7 advice from my 10 years of working

2018 marks ten years since I joined the workforce. As I reflect on my career of ten years, it was interesting to see the effect of my decisions and the career risks I took. It was also interesting to see how my friends and peers, knowing how they were in school/university, have done things differently – and how some have achieved career success faster. These are seven things I noted, some are my own advice and some are what I observed people who had rapid success in their first decade of work do:-

1. Keep In Touch With Everyone
The working world, regardless of where you are in the world, is a mix of who you know and what you know – what differs is that in different countries, these two elements appear in different ratios. Although my career has always been based in Malaysia, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to interact with global investors to know this to be true. Information is power and you would never know who would be of help to you in the future. In this day and age of social media, keeping in touch can be easily done by dropping a birthday message on FB or wishing seasons greetings on Whatsapp. Of course, as the world is so small, keeping in touch only works if you yourself maintain a good reputation.

2. Join A Society/Club and Widen The Type of People You Socialise With
In my time doing YCM, I observed that work has this unconscious effect of narrowing the types of people you hang out with. An example of a lesser extreme would be wanting to only network with people in your industry (bankers with bankers, oil&gas with oil&gas people, etc) and a greater extreme, only wanting to network with people in your own company (where even attending external events, you herd together). To me, this limits your understanding of how other industries and how the world works in general.

My advice would be to join and be active in a society regardless of its type – may it be work related, community based society or even a political party. From my experience, joining societies provides an opportunity for you to meet people (and you learn the most surprising things from unsuspecting people) and participating in its organisation provides you an opportunity to learn useful skills in a safe environment: leading peers and depending on your society, understanding how to build brands, managing event and even fundraising. Some of the best people I’ve met were through my involvement in YCM.

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YCM hosting YBhg Dato’ Sri Nazir Razak, then CEO of CIMB as part of our Special Series
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Hosting YBhg Tan Sri Mokhzani at my cafe, Double A Cafe, as part our mentorship program

3. Keep Good Notes That You Can Refer Back
There have been a number of times where I find myself in a discussion referring to a point (either related to something I recently learnt or something I learnt from a previous employment) I knew I had noted down before but couldn’t find – either I didn’t know where it was in the same notebook or it was in a different notebook altogether (from a previous employment). My work notebooks were organised by dates and not topics so it was not easy to flip back to find the last time a particular topic was discussed. Not forgetting notes often get jumbled with To-Do lists.

While there are many ways to organise notes, I find using Microsoft OneNote effective. You can organise your content by tabs (which can be your different projects) and pages (which can be content from a particular meeting). Together with a Search function and separate To-Do checklist, its easy to keep your notes in check.

4. Have A Hard Skill. Make sure you are professionally known for something and if possible, certified.
It is not sufficient for you to just be strong in your know-who. It is important for you to be strong in your know-how. I believe one should always have a skill and be professionally known for something – corporate finance specialist, HR specialist, urban planning expert, etc. In the corporate world, you should pursue a certification – getting yourself certified is the easiest and perhaps best way to be known for a capability – CFA, PMP.

Do not mistake tenure of service in a function or an industry as indication of competence. I’ve met my share of individuals who have worked in an industry or function for a number of years but when probed, their understanding is surface level as their work is somewhat transactional. Be conscious of what you are learning daily and make sure you understand the core business of your company and read up on the latest in your industry – as an example, when asked about where oil prices will go, a HR staff should not answer “I work in HR, I don’t know what my company does or what oil & gas is about“.

5. Have an opinion
While this sounds obvious, you should, where possible, have an opinion about everything. This is easier said than done. Most outstanding individuals I’ve met are great conversationalist who are able to speak on just about anything – able to speak about national and current business issues to the serious crowd, able to speak about arts and culture when they are put with artsy folks and even able to speak about the current celebrity gossips when placed with the gossip gang.

Having an opinion requires you to be able to connect dots together and good first step is always to be diversely well read – my personal mix is The Edge Weekly, TIME and Pancaindera (those who know will know).

