could be my co-founder, right.
And I did some crazy things, right. Like actually Google and I found that all the technology leads or hits from banks was going to gather at this like bank technology conference Singapore. And I was like, brilliant. all my customers are going to be there at one shot, but the problem was one ticket was like a thousand dollars and I didn't have a thousand dollars.
Right. So actually did something that was probably illegal. But what I did was I wore a suit. I figured that I wouldn't have time to demo anything. So I wore a suit. I looked professional, and I just walked into the conference without a ticket, right. And because I was wearing a suit, the people at the door actually did stop me.
And I had also done my homework already. Like I knew who was the chief technology officer of DBS. ANZ. And I knew everybody and I spotted them from afar and, I just went straight up to them. I had to also wait for the right time. Right. when they were going to the toilet on lunch break off stage and I managed to meet two of them, DBS and ANZ.
And I gave them this one minute elevator pitch and they were like, wow, who are you? That's an interesting pitch. Here's my card. Call me and come to my office. so that was that right? Like I was like, Whoa, it actually worked like the hustle hustling work. And I call this guy out my whole potential co-founder and I was like, dude, I got two meetings with the biggest tech guy at two of the biggest banks in Southeast Asia.
you need to come in. You need to bring that demo and let's go. So that's actually what we did. We got the meeting with the heads. We were given probably 30 minutes before a demo. We went in there with the demo that he built in two weeks, then a live call back with a digital interface.
And they looked at us and they were like, Whoa, who the heck are you guys? But that was incredible. let's integrate, let's do a pilot. Right. And we signed off two pilots like that. And that's when my co-founder Josh. he said, look, no, that was incredible. Like you actually, sold it like you did it.
Let's incorporate the company. Let's be co-founders, let's go raise money and let's do this. Right. So that was how it all started. in a very, very crazy way.
Ling Yah: So what went wrong? Because you did Televate from November 2013 to December, 2014. There was quite a short window during which you also raised a seed investment as well.
Karl Mak: Yeah. So, we had this like two week old MVP, and just at that point star hot, one of the big telcos, opened their first ever hackathon. So start up open their API to developers. And they said, we're going to launch a hackathon and we're going to invite interesting startups to come and build tools around it.
So we literally already had a tool and then we just plucked in their API and then we won the hackathon and they were like, Oh, we're gonna let you invest in you. And this and that. And Starhub eventually didn't invest. But we managed to get a small investment from Singapore government supported by one of the venture funds.
And, it was not a lot of money, right. It was just a seed round. And we hired a small engineering team and we started building for these pilot studies. Right. We had two big banks that we're going to build. And as I continued to solve, I had also another telco that signed up. So we have three big enterprise customer signed up.
And in the world of I guess enterprise sales, that was not bad for a company that had no money and had nothing, right.
Then something happened in early 2014, which was something that we couldn't predict, right. Like I think in Q1 or Q2 standard charter one of the big banks in Singapore actually leaked customer information because of a third party software vendor or something like that, right? Like there was a leak somewhere from a third party.
And when it comes to banks, like there's no excuse or there's no. I would say grace, when it comes to failing at a software level or leaking data. And this was also the time when data privacy and data laws were being aggressively thought off or implemented.
And so the monetary authority of Singapore basically put a pause on all third party integrations for all banks. And they basically required two things, They set up this new thing where you either needed to have amazing credit security, credentials, or business at the price level insurance for all third party, software integrations.
And the banks called us while we were building. Right. They were like, Hey, there's this new thing. What's your security credentials for the, both of you? How many years in application security or software security on your team? Collectively. And as my partner and co-founder, it was like a stool dropout.
I was an econ students, real estate sales guy, and we're like zero. And they were like, okay, that's not gonna work. Okay, nevermind. You can buy enterprise level insurance. So we're a big bank, right? The minimum level that we need you to insure for the insurance plan is going to cost you $2 million a year just for the insurance.
And I was like, 2 million dollars, like yeah, 50 K in investments, that's about it. Right. it like, that's how we got, like, after that we got no money. Right. And we were like, what did we do? Like if they were like, sorry, this is the new rule. If you don't have it, we can't continue with this pilot.
So we were like, okay, like, do we go back and raised $2 million just to pay for insurance? Like no investor would do that logically, right. Nobody would give us $2 million to buy insurance. And so we were kind of stuck and we decided like this was a big mountain, a big externality that we couldn't overcome.
It was too challenging. And it was just a big mountain that like, we were going to climb Mount Everest in flip flops basically. And it was not worth the risk. It was just an impossible task because of these big factors that we couldn't control. So we talked to our seed investors, we talked to everybody. We tried to pivot.
So we tried to pivot from like enterprise software to maybe building for SMEs where there was less regulation, but it just didn't work. My idea was so amazing for enterprises, but for. SMEs. It was just not the same kind of wild factor, but we gave it a shot. We tried it for another quarter or so. it was probably one of the toughest experience of my journey, right?
Just waiting for sales meetings with SMEs. I managed to convert like 20, 30 clients, but the deal size for each SME is probably like $50 a month. So it was like really depressing. We were broke, you're not getting paid. And it reached a really dry point where we started to ask ourselves like, , where, and I'll admit mid twenties, , is this the entrepreneurial dream broke? , we couldn't even afford bus tickets for my co-founder to, come to Singapore to meet me. he couldn't even afford the hostel anymore cause we were broke. So he actually slept on the streets a couple of times when he was in Singapore . He drove his dad's car all the way from KL over just to have meetings with potential investors.
And it was rough. , it was really, really rough and keep in mind, like this was one of the most brilliant software engineers I've ever met and still is still today this part of the world. And he reached a point where he was like, you know what? I think it's probably time for us to think about next move because this doesn't look like it's going anywhere.
And at the same time he was given opportunities like amazing opportunities were landing on his lap and he was pushing them away because of this company we had started. And I told him by look. I don't think we can go very far at this point. It doesn't make sense to raise. Why don't you start entertaining some of these opportunities?
I think it's time for us both to consider our next step. And that was one thing I learned from, the literature of entrepreneurship, from friends, which was like, you can't be emotionally attached to a company that's failing. Like you, you can't hug a dead body in the grave, like, you just can't have a dead horse, right. And expect the horse to run super fast again. And so we decided Just to cut it. End the relationship and basically move on. that was how it all ended.
Ling Yah: You said you had to cut off and look for something else and that something else was something that started all the way back at university around 2011, 2012.
Can you share a bit about, , that period of time and how you met Adrian, who I think you knew way earlier, before as well.
Karl Mak: So concurrently like Adrian was this old friend from A Levels that I just had with me, he was just part of my life since we were like 17, 18, like we went through school, we went through army together, not actual same unit, but actually like we journey together because we were so close friends.
