Azran Osman Rani, the giant killer

  • Local talents need to ready to take on incumbents
  • Startups need to be more structured than corporates


Azran Osman Rani, the giant killer


ENTREPRENEURSHIP and base jumping don’t normally go hand in hand, but Azran Osman Rani (pic), draws inspiration from the extreme sport as it acts as a powerful metaphor for him.

The former chief executive officer of AirAsia X and iflix, spoke about how even a world champion base jumper, who has jumped several thousand times in his career, gets scared before he performs a jump.

“The sense of fear when you about to do something crazy never goes away. In fact, fear and anxiety are not that much different from excitement and passion. It is all a matter of how you frame the context. In the case of the base jumper, he recognises, reframes his emotions and doesn’t let anything hold him back.”

The reality is that every entrepreneur faces fear and anxiety every single day. There is never a right time to start that journey and they can rest assured that new problems will arise every single day.

This is one of the things Azran explained during Cradle Buzz 2018 where he presented the topic titled “Our Rising Stars”, on the need for local talents to be successful and visible in the global arena.

Drawing from his own experiences, Azran certainly walks the talk, as he left corporate life to start his own venture called Naluri Hidup Sdn Bhd, a healthtech company that uses a digital programme to help customers lead a healthier lifestyle. In January 2018, Naluri raised approximately US$247,000 (RM1 million) in seed funding from BioMark, a Singaporean healthcare analytics company and 500 Startups.

“It takes a lot to muster the courage to take on conventions and global giants,” he said. “Part of the key qualities to be a successful entrepreneur are curiosity, tenacity, speed and most important of all, being humble.”

Speaking about his time at iflix, Azran said he faced rejection more than 115 times before finally finding an investor. Similarly, he was scoffed at during the early days of AirAsia X as nobody believed that anyone would opt for a budget airline experience for long-haul flights.

Azran was glad that he didn’t listen to his detractors because they had, in fact, discovered an unmet need that global giants and established local players did not see.

As it turns out, iflix did not receive funding from any venture capitalists but instead found strategic investors from telecommunications and media companies that wanted a stake in the future.

“They invested in us not because they expected to see a return on investment within five years but they wanted to be in on our idea which could fundamentally change the industry,” he said.

It was also because of this investment in iflix by two early adopter partners: Telekom Malaysia and Digi, that the company able to offer its services to a ready database of customers and gauge how much data they consume on average.

With that in hand, they were able to take this case study to other companies and eventually to other markets like Pakistan, the Middle East and South Africa.

Pivoting does not mean failure

The word ‘pivot’ seems to the failure of a plan and the need to adjust for something to work. Contrary to this notion, Azran is a huge believer in pivoting. In fact, throughout his journey at AirAsia X and iflix, he has seen many major pivots or times when plans don’t pan out as anticipated.

“If you think about building an organisation to scale, it is not about having a plan because there is no business plan in the world that would pan out the way you would expect it to. It is your ability to be creative and curious and moving fast to find the right answer,” he said.

Contrary to popular belief that startups are free-spirited organisations that feature bean bags and ping-pong tables prominently, Azran believes that startups need to be more structured than traditional organisations.

“To be a globally scalable startup you need to be more structured than a corporate,” he said.

To him, the only advantage small startups have over large lumbering incumbents is their ability to move fast. This means they are able to set annual plans, budgets, monthly reviews and other matters at a much quicker pace.

Akin to conducting an experiment, Azran advises startup founders to keep a journal with them to record all key decisions that they have made. Within two weeks, it would be clear which decisions succeeded and failed; thereby pointing out what you need to do.

When asked how he stays motivated as an entrepreneur, Azran replied that having a good support system is critical as the journey can be incredibly lonely. Ironically, this does not include friends and family, who he finds normally instruct you on what to do.

“What you need is a structured process where you meet the same people regularly so they understand the values, context and nuance that matter to you while monitoring your progress,” he said.

For Azran, he keeps in contact with seven other chief executive officers, who he considers his peers. He has had regular meetings of at least once a month with them for the past 10 years. During those meetings, they mostly share and listen to one another’s experiences without prescribing what they should do.

“As entrepreneurs, we learn much better through sharing rather than being told what to do,” he said.


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