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Alia and I featured in Women’s Weekly as couples working together

6. Build Your Personal Branding Effectively Through Public Speaking
Most of my peers who are successful quickly in their 20s are those who excel at personal branding. In my opinion, the most effective form of building personal branding is public speaking. In a society where many are too shy to speak up, it is common, as a first impression, for one’s charisma to be quickly interpreted as a sign of competence. People who ask questions at forums, volunteer for speaking engagements (e.g. becoming MC or moderators) or speak for a cause are those who are best noticed by their peers and the public as outstanding individuals. This then leads to career opportunities.

Many Malaysians I meet don’t consider themselves as natural public speakers, regardless of language. If you’re one, my advice is to work on this skill – practice in front of a mirror, talk to yourself and be comfortable with your voice.

As a note, while public speaking is a powerful form of personal branding useful to the working world, there are other forms I have observed that could be effectively used – like passionately speaking about a cause on your social media accounts – blogs, FB, Twitter, Instagram.

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My day job: Presenting to Chief Secretary to the Government of Malaysia and other VIPs

7. Plan and Review Your Achievement
Time has an unforgiving aspect where if you don’t keep track of it, it will just pass you by and before long, 10 years would have passed. Although I don’t take new year’s resolution so strictly (like my resolution to lose weight is from 2015 and keeps getting carried forward), at the start of the year I would have a mental conversation with myself asking “what would I want to achieve this year?” and come December, “what’s my biggest achievement this year?”. I believe as you look back at your life, you should be able pick an age and recall your biggest achievement of that age – like, what’s your biggest achievement on the year you turned 25?

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Double A Cafe won Best F&B Set at the 2016 Boss Awards

Special Officers – What’s So Special?

I recall a time when becoming a Special Officer (SO) was the coveted job of graduates. In student body circles such as UKEC, among others, becoming a SO to a Minister or a CEO of a big company became the aspiration of its Chairman. Student leaders in Malaysia are no different.

Becoming a Special Officer is sexy – it’s a validation that a person of power acknowledges your ability over your peers, that you are smarter, more proactive, more driven. It entails an unprecedented learning access to seasoned influential individuals and as you stand at the fringes of power, you wield for yourself a degree of influence. And with influence comes power and respect.

I myself was a Special Officer for 3 years and as I reflect on my career, these are five (5) things I observed about the Special Officer job and how it has affected my career:


1. All Special Officers Differ In Job Scopes (and Usefulness)

The title may be general but from my experience meeting other SO, all are different. Not just in who they report to (e.g. a Minister or a Corporate Person) but in what the job scope entails. If a spectrum could be drawn of their job scopes, at one end would be those who are only additional hands and feet to their bosses and at the other end, owners of unassigned portfolio. So you’ll meet some SOs who do special projects that others in the organization can’t or won’t do and you’ll meet some SOs who just simply carry bags.

2. Power is Intoxicating and Damages Your Humility

SOs are often bestowed by others the respect deserving of their boss (people treat you as if you are the Minister or CEO themselves) and over time, you will fall into the trap of telling yourself that this respect is earned, that you deserve it. People who retire from positions of power often remark how the loss of people respecting you is one of the hardest thing to adjust to. SOs who leave their job without going to something bigger or have not created a reputation beyond their job may find themselves stuck with an ego of not wanting to report to a less powerful person and simply thinking I’m too good for this.

3. It’s a Ceiling Job

For most SOs, it’s a ceiling job. Some SOs are fortunate when their organisation structures their career path that becoming SO automatically becomes a stepping stone (e.g. fast track promotion). For most however, SOs are left to figure out what to do next. The ones who are strategic are able to maximise their influence and find something better as a next step, like a Ministrial SO who gets a political position and makes a career as a politician.

SOs need to be smart to be able to have sufficient influence over their boss to be able to frankly speak to them about what’s next for them. E.g. After 2 years of working 24/7, make me a HOD or CEO somewhere. The worse ones are those who make a career being a Special Officer, deliver little and can’t transition.