And then we decided to go to university together, same school three of us. And He also had an entrepreneurial streak while I was there any real estate he was doing t-shirts so he was printing t-shirts. But we took classes together in entrepreneurship and business because we were both sort of interested and we were both like really mediocre students that also couldn't fit into the world of banking or corporate for that fact.
And , he was a guy that was super creative, right? Like he was always figuring things out on the internet. He was always creating stuff. He was really into design and, he started making memes, , in class and we were together and I was like, what are you doing?
Why are you so busy on Photoshop? He was like, Oh, I'm making memes. Because like , we started this page and then he would just populate it with stuff that was happening in school or in uni life in Singapore. And this page would get like a couple of likes and a couple of shares.
Sometimes it would be like a hundred shares and a hundred likes. And he was like making stuff all the time where we were in his class. Never listening, just always making stuff. I don't know how to use Photoshop. So I was like, I'll just feed you information. Cause I'm always reading the news feeds or news.
So I was like, Hey, this part of Singapore flooded? Or the trains broke down? Like, I'll just send him stuff like, Oh, go make memes. And I would just kind of like help him out there. And he was like the main guy behind it. And he was super passionate and. we started this in 2012 in class he ran it through the next two years in school, right. And some of the memes would really go viral and I'll be like, wow, that's amazing, dude. This is crazy. I can't believe like thousands of people are looking at the shit we're making it in class.
Ling Yah: I think one of the biggest viral hits was in February, 2012, right. The Curry sauce meme. How did that happen?
Karl Mak: Yeah, that was one of the first and it was viral from the get-go and I was like, wow, that's crazy. Like really crazy. And, and so there was no business plan. We were just using this platform or medium as a way to destress or to have fun. It was what we did in class because we were kind of bought it right in school.
And so school was a break for us because we had businesses outside of school. So school is like a time for us to take a break. So we took a break by making memes.
Ling Yah: Weren't you using that as part of your entrepreneurial ship modules as well?
Karl Mak: So we, we didn't want to, like, work.
because we realized in business school, when you take courses in entrepreneurship, it's always the same thing. Like business plan and then like present their business plan and forecast. So we were like, Hey, we heard like these courses are kind of the same. What if we did one.
Business plan. And we've talked like four modules and we just presented the same thing. And we're like, Oh my God, that would be a great hack. And we also, like, didn't want to spend too much time, listening to other people's ideas and trying to figure out hypothetical ideas. So our strategy was simple.
We wanted to make money outside of school. We had SGAG as a page that was by that time 20,000 people following, we just built this business plan with SGAG one time. And our strategy in bidding for classes was to group with exchange students because nobody in their right mind wants to be exchange students.
But we were like, you know what? We want people with no opinions who don't show up for meetings so that we don't have to actually have a shot at building something that they wanted to build an exchange. Students just wanted to go to bother you over the weekends. So we were like, this is perfect. So we grouped with these exchange students and we told them like, guys, on week one, the project is done.
You don't need to do anything. You just show up for the final presentation and this t-shirt that we'll give you. And you just say the things I will ask you to say, and you'll get an a or your past for sure. And they were like, guys, are you sure? You know that? Yep. That's it. We got it all sorted up, enjoy Bali.
And so that's like what we did, right. And it worked. Like it was probably a sort of broken part of the system. We repeat it the same strategy across a couple of modules. And surprisingly we did well because nobody else had a business plan like ours, like monetizing a Facebook page. That was actually a ready built, it was not just a hypothetical set of slides.
And so that's how it happened. we saved so much time and we made so many good friends of exchange students down the road that you have my best Singapore group mates.
Ling Yah: How were you monetizing a Facebook page all the way back then?
Karl Mak: We were not, well, there was no money, but , with business school it was just hypothetical stuff.
So we would, we just came up with these hypothetical plans of selling t-shirts because Adrian was in t-shirts. Right. So we just came up with all of these hypothetical forecasts, like we're going to sell these t-shirts and we just predict a couple of them with vulgarities on it so that it will look controversial when we go up in front of the class to present.
And that's it. We just gave these hypothetical numbers and, I think we did like some pilots and then we showed actual sales, like real time dashboards using Shopify. And the professors were like, Oh my God, this is brilliant. we did it. Right. The joke was that it was meant to like, just get through school, but it became serious.
Ling Yah: And I wonder, you were talking about how there was no particular plan. You were just doing it. And yet you managed to make so many things that were huge hits at a time. There was like the population of white paper.
There was the bad haze. And when theyIask people, what kind of questions you have for the founder of SGAG, they said, how do these guys even come up with the means in the first place? Because it really resonates with people.
Karl Mak: If you could go back to, I guess the relationship or the culture that I have with Adrian, right?
Like we went to a levels together, junior college, we were in an environment where we were in an arts class. Right. So we did arts and there were five boys and 17 girls in our class. 17 girls versus five boys. And we were childish. We were childish kids, right. So we were at this very awkward stage of growing up where we figured, like we're not like the cool jocks of the school. We're not like from the cool sports, CCAs and all that. We were just regular guys. And we also maybe reach a level of puberty where we were quite comfortable in our own skin. So the five of us would just like sit in the highway or sit in an empty room by ourselves and literally crack lame jokes together.
Like we would entertain ourselves for the two years. Like we would spend so much time just giggling at each other's jokes and trying to outjoke each other. And that was really the DNA of the five of us. And this carried on into university when people thought we were crazy because we were just talking nonsense all the time.
Like that was a big part of who we was a group. So like naturally our brains when we are together is like wired to talk nonsense. We were talking nonsense all the time since we were 17. So naturally when we were in uni and Adrian was brilliant at this, his brain is just wired with nonsense. Like he would just come up with all this.
Like I remember the haze came, right. And he was like, Oh my God, we should take a vacuum cleaner and go through the window and try to vacuum the haze. And can you take a photo of me doing it so that I can make it into a meme? And I'm like, who thinks of stuff like that, right? So I'm like, okay, that's, what we're going to do.
So he literally holds his mom's vacuum cleaner at the window, and he's, like going to vacuum the haze And the meme goes viral and I'm like, Wow. Like nobody thinks like you, right? Like nobody has the time in Singapore to think like you, so that's really how we were as friends. And I suppose it carried on into the culture that we have today.
Ling Yah: And one of the big ones was the Ah Lian meme, which was picked up by mainstream media. What was the background to that?
Karl Mak: There was a big fight on the MRT train and It was a typical scene, right aunty nagging away at this young girl. And this young girl who looks like an ah lian. She's just trying to like, keep it all in, keep it together. And she's like ren. Ren. , which means like, , persevere. Persevere. Like, don't say anything. And then like, she snaps the aunty, right.
Cause the the aunty is in her face, nagg ing. And she explodes and blah, blah. And bam bam bam bam bam bam. And then she did like this little girl just explodes at her and it was caught on video. And we were like, Whoa, that's like, in our heads, it was like, cool. Right. It was like superheroes who were like supercharging their power.
