Daring to go against the norm – and reaping the fruits

  • Proficeo persevered despite being told that the CGP was not unique
  • Arguably stands today as best C-level tech company intervention programme in SEA

[Beginning April, in a commercial arrangement, DNA will start running every entrepreneurial story featured in the bookStartups to Scaleups that was published in October 2015 by Cradle Fund and Proficeo Consultants, the programme manager for Cradle’s Coach and Grow Programme.] 
 

Daring to go against the norm – and reaping the fruitsIN 2011, when Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd and Proficeo Consultants Sdn Bhd launched the Coach & Grow Programme (CGP), there was no other programme of its kind available for entrepreneurs.
 
Even though we were told on numerous occasions that the components that made up the CGP were not unique and had been done before, the fact of the matter is that the successes achieved in the CGP speak for themselves.
 
Whilst individual components of the programme had indeed been previously executed by others, these predecessors were not able to demonstrate the results we have. And so, we set out to be the change entrepreneurs wanted to see because what was available was not effective.
 
During our orientation sessions, my cofounder Dr Sivapalan Vivekarajah reminds everyone, “Ideas are a dime a dozen. It is execution that truly distinguishes the great from the mediocre.”
 
The CGP produces results because of our ability to execute, and that is how we differentiate ourselves.
 
Return on investment
 
Daring to go against the norm – and reaping the fruitsWhen we launched in 2011, we asked what metrics would be used to measure the success of the programme, and this included standard KPIs (key performance indicators) like attendance at each session, the number of entrepreneurs it made an impact on, feedback forms on trainers, etc.
 
Sivapalan and I decided that we would stick our necks out and make a paradigm shift.
 
We went against the norm, and in addition to the standard KPIs, we set commercial metrics for the programme, like revenue generation, completion of prototypes, market validation, new market entry, export revenues, etc.
 
Although this wasn’t required of us, we decided to do it anyway because there was no downside to pushing the entrepreneurs to achieve them. If anything, we would show that the programme could really make a measurable impact.
 
The one metric we deliberately chose NOT TO SET though, was funds raised. Everyone in the CGP knows this because I say it all the time, “Revenue is sexier than investment. Achieve the revenues, and investments will chase you.”
 
The reasoning for this is simple. We did not position the CGP as an accelerator. Our goal was to build sustainable and scalable Malaysian companies.
 
In order for us to achieve this, the companies that were selected and eventually graduated from the CGP needed to have strong revenue-generating abilities and cash flow.
 
If we had made fundraising a KPI, the entrepreneurs would be spending the majority of their time chasing money instead of building solid revenue foundations for their businesses.
 
And so we tracked the KPIs. Within a period of 12 months, 59% of ‘scaleups’ in the programme were able to exceed 20% growth in revenue when compared with previous years.
 
Even more astounding is that 31% of the scaleups were able to achieve more than 100% growth in revenue post-CGP – and some of them were mature companies established more than 10 years ago.
 
The startups also achieved results that are worthy of mention: 66% of startups completed market-ready prototypes, with 24% of them generating revenue within the 12-month period. A total of 61% of startups also went on to raise funds to fuel growth and expansion, and have cumulatively raised RM44 million since 2011. [RM1 = US$0.25 at current rates]
 
The overall quantitative impact – that I am truly astounded by – though, is the cumulative and follow-on impact of the programme: Since 2011, revenues generated by the CGP companies from Season 1 and Season 2 alone was RM845.2 million, and funds raised RM241.1 million.
 
And this is just based on 260 companies!
 
One entrepreneur at a time
 
The adage of ‘Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime’ is clichéd but true for the CGP.
 
When we launched the CGP as a 12-month programme, we were met with a lot of scepticism, namely that it was too long. We stuck to our guns because the CGP wasn’t an accelerator and we truly wanted to ingrain good practices that were repeatable and which would lay a foundation of discipline.
 
Entrepreneurs complained of homework and reports but those who dug deep and were open to learning new tricks were the ones who achieved the most success.
 
It is said that it takes 21 days to form a new habit if you practise it every day. What we discovered is that it takes, on average, 12 months to break old habits, convince entrepreneurs that new tricks have merit, allow mistakes to be made during execution, and intervene with timely advice.
 
Remember, the majority of the CGP companies are scaleups that have been running their businesses for some time and therefore, the usual methods that apply to startups are not really applicable.
 
So whilst we are immensely proud of the economic impact of revenues, exports and funds raised, the true value of the CGP is in the individual success stories that you will be reading on a weekly basis from next week, in our own special Startups to Scaleups channel here on Digital News Asia (DNA).
 
Many times, I have been quietly proud of the fact that the CGP entrepreneurs outshine their peers by winning awards and competitions, and raising funds at pitching events.
 