4. Limited Hard Skill Growth

Yes, Malaysia is a country where who you know matters more than what you know. And the job of an SO means you get to meet people of power and influence on a daily basis. I personally believe the most effective executives (political or corporate) in Malaysia are ones who have a strong network, good access to influencers and at the same time, grounded in content and ideas. As SOs mostly coordinate, they almost never go to the level of detail that enables them to develop a hard skill. If you simply know powerful people, can open doors and coordinate between working level and your boss – what skill do you sell on your CV and what are you employable as?

The more proactive SOs are the ones who are aware of this dilemma and request for a portfolio to own and deliver, who possibly takes courses and professional qualifications (PMP, CFA) to strengthen one’s skill and are perhaps smart enough to use his influence and work on an opportunity himself, may it be for private growth and gain or for social purposes. Because at the end of the day, unless you transition to become an entrepreneur, CEO or HOD somewhere, you almost always need a hard skill to bank on.

5. Understanding How the Country (and World) Works

One of the biggest personal takeaway from my SO role is understanding how the country works – how business and politics, power and influence intertwine. Some aspects of this is disappointing to realise, like why the best ideas don’t win, but the maturity gained in understanding how things work means you know how things could and should be done. Prior to becoming a SO, I was a management consultant for 4 years, fresh out of university.

As a professional, we were good at what we do: understanding global mega trends and having efficient work ethics. But more often than not, my then colleagues and I care little about how governments work, understanding why business we consider cronies are the one’s leading the change and understanding what it takes to make a difference. We were just too engrossed making Powerpoint decks.

In general, I advise fresh graduates not to take up offers to be Special Officers. Despite the glamour and power associated with the job, joining as a fresh grad is an easy way for you to be delegated to do menial transactional work as your boss (and even you) would not know your strengths and weaknesses. One should always, where able, start with a job that provides rigour in a hard skill, work at a place that provides training and feedback. Should you be considering the offer to be an SO or if you are already one, you should think of the transferable skills that you would want to develop so you may have a clearer future after your stint.

 

A New Adventure – Fluff Bakery KL

Yesterday we opened the doors of Fluff Bakery KL for the first time to customers as part of our trial run. Alhamdullilah it was met with great response. It’s humbling to see how much support we get from our friends, family and the public in bringing this cupcake shop to life, bringing them from Jln Pisang in Singapore to Jln Tun Mohd Fuad 2 in TTDI, KL!


Fluff Bakery KL is led by 5 entrepreneurs – Syaira & Ashraf (Mrs & Mr Fluff respectively), Nina, Alia and myself.

I wrote before how in the many things I learnt being an F&B entrepreneur, one of it is that you should have multiple partners to manage the workload. This venture is a validation of that – 5 entrepreneurs with varying business experience with complementing knowledge of business and networks working together.



I long believe that you should be conscious of learning something new everyday. That is how you know you’ve made the most of your day. Any entrepreneur who have had a physical shop will tell you they will have wish lists for their next shop – most likely lessons learnt from kinks from the first shop! Fluff KL is it for me – a second shop where I am able to make sure things work better, aesthetically and most importantly operationally.



I once told Alia that as a fellow Taman Tun boy, I would love to have my next shop in TTDI and it’s with great satisfaction that I am able to open Fluff in TTDI!

It’s been a great journey getting the shop from bare to what it is today. Thank you for the support, from the pop ups to our first shop sale and we are excited to be able to fully open to the public! See you then and do say Hi when you come 🙂

6 things I learned after 2 years as an F&B entrepreneur

I became an F&B entrepreneur slightly over 2 years ago, when my wife and I decided to open Double A Cafe.


As an introduction, my experience in F&B are with cafes – dealing with coffee, cakes and hot kitchen. Cafes are increasingly becoming popular here in KL, you hear a new one opening almost every month. Owning a cafe is exhilarating and it’s like street-cred, it’s the new cool. What people don’t tell you is that, if you are small business with limited cash and you plan to be hands on, owning a cafe involves being exhausted a lot (imagine being on your feet for 10 hours a day for 6 days a week). It is your passion that will drive and sustain you. What people don’t tell you is that while new cafes open every month, cafes close down every month too. If you plan to open a cafe because you want to create a hang-out spot for your guys or you want to look cool and not because you have a genuine love for coffee or cooking, my advise is: Don’t Open A Cafe.