And they're like, we made all these references and the audience loved it. Right. And, were probably, yeah, one of the first pages or first people to pick on viral content Hornet with popular culture, references like anime and put it into image format that was widely shared across the internet.
So the mainstream media started picking some of these pieces up. And that was really early days. Like the joke was once it comes up on the newspaper, we know the meme that was a status symbol. So we started like piecing together these new, big, new newspaper clips of our early memes. And it was like something we would be proud to show like our parents and stuff like that.
So, yeah, that was really how it went down in the early days
And did you manage to build on that momentum. If you were once mainstream media took hold of it?
Yeah. I think people started to notice the brand, the Facebook page people started to follow, and this was early days of social media where there was not many people, there was nobody doing stuff like that, like nobody.
Right. So we were like the only ones and it stood out the attraction was there and people were following us, like crazy. The kind of traction we were getting was just insane. Right. And yeah, definitely riding the momentum, trying to outgrow, trying to out and , the whole startup mindset of metrics or follower acquisition audience acquisition just started kicking into my brain.
I was like, okay, we need to hit this percentage of growth every week, every month, , we need to track it. We can week. And that was really how it started.
Ling Yah: It's ups and downs, right. So how were you putting in those sort of milestones? Say, I want to increase by this amount and this is how we'll do it.
Karl Mak: Looking at like follower acquisition. Like this was pre algorithm on Facebook, right? So when we started looking at like followers would get more reach, so we need to get more followers. So we would. Just need to put out content that works. So content matters a lot. Quality, speed, quantity, we're all factors of success for a follower acquisition.
Then we started the first thing I did when I went full-time was to build a website. And I started to track web traffic. I started track like interactions and engagements on specific functions on our website, on our Facebook page. And , I studied a lot into the whole like product side of things where, the correlation of engagements that might lead to some sort of wider metric of fan loveand started developing all these tools and things that we wanted to look at as a way to track our growth and everything was just up like traffic was art and it was just exploding at an exponential rate.
And that was actually one of the main reasons why I decided to do it. Full-time because in my first startup it was, everything was down. Like there was no money bang and calmed down, like everything was down, right. This one, like everything was up and we didn't spend a single cent. Like we had no money in the bank.
We had no fundraising. Everything was like going through the roof. And I was like, wow. As a, startup person, like these are metrics that people would only dream about. And this was one of the big reasons of why I decided to go full-time.
Ling Yah: And I think you found out that you had around 1.2 million followers at the time, right?
Because Facebook had just launched that analytics.
Karl Mak: Yeah. It was the reach metric, right? Like I was like, what is reach? Because reach was not a thing that feasible had previously. And then suddenly they launches like how many unique people you reach in the past week as a metric, which is still relevant today.
And I was like, what? Like, all this stuff reached a million Singapore hands this week and we spent $0 on marketing. And the first thing I did was to really do the Google what's the distribution of the straits times, right. On national newspaper. And they were at like 1.2 million and I was like, wow, well, in part not, we're going to be higher than them.
Obviously it's different because they have a full set of newspaper. We had like one meme and then maybe like we had like 50 means in the week, but still like 1.2 million people looking at it and all young people, it had to mean something. It had to mean that there was potential in driving a business around this sort of traction.
Like that was the exciting part for me.
Ling Yah: And so you started it with Adrian. Was it difficult for you guys to decide what kind of roles that you would adopt?
Karl Mak: Not at all. In fact, when I was like winding up or in the thick of my first startup, he already threw me this idea, like, Hey, why don't.
Come in, come at work on this full time. And I was like, no, man, I just raised a round of investments with people. I can't tell my investors like I'm done. Right. I just put money in my credibility as an entrepreneur would go down the drain in Singapore. So I told him like, okay, like why don't we hang out every month?
And I'll talk you through business issues. Like I think his challenge was the business side of things. Like he was very, very creative probably the best in terms of funny content. But in terms of business, like there were challenges, right. That he was facing that he couldn't worked through.
and for me, like my mind was just all business. I was so sucked into this world of startups and business. I realized a lot of the business issues that he was facing. I could in theory maybe help him walk it through. Right. I was a bit of a geek at that. And so we found value in conversations.
So we met every month at a bar he would like, just, this is business issues. And I would kind of like walk him through how I would think about these things. And he was like, you know what, why don't you join me in, why don't you join me? And so when I failed in September, 2014, , I told him like, I'm done.
He was like, okay, then that's time. Like this is time for you to come over. Right. And I was like, yeah, I know. But like, I want to see what's out there. , there was the whole, what if kind of thing, I guess everybody in their twenties goes through that. Right. So I was like, what if I went to work for Google, right? What if I went to work for a well-funded startup instead, right?
So I actually got some job offers from some companies out there and it was, , worth exploring at least in my head. And at the end of the day, I realized like, I was so much of an entrepreneur that I couldn't imagine myself working for anybody or pursuing anyone's dream, keeping in mind that I had really worked for money before as a sales person.
I knew very clearly that I want to full autonomy in my next gig. I want it full control over a business decisions are over what I want it to build. Like the exciting thing was not the money. The exciting thing was the intellectual and maybe physical and emotional challenge on building something from scratch.
Like I realized I really enjoy turning ideas into reality. And so even if I got a job at a. Well-funded startup. I would probably be head of sales. Like that was probably the position I could go for, but I would never be a founder. I would never be a co-founder right. It was hard to negotiate my way in. So I was like, you know what, want to take a founder role because I love the autonomy.
And so I told Adrian, like, even though I'd never imagined myself working in a meme page or working for me page I love the idea that it's a blank canvas right now with traction that we can basically spin it any way we want.
Ling Yah: You took the idea of building that meme into reality. I can't imagine reality was easy in the early days, especially.
Karl Mak: No, it was really hard. I mean, it was hot, but it was very clear. this was like, it was very clear, like this was so much fun. And so purposeful for us. I think we never asked for easy. I don't think we went in expecting easy. And I think that was the mindset.
Like we went in, not one thing easy. In fact, we want it to. Do really hard things, right? I think having failed a startup, that was probably the hardest thing already. And my co-founder Adrian was a Naval diver who has gone through like hell weekend training and, , like whatever happens in building a company, both of us knew at the back of our heads, it would never be as hot as what we had already gone through in life or just what had just happened to us.
Right. we were in a much better position. So because of this mindset, we had nothing to lose. It was, everything was just like just opportunity land grabbing. And so we, had a lot of fun, actually. It wasn't, as hard as failing in a startup. I think that was probably way harder.
I think it was hard times, , there were difficult moments, challenges for sure. when I look back on the journey, it's a lot of meaning. It's a lot of fun. It's a lot of just kind of maybe surreal in many ways also that we were able to just find a lot of these ideas that are now realities, right.
