- Taught to be sincere and see business as long term proposition
- Aims to be among global top five leaders for enterprise architecture
BEING an entrepreneur is Alecia Heng’s dream job. “I think nothing beats entrepreneurship as a career choice. It is much tougher than most people realise. It has no set job scope, no boundaries, it is risky and it can be stressful, especially when it comes to finance but it is my dream job,” she says. Although she may be living out her dream, the road to entrepreneurial success has been a long one for the co-founder of ATD Solution Sdn Bhd.
ATD is the leading provider of business IT architecture solutions in Asia Pacific. It is dedicated to changing the way companies in the region use and adopt IT through its specialised services, which includes extensive business IT architecture training, consultancy services, as well as hands-on coaching and mentoring.
Both Alecia and her co-founder and husband Aaron Tan Dani, grew up with fathers who were businessmen. “Our fathers always encouraged us to have our own business and that became our ambition.”
Alecia says that of all the entrepreneurs she has met along her journey, her father is the one she looks up to in the business world. “Although he has retired and closed his business, the way he ran it and the way he dealt with his customers and staff has always inspired me,” she says.
“He taught me to be sincere and to always look at business in the long-term and never for short-term gains.” While they may have inherited the entrepreneurial spirit and a knack for business from their enterprising fathers, Alecia and Aaron did not instantly find business success.
Like many successful companies, ATD was the result of a series of unforeseen events. Aaron was travelling a lot for his job at that time and Alecia was looking after their baby son at home.
“I wanted to do something that would utilise my talents and at the same time, allow me to spend as much time with my son while Aaron was away on work trips,” she recalls.
When their son was two-years-old, Alecia started a new venture as a freelance trainer. “I developed two curriculums in the areas of ‘Object Oriented Analysis and Design with UML’ and ‘Business Requirement Architecture'. I got work through word-of-mouth, with training centres engaging me to deliver the curriculums.”
Meanwhile, Aaron was becoming active with the International Association of Software Architects (IASA), a global professional body for IT architecture. After establishing a few chapters in Asia Pacific as a volunteer, he became chairman of IASA Asia Pacific.
“As I am also a business solution architect by profession, I started to volunteer my services for the activities and events of the IASA Malaysia chapter,” says Alecia. Following the launch of its certification in the United States in 2009, the Chief Executive Officer and Founder of IASA, Paul Priess, asked Aaron if he would like to run the certification in Asia. That was how ATD Solution — an acronym for Architecting Technology and Digital — was born in 2009.
As a new startup, there were many things the couple had to look into with regards to the structure and processes of their new business. “We had limited funds to hire consultants to set systems up for us,” says Alecia. “We did everything on our own and learned through trial and error.”
The biggest challenge for Alecia has been to train herself to be multi-disciplined and juggle many aspects of a business, at the same time. “I come from a technical background, but as an entrepreneur I also have to do sales, marketing, and consulting. I had to learn all these skills,” she says.
It can’t be denied that Alecia’s self-training has turned out to be a resounding success. Other than the role of co-founder at ATD, the enterprising entrepreneur is also the President and co-founder of a well-respected non-profit special interest group for current and former women in the IT industry called Gorgeous Geeks. The group aims to inspire women in IT to achieve their career goals and live a well-balanced life at the same time
A big advantage
While the husband and wife team had to figure out many aspects of running a successful business, they didn’t do it all on their own. Alecia says the Coach and Grow Programme (CGP) proved invaluable.
“The CGP doesn’t give us answers. You learn to think really hard from all angles and answer your own questions with the guidance,” she says. “I particularly found it useful to apply the business modeling tools that were provided because we really had to do our homework and force ourselves to look at the past, present and future for our business.”
Alecia and Aaron’s hard work and ‘can do’ attitude have really started to pay off in a big way. ATD has continued to grow and the company has now expanded past Malaysian shores. “We started to set up our overseas operations in 2010 in Indonesia, Singapore and Hong Kong, 2012 in Australia and 2014 in Japan and 2015 in Korea,” says Alecia. This is quite an achievement as some of these markets, such as Japan and Hong Kong, are notoriously difficult to penetrate.
Although ATD is enjoying significant success, Alecia is not showing any signs of slowing down. “I foresee us being one of the top five leaders for enterprise architecture in the world, within the next five years. We are already the leader in Asia Pacific, the next logical step is to go global.”
When asked to provide words of wisdom for aspiring business owners, the seasoned entrepreneur says, “I see entrepreneurship as a lifetime career. I believe you must always learn as much as you can, preferably spend a few years in a big organisation to see how people scale up, run, and manage their businesses. She continues, “Experience does play a vital role, and it can be costly for the individual if you just focus solely on your technical skillset. It is always better to branch out from your job description.”
Alecia maintains that entrepreneurs should test their hypothesis against the market, and periodically get feedback directly from customers. “Always innovate and leverage on technology to grow beyond your market place.”
Discover ATD Solution at www.atdsolution.com and please register your interest to apply for CGP Season 4.
The above is an excerpt from the book Startups to Scaleups published in October 2015 by Cradle Fund and Proficeo Consultants, the programme manager for Cradle’s Coach and Grow Programme. DNA will be featuring every entrepreneurial story from the book in a special commercial arrangement.