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Entrepreneurship

Khailee Ng, Founder Of Says.com

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Khailee Ng is a technology entrepreneur who co-founded GroupsMore, a leading group buying company acquired by Groupon in 2011, and SAYS.com, a regional social media advertising and news network. In October 2013, following the completion of the merger of Says Sdn Bhd with certain subsidiaries of Catcha Media Berhad, Rev Asia was formed and Khailee was appointed Chairman to the Board of Directors. Khailee has also invested in numerous startups in Malaysia and the USA, and mentors young startups as entrepreneur-in-residence with the global seed fund and incubator 500 Startups, as well as Founder’s Institute.

He studied business and marketing in California at San Francisco State University and University of California Berkeley, and University of Technology, Sydney. His success at a young age earned him the HSBC Young Entrepreneur Award (Best in Asia) and an invitation by the US State Government into the prestigious IVLP, joining notable alumni like Tony Blair, Nicolas Sarkozy, and Mahathir Mohamad.

Today, The Asian Entrepreneur is priveleged to speak to Khailee Ng about his work and views on Asian entrepreneurship.

says_founder

What exactly is Says?

Says.com is a social news network. We curate different news sources into a single news story and our readers share it through social media to reach more than 2 million Malaysians monthly. Half a million of these readers don’t read any of the top 4 online news portals. The social media generation seems to really dig our approach.

How did the idea for Says come about?

Our friends and I realized that:

1. To get the full story surrounding a particular piece of news, you have to visit many different sites

2. Most news websites are full of words, and carried very few pictures or video

So we created a news site that summarized the words into ‘bullets’, but gathered all the images and video together

Could you walk us through the process of starting up Says?

We stared doing one thing. Kept doing many things. And never stopped.

What has it been like managing the business since?

The team that manages Says.com is young, driven, super smart, creative and make for brutal executors. They take great care of the business, ensuring the workplace is an environment where the very best people want to work, an environment that sets people free to do what needs to be done.

Did you find anything particularly difficult during the startup? 

A lot of entrepreneurs brag about how hard their life was, and the media loves writing about this. My view is that difficulty is relative to the size of your ambition. If you think small, small problems affect you. If you think big, it takes a big problem to affect you. When things are tough I’ve always encouraged my team to think bigger and find new solutions. I’m fortunate this has made things easier rather than more difficult. The tough times we go through are short lived and we always end up looking at them as just another day at work.

Was it hard to build the visitors base initially for your website?

The first 12 months was slow. We spent a lot of time winning our readers over one story at a time, challenging our assumptions, and iterating on our product and approach. During Malaysia’s 2013 General Elections, we received a lot of really positive feedback on our coverage. Eventually, people got hooked on our style of news. A considerable number of our stories would get up to hundreds and thousands of reads in a week. And now we’re growing so fast, we see a chance to beat the traditional news websites and be number one.

What is your strategy against your competition?

Our only competition is our complacent selves. We focus on being better than we were the month before.

Have you developed any industry insights that you could share?

News that isn’t shared across social media isn’t news worthy. The real front page is not the front page of a newspaper the paper’s landing page – it’s what people see when they load their Facebook or Twitter.

How have you managed to stay relevant in this industry?

That’s not a concern of ours. We want to stay valuable; value creates relevance. Too often people associate relevance with being new or current. We focus on what drives value in news. We’re not the fastest news source, we don’t even have exclusive reporting, but we have the most complete account of a news story, displayed in an easy to view format that can be scanned at speed. People get a lot of value very, very, quickly. We try to do this better and for more people, and the way we deliver this value might evolve as content consumption habits evolve, but we focus on being valuable.

What does the future hold for Says?

You may see our approach translate to more verticals, and to more markets, if our approach adds value there.

 What do you think about startups in Asia?

Many startups in Asia are trying to answer big problems and go after big opportunities. I invest in many of them via the Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm 500 Startups – I take care of their Southeast Asia fund – and am really excited about where all of this is headed.

What are some personal principles or personal values that guide you and your career?

I am very skeptical of advice and conventions people lazily accept as true. I like trying to understand the deeper truth behind situations. People think I’m just being a contrarian, but really I’m just being curious.

What is your definition of success?

You wake up feeling you’re doing exactly what you’re meant to be doing that day.

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

I didn’t. I like creating things. Business just happens to be a useful vehicle for achieving that. It’s a means of gathering resources, people, and energy to create things I can’t create on my own.

What do you think are the most important things entrepreneurs should keep in mind?

They are the biggest limitation to their own successes. The moment they grow their thinking, grow their access to resources, grow their access to knowledge, their businesses will grow too.

In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?