Ling Yah: What were some of the land grabbing tactics that you used that proved to be very helpful? I imagine that the tactic must've evolved when you were doing it just for fun and now as the business as well.
Karl Mak: Well, I think the first thing was like, we asked ourselves like, firstly, who's doing this and Southeast Asia and what's the dream, right?
For meme page, like, just as a meme page like that, that's all we wanted to do. And we were like, there's nobody doing anything like that in Malaysia? At least from our extensive research of Googling Malaysian meme pages every other week. And we were like, there's nobody doing memes in Malaysia properly.
And like all these like fans or Malaysia audience members were writing to us. So we were like, you know what? We can never wait for the right moment to do something like that. Like if we wanted to go regional from day one, we can't wait for the right time. And we were like five, six people, seven people when I was like, you know what?
We got to open Malaysia with no money. So I literally got on a plane. I flew to KL. I didn't know anybody in Malaysia. I had not gone to Malaysia by myself. I stayed in a one star hotel at Bricklane and I just started inviting people for coffee and just talking to people, we're trying to learn about the Malaysian culture, trying to learn about the ecosystem.
And I had an ex co-founder there who helped write it. So I hung out with them, got to meet friends and just started networking and eventually found our first hire. And, , we had little money, so we could pay from Singapore. So I was like, you know what? The exchange rate helps. I can give you a job right now.
And that's what happened. Like we gave her a job. We just found a way to incorporate a company and we gave her a job, flew her to Singapore, housed her in a nice department here. And we were like, just learn how we're doing things here and just go back and just build the same thing. That was the brief.
And that was really how we approached it from day one. Like, we can't wait for the right moment. Just kind of go out there and just try with hiring, like we had little money, we had no investments, right. This company. So we realized like, yeah, Adrian only use Photoshop. He didn't know how to use video cameras.
He didn't know how to use mics and people would ask us for videos. We didn't know anything. So we were like, you know what? We need to hire some smart, ambitious young talents from the media world or communications world. So we went to universities and we just ask to meet these top groups or top graduates.
And we pitched a bunch of them. Like, why don't you come join us? Right. Again, with the mindset, like we just need to grab smart people. That was the concept we had from like Google or Facebook, like bring the smartest people in and then they'll figure it out. So we were like with no money, how do we do that?
So we just went out there and we just pitched our pitch, shot our shop. and we managed to get like two to three, really smart, ambitious, young graduates they joined us at the very beginning. We had, nothing, but it worked, , they're still with us today. that was the mindset.
Ling Yah: How were you thinking in terms of distinguishing yourself from those who are out there? You inspired by say 9GAG, for instance.
And there was others like STOMP. So how did that define who you were and your mission statement of bettering the lives of people?
Karl Mak: Yeah. , we met the 9GAG team a couple of times. They flew in to see us. we saw that, , like, yeah, there was a lot of funny content globally that was quite generic.
But there was nothing like home and there was nothing like laughing at your own backyard, right. In a language that only you get in a cultural reference that only you get in stuff that only matters to your community or your countrymen. And we realized like that was so fun for us. And so that was the value proposition that we started with.
And then we were like, but that STOMP. So how do you like deal with STOMP? And stomp for those of you who don't know is owned by Singapore press holdings, a multi-billion dollar state owned, conglomerate that featured viral clips of road rage and funny stuff that was happening in Singapore. And ironically stomp had become the place where anything controversial or anything trashy ends up on it was trashy, right.
There was a lot of trash on it. And we were like, do we really like, did we really go to university? To make a controversial trashy page. And to be fair, SGAG was very trashy at the start.
And we were like, no. We need to like differentiate, right? We need to have a mission statement again, the whole startup thing.
Like what are you here for? Why are you doing this? Right? And I remember this very clearly because like we had to define it and we were stuck in this position where we were all over the place, the content was aggressive, it was rude, it was foul gear and it was all over the place. And I remember like, I was so uncomfortable with it.
I called Adrian on a public holiday. I think it was Deepavali. We sat in a coffee shop and I was like, we're not leaving until we have a mission statement out. And this was a really like us operating for a couple of months. And we really sat there and we came out with the mission statement. That's it, , we want to better the lives of all Singaporeans.
It was a bold statement. Right. And it shouldn't supposed to be both. So our both statement was better the lives of all Singaporeans. And so when you use that kind of a very broad, very altruistic mission statement, it helped us to really become a guiding principle of what we want it to become, right.
So for example, in the early days, again, like road rage wants the thing is it always is the thing that everybody wants to watch a road rage video, right? But did it serve the mission of bettering the lives of people? Did it necessarily do that? And the answer was like, no, like if two people are beating each other up on the highway, it was very juicy.
It was very tabloid, but it wasn't like gonna make people's lives better. It wasn't gonna make them laugh or really have a great time. But there were some pieces that we, once we had this mission statement, we would start that actively removing content and not going down cyber-bullying path. We started like being very conscious about what we positioned people to be like, and then how we used images of other people.
And it was a learning journey. We're still not there. We'll never be there, but I think it was the guiding principle and the North star of what formed the brand of SGAG, which was, yeah, we want to make people laugh, but not at the expense of others. We try not to do that. We try to make original content that would really make you crack up, right?
And that was difficult to pivot because it involved heavy lifting versus other pages that were just shedding on other issues, shitting on people getting 10 times more engagements. But we had to like, hold true to our mission and say like, look, we're not trying to build a fly by night since.
single person operated. Controversial page. We used to be like that, but we're trying to move it into a family friendly brand, safe All Singaporeans can come in and really sort of build something in that direction, which was not easy, but that was how we decided on the direction.
Ling Yah: So you never hesitated once you have that mission statement? Because people are naturally drawn to the worst things in the world. And those tend to go viral. Positive news is sweet, but not really.
Karl Mak: No, we never hesitated.
I guess. In that sense, I felt a deep sense of the person. had to answer this bigger question in my life.
Like, why am I doing this? Why am I spending in my late twenties, a good prime number of years? Is it really to build a tabloid headlight, trashy, controversial site? Or am I trying to build something that will matter for all Singaporeans? Right? And, that grand vision was purposeful. I felt it was meaningful enough for me to invest time in my life to pursue.
And, similarly the hires that we brought on, shot that belief. They shot that vision. they bought into it. And it was big enough for all of us to spend years of our lives pursuing it. So never, never looked back, never felt, Oh, what if I didn't have this mission? Then we could milk the crap out of these controversies.
We didn't have to do the right thing. I think one of the key things we learned is really not about the content that we made. It was also more so content that we didn't make, right? Like issues and the topics that you chose not to talk about, that was hardest. Like, Oh, we could melt that.
