‘Keep sharpening your knife’

  • Alvin Koay urges startup founders to keep working on their IQ and EQ
  • Finding a mentor to help shed light on their blind spots is critical
‘Keep sharpening your knife’THE news that advertising discovery platform mobileapps.com is up for sale for US$1 million has hit the news in the United States, with TechCrunch reporting on it as did TheNextWeb Asia (http://tnw.co/NQVIbe) and Business Insider (http://read.bi/Ro0PPw).
 
The news was first broken by Singapore-based tech site e27.sg. How did a Singapore news site get the jump on everyone else? Founder Alvin Koay incorporated his business in Singapore although his entire team is in Malaysia, and he himself is Malaysian.
 
All of which point to one of the lessons mobileapps.com founder Alvin Koay wishes to share with his fellow Malaysian entrepreneurs. “Use the Internet to do business and never, never think local,” he advises. “If I can do it [build successful businesses online – see yesterday’s article], then everyone can do it,” he says encouragingly.
 
Even the US$400,000 in seed funding he raised from public-listed Japanese company I-Freek in July 2011 came about because Koay took the initiative to go to Barcelona in February, 2011 for the Mobile World Congress to meet potential partners for his mobileapps.com startup.
 
Koay struck up a friendship with a gentleman at Japan’s booth there who happened to be a senior executive from I-Freek. The company plays in the mobile Internet space in Japan, and owns a 16.38% stake in mobileapps.com.
 
His second key point is to urge our entrepreneurs to be as resourceful as possible and to never give up. For instance Koay himself built his first website by laboriously learning through the ‘Help’ menu of Microsoft’s Front Store in 1997. “Keep sharpening your knife,” is how he likes to describe this notion of being resourceful and continually improving on skills, be it IQ or EQ.
 
In fact, he has come to the realization that nothing beats having the right attitude and passion. “Talent and skills you can acquire very fast by hiring, but if you do not have strong leadership skills or build them up fast, and do not have the drive and resourcefulness, you will likely not succeed.”
 
One thing he feels all new entrepreneurs must do is to seek out their fellow entrepreneurs who are willing to share time and experience with them.

“You must be able to bounce ideas off each other as we all see the world through our own filter, and this creates blinds spots in all of us. Exchanging ideas and thoughts with a mentor helps us to be aware of our blind spots and to see the opportunities and threats,” he reasons.
 
But as anyone who has tried can tell you, getting a mentor is not as easy as acquiring a ‘friend’ on a social media network. “A mentor has to firstly like you,” says Koay, meaning that having good communications skills and being skilled at relationship building is something entrepreneurs need to build up.
 
This is something Koay himself takes very seriously. He is a certified life-coach, is into NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) neuro-semantics, time-line therapy, practises hypnosis and meta-states. He is a member of the International Society of Neuro-Semantics, Meta-Coach Foundation, American Board of Hypnotherapy and American Board of Neuro-Linguistic Programming.
 
Mobileapps mishap?
 
The obvious question then is why was Koay not successful in building up mobileapps.com?
 
He takes the question straight on the chin and says the success of any business is always about the team and “execution of the vision.” He admits he could have done a lot better here.
 
But the crux of the problem that mobileapps.com could not overcome was not having enough advertisers on board and the lack of sufficient publishers. Each party wanted to know that there was sufficient volume of the other before they committed to Koay’s advertising platform for mobile.
 
In essence he was trying to model his mobile platform after Google’s AdWords and AdSense, but just could not build enough momentum.
 
He says they should have followed the ‘lean startup’ methodology. Instead, their development work took too long to complete and they hired poorly and then had to sack some people who were not delivering. “There was a lot of management issues and it was a big learning experience for me,” he says.
 
His key takeaway is to stress the importance of hiring the right people and of not splitting the team up, which he felt was a big cause of their downfall. “We had people based in Penang and in Kuala Lumour, and I found that technology could not close the gaps this physical separation caused,” he says.
 
There could not be impromptu meetings, brainstorming sessions and Koay, based in Penang, could not take aside people to talk to them privately. With technical people being shy by nature, he says they avoided face-to-face chats over Skype even, and all this led to issues that hampered the execution of mobileapps.com.
 
So how is richmediaads.com going to be any different? For that, we have to wait a few weeks before Koay shares his game plan for this emerging space.
 
Earlier Story: Was he Malaysia’s first e-commerce millionaire?
 
 
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