Daniel Woodroof is a multiple National and Asian champion in both karting and formula car series, former TV host, and co-founder of Racelist.com.
Brandon Lee represented Malaysia in the Rotax Max World Finals (placed 44th in the world), and is a former CrossFit athlete, fitness coach, and video producer.
The high-stakes, high-adrenaline experience of Formula racing has bestowed Daniel and Brandon a competitive advantage in the business world.
Together, they started Pandan Social, a boutique digital creative agency.
Here are 5 lessons that they learnt that made them successful today:
1. High pressure builds mental strength
Imagine this: You’re alone in a car that’s going 200KM an hour. You’re negotiating a sharp turn, and in the next moment you’re hit by another driver, sending your 500kg carbon fibre car crashing into a wall.
How do you react in that situation?
“By not giving up, and turning that into a lesson learnt on track,” said Brandon, ever the optimist.
“You have to handle high-speed decision making, and you have to live with the consequences of your decisions,” Daniel responded, the more serious of the duo.
Where a few milliseconds can be the difference between 1st and 2nd place, a few seconds can be the difference between a successful money-making decision and a business that fails.
Being in motorsports teaches you to say the right things to the press even when you’re under high-adrenaline and high-emotion settings.
“Running your mouth to the press after a bad race can make you lose a sponsor. Running your mouth as a business owner can lose your company business. Both ruin your reputation!” Daniel said candidly.
[Daniel, pictured left, responding to questions from the press]
How it all started
Both Daniel and Brandon both started go-karting at the age of 12, and moved on to Formula racing when they were 16 and 17, respectively.
In motorsports, go-kart is the grassroots form of racing, then you move on to Formula 4, 3, 2 and finally Formula 1, the most exclusive of them all.
“They taught us how to understand racecraft. How to overtake, how to defend, how to visualise where your car should be on the track,” described Brandon.
“Not only that, but you’re also dealing with mechanics, engineers, psychologists, trainers, team bosses, parents, other drivers, sponsors, and the press,’ Daniel added.
“At such a young age, you learn all these things, you learn discipline and timing, with travel and teamwork and psychology, and that builds mental strength, mental fortitude,” says Daniel.
2. International exposure broadens your perspective
Daniel and Brandon have travelled to lots of places within Malaysia and overseas to race, engaging with cultures from around the world in the racing paddock.
Brandon recounted his training by coaches from Germany, who he said busted his balls daily on the racetrack and off.
“German coaches are really strict! We’ve been grilled hard at times when we made mistakes and it sucks—but ultimately you learn how to cope and improve,” said Brandon.
Having international coaches exposes you to a whole new level of discipline and self-awareness, noted Brandon.
[Brandon in the driver’s seat]
“We learnt how to describe all the different intricacies of the car to the mechanics and engineers,” said Daniel.
The wide range of personalities and cultures he encountered, he says, honed his communication skills for the business world.
“Whether it’s dealing with vendors, suppliers, or clients in different parts of the world, you learn how to empathize with the way they communicate and do business,” said Daniel.
Both Daniel and Brandon consider this a massive competitive advantage.
“Understanding a diversity of cultures and work ethics has helped Pandan Social expand their potential pool of business opportunities to the entire world,” Daniel explained.
3. Hard work beats talent if talent doesn’t work hard
“There’s a saying that a “Driver’s brains are in their feet.” That’s because they don’t think,” joked Brandon.
According to Daniel, there’s two types of drivers you see growing up:
“One is the pool of people who are just naturally able to be fast on the track the first time out.”
[Brandon when he was picked up by Petronas for the Petronas Formula Xperience (Formula BMW) in 2011]
“The others are the drivers who develop their speed over time by understanding where they went wrong and changing the next time they race.”
“The truth is that as drivers mature, they need to think more and more,” says Brandon.
Any natural talent you display at a young age will peter out if you don’t constantly improve on it with hard work.
Daniel says he is in the second category – the driver that gets faster the more he learns.
“Lewis Hamilton can go out there and be fast from the get-go. While there may be times when I’m not fast at the start, when I spend my time analysing the telemetry data as to where I went wrong, I can apply these changes and become even faster,” he explained.
[Daniel in the driver’s seat]
4. Letting go of the dream is the hardest lesson of all
For both Daniel and Brandon, the Formula One Dream has always been there. And yet, the older they got, the more they realised their careers would eventually come to a conclusion.
“At the end of the day, it came down to how much money you have — frankly speaking,” said Daniel.
In Formula racing, there’s a higher barrier to entry and a lot more weightage on money as compared to other sports.
[Brandon on the podium after winning the Asia Max Challenge in 2013]
In football for example, you don’t need a rich family to buy a football or football boots.
But in motorsports, you need millions behind you to get you from a grassroots go-karting career, progressing through all the various forms of car racing on your way to Formula 1.
This includes the karts, cars tires, fuels, track fees, mechanics, engineers, managers, travel, repairs, coaching, etcetera.
As time caught up and Brandon got older, he realized that he had to take on the responsibility of his own finances, and his own future.
One day, Brandon asked himself: “Are you gonna support your own family with racing?”
That’s when he realised a sobering truth: This was not going to be a sustainable route for him to take for the rest of his life.
[Daniel when he was crowned National Champion in the Asia Cup Formula BMWSeries]
5. Find your passion and know what drives you
“Behind that tough decision was a lot of frustration.”
Brandon paused, as he took the time to put it into words.
“There’s a very fine line between feeling frustrated and giving up, and feeling frustrated but pushing on,” he said.
“To put it into terms of having a career,a lot of people say, “This isn’t for me, I hate this job…” And then they just quit without thinking about the bigger picture.”
“I think it’s the attitude that’s the main factor that makes someone successful or unsuccessful,” he reflected.
Daniel added: “Even if you find the perfect job, it’s not going to be rainbows and butterflies everyday, that’s not the reality. There will always be some parts of the job that will be really challenging.”
“Finding that passion and knowing what exactly it is that drives you, is key,” said Brandon.
[Brandon, front and centre at the start of a race]
Moving onwards and upwards
In late 2017, the Malaysian racing scene dried up. Instead, Singapore’s night races became the next big draw in South East Asian Formula racing.
Most of our Malaysian racing stalwarts, Alex Yoong, Nabil Jeffri and Fairuz Fauzy, moved on to other things.
For Daniel and Brandon, it was time to branch out into something completely different: A Creative Agency.
“When we stopped racing we didn’t see each other as much. However, in 2017 we went to Cambodia together on a 4-day trip to produce video content for AirAsiaGo,” says Brandon.
Seeing that they had a similar skill set in marketing and consulting, they saw the opportunity to start Pandan Social.
[Daniel and Brandon’s boutique agency, Pandan Social]
The idea was to start a boutique agency that catered to companies who needed a one-stop digital marketing solution outfit.
How do you feel about where you are right now?
“What intrigues me about advertising is that there’s so many angles you can use: You can start a hashtag movement, you can create a game, you can create content on TikTok,” says Brandon.
“It’s such a full-on job. Brandon and I are Ying and Yang, we complement each other. We spend most of our time bouncing ideas off of each other. It’s great,” quipped Daniel.
Even after they hung up their racing gear, Daniel and Brandon brought their can-do attitude to everything they do.
“The keyword is progress. Progress is what keeps us going,” concluded Brandon.
For more stories like this, read: 4 Inspiring Lessons We Can Learn from These Malaysian Entrepreneurs and Behind the Scenes: Struggling from Hardwork to Success; Darius Shu’s Story