Right. Oh, we know it would go viral, always so many crazy ideas. We call it dank memes with so many dank memes, right. Like, Oh, , it's going to work. it was not just by commission. It was by a mission. And that was something that we never told anybody. It was like, okay. Which was not to talk about it.
But we felt it was the right thing to do.
Ling Yah: So you have this mission, but it's very hard to have a mission if you don't have the cash and you already said early on Facebook, no cash. You also didn't want to raise funds in your first year. So how do you start to find that profit? Wasn't there also, you were selling vulgur t-shirts back then as well.
Karl Mak: Yeah. So the first thing was, we sold all the t-shirts, which did really well. I mean, it was beyond our imagination, but then like 48 hours, I remember we sold 5,000 t-shirts or something like that. It was crazy. The brand love was crazy. So. I was like, wow, well, that's great revenue. Like I think the t-shirt ran funded our salaries for the first year.
Like one t-shirt run. We funded our, both our salaries. I mean, we were not drawing much to begin with, but I was like, wow. But we sat down again and we're like, do we want to be a t-shirt company. A vulgur t-shirt? Like that was threadless. And I love threadless that's we love threadless but, do we want to be a t-shirt company?
And the answer was no, so, okay. Then what do we do? And then we stumbled upon, , making some viral content for scoot. They would pay us for, making viral content because they wanted to get social followers because they were a new airline. So they paid us to make funny content about amendment.
They paid us to laugh at them, but it simply, and I was like, wow, would there be more brands that would do this? Because I remember we did this experiment for them. Like we were able to through a single post drive, like 60,000 clicks onto their website in two hours. it was basically like on steroids because like we put like Google ads out for a week and they would get like 200 clicks and they would do a meme and be at 60,000 clicks in two hours.
the marketers were like, what? Right. So I was like, I think we can enter the space of advertising. What if we sold this meme as a service to advertisers, I had no connections in the industry, but. I'm a salesman, right? So I literally got on LinkedIn and I just cold email and messaged everybody with some marketing title.
I didn't care. You a CMO or you an executive, or I just messaged everybody. And I was like, Hey, I'm the co-founder of SGAG. I can help you drive a ton of traffic to your website. And I think your brand is going to be cool to have on our page. Let's talk. And obviously like nine out of 10 reject me, but it just took like that one other person to say yes.
And I figured if I have enough emails going out and enough people who would meet me and get a few people on board, the work that we did would validate itself. And then that would cost more people to come on board. That was the hypothesis I had. And it became true. Like the hypothesis held true. We did some early work for some really fun brands and that allowed more brands to go like, well, I want some of that.
I want in, on some of that. And that's how we got our first few gigs, which allowed us to make our first few highest because we needed people that had multimedia skill sets to help us build out some of the content.
Ling Yah: Let's go back a bit because you pass by scoot so fast. But that was a big deal. How did they even get you in the first place?
Karl Mak: We just kind of like said, Hey, like there's this weird new yellow airline from Singapore airlines that was launching flights to North Korea or South Korea. When the North was about to bond the self, right. They were at the brink of war. And then there's this new budget airline from sq that was trying to send people to South Korea when the muscles were already firing, right?
And they're like, what's up with you? So we made a meme about them to laugh at them. And then like they reply in the comments and the audience went crazy. they did a very cheeky reply and it was the first time a brand actually replied us because most brands would just shy away. Oh my God, this is a PR nightmare for us.
But they came back at us with witty replies and we were like, Whoa, these guys are crazy. And then the following week, They launched a flight to China at the height of the bird flu. And what's up with you, man? Like, what kind of airline are you sending Singaporeans to extinction? they were like, Oh, don't worry.
Well, you know what? We'll give 10 free tickets to your audiences. If your fans, right. If you're brave enough to take this flight and obviously free stuff. Right. Which they with it, like, so everybody like rushed it and it created a social media storm because it doesn't have a free tickets. Right. And it was the first time anybody has done this and then the CML calls us up and she was like, yo, that was crazy engagements because of you guys, like our social media metrics exploded.
She was like, okay, come in. Let's talk. Who are you? So we met them and , they were like, this is super fun. They were super adventurous. And they were like, here's a budget for like the next three months. Just make whatever you want. And lets see what happens, right. So that's how it all started with.
Ling Yah: So you started and as you said, you hired these people six months after with what you were generating. You mentioned before that at the same time you were trying to change the engine of a plane while the plane was in midair.
Karl Mak: Yeah. I mean, like this was probably later on. It was the same thing, right?
Like we, had all this amazing content. We got more brands on board. And then like, before we knew it, the team was like 15 going to 30 the next month. And suddenly there were people. Right. And suddenly we were like bosses and like CEOs and people came up to us and they were like, what's my career progression.
Getting that question. I'm like, I don't know. Like I never thought about it. I just wanted to hire people to, cope with the amount of work that we were getting. And then suddenly we were getting questions about career progression and I was like, wow, this is getting serious. people's lives are at stake and I need to give them an educated response.
I can't just smoke my way through because they are spending golden years of post-graduation with us. we failed in so many ways as early. Bosses or early employers, we didn't know anything. Like why do we need to have a leaf system? Just go, I don't care. Just do whatever you want.
Like just do good work and take as many day off as you want. That was really like, Oh, I thought about things and we had unlimited leave policy. I didn't care. just show up at work. And people started burning out because didn't know what to do. Like they didn't know whether they could take leave and whether they were entitled to.
So I figured something was wrong. I couldn't operate like that at this pace. We were going to be growing like crazy in the region. if my dreams came true and I couldn't just like, anyhow, right. I couldn't like, just tell these employees whatever you want to do, do it. Right. So it worked for the first five, but the next 50 is not going to work.
So I hired a management coach and I told her like, I don't know what I'm doing. can you please coach me? Right. And she did an amazing job for Adrian and myself. She was this stoic middle aged lady, 25 years of corporate experience as a people leader. And she coached us. She coached us from body language to how you write to what we say to how we dress to everything.
And she gave us these principles and guidelines of what it meant to be a leader that. Basically allowed us to form our identity as leaders, before that we were just no different from uni students. Right? We were just two blokes trying to do what we thought was fun, but now we're getting serious and she built all these frameworks with us and for us.
And that was the part where we were changing the engine in the middle of the flight, the plane was moving, we were getting revenues. We were growing really fast, but like we needed to change our systems internally because it was a paper plane that was trying to fly like a commercial airline. And we need that help.
So that was probably 2016, 17, 18. Those three years are tough because we had to educate ourselves. We had to learn on the fly. We had to become properly leaders and CEO and proper managers. Which we had no corporate experience. If you think back, like I've never worked in a company before, I've never had a boss.
I've never blacked on leave. I've never gotten a paycheck before from my boss. So like how do I do all these things? So that was probably one of the toughest things we have to do.