There’s a whole bunch of things one can only start to describe, but continuous learning does stand out as the one thing people overlook from time to time.

says.com-2012-03-06-11h-48m-33s

Connect

Website: http://khailee.com

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/khailee

Facebook: www.facebook.com/khailee

Twitter: https://twitter.com/khailee

Entrepreneurship

The Brittle vs. Ductile Strategy for Business

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Companies and startups often pursue a path of “brittle strategy” and in it’s execution, it can be translated, in layman terms, into something like this:
Heard about the guy who fell off a skyscraper? On his way down past each floor, he kept saying to reassure himself: “So far so good… so far so good… so far so good.” How you fall doesn’t matter. It’s how you land!
– Movie : La Haine (1995)

Brittle strategy :

A brittle strategy is based on a number of conditions and assumptions, once violated, collapses almost instantly or fails badly in some way. That does not mean a brittle strategy is weak, as the condition can either be verified true in some cases and the payoff from using this strategy tends to be higher. However the danger is that such a strategy provides a false sense of security in which everything seems to work perfectly well, until everything suddenly collapses, catastrophically and in a flash, just like a stack of cards falling. Employing such approach, enforces a binary resolution: your strategy will break rather than be compromising, simply because there is no plan B.
From observation, the medium to large corporate company strategies’ landscape is often dominated by brittle “control” strategies as opposed to robust or ductile strategies. Both approach have their strong parts and applicability to corporate win the corporate competition game. The key to most brittle strategy, especially the control one, is to learn every opponent option precisely and allocate minimum resources into neutralizing them while in the meantime, accumulating a decisive advantage at critical time and spot. Often, for larger corporations, this approach is driven by the tendency to feed the beast within the company that is to say the tendency is to allocate resources to the most successful and productive department / core product / etc.. within the company. While this seems to make sense, the perverse effect is that it is quite hard to shift the resources in order to be able to handle market evolution correctly. As a result of this tendency, the company gets blindsided by a smaller player which in turn uses a similar brittle strategy to take over the market.The startup and small company ecosystem sometimes/often opts for brittle strategy out of necessity due to economic constraints and ecosystem limitations because they do not have the financial firepower to compete with larger players over a long stretch of time, they need to approach things from a different angle. These entities are forced to select an approach that allows them to abuse the inertia and risk averse behavior of the larger corporations. They count on the tendency of the larger enterprise to avoid leveraging brittle strategies, made to counter other brittle strategies. These counter strategies often fail within bigger market ecosystem as they are guaranteed to fail against the more generic ones. Hence, small and nimble company try to leverage the opportunity to gain enough market share before the competition is able to react.

Ductile strategy :

The other pendant of the brittle strategy is the ductile strategy. This type of strategy is designed to have fewer critical points of failure, while allowing to survive if some of the assumptions are violated. This does not mean the strategy is generally stronger, as the payoff is often lower than a brittle one – it’s just a perceived safer one at the outset. This type of approach, will fail slowly under attack while making alarming noises. To use an analogy, this is similar to the the approach employed with a suspension bridge using stranded cables. When such a bridge is on the brink of collapse, will make loud noises allowing people to escape danger. A Company can leverage, if the correct tools and processes are correctly put in place, similar warning signs to correct and adapt in time, mitigating and avoiding catastrophic failure.
To a certain extend, the pivot strategy for startups offer a robust option to identify the viability of a different hypothesis about the product, business model, and engine of growth. It basically allows the Company to iterate quickly fast over the brittle strategy until a successful one is discovered. Once found, the Company can spring out and try to take over the market using this asymmetrical approach. For a bigger structure, using the PST model combined with Mapping provides an excellent starting point. As long as you have engineered within your company and marketed the correct monitoring system to understand where you stand at anytime. Effectively, you need to build a layered, strategic approach via core, strategic and venture efforts combined with a constant monitoring of your surroundings. This allow you to take risks with calculated exposure. By having the correct understanding of your situation (situational awareness), you will be able to mitigate threats and react quickly via built-in agility. However, we cannot rely solely on techniques that allow your strategy to take risk while being able to fail gracefully. We need techniques that do so without insignificant added cost. The cost differential between stranded and solid cables in a bridge is small, and like bridges, the operational cost between ductile and brittle strategy should be low. However, this topic is beyond the scope of this blog post but I will endeavor to expand on the subject in a subsequent post.
Ductile vs Brittle :
The defining question between the two type of strategies is rather simple: which strategy approach will guarantee a greater chance of success? From a market point of view this question often turns into : is there a brittle strategy that defeats the robust strategy?
By estimating the percentage of success a brittle strategy has against the other strategies in use, weighted by how often each strategy is used by each competitor you can determinate the chances of success.Doing this analysis is a question of understanding the overall market meta competition. There will be brittle strategies that are optimal at defeating other brittle strategies but will fail versus robust. However, the robust one will succeed against certain brittle categories but will be wiped out with other. Worse still, there is often the recipe for a degenerate competitive ecosystem if any one strategy is too good or counter strategies are too weak overall. Identifying the right strategy is an extremely difficult exercise. Companies do not openly expose their strategy/ies and/or often they do not have a clear one in the first place. As a result, if there is a perception that the brittle strategy defeats the ductile one, therefore the brittle strategy approach ends up dominating the landscape. Often strategy consulting companies rely on this perception in order to sell the “prêt a porter” strategy of the season. Furthermore, ductile strategies tend to be often dismissed as not only do they require a certain amount of discipline, but also the effort required in its success can be daunting. It requires a real time understanding of the external and internal environment. It relies on the deployment of a fractal organisation that enables fast and risky moves, while maintaining a robust back end. And finally, it requires the capability and stomach to take risk beyond maintaining the status quo. As a result, the brittle strategy often ends up more attractive because of its simplicity, more so that it’s benefit from an unconscious bias.

