The energy was building up with curious excitement as guests started to fill up the halls of UnionSPACE in Bangsar.
They were eagerly waiting for their favourite guest speakers, entrepreneurs of homegrown brands such as Carsome, Wanderlust + Co, Oxwhite and many more.
You might expect an event with all these big names to feel very corporate. Tailored suits, fancy cocktail dresses, cameras flashing incessantly, VIP passes, a red carpet, the works. Not at this event though.
These entrepreneurs are not here today to sell you their pitch or launch a new product.
They’re here to share their candid stories, the personal struggles they faced while building their businesses and how they overcome their challenges.
This is Malaysian Confessions, and these are the real stories by real entrepreneurs.
Here are some photos of what went down that day:
Holding it at UnionSPACE helped set the tone — with its bohemian vibe of potted plants, soft natural lighting, and an aesthetic that is nostalgic of those old town street shops in the 90s.
Then the stories began. Our speakers shared a mix of personal journeys and nitty-gritty of entrepreneurship
Suzanne Ling On Being Known as ‘The Sorry Teller’ and Always Apologising to Customers
[Suzanne Ling, Co-founder of PichaEats]
Suzanne Ling of PichaEats shared her story of how they started the company to help refugees from war-torn countries get financially stable by selling food as a catering service
She confessed that she initially resented the role of sales and marketing.
“My job description was The Storyteller, but I really was more like The Sorry Teller,” she joked.
“I spent most of my time apologising to customers who were unhappy with our service. Wah, it was crap, okay?” She shared to laughs from the audience.
But she came to a deep realisation one day while driving to work:
“I loved PichaEats, but I hated the sales. Then I realised…Angry also need to do the work…happy also need to do the work…might as well be happy lah,” she said, without complication.
Michael Teoh and That One Time He Lost a Kneecap in a 100-Meter Dash Race
[Michael Teoh, Founder of Thriving Talents]
Michael had a similar experience of being beaten down as a young boy by bullies, but he said the worst part wasn’t even the physical abuse:
“The worst thing about being bullied is being treated like you are invisible. The kids at school would act as though I didn’t exist — sitting on top of me, isolating me from others,” he opened up.
The tipping point came when he decided to run for the 100-meter dash to prove himself — only to dislocate his kneecap two strides from the starting line.
“I hit rock-bottom. I asked myself, am I really that useless? But then I realised that if I can’t be good at sports, I can at least be good at public speaking,” he said reflectively.
From that point on, he joined competitions, represented his team globally, started a slew of businesses, and one day, finally realised his dream of meeting his inspiration, Obama.
CK Changr On Giving Newspapers Free Oxwhite Shirts To See What They’d Do
[CK Changr, founder of Oxwhite]
Some of our other speakers chose to tell us the stories of the nitty-gritty of entrepreneurship: Like CK Changr, founder of the Oxwhite shirt.
CK spoke about the time a gift turned into a stunt to see what the newspapers would do.
“We sent them a gift of our Oxwhite shirts with a handwritten note and a bouquet of flowers with a heartfelt message. No contact details, no request for self-promotion,” he recounted.
“In less than 24 hours, their PAs called up asking for an interview with the founder of Oxwhite. So you can try that, but you might want bigger flowers,” he joked.
In a culture of constant promotion, CK chose to send a gift of his shirts with no overt mention of promotion, and just let the product speak for itself.
We’ve previously interviewed CK in this in-depth interview.
Raeesa Sya on being a literal Nazi about Lipstick colours
[Raeesa Sya, founder of Orkid Cosmetics]
We also heard from Raeesa Sya, founder of Orkid Cosmetics. Raeesa was very detail-oriented in her talk, going into the specifics of each process from manufacturing, logistics, warehousing, wholesalers, and distributors.
Coming from a graphic design background, she said that her attention to detail paid off:
“I was quite the Nazi with my chemist,” she confessed. “I could have just outsourced production to a factory in China, exported it, marketed it and sold it here.”
“But if you are honest in what you do, you would wear your own product, and it has to meet your own standards,” she said fairly.
Jenn Low On Giving Feedback That’s Personalised and Genuinely Helpful
[Jenn Low, founder of Wanderlust+Co]
Jenn Low of Wanderlust+Co talked about how it was through aligning everyone on her team that she was able to grow her business successfully.
“When it comes to empowering your female employees and colleagues, what I learnt was that you can’t just tell them what works, because they won’t listen, that’s just how it is. Rather, ask questions about what they are trying to achieve, and suggest ideas on how to achieve it,’ she advised
Cikgu Lan on Giving Poor Kids The Chances That Rich Kids With Tuition Had
[Cikgu Lan Then Mugilan, founder of JuaraUPSR]
Cikgu Lan is a teacher who decided, one day, to do something about the fact that underprivileged kids weren’t getting the same support as those who could afford expensive tuition centres.
