Some Musings

Company Culture: Why does it matter?

A couple of days ago before my workshop on the topic of culture building in General Assembly, I decided to reach out to my talented Facebook friends to help me understand what culture really means, and why it matters. There are some brilliant answers here. Enjoy!

Why is your company culture important to the success? I’m collecting quotes for my culture workshop at GA later since I didn’t manage to squeeze out a single slide for the whole day 😉 you will be famous!

Posted by Keith Ng on Monday, February 29, 2016

Posted by Keith Ng on Monday, February 29, 2016

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Transcript of my F speech.

The following is a transcript of my speech as a Guest of Honor in an Outram Secondary School event about the F Word – FAILURE. Hope you enjoy this 🙂

“Good morning to Principal, Vice Principal, Teachers, Students, and Everyone in Outram Secondary

Yesterday was just another usual day, and I skipped into the office at 6pm, cheerfully telling the team how great my nasi briyani was at Pahang St. Then, Brenda casually popped the question, “Keith, how is your GOH script?”. And I’m like, what Guest Of Honor script? I’m just going to conduct a workshop for the teachers on why Playing is the future of Learning”. In my head, I’m thinking, I’m too young and not good enough to be a guest of honor! Guest of honor are for old people who are really smart!”. Brenda then insisted, “no, you ARE the Guest of Honor, and you will be giving a talk!”

So, after a long silence and confirming over email, I am indeed giving this talk. Lesson no. 1, never doubt yourself. When even you don’t believe in yourself, everyone else around you believes you are much better than what you think you are. Don’t ever shortchange yourself, and sometimes you are your biggest enemy. Not your parents, not your teacher, not that guy in the class who keeps scoring better than you. And lesson no. 2, do not assume. the famous saying goes you make an ass out of you and me. be doubly sure about anything, everything.

So thank you, Outram Secondary, for believing in me. It is a real honor and pleasure to be standing up here. And after the mini saga yesterday, I sat down for the next 2 hours pondering what I should deliver. I have delivered 100s of presentations to working adults, but none to 15 year olds who will be the future of Singapore. Some of you will be changing the world and improving lives by becoming entrepreneurs, teachers, astronauts, rocket scientists, doctors, anything really (just don’t be a computer hacker). I thought long and hard what would be inspiring, relevant to all of you. After an epiphany, I decided it will be the F word.

F….. for Failure. I have to thank Serene for helping me come up with this topic, because when I asked her what I should deliver, she said to talk about myself. You see, I used to fear this word like I see my Chinese teacher. When I was studying in primary school more than 20 years ago, failure is not an option. In fact, you would have failed your Chinese exams if you did not score 90 in the papers. One year, I did not get into the top 3 one year when I was in primary 3, and my world came crashing down. In my head, I have failed everyone.

So when I got to the best business college, SMU, I continued my fear for failure. I became a double degree student, secured a scholarship, and became teaching and research assistant to many professors. I wanted to achieve anything I could, and didn’t want to fail. In 2009, I started my company with my buddy, Damon. We decided to create a game for people to make predictions, and we thought we would be able to make millions and sell the company and retire happily ever after and travel around the world.

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Fast forward 2-3 years later. Not only did all this dream not happen, I experience true FAILING for the very first time in my life. In fact, I call it MF – Multiple Failings. In 2011, the company almost went bankrupt due to bad cashflow management. Lesson no. 3 – Learn to manage your money and you will live a longer life. Not many people in this room will experience what I had. We had our electricity cut off in our office one day because we couldn’t afford to pay the bills. I took on so much personal loans to fund the company’s operations, I practically memorized all the interest rate charges of all credit card companies in Singapore. I was even thinking about going to loan sharks, and spoke to one about developing his website. I had to eat in restaurants because all I had was a credit card and no cash – sometimes, that’s even how I got to have some cash in my wallet. It gets even more depressing when some of these friends who are bankers, making tonnes of money, complained over dinner about their miserable year end bonus of 3 months. Bonus, what in the world is that?

Simply put, no one else believed in us. Our products were horrible, and useless. We developed something based on our wildest imagination, and they turned out to be the wildest failures. But you know what, this turns out to be the biggest achievement, and blessings (after having a mum like mine). I am extremely proud to have failed, truly and authentically. If there is a certificate or a badge of honor for failing, I would proudly wear in on my chest or my head. Without these failures, I wouldn’t be where I am today, because that’s how I learn. If you are a gamer like I was, that’s in fact the best way to learn how to play a certain game – by failing and trying again and again. So here it is, lesson no. 4, its ok to fail, as long as you learn from it and take advantage of your failures. Some of you would have heard of the game angry birds, but very little of you would have know they have failed for 51 times prior to that.

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The Singapore system, from education to corporations, is one that doesn’t like people to fail. As a child, I was always told if I did not study hard, I would end up sweeping the floor (which btw, is perfectly fine. these guys make Singapore one of the cleanest, if not cleanest city in the world. What I have learned today, and btw, I am still learning about this world, is that sometimes all we need is a change of perspective. What does this really mean?

