Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Talent Management: What football teaches us

I took great interest in an article in the FT Weekend a few months back, titled: Game of talents: management lessons from top football coaches. (The FT claims you can now read an article a day even if you don’t have a subscription, so here’s hoping.) I’ve never watched a whole football game in my life, but the management tips in this were excellent for high performing organisations, and I think startups benefit a lot from learnings in other fields.

Learning that the idea behind “talent management” originated from a consulting firm, McKinsey, in 1997, when they identified a “war for talent” was rather fascinating.

Its true that big talent usually comes with a big ego. Smart mangers accept that. Its clear that big talents also know that the employer needs them, hence there’s scope to break the rule of behaviour. Does ego damage an organisation or help drive good talent to become stars (I’m going to agree with the latter)? If you want obedient soldiers (yes-men?), you forsake good talent.

Arsenal’s manager Arsène Wenger says: “If you want an easy week [in training with the players], then expect a hard weekend [in the game]. If you want an easy weekend, then prepare for a hard week.”

We always hear that no person is bigger than the organisation; however organisations should be large enough to accomodate great talent. But at the same time unchecked egos are probably not the best — high performers are better when they “get over themselves” (so the conventional wisdom of they have a family, a pet, etc. something we looked for hiring when at MySQL since most of us worked from home).

“Football is the most individual team sport” – isn’t that true in most organisations where it really is every man for himself? Manage, but don’t dominate talent is probably also key (I’ve experienced micro-management and I can assure you its a sure-fire way to frustrate talent and possibly to leave; not all good talent graduate to being good managers). Talent need to trust each other, i.e. the team they’re working with, a lot more than they like each other — again, anecdotally, when we started Team MariaDB, we were a team of people that trusted each other from the MySQL days, banding together to become one cohesive unit. Arguably, we still are!

Talent joins an organisation to improve while there. So focus on making sure they are always improving. Send them to conferences to learn more. Give them new tasks.

On motivation:

  • “Good talent motivate itself.”
  • “Our job is not to demotivate them by not providing the challenges and goals that their talents need” – Carlo Ancelotti
  • A big talent is usually self-motivated. He wants to succeed for himself and his career. However, if he senses that the management is second rate, he may decide to go and succeed in another organisation.

I found it interesting that 99% of recruitment is about whom you don’t hire; again its true that if you introduce a weak team member, the best talent may leave. Worse, a weak manager! Overall, one should also accept that talent may eventually leave (I think we have a pretty good record @ Team MariaDB for non-leavers). Its amazing that an average graduate changes jobs 11 times, while the average footballer changes jobs 3.8 times. Managers should seek productivity, not loyalty (though I think loyalty to the cause plays a role; this is where football doesn’t quite transcend say to opensource organisations with competition in the field).

Overall, I think it was a great article, I learned a lot from it, and I think you will too. Remember to read it — Game of talents: management lessons from top football coaches.

The online banking opportunity

It’s 2015, everyone I know makes use of online banking. In fact in Malaysia you’re getting online banking mobile apps that also take advantage Apple’s fingerprint sensor to give you a quick balance. Yet, you can’t take a photo of a cheque and get yourself credited, like you can do in the USA.

But that’s not the online banking I’m referring to. Online banking as a service or conduit for your physical bank is pretty boring. I’m thinking of the online savings accounts like ING Direct does provide you in Australia — high interest rates due to not having physical bank branches to maintain. Withdrawals or payments are made easy by having access to a cheque book. 

So the online banking I’m excited about is the idea of a direct bank.

No bank branches, minimal advertising (have you seen the HSBC ads on the rugby or the many airports one may visit?), mobile first, desktop second, and great telephone support in the local language of choice. ATM withdrawal fees at any network will be reimbursed if less than 5-8 transactions a month (Standard Chartered in Malaysia already manages this). ATMs in critical areas (malls? coffee shops?), with cash deposit as well as coin deposit (Singapore’s DBS has good examples of this). Cheque deposits via snapping a photo on your mobile phone. 