So he decided to make his own online platform where students could download exam questions and test it on themselves.
“I’m lucky that my mentor taught me how to be an entrepreneur, but I tweaked that to become a social entrepreneur — doing entrepreneurship for a social cause,” he quipped.
That social entrepreneurship is JuaraUPSR, and it has now impacted more than 24,000 school-going children.
They have expanded to live webinars, academic mentorship training programs, and are self-sustaining by publishing UPSR books, donations, and venue sponsorships.
Cikgu Lan’s inspiring story can be read here.
Eric Cheng on Using Bots to Farm Gold In World Of Warcraft
[Eric Cheng, founder of Carsome]
Eric Cheng, CEO of Carsome talked about his early years as a young adult. He had dropped out of accounting in his second year, and actually joined an MLM for 9-10 months.
“I had a lot of friends avoid me during that period,” he shared candidly. “But I managed to make enough money to quit and raise enough capital to do what I really wanted.”
He also talked about the business-driven concepts behind farming gold in a botting scheme in World of Warcraft, and finally losing all his money to work as a bartender for Hennessey.
It was that experience of hitting rock-bottom that spurred him on to really pay attention to detail in his first full-time job at Innity, which he is now famous for being part of.
Video Creation and Coworking Spaces In Two Separate Panels
The Panel sessions were a lighthearted change of pace, with Timothy and Audrey from Colony Coworking Space talking about how they envisioned their coworking offices as the Ritz Carlton of office space.
“We wanted to give people the luxury of working in a space that did everything from wardrobe alterations to breastfeeding rooms,” explained Audrey.
Our host Matt asked why they have a policy of giving a starting salary of RM3000 for all their employees.
“I believe that if we take care of the team, they will take care of the customers,” said Tim.
In the next panel, we invited Michael Chen, actor and CEO of Iron Hill Media, Ming Yue, a Youtuber on The Ming Thing, and Ernest Ng, creator of Malaysian webcomic Bro Don’t Like That Lah, Bro to talk about the impact of video in capturing the Discovery Generation.
[From left: Michael Chen, Ming Yue, Ernest Ng, and our Matt, our host]
“There’s so much demand for shorter content, 1-minute videos. I mean, Tiktok’s such a big thing now,” said Ming Yue.
“Sometimes, the client says things like “We still want to talk about the pizza.” But honestly, no one cares about the pizza — People want to laugh, they want to see you make fun of the other brands,” says Ernest.
The theme of being true to your personal brand is one that resonates with any content creator.
Michael Chen chimed in with his experience of doing video before the rise of Youtube, working as an indie actor and director.
“We used to make indie movies, submit them to international film festivals, and come back with flowers. So the more flowers you have, the more successful your film is,” he laughed.
The Audience Members Were Pretty Deep, Bro
In between sessions, MC Matt supplied some fun audience interaction by asking them what were the lessons they learnt from the day.
“Money aside, I think what really kept them going at the end of the day is knowing their purpose,” said a young man in the audience.
“Whether it’s bringing shirts out there, or helping refugees sell food so they can survive, it’s always good to remember why you started in the first place,’” he continued.
“For anyone who hasn’t started, for anyone who’s still figuring out your purpose in life, I think that’s very important,” he finished.
What I personally took away from the event
Most people have a certain picture in their heads about entrepreneurship: Working on a laptop overlooking a beach with a pina colada in hand, with a Lamborghini in the background looking like a Tai Lopez video ad.
But at this event, I came away with a sense of realness, of the ups and downs of making a business work.
In a real sense, entrepreneurship is like in real life, only everything is a lot faster, a lot more competitive, and a lot riskier.
As Azran said: “Sometimes we run the risk of falling in love with our business idea. But there is no business plan in the world that would pan out the way you would expect it to.”
“Rather, being an entrepreneur is about constantly looking for ways to solve a pain point in a way that no one else has until your customers are delighted.”
Life has ups and downs, and being able to show resilience in the face of adversity isn’t a born mentality, but a learned trait.
Entrepreneurs happen to have much more experience in failure than many people. And that’s something everyone can learn from in their own individual struggle.
[From Left: Kean Peng, Azran, Rachel, Michael, and CK Chang]
What is Malaysian Confessions?
Malaysian Confessions: Real Entrepreneurs, Real Stories is a 1-day event held last 7th March 2020 that was held to showcase personal stories by regular Malaysians from all walks of life.
Our first event in 2019 had the stories of a transgender man, an eczema sufferer and a sexual assault survivor — this time around, we had the masterminds behind Carsome, Naluri, Oxwhite, Wanderlust+Co, Juara UPSR, Thriving Talents, PichaEats, Colony Coworking Space, Orkid Cosmetics, The Ming Thing, Bro Don’t Like That Bro, and many more to come and talk about their stories in entrepreneurship.
For more stories like this, read: 5 Things You Missed at IRL’s Malaysian Confessions Event 2019.