The Brittle strategy bias:

Brittle strategies have problems “in the real world”. They are often unpredictable due to unforeseen events occurring. The problem is we react and try to fix things going forward based on previous experience. But the next thing is always a little different. Economists and businessmen have names for the strategy of assuming the best and bailing out if the worst happens, like “picking pennies in front of steamrollers” and “capital decimation partners”.
It is a very profitable strategy for those who are lucky and the “bad outcome” does not happen. Indeed, a number of “successful” companies have survived the competitive market using these strategies and because the (hi)story is often only told by the winner’s side only, we inadvertently overlook those that didn’t succeed, which in turn means a lot of executives suffer from the siren of the survival bias, dragging more and more corporations into similar strategy alongside them.
In the end all this lot ends up suffering from a more generalized red queen effect whereby they spend a large amount of effort standing still (or copying their neighbors approach). This is why when a new successful startup emerges, you see a plethora of similar companies claiming to apply a similar business model. At the moment it’s all about UBER for X and most of these variants. If they are lucky, they will end up mildly successful. But for most of them, they will fail as the larger corporations have been exposed and probably bought into the hype of the approach.
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About the Author
This article was written by Benoit Hudzia of Reflections of the Void, a blog about life, Engineering, Business, Research, and everything else (especially everything else). see more.
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Entrepreneurship

What Kills A Startup

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1 – Being inflexible and not actively seeking or using customer feedback

Ignoring your users is a tried and true way to fail. Yes that sounds obvious but this was the #1 reason given for failure amongst the 32 startup failure post-mortems we analyzed. Tunnel vision and not gathering user feedback are fatal flaws for most startups. For instance, ecrowds, a web content management system company, said that “ We spent way too much time building it for ourselves and not getting feedback from prospects — it’s easy to get tunnel vision. I’d recommend not going more than two or three months from the initial start to getting in the hands of prospects that are truly objective.”

2 – Building a solution looking for a problem, i.e., not targeting a “market need”

Choosing to tackle problems that are interesting to solve rather than those that serve a market need was often cited as a reason for failure. Sure, you can build an app and see if it will stick, but knowing there is a market need upfront is a good thing. “Companies should tackle market problems not technical problems” according to the BricaBox founder. One of the main reasons BricaBox failed was because it was solving a technical problem. The founder states that, “While it’s good to scratch itches, it’s best to scratch those you share with the greater market. If you want to solve a technical problem, get a group together and do it as open source.”

3 – Not the right team

A diverse team with different skill sets was often cited as being critical to the success of a starti[ company. Failure post-mortems often lamented that “I wish we had a CTO from the start, or wished that the startup had “a founder that loved the business aspect of things”. In some cases, the founding team wished they had more checks and balances. As Nouncers founder stated, “This brings me back to the underlying problem I didn’t have a partner to balance me out and provide sanity checks for business and technology decisions made.” Wesabe founder also stated that he was the sole and quite stubborn decision maker for much of the enterprises life, and therefore he can blame no one but himself for the failures of Wesabe. Team deficiencies were given as a reason for startup failure almost 1/3 of the time.

4 – Poor Marketing

Knowing your target audience and knowing how to get their attention and convert them to leads and ultimately customers is one of the most important skills of a successful business. Yet, in almost 30% of failures, ineffective marketing was a primary cause of failure. Oftentimes, the inability to market was a function of founders who liked to code or build product but who didn’t relish the idea of promoting the product. The folks at Devver highlighted the need to find someone who enjoys creating and finding distribution channels and developing business relationship for the company as a key need that startups should ensure they fill.

5 – Ran out of cash

Money and time are finite and need to be allocated judiciously. The question of how should you spend your money was a frequent conundrum and reason for failure cited by failed startups. The decision on whether to spend significantly upfront to get the product off the group or develop gradually over time is a tough act to balance. The team at YouCastr cited money problems as the reason for failure but went on to highlight other reasons for shutting down vs. trying to raise more money writing:

The single biggest reason we are closing down (a common one) is running out of cash. Despite putting the company in an EXTREMELY lean position, generating revenue, and holding out as long as we could, we didn’t have the cash to keep going. The next few reasons shed more light as to why we chose to shut down instead of finding more cash.

The old saw was that more companies were killed by poor cashflow than anything else, but factors 1, 2 and 4 probably are the main contributing factors to that problem. No cash, no flow. The issue No 3 – the team – is interesting, as if I take that comment ” I didn’t have a partner to balance me out and provide sanity checks for business and technology decisions made” and think about some of the founders and startup CEOs I know, I can safely say that the main way that any decision was made was by agreeing with them – it was “my way or the highway”. I don’t therefore “buy” the team argument, I more buy the willingness of the key decision makers to change when things are not working (aka “pivoting” – point 9).

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About the Author

This article was produced by Broadsight. Broadsight is an attempt to build a business not just to consult to the emerging Broadband Media / Quadruple Play / Web 2.0 world, but to be structured according to its open principles. see more.

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