Ling Yah: And one of the things that I heard about as I was researching into your own employees, as well as they always say that they are always asked to be constantly uncomfortable, which seems counter intuitive to what a company would want, but you've made it a core part of who you are.
Karl Mak: Yeah. I think we, review our journey, right. And there were moments where we were cruising, , , there was good business. There was good times, 10, it's easy. Like, , we could take a back seat, maybe take a holiday. But we looked at again, some of the past entrepreneurs and some of the best organizations out there, like Apple, like why would Apple suddenly jumped from computers to launching an iPod and then jumped from an iPod to launching a phone?
Like they were not in the phone business. why were they making all these random things that had nothing to do with who Apple began as like a matter of fact, you have computers, personal computers. And that intrigued me, right? Like this was pre Facebook pre everything. And that concept of just like, wow, like.
They never sat. All right. They never stopped innovating. And then you see Google search it on, from search engine to trying like building glasses, to trying to build social media and then like doing all these things and then buying YouTube and like wow, like they're not happy. They're never happy.
They're never satisfied with just becoming the best search engine. They want to do everything else. Right. And we were like, we need that same mindset because if we were just saw setting memes and being the best, that means what does that even count for? it made no difference in the global scheme, even in the grand scheme of life, being a meme sales team means nothing.
So we were like, we need to keep pushing. We need to keep failing. you're not measured by how many successes you had, but how many times we failed. And it was difficult because I had gone through failure before in a catastrophic way. And I knew that failure suck. But at the same time, I was also at a point in time where I really recognized that if I didn't fail in that first startup, I would have never learned these amazing lessons that I had sort of accumulated.
Ling Yah: Didn't your investors say that because of that failure that makes you more valuable to people?
Karl Mak: Yeah, they looked at me and they're like, yeah, we're only investing in you because you had this failure. And you're like, I saw how you navigated that. And I liked that. So we're going to fund your new business again.
I was like, what? Like, wow, you actually treating me with a bit of respect, a lot of respect and a lot of confidence. Like, I feel I lost all your money dude. And he was like, no, like the best entrepreneurs are those who have failures under their belt. And I'm like, wow, what a radical concept? Because my morale is so low, my self esteem was so low.
And then you had this like multi-billionaire who was like, yeah, I believe in you, even though you failed. And I was like, wow, that's radical. so yeah, being uncomfortable was one of the big things we had to like instill in all young people, right? Like, , early team, like, what, we're never going to settle.
We're always going to push. So we had this bi-annual thing every six months we asked ourselves what's happening in this next six that we have never done before. And I don't care who you are. You just come out with something that we want to do for the next six. And that became a bit of our DNA, Kind of learning from the tech companies. Like what's the learning from Apple again, and they're always launching all these random things like Apple, Apple TV. Right. Apple watch, and then we're like, what's the next six months vision. What's the next pipeline of stuff that we've got to make. And we kind of adopted that into our own planning systems because we were a meme page. We had nothing not like we could sell you anything else, except funny memes.
And so we had to like keep pushing that thought process, which eventually allowed us to launch all these other things that we eventually launched.
Ling Yah: And so the creators economy is very, very huge now. What do you hope to achieve with the creator's network that you've built?
Karl Mak: Yeah. , a lot of people ask me, how did I come up with that? And I was feeling very stuck in 2019, right? I was in Malaysia, we were doing all right. I was in Philippines, we were growing fast and the next thing was like, I, okay, let's open more of the same concepts in the rest of Southeast Asia.
We've not even touched Indonesia, Thailand, , two markets. I really, really respect and want to open at some point, but I'm like, yeah, , it's the same thing. They want to do the same thing. And I was like, I get into these ditches mentally where I need to like step away from everything and kind of get inspired.
And, I was in one of these moments where I felt very stuck. I felt very bored. I felt very inspired even though everything was going so well and, true to the principle of staying uncomfortable, I felt we were missing something. I felt as the CEO, I needed to come up with a new direction. And personally I felt it a lot.
So I retreated into my personal space. I hid in the meeting rooms all day and I was just reading and watching YouTube videos and just thinking a lot about anything and everything. And then it struck me like, as cliche as it can be, I had a light bulb moment. Because I saw that Ted talk was inching its way into the world of social media.
It was right at the tip of its early beginnings. And I was like, wow. Like I think that could be something more, I think this could give birth to a new generation of social media creators that we've never seen before. I think it would spark a new wave of creativity that would propel more young people to make videos.
Vine could have answered that call, but it was too early and it just didn't work out for them. I think tick-tock could be it. And, so I went on this plane of thought to where, what if all these creators were coming online exponentially? What did it mean for us? Where would we in this whole spectrum in Southeast Asia?
Well, how would people treat us or think of us knowing the brand of SGAG, MGAG, PGAG was something that people perhaps recognized. And so I was like, okay, and what are their externality what's happening at a global level. That was not going to slow down again, thinking into the future. And I realized that when I first started, mobile data was so expensive.
I was paying like 50 Singapore dollars or more for like three gigs. And then at that point in 2019, I was paying like $20 for 20 gigs. And then I was reading all these annual reports about the telcos, which has died because they don't know how to make money anymore. You can't charge for SMS. You can't charge for talk time.
You can't charge for data. Then when you tried to automate nobody watches a pay-TV nobody subscribes anymore. And I'm like, wow. The disruption at the data level infrastructure level is also rapidly happening. And then I looked at the Southeast Asian landscape and I was like, wow, that's just, it's gonna keep happening.
Like the mobile phones that will sort of cheaper and cheaper, like Sammy's like, like a hundred dollar phones that was so powerful. And I looked at that trend and I'm like, that's it that's the disruption that the big boys can't navigate because they have fixed infrastructure satellites and printers.
So these and broadcast facilities, and then you have this massive, like in five years, data is free. Basically you close your eyes, get data. Right. But it was not happening yet in Philippines. And it happened in Malaysia way ahead of us. And I was like, data becomes commoditized, phones become commoditized.
Then everybody becomes a creator. Then what happens? So that was the thinking that I had. I remember thinking about this the room and I was like, Oh my God, we are the epicenter of it because we can now call ourselves the OGs. Like nobody else can call themselves the OGs because Well, the first to do stuff like that, like people make funny videos on Tik Tok. Like we were the first ones to do it.
And I also looked at that and I went, no way, these guys can monetize their content. It's going to be so hard because unlike Instagram, Instagram, you have a pretty face. You have nice filters, you hold your product and you get paid.
But on Tik TOK, like nobody cares how you look. You just make a funny content on a funny monologue and how you stitch it together in terms of pacing music. You're not going to get paid for that. Like it's hard to get paid for that and we know how to get paid for that. So I was like, I think we can teach people.
I think we can be a platform for creators because we have clients who also don't want to work with new creators because they're like, there's too much risk. Why would I work with this young kid, like, no, no, no. I only want to work with you because I trust you. And I realized I Asia was Quincy driven, right?
