From tragedy to triumph
By Renuka Sena April 11, 2016
- Youthstoday.com links 40,000 youth to 90 brands
- Had to learn to move fast, fail fast, and get up fast
JAZZ Tan (pic above) may be only in her 20s, but her youth has never stopped her from going for what she wants.
Tan is the chief executive officer of YToday Sdn Bhd, an award-winning company that counts the MSC-MDeC Best Business Model and the New York Global Student Entrepreneur Awards Finalist 2011 as part of its long list of credits.
However, awards and fame take a backseat to Tan’s true ambition – to inspire and create positive change among young people.
“Our mission is to fund, educate, and support students and young professionals by turning their ideas into successful projects and fun events. We have over 40,000 active youth connected to our website, which remains the first and largest platform to link over 90 brands, both corporate and small and medium-sized enterprises, and 60 colleges with young people, across Malaysia,” says Tan, with a note of pride.
What pushed Tan to create a platform in which youth – and society as a whole – can benefit?
“A personal incident inspired me to set up and start the company. I lost my dad in 2004, when I was 14. He was murdered because he was a gangster,” shares Tan, candidly. “Since his death, I decided to do my very best to help keep kids off the streets.”
Tan says her father was an inspiration and a hero to her, but he was led astray because he hung out with the wrong crowd.
This is why the young entrepreneur is determined to find youth development programmes and ways in which she can help the community.
The moment she started college, Tan began to make her dream a reality. She began looking for ways to provide young people with options that would protect them from getting into trouble.
“I started running numerous leadership programmes for students when I made it to college on a full scholarship. I was voted president of the student council in KDU College Penang and throughout my four years, I ran many youth events and requested sponsorships from corporate brands to support all youth development projects.”
The missing piece
Tan says that her college years helped her learn the ropes and skills that would later prove invaluable.
“Now, I help brands reach out to youth on a larger scale with the events I create that feature elements of youth entrepreneurship, technology and the creative arts.”
Tan’s years of experience organising youth events brought home an important realisation: When it comes to student activities in Malaysia, young people face major problems requesting sponsorships; while brands want to engage in student activities but without having to spend an inordinate amount of time on these projects.
This was how the idea for YouthsToday.com, as a sponsorship and event-matching platform, was born. “I put the idea in action in 2013 doing purely on-ground events. I then introduced the web platform in November 2014.”
She adds that she was thrilled to meet cofounders Chan Zhi Ee (who was chief operating officer) and Pan Vic Qi (head lead operations) when the company was incorporated in 2013. Although Chan recently left to launch a talent management company, the two are still collaborating.
Ten steps ahead
While she may be enjoying significant success now, Tan admits that setting up her company was no walk in the park.
“The early days were tough. I was just 18 when I started and because of my age, I had difficulty getting brands to trust my services and to take me seriously.”
The biggest challenge Tan faced while building her business? Lack of funds. “I did not have any money when I started. After my dad’s passing, my mother and I were in dire financial straits.”
Between the ages of 14 to 17, Tan worked while she studied to ensure there was some form of income.
“Fortunately, I got a scholarship to study computer science, for both my diploma and degree. While that took a huge financial burden off my back, I still needed a loan to start the business,” she says.
The resourceful young student applied for a student loan and used that money to start her business!
“Life was crazy! To make sure I kept my grades up and ran my business well, I had to plan 10 steps ahead: Attend lectures, do assignments, revise for exams, look at the cash flow, business development, strategies, create a website ... and the list goes on!”
Move fast, fail fast, get up fast
Although hectic, this jammed-packed pace allowed Tan to learn a valuable lesson: “I had to learn to move fast, fail fast, and get up fast,” she says.
Of the numerous personalities in the business world, Tan cites Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as someone she admires and hopes to emulate. “I look up to him because he is young, and whatever he builds and develops, is for society. I find that is very admirable.”
Tan may admire Zuckerberg’s humanitarian spirit, but she may well be an inspiration to other budding entrepreneurs of all ages.
A pleasure, not a chore
Tan says one of the biggest lessons she learned from the Coach and Grow Programme (CGP) was not to focus on outdoing her competitors, but to think about her customers who are the critical element in the life of any business or company.
“I learned that competition is not about going to war with your competitors but to develop a deep love for your customers,” she says.
Having also learnt the importance of intellectual property, she is in the process of applying for a trademark.
As for being a true entrepreneur, Tan believes entrepreneurship is not a job. “I do not recommend people become entrepreneurs if they think of it as a career. If you love what you do, you will never need to work a single day in your life. Your work becomes a pleasure and not a chore.”
Business with humanity
Although she may be very young, Tan has an extremely clear vision: “Building this business has always been my personal life goal. In the next five to 10 years, I would like to expand across all Asean nations, the rest of Asia, and make headway into Europe.”
Having already raised a March 2016 seed round of US$250,000 (RM977,000) from venture capital firm Gobi Partners, she is already planning to raise more money and an eventual IPO (initial public offering).
While Tan has big dreams for the YouthsToday platform, she has never forgotten the real reason for starting her company. “I want to personally donate profits from my business to help underprivileged youth as well as those who are involved in drugs, alcohol and gangs.”
Towards this, YouthsToday.com is supporting close to 200 student projects by youth, for youth, with 80% of the operational costs funded by the corporate brands.
Discover YToday at www.youthstoday.com
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.