Learn to Sell

I had a chat with my team about skills I wish they invest in and I feel it’s worth sharing.

I told them that it’s important to know how to handle the espresso machine and to create delicious beverages, it’s required for you to know your products, it’s desirable that you bring your game face to work but none is as important as knowing how to sell.

We had a chat about the difference between selling and being a salesman and how there is a stigma on “being a salesman”.

I believe everybody needs to learn how to sell, simply because we all sell something. Back when I was a management consultant, we sell ideas. Ideas of a more efficient and effective organisation. When I was an officer in a master developer, we sell dreams. Dreams of a better life, a better Johor Bahru, a better Malaysia. At Double A Cafe, we sell cakes and coffee. Cakes and coffee that put a smile on your face.

While management consultant and master developer would undoubtedly sound sexier than that of floorcrew or salesperson, it’s all the same skill, selling.

Just like any skill, you get better by practicing it, by doing. I recall a time in university that I would dread presentations. Ironic then that I took up a job as a consultant, where I would have to present on a daily basis. I recall the overthinking notion of “what would people think of me” and “shy laaaa”. (Confidence is something only you can teach yourself, and the faster you learn to not overthink, the better).

With hindsight, I’m thankful for the rigour I was subjected to for it had allowed me build my skill in selling. With foresight, I hope my staff would one day realise the rigour I subject them to in learning the skill to sell would be have enriched their life positively.

I’m a nice boss, really.

Timely Decision Making

In starting a new venture which my wife and I call our own, people refer to us for everything. As we grow our team (who are an amazing group of people btw), the frequency of people referring to us increases. From simple things such as “do I pull the shutter down now” to heavier things such as “the customer has comments about the cake”.

I am reminded of a talk on leadership which I attended which can be summarised in 6 words:

Leadership is about timely decision making.

Is a leader supposed to be looking at the big picture? or look into the details?

Is a leader supposed to be passive, or aggressive, pushy “my way or the highway” style?

Is a leader supposed to talk more or listen more?

The answer to that is a decision needs to be made. A leader needs to be all that, in a timely manner. And this is true is all aspects of leadership, regardless of the size of an organisation, from being a class rep in a university, to running your own small venture, to running multinationals.

People who have been a staff to a bad manager know the frustration of poor leadership – having a leader who doesn’t speak up during your promotion evaluation, who doesn’t listen when you want to speak, who micromanages your work, pushy and worse, asks someone else to decide for them.

Don’t be that guy. Learn to decide who you have to be and when someone asks you something important, decide.

I say “when someone ask you something important” because God knows, when my colleagues ask me “where to go for lunch”, I’m bad at that 🙂

Understanding Numbers

Prior to starting Double A, I’ve studied different business ventures and as a person on salary, it’s a common to relate the capital required to start a business to one’s salary. I did it and I’ve heard many people say it out loud too. “Wow, to start a xxx franchise I’ll need RM300k, that’s like xx years my salary”. It’s a mental trap that serves no purpose but to talk you out of taking action.

I believe you can start a business with any amount of capital.

A man with no money will say, “I wish I have RM1000, then I can start a stall in a pasar malam (night market)”.

A man with RM1000 will say, “Man I wish I have RM10,000, then I can start a nasi ayam shop in a food court”. And ends up doing nothing.

A man with RM10,000 will say, “Man I wish I have RM1million, then I can start a McDonald’s franchise”. And ends up doing nothing.

A good friend of mine told me, many times, “Think Big, Start Small, Move Fast”. It was with that mantra and spirit that we grew a non-profit from its humble beginnings to national prominence and sustainability. In many ways, that spirit is very relevant to new business ventures. Take action. Think Big, Start Small, Move Fast.

Random plug-in: Selfie with the team!

Double A Cafe – Doors Open

May 16th 2015 was the first day we opened the doors of Double A Cafe. It was a trial run, with the shop at 80% completed, for family members and walk-ins. 

It was the first time I wore a work apron and the first time I made a sale through a POS system. It was an exhilarating experience (in fact, I was so excited I blanked out for a while when a customer gave me money, then change her mind to give smaller notes. I was like, omg mental maths fail moment).

