- Meticulous planning and keeping 10 steps ahead lead to success
- A personal mission and global vision means a lifetime’s work
JAZZ Tan registered her company when she was 19-years-old. Called Jazz Ada Solution (Jazz has the solution), its purpose was to solve the problem of keeping young people away from unhealthy activities and off the streets, while putting them into youth development programmes.
Ten years on, the social enterprise is now called YouthsToday and is engaging with more than 80,000 youths, funding, educating and supporting students and young professionals throughout Malaysia.
YouthsToday.com is a portal where youths can find sponsors for their events, promote and sell tickets for their events, and connect to other youth for knowledge exchanges, and corporations can connect to youths through funding and marketing campaigns.
The online platform has been running for four years – its construction started in 2013 and it was officially launched in 2014.
Tan, the founder and chief executive officer, says that the team is still working on automating more services, such as allowing corporates to see all the student events listed on the platform and pick which ones they want to sponsor or run their marketing campaigns with.
Because the social enterprise is connected to such large numbers of youth – it engaged the first 50,000 youths in one year and built the number up more slowly after that – it has attracted the attention of both SMEs and big-name brands, such as Digi, Grab and Astro who sponsor student events and launch collaborative programmes with YouthsToday.
For example, a new feature launched with Astro late last year, called the Referral Project, allows students to recommend apps to their friends to download and try out. The referee gets a small ‘commission’ for each referral.
“We’ve built an entire youth community around our platform. I still remember having my idea just on paper six or seven years ago, and seeing it come to life was and it is really exciting. It was so much hard work,” says Tan.
Big plans achieved through risk management
YouthsToday started small, with Tan building the technology herself before hiring engineers and growing her team. It obtained the CIP150 grant from Cradle Fund in 2015 and funding of RM1 million (US$255,000) from Gobi Partners in 2017, which was used on tech enhancement and talent expansion to build and expand the platform.
It is still quite lean – there are only 10 people in the team. It monetises its services by taking a 20% cut from every sponsorship transaction it closes between brands and the youth community.
The social enterprise is currently valued at RM5 million. According to Tan, it will be looking for more funding at the end of this year. This funding will be used for overseas expansion – Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia – but only once it has a completed online portal.
“We are also aiming at profitability by the third quarter of this year so that we can get a better valuation and expand faster,” she reveals, adding that it is aiming for an RM1 million profit margin, at around 5% gross profit.
YouthsToday’s progress has been achieved with meticulous planning by Tan and her team, as will its future plans. Interestingly, Tan is not the typical entrepreneur who is willing to make mistakes.
“There is a lot of financial planning and risk management that I do every time we want to take a new step or implement a strategy. I’m not the kind of person who will just go by trial-and-error. It must be a homerun,” she says.
Tan takes this stance because, she says, there are not many funding partners in Malaysia that can provide startups te funds or leeway for trial-and-error.
“It’s an entirely different landscape in Southeast Asia compared to the US or Europe. Here we work in Ringgit, and RM1 million is a very small amount of funding. There are only so many mistakes we can make,” she opines.
To this end, she believes in learning 10 steps ahead and making sure this is part of the company’s culture.
“That means making 10 new mistakes, as we cannot afford to make the same mistakes other entrepreneurs have already made. We need to learn from them. It means I have to be on it all the time.”
Determination and the ultimate motivation
Jazz has a vision of reaching every youth in the world and is determined to get there. “I spent one year reaching 50,000 youths, think about how many years I need to spend to reach every youth – say two billion – in the world. This is going to be a life’s work. But you only have one life; why not make it the best life possible?”
Running a social enterprise, making it work and making it sustainable is hard work but Jazz has the ultimate motivation to keep her going when things get tough: her father. He had been involved in illegal activities, culminating with him being killed by gangsters when Jazz was only 14-years-old.
“After all this time, it’s still my father who keeps me motivated to move forward. I told myself from a very young age that if I could, I would spend the rest of my life trying to keep kids off the streets and really helping them,” says Jazz.
Determination and perseverance are the precepts Jazz lives by and she is incredibly knowledgeable about business, which, despite her youth, comes from experience as well as in-depth study. She swears by the Harvard Business Review for revealing insights into the business world, which she uses to inform her business strategy. “I’m a person who either gives 100% or nothing at all.”
Interestingly, one of the biggest lessons she has learned is to be discerning about the advice you receive.
“When you start very young, a lot of people want to give you advice. At the end of the day, you have to evaluate what’s best for you. Learn from industry experts, read about their failures and successes, learn why they failed or succeeded. If you are young and you can do this, you will have a lot advantage over those who are older but don’t know where to start,” she advises.
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