Kiran Kaur Sidhu: My Fave 5 of 2018
By Kiran Kaur Sidhu January 7, 2019
- Education and entrepreneurship opportunities beyond urban areas
- The main tenet of entrepreneurship is sound decision-making
2018 was special to me – it marked my debut as a writer. I always had an inclination for stories and writing but little did I know that I would find my footing within the tech scene.
It has been incredibly interesting and refreshing listening to entrepreneurs do the things they do and why. Looking back at the year, every story has left an imprint in some way or another.
They have driven me to continue writing – to tell the truth from my perspective, to inspire and to inform. But out of all my 2018 stories, I’ve narrowed down my favourite five.
I used to associate the word ‘technology’ with technical jargon and a world detached from real human connection. My visit to SOLS 24/7 paved the way for me to see tech beyond a world of artificial intelligence and entrepreneurs just trying to reap large revenues.
It opened my eyes to the means and possibilities technology could offer to those from less than privileged backgrounds. The founder of SOLS 24/7, Raj Ridvan Singh (pic, above), or more fondly referred to as Teacher Raj, is dedicated to uplifting poor communities through affordable and accessible education.
As an umbrella of social enterprises and non-profit foundations, SOLS 24/7 offers English and Computer Science certification for Orang Asli students via Google’s Computer Science First programme and Cambridge’s Key (KET) and Business (BEC) exams.
With no prior knowledge of English, the students’ level of proficiency after the programme had me in awe – though not perfect, it was communicable, understandable and more importantly, they spoke the language with confidence.
Beyond that, it also trains students to become solar panel installers under SOLS Energy thus giving them a sustainable job and income opportunity.
Today, Raj has launched a country-wide English Movement to further highlight the need for English to increase productivity and overall performance of any company. SOLS 24/7 continues to serve at its community centres and Youth Development Programme.
If the title isn’t captivating enough, the story of Karex Bhd managing director Goh Miah Kiat’s (pic, above) youth will surely pique your interest. When the family’s rubber trading business was hit by crisis in the late 80s, Goh’s grandfather made lemonade out of lemons by entering the business of condom production.
The condom factory was set up in the house Goh grew up in and he recalls having no shortage of visitors among his school friends because of this. With innovation being key to the company’s growth, Karex has developed by leaps and bounds since 2000 – from RM 7 million in revenue to RM 400 million.
It is impossible to ignore the social media storm each time Karex releases a new fancy flavour (nasi lemak or durian, anyone?), but one hardly thinks of the technology and innovation the company employs. This story gives some insight into the thinking of Goh Miah Kiat itself and the “crazy people” he works with.
And, while we hear of many traditional manufacturing businesses struggling to go digital, Karex is moving with the times. To refute the one-size-fits-all condom phenomenon, the company offers 66 different sizes on its online shop based in USA.
In addition to overcoming limited shelf space in stores and having more marketing time online, it is a plus point for males too since “a lot of men still feel embarrassed buying condoms at a physical shop.”
Geographically, urban cities are known for being business idea hubs and the ideal take-off ground for tech startups. But there is undeniable business potential and opportunity beyond modern communities too.
This conversation with co-founder and chief executive officer of Code Army, Zafrul Noordin, gave me a closer view into the legible solutions founders outside of the urban market has to offer. As Zafrul highlighted, “The total population of Klang Valley is only seven million while there are 20 over million people in other parts of Malaysia.”
The SUPERB Higher Education League (SHEL) 2017 was a programme catered to rural Malaysian founders to build their business idea. The programme was based on Silicon Valley’s Lean Startup methodology and carried out in Bahasa Malaysia – something I found particularly interesting.
After my chat with Zafrul, I caught up with four participants from the programme. Some solutions include an online jobseeker platform based in Perak and a startup that disrupts the layers of middle men between farmer and market.
While we hear of accelerators and programmes for the urban youth, the continuation of programmes like SHEL 2017 could more evenly transform the economic fabric of Malaysia.
How often, if ever, do we hear about business models that are built upon doing good for society? Insead’s Professor Virginia Cha (pic, above) delivered a talk at the launch of Sunway iLabs Makerspace on ‘restorative innovation’.
Although it is yet to be proven and still only an academic theory, I think Cha’s talk offers good points of consideration for budding and seasoned entrepreneurs alike. Her opening question to the audience: “Why is it that what is good for us is so unaffordable?”
Cha talked about the cause of vast pricing discrepancies between organic and mass produced vegetables, attributing the higher cost of organic produce to the certification and labelling cost.
She also gives consumers something to think about: “If we truly understand the cost of replacing the resources we take from this Earth, we will rethink the way we consume.”
Her model involves entrepreneurs innovating around scarcity, inefficient supply chain and economies of scale. One example in particular that struck me was her investment in New Luncher, a Singapore-based company delivering lunchboxes to school children with quality ingredients.
Since consumer demand is the invisible hand that drives prices up, Cha believes teaching children what is good food is can change their palate in the long run. “Although it’s a long haul, it could change the price equation by increasing the demand for good food.”
This is one of the last stories I worked on for 2018 and it is one that stood out. It was the first time I witnessed such a multi-faceted perspective of an entrepreneur. Three-time serial entrepreneur Peng Tsin Ong let us in on more than just his entrepreneurial, businessman persona.
He shared his interests, value systems and decision-making thought processes – a much deeper view than what I am used to.
As founder of three companies namely Match.com, Interwoven and Encentuate, Peng derived his entrepreneurial drive from his father who always provided for his family without a fixed, regular job. For Peng, starting a company was a “conservative choice”.
Another trait of Peng’s that I found fascinating was his ability to let things go. The entrepreneurship journey is ridden with challenges but Peng took it all in stride as lessons learnt.
He also has wisdom to offer in terms of business relationships. While other entrepreneurs may prioritise the company over preserving friendships, Peng has a different perspective: “I’m not one to say preserve the viability of the company at all costs.”
Now, Peng is the managing partner at Monk’s Hill Ventures. He believes it is a fitting role for two reasons – he enjoys helping people grow and play around with ideas that create an impact.