Being corporate people that we are, my wife and I did feasibility studies before we opened, we scouted the potential of the place, calculate the cost per item, fixed what our target rate-of-return and challenged ourselves to face the uncertainties of the business, such as the fact our cafe is in a new part of Ara Damansara.

I am constantly reminded by how fortunate Alia and I have been since embarking on this journey. From the support of fellow cafe owners in KL giving free advice on cafe pitfalls to avoid, to our awesome suppliers, to engaging a superbly talented interior decorator that is Adrien Kent (whose introduction is nothing short of serendipity), to engaging Feng, the one time Aeropress Malaysian Champion, who has been generous in his advice on running a cafe and also a magician of the highest calibre at making coffee, to hiring a most hard working group of people who I proudly call my team. 

I’m excited to see where we will go with this venture. Inshallah, with providence, we shall continue to be lucky with all manners of running this business. Come try our coffee, treat your palate with our cakes and if you’re looking for happy, passionate and fun colleagues, come join our team. 


A Good Stretch

I believe you should have dreams that scare you. Dreams that stretch you, that is seemingly very difficult, if not impossible.

In 2007, when I was in university, people tell me no local student can win Student Union President. I calculated my odds, measured myself, ran for it and won.
In 2011, as I was descending from the summit of Mt Kinabalu, together with my brother and my friend Fazril, we joked about climbing the next big thing: Mt Kilimanjaro. I have never even been to Africa at that point. I calculated my odds (and how much I have in my pocket!), measured myself, went to Tanzania and summitted the mountain.
In 2014, a day after my birthday in December, despite having a demanding job in Johor, I told myself it’s time to take my interest in coffee to the next level. I got myself a very driven partner (it’s called a wife) and together we laid the plans for a cafe. I calculated my odds (and again my pocket, right and left), measured myself and put plans into implementation. I’m excited to be able to tell you if this will be a success story or a lesson to be learnt but perhaps you will be the one to tell me. Our shop opens in a few days. Do come over and say Hi.

Tabung Haji-TRX Deal: Understanding Governance and Compliance to Shariah

If you were to engage in a transaction (say, for example, for the purchase of a car) with a questionable party (say, a drug dealer) where the terms of transaction is clear, price is agreed and there is a willingness to transact. Does it still make this transaction Shariah compliant?

I say No.

I read with great interest the recent purchase of TRX land by Tabung Haji. How the Chairman Azeez “miscommunicated” and how the Chairman of the Tabung Haji Shariah committee says the process checks out and the deal is Shariah compliant. I am not trying to discount the opinion of the Tabung Haji Shariah committee chairman, however, Shariah compliance takes into consideration more than just due process. Shariah compliance and governance requirements takes into consideration two additional factors: the integrity of the parties as well as the objectives.

Advisors and practitioners of Shariah law will be able to provide many case studies on how this is true. Examples include case studies how financing Coca-Cola expansion is non-Shariah compliant due to its questionable financial support to Israel and even a case on fundraising a company where a small subsidiary of the company is in the business of printing pornographic material deems the whole company non-Shariah as a whole.

Integrity of the parties is important in Shariah. Tabung Haji is an honourable name and 1MDB is a tainted name. 1MDB has questionable elements as part of its operations, e.g. what was the money at Cayman Islands used for and what is the truth of the PetroSaudi deal?

1MDB has failed the test on integrity of parties and objective of transaction thus, it is my opinion that this transaction is not Shariah compliant. Tabung Haji management is quick to say that they shall immediately sell the land in question, even at a profit. Clearly, Tabung Haji management has lost the plot – if the first transaction is not Shariah compliant, the second sale does not make it right by Shariah definition. While it makes great commercial sense that Tabung Haji has made gains in such a short time, it does not make its original transaction Shariah compliant and as Shariah compliance is a requirement for Tabung Haji deals, a wrong has clearly been committed.

Hello World!

I’ve always been passionate about writing. Despite that, this passion has never manifested itself in the form of me penning my thoughts onto a blog. Here’s to a new beginning.

As an homage to my Computer Science university background, it is only appropriate that I start with the two magic words: Hello World!