2 disciples went to Socrates for advice. The first one was getting a divorce, and asked Socrates what he should do. Socrates said wisely, “if she was a bad wife, good on you, she will be leaving you. if she was a good wife, good on you, you had a good wife.”. The second one was getting married, and asked Socrates the same question. Socrates replied, “if she will be a good wife, good on you, you will be blessed. if she will be a bad wife, good on you, you will become a philosopher”

With that, here is lesson no. 5 – by adjusting your mindset, things can look a lot better than you think. There are always positive things to focus on. You may not be the best science student, but there could be other passions you already have, and you should go for it.

So enough on failing. Who am I really, and what is this guy doing here on the stage? So again, my name is Keith, and I’m the co-founder and hustle ninja (aka CEO) of Gametize, who believes playing is the most important experience in life and wants to turn the world into a giant playground. We want to make studying, working, healthcare and even fitness fun through our products . Today, we have clients such as Singtel, DBS, Standard Chartered Bank and all these didn’t come easy without the support of people who believed in us.

I was also a compulsive gamer who doesn’t sleep for nights, today I am reformed and repented, and can’t even pass candy crush level 2. I chose a road less travelled, because I believe every individual has the potential to make a difference to this world. I just learnt about the slang, YOLO, a couple of weeks ago when I was a judge in ITE West College for a business competition, and have since fallen in love with this mantra. Imagine if I didn’t discover my passion for playing and changing the world, I might just have been an engineer – nothing wrong with that, except none of you here would then know the beauty of failing, and what a wonderful feeling it is.

Enjoy your rest of the day, and rest of your life, failing “

Confessions of a food court cleaner

Ever wondered what’s the story of every auntie/uncle who clears your leftovers in the food center?
Facebook story http://on.fb.me/XjekDe

Auntie Ah Zhu (Let’s call her Auntie AZ) came to my table at Food Republic, Vivocity , repeatedly wanting to clear my plates I was still working on. By the 3rd time she came over, I realised it was because she wanted to wrap up her work (11pm at that time). She then noticed Josie fiddling with her notepad (kakao notepad giveaway from at an earlier event #startupasia), and remarked, “that’s a beautiful notebook” (in mandarin). I then asked if she wanted one too, and offered mine. She gleefully accepted it like a proud owner, telling us the notepad would be useful for her to take down any new telephone numbers.

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I teased playfully, “Auntie, you sure it isn’t for 4D or lottery numbers?”

Auntie AZ surprised us all with her reply, “I am going blind in a year due to diabetes, and I needed a big notepad with my failing eyesight”.

Obviously confused, I asked why she was working out late and doing such heavy chores, instead of resting at home and taking care of her body. Auntie AZ then explained that none of her 3 working and married children are supporting her financially (the occasional $100 bucks every now and then could barely help), and she wanted to save enough so she would be able to care for herself when she would be blind. Her husband is simply too lazy and aloof to depend on, while she felt that she wasn’t a good enough mum when her kids were younger to justify caring for her. (e.g. not paying for their school fees during their polytechnic days, and not being attentive)

DAFUQ? Exactly what came up in my mind instantly! I reminded Auntie AZ she endured 9 months (making it a total of almost 30 months) of harboring them in the belly, and not forgetting 3 painful deliveries. No matter how nasty a mum she had been, her kids can never escape she giving birth to them.

Her guilt as a not-fantastic-mum was at best silly and naive; Mums are the most amazing people in the world. They can wipe the entire angry bird series and unlock level 100+ in candy crush, other than cooking the most delicious cuisines money can’t buy. The only guilt she should feel is her love for sugar, which she giggled in a child-like manner, “i just can’t avoid sweet things!”. I can’t imagine for a single moment how not 1, but all 3 kids can heartlessly ignore a diabetic mum patient who also endured extremely long hours at work putting them through their younger lives. Semi-luckily for Auntie AZ, one of her daughter-in-law was ensuring her husband connects to her occasionally.

Her pay of $1,300 monthly for working 6 days/week and 12 hours daily, after deducting CPF contributions, is hardly enough to sustain her treatments and living expenses. She also lamented that her legs were hurting from pushing the trolley and dragging the pail full of plates. In a slip of tongue, she revealed her suicidal tendencies, but kept positive at the thoughts/sights of her beloved grandkids. Under her breath, Auntie AZ murmured, “they are really cute…” (now I know why my candycrusher mum kept hurrying me for kids and not being so concerned about who the partner is).

But what is truly disappointing, as concluded by my friends Nicole LimJosie LaiAbhinav Vinay ChandranAzmie Øregano who were with me, is the fact Auntie AZ is not alone. There are many similar, if not more unfortunate, old folks who are fighting to survive each day, collecting cans/papers and cleaning tables, with irresponsible, negligent children who have selfishly decided to cut off ties. I have met this 60+ year old eldery with swollen legs who collects newspapers/ cardboxes along Keong Saik road. She was looking for leftover food in the bins when I was leaving for home. Someone beat me to offering to buy her dinner – I then tried to help carry her load (which is easily 10kg) and walk her home, but she was very egoistic and refused my help – she was happy to just have a chat, and I supposed that’s all I could do.

singapore-elderly(Photo credits to http://guanyinmiao.wordpress.com)

I am typing this at 5am on a Sat morning so I will not forget any details (even after 2 drinks), and not waste a single second moment I got home. I would like to appeal for any advice on government support Auntie AZ can seek, and if anyone can help her. I have her home contact number which I will gladly give you if you PM me, all I asked of is to be tactful when you speak to her. Let her know you are referred to by “Wen Bo or 文博”, whom she met in the food court on Friday night with a bunch of friends, so she knows the context.