What about loans? Let’s do it over the telephone. Since we’ve got the online first mentality, wouldn’t it be cool to provide an interest rate discount if you provided us access to your social media streams? After all the more data we can get about you, the better it is we can provide you with a loan! This can also work for unsecured lines of credit (credit cards, personal loans, etc.) — your creditworthiness can be deemed on how much you’ve demonstrated you can pay (ala Amex), but at the same time once we have more information about you, we can be a lot more efficient (eg. you’ve posted a photo of you in Athens on Instagram; the bank doesn’t have to call you about a potential fraudulent transaction since it knows you’re there). Identity (and encryption) is important, so tying in a service like might make sense to ensure that now I can email my bank about my travel plans. After all banks are already used to using “Secure Mail” to send their private banking customers notes via email…

Hong Kong and Singapore understand electronic payments at point of sale via Octopus cards as well as the NETS system. Australia was way ahead of this trend with EFTPOS (with the ability to cash out at some locations like supermarkets even, thus eliminating the need for you to visit a bank ATM). Malaysia has this ability with MEPS but it has never really taken off. I once had dreams of paying my nasi lemak seller using plastic; that was the promise of SoftSpace (Malaysia’s answer to Square). Execution of buying a unit from CIMB (they white label for them) is nowhere near as easy as Square, which explains why uptake has been extremely slow.

But the time is now. There are more mobile phones in use than there are Malaysians. Many have access to the Internet, either via mobile data or WiFi. Pretty much every establishment today has access to an Internet connection. There is no longer an excuse to not have electronic payments. Its also a lot more efficient for the tax man (from a retailer’s standpoint).

One thing that I’ve not focused on much is regulation; however regulation is something that will eventually change with time (or if you do something first…). South Korea is moving towards this as the FT reports — South Korea moves towards first online-only bank. They plan to only issue one or two licenses, and it seems that DaumKakao is looking towards getting their hands on a license, and offer banking via their popular messaging app, KakaoTalk. “Seoul is introducing web-only banks as part of efforts to deregulate and advance the under-developed financial sector, as it seeks new economic growth drivers.” – something Malaysia can learn a lot from. It’s interesting that China already has some of this in the form of Mybank (backed by Alibaba) and WeBank (backed by Tencent).

There’s also reading material that I found rather interesting, a 2014 McKinsey report — Digital Banking in Asia. The US has something cool via Simple (can draw some great inspiration from their execution).

If you’re interested in solving a hard problem, with a great focus on customer satisfaction, with the ability to be really disruptive, please feel free to drop me an email —

On grooming

Via Bloomberg Businessweek (July 20-26 2015, page 63):

“I always say no one ever got fired for asking for more. And you manage your boss, not the other way around. (I am going to regret this.) — Mike Sheldon, CEO, Deutsch North America

Race to the bottom

The way I see money being invested lately makes me think of a proverb, “a fool and his money are soon parted”.

There has been a lot of talk recently about “the gig economy”. The FT has a series titled the New World of Work. The NYT has been covering this as its part of the US election campaign as well (see: Defining ‘Employee’ In The Gig Economy). The WSJ continues on with What’s the Gig Deal?. The Economist was ahead of this trend in 2011 — Labour markets: The gig economy.

Anyway, this isn’t a post about the gig economy per se. For one, I’m enjoying the fruits of such a labour market, say every-time I ride in an Uber. This is me wondering if there’s a lot of money floating via a venture capital fuelled binge, in where companies spend lots of cash to acquire users, while trying to outspend their competition to become the monopoly in the space. This is basically a race to the bottom, except it doesn’t happen via government de-regulation, but more venture capital, the attitude that its better to do first and ask for forgiveness later, and governments wondering what hit them.

Why such a thought? Quite simply, read the headlines. Passport Asia wants “seven figures” to be the ClassPass of Asia. They’re entering a market where KFit exists (and is well funded, by meme hustlers, even). The bottom line being that this is all just a copy of ClassPass. Hopefully it’s “localised”, with the best option being an exit to them, eh? That was the modus operandi for Groupon Malaysia.

What about Uber? They lost a lot of money and will continue to lose more. They’ve even decided that its OK and this isn’t news.

It’s the case of business 101: you raise money, you invest money, you grow (hopefully), you make a profit and that generates a return for investors.