What I told them mattered because they trusted me that a trust that was built that was over five, six years. And the hypothesis was what if I could get these guys trained up with the stuff that we learned and what am I going to tell people to trust them? Because they associated with us. They were trained by us.
And that was really the breakthrough that I had, that this is going to grow like crazy. We are going to get disrupted as content creators in the next couple of years, we've already been the shop that with amazing new creators, but the problems remained the same, like creators don't know how to monetize the platforms.
Can't. Engage with all these creators, the brands can't engage with all these creators. And so I could place ourselves at the center of it all and figure out what services and what value we could bring to these creators. So that was my Lilypad light bulb moment which allowed me to birth the concept of Hepmil Creator's Network.
And I was like, okay, I can't do this. I'm not at a stage where I can manage so many things. So I went to my first employee and I was like, it's your time to shine? Right? I think you have what it takes to lead this new team. That's Casey, that's Cassie. Yeah. And I moved the chess pieces, right. So I got my first few employees to manage the content business.
And then I moved Cassie, the first employee to manage the creator business. And I moved some of these employees around. I'm like, okay, this is your baby. I'm just a guy played chess. And who came up with his idea? That's validated, like go run and try to get deals to try to sign creators and let's figure it out.
Right. And then COVID hit.
Ling Yah: before that, right Kesey was working also with Bryan Young, who has tremendous experience. How did he get on board?
Karl Mak: So Brian was actually a random guy. Well, I, I believe in serendipity, believe, and the forces of nature coming together to align stars for you to meet people.
truly believe in serendipity. If you were religious, you would call it God's plan. If you are not, you would call it fate or serendipity, but I believe in it which is why I don't close doors and opportunities. I have been taught through maybe my sales experience that don't close a door on to any opportunity to network, meet new people, because you never know who you're going to meet in that meeting that could change the course of your life.
And I've closed deals before where literally it's like, Oh, here's my friend. He also needs a house and then ends up buying a really big property and then ends up it becoming my biggest paycheck for the year. And it came from nowhere. So that mindset came to me. And so like, Brian was not somebody I knew.
I literally attended a networking event at our law firms office opening, and I'm like, Oh, I'm so busy. Why would I want to go through my law firms opening to meet lawyers? To drink and talk. I need to build this company, right. So I was like half half, and I'm like, okay, you know what? Let's hold that principle, keeping opportunities open.
And so I show up at this networking event and my plan was just to like bounce off the 30 minutes I go there and then I meet all these people. And then like one of these guys, it comes up and he was like, Hey, I've been wanting to meet you for a long time. I'm so-and-so and I think I can help your business.
So we ended up chatting and it's not Brian, but he's like really cool guy We ended up having some second degree connections and he goes, Hey, I think you should meet somebody. Can I come by to your office next week? And I was like, sure, like, okay. So he brings Brian to my office and I'm like, you should meet Brian.
Ryan is like one of the most successful media entrepreneurs in Vietnam and he's Singaporean. by that time, I was like, I have probably met everybody who I should meet in the media segment in Singapore. I've never even heard of your name. I can't even Google you. you don't even exist. Who are you?
And so he tells his story in my office and I'm like, mind blown around, like, are you kidding me? you go Vietnam and built Vietnam's largest creator network in two years and you're not even Vietnamese. And you listed the company. And I was like, wow, crazy story. So I become so intrigued that we end up Talking nonstop. And I pursued him on countless coffee meetings just to learn from him. And I really love to learn from people who have so much experience and knowledge and I, just kept buying him coffees. And I was like, please, please please meet me again. And he gave me all these ideas for the network that was just next level ideas.
And I was like, wow, I have not met a single person like you with knowledge and thoughts like that. And I'm like, why don't you join us? So that was really how we met. And he ended up becoming a partner in this business.
Ling Yah: joined an sec, COVID hit. So how did it impact your business?
Karl Mak: Well, COVID was scary, man.
Like we legit didn't know any other business. We didn't know what was going to happen. We didn't know what was the financial, physical, emotional impact on all of us. And we were scared. Right? So like, again, I had all this like startup literature in my head. I recognized very clearly we were going to war time.
That's peacetime and wartime. So one time and I'm really into like military and warfare and stuff like that. Right. So I was like, okay, I need to switch into wartime mode. So what that meant was. Tightening your belt, right? We tightened all expenses. We threw away all unnecessary expenditure.
We prepare everybody for war. So the day before locked down, we did a town hall with the region. We told everybody to be prepared for the worst. And the worst being that people would get laid off. People would get sick, we will lose members because of layoffs or whatever. But we needed to be mentally prepared.
And the only way we could help ourselves is to fight the hardest that we we've ever fought individually. Collectively, we needed everybody to, if you put the analogy of everybody on a dragon boat, you need it to peddle. Like you've never paddled before because every stroke that you're going to paddle, what's going to perhaps mean that you can drive an extra runway for your colleagues, for your team so that people won't get laid off.
And I don't know the depth of this crisis, but all I know is you need to paddle as hot as you can. And that was my rally, a war cry to the team. And I didn't know how they would respond. We've never had at wartime like that before. And , the guys responded like warriors, they huddled in.
I had people calling me after the town hall saying. You know what my family is doing okay. You don't have to pay me salary for three months. I'm like, what? Like, I'm not even at a position of financial stress yet. I'm just like 10 steps ahead telling you what to expect. And then we have people saying, giving up their salaries and I'm like, wow.
Also touch. Because we were by no means in a financial situation that was even distressed. We were okay. It was just the start. And then people started volunteering the time they started like organizing things. And they started working really, really hard. Like we didn't have any SOPs for like work from home or shoot from home.
People started designing these things. People with vehicles started picking up stuff from the office and sending it to their colleagues. They did it all by themselves. It was all self-organized after that town hall and we were amazed, right. And obviously we saw the impact of businesses going down because advertising is the last thing you do in a pandemic, in a wartime.
People don't want to promote their products. People just want to huddle up. And so naturally, , revenues went down, we lost business, but because we were prudent because we were cost efficient, we were able to just sort of how to win and wait and see what happens. And. The mission statement of the company came through so brightly during this dark time, which is the whole country is suffering from Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines.
If our mission statement is to better the lives of these people, there is no better time than now. There is no darker days there now, and we need to come through, like We need to bring joy. We need to bring happiness when people are struggling.
And people responded, the content was amazing. People started coming out with all sorts of innovative content. We started opening up because we had all these creators, right. We started asking creators to make stuff and we would feature it. And that allowed more content to be populated because everybody was bored.
So we started cross posting content from platforms and creators and members of public onto our main channels as a catalyst for content performance, or think of it like a broadcasting platform. We started broadcasting content from these creators and the content output went up by 400% in the period of the lockdown and the traction went up amazingly.
