Week in Review: Elusive hunt for the right traits

  • Zafrul Noordin of CodeArmy pins down hard work, discipline and eagerness to learn
  • Path to a successful startup super difficult, passionate ecosystem builders aim to help


Back in 2013, I interviewed, Adeo Ressi, who launched Founders Institute, an idea stage accelerator, who said his goal was to try to decode the traits of a successful startup and then systematize that. I think that is a pipe dream, an elusive hunt. There are too many intangibles involved, including the element of luck, if you believe one latest piece of research.

But it is sexy to claim that as ones ambition and Adeo is from the Silicon Valley, the capital of vapour ware of the world, where almost everyone swallows lock stock the belief that they are going to be the ones to change the world, presumably for the better, and in the process get wildly rich. That last part, they don’t talk about as it is not cool.

So it is with interest that over here in Asia, Zafrul Noordin of CodeArmy, feels he has found three core traits that lead to success for startups. These are hard work, discipline and an eagerness to learn. That last trait can be substituted for intellectual curiosity, a much cooler term, I think.

Meanwhile, being hard working is just a given, yet it’s interesting that Zafrul lists it as a key trait. Does that mean that some entrepreneurs are not putting in enough effort to ensure their startup has a chance to succeed? I tell entrepreneurs that working hard is a given, but as entrepreneurs, as aspiring change agents, they have to work harder than anyone else, especially the competition. Then you give yourself a chance to win.

I once attended a lunch talk by Wipro chairman Azim Premji in KL and he adviced the audience not to underestimate the value of hard work. That really struck a chord with me.

Zafrul shares that his definition of hard work is about putting in 80-hours a week. And that is work that the entrepreneur is putting in, not outsourcing it to a third party or even delegating to juniors – as he has seen happen! Former corporate people who want to jump into entrepreneurship are the ones who struggle here, he observes.

Yet, from personal experience and speaking to other entrepreneurs, I know that it is hard to maintain the same pace of work you have in the beginning of your journey when the sense of excitement and anxiety are high, which helps drive you to put in the work needed to make progress.

What happens when disappointment and rejections hits and when disillushionment starts breeding self-doubt and more dangerously when you start getting bitter and blame others for your failure to get traction? Will you be able to even recognize these dangerous signs? Do you have a mentor who can help pull you out?

Will you then throw in the towel, recognizing that perhaps your idea isn’t as relevant as you thought. Or, maybe the idea is solid but you just failed to build the right product for the market and have now run out of money or run out of steam to carry on?

This is why Catcha Group co-founder and president, Patrick Grove, who has been in this dark place before, says that persistence is the key quality he looks for in entrepreneurs. (btw, you can read about why Grove is the only three-peat DNA Digerati50 in the 2018-2019 edition here!)

The point is that there are just so many things that entrepreneurs have to get right, from both a nurture and nature aspect in order to grow a startup into a successful business. And because the journey is so difficult, there will always be passionate ecosystem builders like Zafrul, who has gone through his own tough journey, who want to help make the path less perilous by looking for certain markers that help them pick those with the best chance to succeed and then guiding them to the best of their ability through programmes like Khazanah’s Nasional Entrepreneurship Outreach (KNEO) programme.

So, power on Zafrul, who incidentally, is a DNA Digerati50 from the 2016-2017 batch, and all other ecosystem builders out there who want to help make the journey slightly less difficult.

 Editor’s Picks:

REA Group seeks to cement lead in digital property market

Code Army unlocks the code behind a good startup

Build Easy’s pivot puts renovation and design services on a digital platform

Malaysia Airlines’ hospitality embraces digital

Startups must scale up and become role models, increase talent pool

Cyberwarfare: Machine vs Machine

Dell’s Latitude and Vostro notebooks for the workforce of tomorrow

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