Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Cancelling Basecamp? They issue refunds!

I was really impressed by cancelling my Basecamp account — they have an interesting refunds page. Keep in mind that it wasn’t Basecamp that I didn’t enjoy using (I love the entire suite); projects that I had used it for were pretty much over, so I just wanted to export the data, verify it was good, and then stop using it. Most of what I do can be done quite easily in OmniFocus, OmniOutliner, and Evernote (and there is Google Drive for collaboration). Chat has mostly been outsourced to Slack.

Anyway, long story short, I opted to cancel my account recently. I was pointed to the refunds page. I learned this:

If you forgot to cancel Basecamp a couple months ago, and you haven’t used Basecamp since then, we’ll give you a full refund for a few back months. No problem.

Wow. So I emailed their support, and it turns out they can provide refunds for up to six months if you didn’t use Basecamp much (yes, they also do partial refunds). This is amazing. I’m not sure how confident any other SaaS company is when it comes to refunds, but this puts the customer first, and Basecamp gets it right.

Next time I have a project, I will signup at Basecamp, with confidence.

Migrants try harder

How a Vietnamese Refugee Is Rethinking Food Delivery in America – Bloomberg Business:

“Tran says his experience as a refugee has stayed with him. He hates wasted food. Obstacles make him think creatively. The need to prove himself in a foreign country makes him work harder. And there’s the enormity of his parents’ sacrifice, which he feels he must validate.”

I have always said that migrants generally do better because they have more to prove. They’re not in their comfort zone and that usually provides need to have creative solutions. 

A temporary manager of your assets

Oleg Tinkov, a Russian oligarch, at his recent Lunch with the FT interview:

Tinkov says the major difference between himself and more conventional Russian oligarchs is simple: “I don’t depend on the government like they depend on it.” Most oligarchs are “temporary managers of their assets — they are not real owners”.

This got me thinking quite a bit, because the idea of being a temporary manager of your assets is an interesting (albeit, true) one. This is probably true in many situations, and one that resonates in the startup world is when you’ve taken on venture funding. It also applies to most of the Top 10 list of richest businessmen in Malaysia, whom largely got their wealth through rent-seeking/cronyism/etc.

It doesn’t however apply to a bootstrapped company I would think (where you are a real owner); there you just have to wait till you become profitable and proud!

Software misfocus

It looks like the result of a company that is focused on adding features, not focused on creating something well-designed. – John Gruber

He was referring to Evernote. We talk regularly about feature creep, don’t we? How many pieces of software have you seen that is basically mis-focused? 

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 —