And then when the economic impact was quite clear that some. Brands could rebound. It was not an equal locked down in terms of financial opportunity that digital services saw content. And they were like guys, we need to work with you. So that allowed us to rebound at the business level. And the business started to pick up and underlie it.
, we felt this deep sense of purpose and conviction everything that we did. And I would say it was a defining moment of the content business and why we do what we do. Why do we start? The company became very clear as a medium for our mission. And then the creator network was also at a position where you want to recognize that we have over a hundred creators outside of Singapore and Philippines and Malaysia, and many of these creators shared stories of how their parents lost their jobs.
Many of them are young people. Then they really were struggling financially. And Tik Tok of content creation was an outlet for them to express themselves as to get away. And we started to get deals for them. we'll put paychecks on their table and they would write to us and say, wow, I never thought I could monetize this.
Yeah, amazing. So that again, sprung a new sense of purpose, right? Where. Wow. Suddenly we were financially impacting people outside of our company. And that was so amazing that the HCN team was just like, let's keep giving them paychecks in a pandemic. Let's pay them, let's get jobs for them. Let's give income to them.
Let's empower them. Let's teach them because they're all stuck at home. Let's empower them with knowledge. Let's empower them with deals with money. There's no better way to get through a pandemic than to get paid. So that also became so purposeful, so meaningful for us. And that's really a bit of a revelation for us in really tough year.
Ling Yah: For those who want to be creators or who are currently creators, do you have any one big piece of advice for them?
Karl Mak: Yeah. I mean the, constant advice I always say is put it out there, just put it out, right?
Like, don't worry too much about creating the perfect piece of content. Don't worry too much about, Oh, you're not good enough. You're not good looking enough. you're not this enough. There's a lot of that self doubt when you want to become a creator. I think the best creators all creators evolve over time.
People change. Everything changes. The infrastructure, the landscape of what you're playing. First thing you need to do is just put it out there. If you have an idea, put it up there. Validate it, and you never know what's going to happen from there.
Ling Yah: Karl, thank you so much for all the time that you've given me for this interview. I normally love to end all my conversations with these questions. So the first one is this, have you found your why?
Karl Mak: Yeah, I think as I have shared my story through this podcast, Reason why I'm doing this is purpose, right? I think a lot about purpose. I think a lot about the limited time we have on earth and we don't have enough time to do random things or things we don't find purpose in. So I definitely think I found my why.
And, right now that is really to empower the next generation of creators and to really bring content out into the world that betters the lives of the audiences, right? Content that sheds light into stories that should be told content that matters to people. And then that brings joy and smells to people.
It might not necessarily be made by us all the time, but if we can help and empower the next wave of creators across this part of the world and maybe hopefully globally at some level someday, that would be extremely meaningful for us. So definitely I think I found my why.
Ling Yah: And what kind of legacy would you want to leave behind?
Karl Mak: That's a really great question because I started the business when I had no children. Now a couple years on, I have two young boys, and a big part of my journey as an entrepreneur has been, what is the purpose of building business, right? Like, I know this is my purpose, but what is the wider purpose of everything?
And I, referenced a Malaysian entrepreneurial legend, Robert Kuok. I read his memoir a couple of years ago when it came out. And, one of the ending chapters of his book, he talks about how in his nineties now he looks at his children and they all have their different passions. And his built this empire that, , has been passed on to them and they have this base to build on, , it's not necessarily just taking over businesses, but also giving them this platform to create greater impact into the world, through their ideas, through their execution.
And to me, I thought that was an extremely meaningful perspective because a lot of times as entrepreneurs, we always don't have time and capacity to do things Outside of work and having children was certainly one of them. You don't have enough time for children to be a father, to be a parent.
And then when I read that. , I think he has like six kids or something like that. It was super meaningful for me that it might not be a continuation of the business itself. It might cease to exist some point down the road, but I think building a brand that stays for a hundred years or more building a business that stays the course of time and giving my children and my colleagues children's or whoever that we still have in the business by then a platform to do more a platform to do greater things.
I think that's probably the best legacy I can leave behind not necessarily financial, but I would say opportunities of thought leadership opportunities of knowledge and opportunities of just having access that allows them to create greater impact in their lifetime. I think that would be a legacy that would be meaningful for, I think my, children and their families to, ride on and to leverage them.
Ling Yah: And what do you think are the most important qualities of a successful person?
Karl Mak: I think success needs to be defined. I don't personally define success as monetary. In fact, it's far from that. I think success to me is probably defined as having the ability to spend time, the way you wanted to create the impact that you want.
That goes on to create so much value for the world so much bigger than yourself, And that could really come in the form of everything else from becoming a great teacher that changes the lives of thousands of children to a great humanitarian non-profit leader that goes on to impact communities all around the world.
to me, that is success. And I think to have these traits that I think all successful people have that I have been learning to emulate to study to, grow into, I think humility is definitely one of the key things I noticed in all successful people.
I think another one is probably just the discipline of, being relentless, of just the daily grind of not giving up of just this constant desire to win and succeed with the humility of knowing that failure. will come. I think these two things have really been the defining traits that I've noticed and I hold true and hold close to, who I try to be.
Day-to-day to find success in the definition that perhaps I believe in.
Ling Yah: And where can people go to find you and support everything that you and Hepmil are doing?
Karl Mak: Well, I'm on LinkedIn. I'm quite active on LinkedIn. I'm not so much on Instagram or ironically is not on Tik TOK, I am on LinkedIn quite a bit. I do read every LinkedIn message I receive. I do share a lot of content on LinkedIn, so that's probably the best place to find me.
Ling Yah: And anything else you'd like to share that we haven't covered yet?
Karl Mak: if you are somebody who is thinking of an idea, who's, , stuck in a position of, should I start something, should I do something?
Be it from a creation perspective of be it from a business perspective? I think my encouragement is just do it a pandemic is obviously very challenging and for many people in many ways, but also the pandemic resets a lot of opportunities for many people, There are many industries and businesses and things that are going into a mode of being reset and.
Post pandemic. There will be a lot of new opportunities that will spring up. that is actually something that you cannot miss. as an entrepreneur, that's something I think a lot about. What is the post pandemic world looking like and what are opportunities there that one can leverage on all one can take advantage of.
So I think that's something to maybe encourage the listeners. If there's anybody who's in this ruts and trying to get out of it, just, start something you never know where that might take you.
Ling Yah: And that was the end of episode 55. The show notes and transcript can be found at www.sothisismywhy.com/55. alongside a link to subscribe to the weekly newsletter for this podcast.
And stay tuned for next Sunday.
Because we will be meeting the co-founder and general partner at an early stage venture capital fund, accelerator and consulting business in Asia on what it takes to be a high successful fund and accelerator. And what the startup scene in Asia is currently like.
Want to learn more?
See you next Sunday.