If you are pretty helpless like the keyboard warrior me who isn’t familiar with the government support, you could start clearing your own plates and dishes, and make the lives of Auntie AZ and her colleagues much easier in future. The very least you can do is not to mess things up your table too. If you have any friends who have such selfish mentalities like her kids, educate them.

And hey, don’t forget to thank the our cleaner heroes, and maybe engage in a conversation. Being a listening ear is effortless and goes a long way.

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Photo credits to TNP (just for illustration purpose)

Update:
1) A MP has contacted me along with many others to volunteer their help, and TRE has also published it along with TOC and Real Singapore sharing on Facebook. Thanks for playing your part in creating this awareness. There is a total of more than 700 share, and more than 1,000 likes on the Facebook photo + the article.

2) Please don’t go down the silly slippery slope of “if we clean our own trays the cleaners will lose their jobs, so we shouldn’t clear our trays”. We all know Singapore is not about to turn gracious overnight, and you might as well suggest we should all mess up the plates to create more jobs. Don’t be ridiculous, and be smart about this.

Being unique doesn’t make you money

It was a day packed with over 5 consecutive meetings, as I huffed and puffed towards my final destination, meeting up with the private banker of a tech entrepreneur whose achievement badges include his NASDAQ-listed gaming company. It would be a typical investment pitch, like millions of other pitches I had done. The only difference was pitching to a private banker – a career I was going into until I got mesmerized by the tech world. Let’s call him Paul.

Paul was sharp, astute, and surprised me with his knowledge in the startup tech world. He certainly knew what he was dealing with. I sat intently, answering him patiently and factually whenever he had questions, at least, until the last quarter of the meeting when Paul asked, “So what is exactly unique about your business? There is no stopping anyone in China to copy whatever you have, in minutes”.

Now, a little background about Gametize: We are a gamification platform startup that helps companies engage their audience through game thinking and game design. Our gamification technology lets schools quickly create simple learning games out of their content, or enable e-commerce websites reward loyalty points to their consumers who answer quizzes, predictions, complete photo contests or make repeated purchases. Paul certainly believed that this technology can be replicated easily by a bunch of engineers. I don’t disagree, and this is what I answered:


“Yes, there is nothing unique in the technology. Anyone can copy us and do the same stuff. We did not raise enough to patent, and neither do I believe it is worth the effort to patent.”

Time stood still for a moment, while Paul and the other 2 counterparts looked at me with bemused expressions. I took a deep breath and continued, “But, being unique doesn’t make you moneyExecution, network, and a product that truly helps someone with their pain with as little friction, are what make the dough. Facebook wasn’t unique, and so were not Mailchimp, GMarket, Dropbox”.

These brands are all my favorite products which I paid good money for, and none of them were the first in the market. We are already familiar with how there was Friendster before Facebook, K Mart before Walmart, and even Big Boy before Mcdonald’s (credits to @MarkSchreiber07 for sharing these examples). These are some of the most successful brands in the world, but none of them could count as the the pioneers in their own respective industry.

If being unique isn’t a kingmaker, what then makes one? The iPhone I used to demo my app to Paul is arguably the most successful product in the 21st century, but it definitely wasn’t the first touch-based smartphone I have seen. I could use many S-words to describe it – “Special”, “Simple”, “Sexy”, and “Unique” it is not. Yet, its success is not easily replicated by many, mainly Chinese manufacturers who have “shanzai-ed” the device but not come close to Apple (except maybe Xiaomi). Apple’s success boils down to hundreds of reasons (brilliant marketing, brilliant people, brilliant choice of brand, brilliant ______________, etc). In summary, it is the fucking brilliance in execution.

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There are MANY reasons why a brilliant execution can happen, and many wonderful outcomes and consequences which will follow. You as an entrepreneur and leader must be able to articulate and cultivate these building blocks. The hustling, the people you know, the culture, the strength of the leader, the management team, a focused vision/mission, and some even say luck (something which I don’t believe in – will blog later about it); juggle them all you must, instead of getting soaked on how fantastic and unique your idea is, because I can guarantee you someone out there has a better idea than you. It will be a tiring, frustrating roller coaster journey where you get interrogated by guys like Paul, but next time you bump into him, you know what to say, and if you’ve got some balls to deliver this #likeaboss, try what I did (in reference to the competition and what’s unique about Gametize):


“These guys don’t have this” (points to my head with a grin).

I’ll leave you with a video where Jason Nazar (founder of DocStoc) shares how to break out of the pack and be unique in execution.