If I knew then, what I know now

  • Assumptions have to be made when you plan a new business
  • Be prepared to kick out those assumptions when you actually kick off

If I knew then, what I know nowI WAS at Agensi Inovasi Malaysia recently to meet its approachable CEO Mark Rozario. Lest the name deceives you, Mark is Malaysian, of Portuguese descent.
My preparation before the interview got me to thinking about how easy it is for aspirational words like innovative, creative or out-of-the-box to roll off our tongues, but yet how so very tough it is to actually practise and embed these words into our DNA so that we are living, breathing, walking, and talking examples of it.
Just take our own start-up, Digital News Asia (the ‘other’ DNA). So, we wanted to create a digital business technology news platform. But where is it written that one must start with a full-fledged portal?
Nowhere I know of. Yet, that was the road we took. There was not a single suggestion to do something different. And, mind you, me and co-founders A. Asohan and Edwin Yapp are blessed to know a lot of really smart people.
Of course there was the suggestion that we must have an app to make the content tablet-friendly and build a mobile site. But that’s not out-of-the-box thinking. Nor was the need to have a social media presence. That’s a given, right? Especially in a nation that ranks among the most voracious in its consumption of social media. But that’s just those young ones who are spending most of their time there, right?
Assumptions made that have become fact. But are they accurate? Business models are being built on these assumptions. They better be right! Okay, the good news is that they are right. But please make room for the rest of us, yes those above 40 have joined the trend of being social, too.
But not necessarily in the manner our under-40s have, who tend to share many aspects of their lives with their friends. In fact, one journalist with an international business magazine told me last month that his two boys, in their 20s, even live their relationships with their girlfriends on their social platforms.
No, we won’t be doing any of that! But what the 40s and above are doing is to increasingly use validation as a determinant for what content they consume online. Meaning, if my friend sends me a link via Twitter or Facebook of a video, picture or article, chances are that I am going to read it because if my friend likes it enough to share it, it must be a good read/ view.
I say this with some authority because around 30% of the visitors who read our content come via social referrals. The first inkling I got of this was when a CEO told he that he does all of his online reading through Facebook. It was only later that the significance of what he said struck me. Clearly, his is not an isolated example.
Besides social and the validation theme that goes hand-in-hand with it, is mobile, another trend we knew of yet did not really dwell into. In fact, I came across a presentation I gave three years ago at a conference where I spoke of the importance of mobile. My first slide: Mobile is increasingly going to be at the front and centre of everything that we do.
Hmm. How I wish I had taken my own advice. As you read this, we are testing our mobile version of DNA to go live any day now. We are only into our fifth week. This was a development we had planned for, at the earliest, for the fourth month. But our readers were demanding it.
The reason is simple: Consuming content via mobile saves them time. And if they want to spend their precious pockets of downtime on DNA, we darn well better make it easy and fast for them to do so!
So to cut to the chase, if I knew then, circa February-March, what I know now, this is what I would have done. I would have launched DNA on a Facebook page and used Twitter and LinkedIn to drive readers to the content. Month 2 or 3, I would have launched the mobile site, followed by an app for the iPad. And, I would not build the portal until readers threatened me with physical harm.
But before I got this far, would I have been able to convince my co-founders and angel investor of this approach? Nah. They would have threatened me with physical harm!
This article was previously published in The Malaysian Insider

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