So let’s look a little locally at MyTeksi/GrabTaxi. They championed taxi drivers when Uber came into the market in Kuala Lumpur. They promoted the service like crazy, causing TaxiMonger to basically not exist, and Rocket Internet to pull EasyTaxi out of the market. Once the competition was removed, it became much easier to launch GrabCar and GrabCar Premium, which basically competes with Uber on the same MyTeksi platform! The taxi drivers finally woke up to a protest. But there are now a lot less choices in Malaysia and that’s the crux of the problem – the taxi drivers are using a platform that they’ve become dependent on but don’t necessarily like to be beholden to. And its only now that people might remember that they performed anti-competitive acts, like preventing taxi drivers from having competing apps on their phones (if detected, MyTeksi wouldn’t start).

Today, the headlines are: VCs see a bubble in food delivery services. $1 billion raised last year, and $750 million this year. Imagine the valuations. How much has GrabTaxi raised? Uber?

Yes, its a race to the bottom. As consumers, we should enjoy all these subsidised services. But never allow them to become a monopoly. Don’t be reliant on one app. Spread the love. You’ll get your subsidised services for a much longer time.

Coffee with luxury print purchases

I visited an Assouline bookstore in Seoul, S. Korea. After you make a purchase, you get the opportunity to have a drink at their attached cafe.

Recently we were in London, and Sara & I got to visit the Maison Assouline, nearby Picadilly Circus. It is a very beautiful store, with cafe to boot. Go upstairs, and you’ll end up seeing a professional bookbinder — he does everything by hand. Takes at least a week, average cost starts at £500. Same deal as above — purchase, have a drink.

When my family left London, I walked to the Monocle shop at George St, wanting to buy their new travel guides. I was told to go to their offices as they were going to have an event there. Fair enough, it was just a few blocks away. After making a purchase? They again said, visit their cafe, a few blocks away, to have a coffee or beer. I noticed this was happening at the shop at George St too (they don’t have an attached cafe). This again, is very smart cross-promotion of your retail adventures.

Is print luxury? Do you then expand the experience by ensuring people get to slow down, and consume more with a coffee?

Here, and defending your trademarks

I read: Nokia threatens London start-up over ‘HERE”.

It’s all about Lowdownapp (I’ve not heard about it before this), made by David J Senior & crew. I think the crux of the problem is that they have also released an app called HERE and Nokia is obviously pissed because of HERE Maps.

Apparently Nokia has spent USD$12m on creating the HERE brand and are now defending it.

I’m not surprised this startup hadn’t heard of it. I’m also not surprised that unless you’ve used a Windows phone, you’ve probably not heard about HERE Maps either. There was a release of HERE Maps on iOS, but I’m sure it never got the attention that Apple Maps or Google Maps got (I’m including Apple here because laugh as much as you want, being a default, really helps).

A few months back, I spoke to an entrepreneur doing indoor mapping, and mentioned to him that Google Maps is starting to encroach on that space as possible competition (he knew that). I then said that the best indoor maps I’d seen so far had come from HERE Maps. He had never heard about it, and he’s deep into mobile and mapping. 

It’s a sad fact of life that $12m is money not well spent, because no one at the moment really cares about the Windows phone platform; so if that is your app showcase, you’ve screwed the pooch. To make matters worse, you can’t even find HERE Maps on the Apple App Store today (it was pulled down in 2013, but apparently will make a comeback in early 2015). It is still available as a beta in the Android Play Store. I liked this thread between Benedict Evans and David Senior, because while its clear that Nokia does have a trademark, and its clear to Benedict Evans since he watches this market, its definitely unclear to the masses that Nokia has anything to do with Here.

Should all startups perform a trademark search before naming their companies? I’m not sure — its already hard to get a good name with domain/social media presence these days. Plus its time consuming (not to mention costly) to do a trademark search in multiple jurisdictions that you care about (or maybe you can use a service like this?). Not something the average startup wants to spend costs on.

Heck, even established companies like Microsoft end up doing a rename of SkyDrive to OneDrive to please BSkyB. So it’s not a startup rookie mistake either.

What happens next is likely that the folks at Lowdownapp will rename their Here app; the functionality I’m guessing will remain the same, it will just be called something different. Do I like it? Absolutely not. However as a bonus, it looks like the app only launched in Dec 2014 so maybe it will be easier giving in to this battle.