When I hear people in the audience remark that the CGP entrepreneurs are clearly identifiable because they answer questions better, their decks are better, they say all the key things that investors want to hear, they know where they are going, how they are going to get there and what they want to achieve, they track and measure the right metrics and speak with confidence about what they can do, and clearly personify quality entrepreneurs – how can I not beam with pride?
 
Each and every one of them worked hard to achieve what they have and the coaches, Cradle and Proficeo, made that happen.
 
No-one can ever take that away from them and they know it, and with that comes the confidence that they can achieve whatever they set out to do because they already have the right tools to do it.
 
Paying forward
 

Daring to go against the norm – and reaping the fruits

 
The CGP has in the past five years evolved into an ecosystem in its own right. Within the CGP community, we have a myriad of skills, experiences and personalities – the sum of which makes for a colourful, vibrant family.
 
In everything that we do in the CGP, we look to our alumni first to provide for us before we look outside.
 
The Startups to Scaleups book, for example, was designed by Jasmine and Andrew from LogoDesignCreation.com – Season 1 alumni. The FoundersAsia.com app was developed by Elyse and team from Interapp Pluz – Season 2 alumni. The publishers are James and David from Snappars Publishing, a CGP3 cohort.
 
We don’t have to do this but in order to build a culture, we need to practise what we preach. In doing so, we hope to instil and inculcate the culture of giving back and paying forward.
 
I am proud to say that the CGP alumni have already demonstrated the willingness to come back and coach, teach, share, and give back. We have already seen close to 50 alumni from the past two seasons take time out to do just that for Season 3.
 
I have never been turned down by any of the CGP alumni that I have reached out to – all of whom are ecstatic at the opportunity to contribute and do their bit for the family.
 
In our CGP family, we have venture capitalists and angel investors who are coaches. Our intention of bringing investors in to coach has paid off because there is now a culture of friendship and a bond built between investors and entrepreneurs.
 
Some of these relationships have resulted in investment, while others have not — but what I know is that the door is open for both to continue to nurture the relationship, and perhaps in the next investment round or even the next venture, these relationships will come to fruition.
 
Made in Malaysia
 
As you will discover as you read their stories, many of these entrepreneurs were not successful in selling to Malaysian customers because no-one wanted to be the first to try out an untested product, much less one ‘Made in Malaysia.’
 
However, as these CGP entrepreneurs have demonstrated, true grit, passion and perseverance will be rewarded and many of them have achieved not just local success but regional and global recognition.
 
If there is one major impact that I hope the book, and the serialisation of it in DNA, achieves, it is to create the visibility within Malaysia, Asean and beyond, that Malaysia is home to awesome entrepreneurs and technology.
 
Many of these entrepreneurs are quietly building their empires. They are rough diamonds waiting to shine.
 
On the whole though, many are still invisible. As Malaysians, we need to appreciate what is in our own backyard because the grass is not always greener on the other side. If we don’t do it, we can’t expect the world to respect and embrace Malaysian-made products and services.
 
DNA founder and chief executive officer Karamjit Singh once described the CGP as “the most powerful tech-company C-level intervention programme in South-East Asia.”
 
If he had said that a couple of years back, I would have modestly smiled and been happy to have been acknowledged. However, as Thomas Yip from Radica Software keeps telling me, I should shout about Proficeo and CGP’s successes more, so that’s just what I set out to do in this book and through DNA.
 
The end or just the beginning?
 

Daring to go against the norm – and reaping the fruits

 
The journeys you will be reading are just the tip of the iceberg. The CGP itself has successfully crossed the startup phase into the realm of the scaleup. We have built an ecosystem within the programme with a culture of kinship and paying forward.
 
All the CGP entrepreneurs, coaches, trainers and alumni have much more to share, and we will bring you these stories via the FoundersAsia.com app in 2016 when our new recruits from Season 3 are due to graduate.
 
I thank you in advance for taking the time to read these stories. They were a labour of love.
 
Each CGP entrepreneur featured personifies the ‘change’ that the CGP set out to achieve. If this Startups to Scaleups channel and their stories inspire other Malaysians to push forward, think bigger and achieve success, then the impact of the CGP would be felt beyond the alumni and into the Malaysian ecosystem.
 
To all Malaysian entrepreneurs, wherever you are, take a leaf out of these chapters and do what you need to do to make yourselves visible.
 
To all Malaysians: Be bold. Take a leap of faith. Trust that Malaysians can be better than others and please, Buy Malaysian First!
 
The CGP is 100% Made in Malaysia and proud of it!
 
Renuka Sena is the founder and CEO of Proficeo Consultants.
 
Related Stories:
 
Turning Malaysia into the ‘go to’ entrepreneur hub
 
That burning desire to succeed
 
Many tech startup gems in Malaysia: Proficeo

 
Pitching 201: Understanding investor-speak, validating your idea
 
 
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