Digerati50: Adversity builds character, really

  • Struggle to overcome market skepticism over value of coaching
  • Used negative experiences to work tirelessly to prove naysayers wrong

Digerati50: Adversity builds character, really

This article formed part of the Digerati50 magazine that was published in Feb 2016. The digital version of that publication can be downloaded from the links at the top right corner of the page thanks to the sponsorship of Telekom Malaysia Bhd, Malaysia’s broadband champion.

THE adage, ‘If you first try and don’t succeed, try again,’ may sound clichéd, but that’s exactly the sentiment that Renuka Sena (pic), cofounder of coaching and mentoring consultancy Proficeo Consultants, had when she first started out.

“Because coaching and setting metrics for measurement was new, many people scoffed at what we wanted to achieve,” says Renuka, referring to the early days of Proficeo.

“We went to many government agencies to pitch our idea and we presented data from our research to show that there was a market for coaching. No one wanted to stick their necks out, as the norm was for entrepreneurs to do a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA)”.

The 45-year-old had started her career as a lawyer practising intellectual property and technology law, before founding Proficeo in 2008 with entrepreneur Cseng Lim, and Dr V. Sivapalan, an inaugural Digerati50.

Today its signature initiative is the Coach and Grow Programme or CGP, a public private partnership with Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd, and fully sponsored by Malaysia’s Ministry of Finance.

That tough beginning has borne fruit, though. Renuka says that since 2011, 366 entrepreneurial ventures, encompassing over a thousand entrepreneurs, have enrolled in the first three CGP cohorts. (The fourth cohort is open for admission now.) Of those, 261 have ‘graduated’ and as of December 2015, with 105 companies/ teams undergoing coaching in ‘season three.’

“The graduates from seasons one and two have to date achieved RM845.2 million (US$191 million) in revenue and have raised RM241.1 million (US$54.5 million) in investments,” she says.

“Two companies – Flexiroam and Sedania Innovator – have gone public, and iPay88 (a Kuala Lumpur-based Southeast Asian online payments provider) saw a majority of its Malaysian operations acquired in 2015.”

Besides these notable achievements, Renuka says there are other smaller ones which she believes are just as important.

“I believe CGP works and that the entrepreneurs who have gone through it have thrived,” she declares.

“If not for the structure that we created, we would not have uncovered the everyday heroes – the likes of Radica Software, Trunkbusters, GizWiz Studios, Free The Seed, Evenesis or IX Telecom,” she says.

Asked what lessons she learnt going through such obstacles from the beginning, Renuka says that despite it being so tough, she is better for having gone through it.

“I believe that with everything that is worth doing, one will not be handed it on a silver platter, because if it’s not hard to do, someone else would be doing it,” she shares.

“If not for all those negative experiences, I would not have worked so hard nor so tirelessly to prove them all wrong, to show that a long-term coaching programme can actually help entrepreneurs move up the value chain,” she adds.

As a coach, Renuka believes some key issues need to be resolved to give entrepreneurship in Malaysia a brighter future.

“Diversity is key in entrepreneurship and capability development. But in order to achieve this diversity, there must be multicultural teams working together and building a product that is relevant for the region.

“We must make it easier for foreign teams to set up companies here. Work permits and visas should be processed faster, and we must find a way to retain the foreign students that are already here to get more involved and work for startups.

“Lastly, we must have the policies in place to allow for startups which want to expand into the region, to use Malaysia as a landing point.

“If we truly want to own the region, the systems, processes and human resources need to be top class and effective,” she adds.

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