Here it is, six things I learnt:

1. Buy things second hand. Some things you can upgrade.

For a small business where cash is limited, you need to be aware that cafe business requires somewhat large capital (a good estimate of a set up cost of a cafe in a shop-lot would be ~RM250,000). Because many cafes close down on a monthly basis, always be on the look for good bargains for equipment. Coffee and kitchen equipment have a lifespan of 5-10 years and many cafes don’t get far past their 1 year mark before closing down hence equipment should be in good condition. Often, when cafes close down, you can get bargains of up to 50%.

In Malaysia, you can find bargains in Mudah.my (search for Coffee Machine) or on the Facebook groups Barista Club Asia or Malaysian Chef Connection for notice of cafe closure.

2. Don’t rent a place thinking it will boom. It is better to rent in a mature area with proven traffic. 

Rent will make up a significant portion of your monthly fixed cost. It is tempting to tell yourself to rent at a relatively new area as it has a slightly lower rent and telling yourself it will be a matter of time before this place will boom (the common lies you will tell yourself include thinking occupancy of condos above are picking up, your shop is near LRT/MRT etc). My advice is to not fall into this trap – yes perhaps the place will boom but you won’t know if it takes 6 months or 6 years and you won’t last that long. It is better to pay RM10k rent for a mature area with strong purchasing power for your products than going to A new development and paying RM7k. The absence of traffic will kill you.

3. Don’t rely on traffic as a revenue. Supply. 

Relying solely on foot traffic is one major reasons why many cafes fail. Traffic is unpredictable and the cafe game is a volume game – if any given day you have no traffic, you make no revenue and you are still paying for staff with low productivity. Whatever it is you choose to be known for, may it be coffee, cakes or food, create a new revenue stream by supplying – you can get a head start marketing this by having a good social media account. Getting your staff out to deliver to nearby offices makes more money than them just sitting in the shop.

4. Work on your marketing early. Build social media influence.

Unless your cafe is situated in a heavy traffic area, it is a good idea for you to work on your social media presence early – even before you construct your shop. Malaysians are heavy users of Facebook and Instagram and these platforms play a big role in influencing customers / foodies to come to your shop. If it’s possible to get some, endorsements by instafamous folks will carry a long way.

5. Sometimes, putting yourself in your staff’ shoes is not a good idea. Someone needs to clean the grease trap.

F&B is a physically demanding job – it involves a lot of standing, discipline to come in on time and doing the kind of cleaning that you usually don’t do at home (like cleaning the coveted grease trap). One trap I see many owners fall into is letting things slide with their staff – the ‘kesian’ mindset. You may think you are practising empathy when you tell yourself, wow they work this much and get paid so little, let’s not be so hard on them – empathy has a time and place and this is not one of it. Your business is not a charity, it needs to make money and people must do what you expect of them for your business to thrive. Yes you will have rebellious staff who do not want to do what they are told – my advice is one bad apple spoils the vibe for everyone. In a small business where many legal aspects are not well understood by staff, it is a good idea to explain to your young staff the grounds for you to terminate them and do not be afraid to issue warning letters and firing them.

On that note, F&B is the kind of business where you should trust in your hiring instinct and give trust to your staff first, until they break it. Else you will be checking the cctv every 10 minutes. People have the capacity to perform and impress you given the right conditions.


6. Have multiple partners. Having 50% in a successful business is better than 100% of a failing business.

As much as you are passionate for your cafe business, you still want to have a life outside it. Putting “everything you got” for something like a cafe, where returns are not guaranteed, is not a good idea – both in regards to time and money. It is much better if you can find partners and friends to do this with you. If you have 5 partners, what this means is you spend 1/5th of the expenditure and if you negotiate right with your partners, you work 2 days a week and not 6 or 7 days a week full shift. It is better to have a small share of a successful business (and retaining your sanity) as opposed to full ownership of a failing business. If you are telling yourself on the get-go “I have a good idea for a cafe and I don’t want to share the profits of this brilliant idea”, tell yourself it’s all a big IF.

As a final word, if you are set on having a cafe, it already means you are an entrepreneur which means you are driven. The key thing is to be prudent and execute.