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How to decide which “loser friend” to drop

Not long ago I watched this video from Gary Vaynerchuck about how we should “drop one loser friend“. He suggested that we do an audit of the friends we have today, spot the loser and then just stop hanging out with him (or her). The theory goes that we are the average of our closest 5 friends so if we hang out with better people, we become better ourselves but if we hang out with worse people, we become worse.

That’s rough. It’s tough because this approach forces you to be judgmental and to some extent ruthless when it comes to auditing the kind of friends we should have. The challenge doesn’t end there though.

The big question is “How do you differentiate a winner from a loser friend?”.

It’s certainly not by who has more money, or power, or fame or anything like that. We can to some  extent look at how driven or motivated people are but how can you really tell? I’ve seen people talk the big game like they’re really driven or motivated but actually have little to show for themselves after years.

So I really struggled with trying to define what Gary considers a loser. What about a friend of mine who doesn’t have any ambition to do great things but is really really happy with life. He can’t be a loser… because hey he looks happier than me and that’s one thing he’s winning at.

After some time I sat down and put together the things that define a “loser friend” or just someone I don’t want to hang out with. At the risk of sounding judgmental, I’m going to share with you my unfiltered checklist I use to filter out “loser friends”.

1) He always talks about himself.

Have you ever been in a group of friends where there’s always one particular person that constantly dominates the conversations the group has. Even when the topic isn’t about him, he’ll make it about him. If you talk about something totally unrelated to him, like say how your friend got mugged, he’ll bring it back to talk about how he once thought he was going to get mugged too.

Now it’s not that this kind of friend never listens. Sure… during the span of a two hour outing with a friend there may be a few minutes where he quiets down and listens instead but in proportion of all the time spent.. you would notice he dominates the conversations some 90% of the time.

This kind of friend too often doesn’t take kindly to friendly debate. If he believes in something like “Trump is the best President the USA has ever had”… no matter how you argue with whatever data you can prove, you will never win the argument. It’ll only make him angrier.

2) He’s boastful and arrogant.

In my experience, arrogance is often caused by deeply set insecurity in someone. That person may feel that he’s not good enough so he needs to brag, show off his wealth or put down someone else in a group. It may not be about material wealth. I’ve seen people who have a lot of wealth but have insecurities that lie from their own abilities.

One particular person I’ve known comes from a rich family and does reasonably well at business but constantly puts down the success of his other friends. You’ll see such a person try to find a fault in a particular business (which isn’t hard because every business no matter how perfect has a fault). Things like “My other friend bought his product and he thought the service was terrible”. Or if he hasn’t had the time to find something bad to say, he might go with “At least I sleep well at night without having the stress he has”.

3) He treats people differently based on who they are in society.

I personally can’t stand people like that. If you really want to know what someone is like, don’t base it on how he or she treats you. Pay attention to how he talks to the security guard at your condo, or a waiter at a restaurant, or any of his employees that work under him. That… is how you can really tell what someone is like.

If you know someone is an asshole from how he treats people he considers “beneath” him, then chances are… one day if you’re nobody to him… he may treat you the same way. Life is too short for friends like that. But if you feel that you still enjoy such a person’s company then go ahead and mingle with the full realization that this is a “fair weather friend”.

4) He never fails to tell someone else what to do but never practices what he preaches.

This kind of loser friend often has a lot of opinions not just about world affairs or about himself but also about how you should live your life. Pay attention to whether he holds himself to the same standards or does the very same things he tells other people not to do. Don’t bother calling them out if you see inconsistency in their behaviour. They’ll likely get offended and have some reasoning anyway on why his situation is different than yours was.

Don’t bother. Just drop the loser friend and walk away.

5) He talks about all the great things he has done only for you to learn that he had little contribution to that.

Loser friends are constantly talking about their past successes. It works very well because people generally don’t suspect everything that someone says is a lie or exaggerated or taken out of context. We don’t because we just don’t have enough mental capacity to be suspicious of everything everyone tells us.

By some chance if you do dig deeper though and find out that someone played a small role, or even took things out of context then you know he’s bullshitting you. But even if it’s true. Even if he did do certain things, losers constantly get hung up on their past successes. Winners always look for the next success. Which brings me to my next point.

6) He always talk about things he’s going to do but never does it.

This is pretty straightforward. So I won’t elaborate.

7) He blames everyone but himself for his mistakes.

Have you ever heard someone say “It’s because of him that this happened to me” or they sometimes come with a partial concession like “Yes sure I made a mistake BUT it wouldn’t have been like that if it wasn’t for what this person did”.

Losers blame others over themselves because they can’t help it. It’s too much weight on their insecurity. Winners on the other hand always blame themselves, even if it’s not totally their fault. It’s only when you acknowledge that you made a mistake that you can start working on what to fix.

8) He talks bad about other people all the time.

This again is one of the things contributed by insecurity. The need to put other people down so that he comes off better. Gossip can create bonds and can be exciting at times but we can’t ever forget that if someone talks bad about other people with you, at some point he’ll be talking bad about you too.

I’ve used these 8 steps to identify what a “loser” friend is. Since then I feel like the quality of my life has improved tremendously. I have friends that I can count on, deeper and more meaningful relationships and more importantly I don’t have to put up with the negativity that “loser” friends bring. I guess Gary Vaynerchuck is right on this one.

Notice that at no point does any of my definition include how rich, how powerful or how famous anyone is. In recent years, I’ve learned to choose my friends based on who they are rather than what they have.

The additional benefit I derive from this kind of thinking is that I reflect upon myself every now and then to see if I fall into any of the 8 points I just mentioned above. Sometimes I do… like maybe I’m dominating conversations with friends in a group and when that happens I spot myself becoming a “loser” and start arresting that behaviour of mine.

It’s true that we are the average of our closest 5 friends but it’s also true that when we’re our own hardest critic, we become better.

How we sold the most expensive offices in Malaysia

About a year ago, I was sitting in a cafe with my colleagues Nitaya and Ching Ern. We had just visited a potential Colony location in Subang and trying to decide if we should take it up. I like Subang but the problem with the area was the vast availability of office space there at very cheap rates that could undercut us if we were to open there. Colony after all is expensive.

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To fit the location, we discussed having a lower-end version of Colony but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my past years is that I need to focus. If Colony is about high-end coworking, then we have to go for high-end all the way until we’ve really made it in that category.

Then Nitaya came up with an idea. “What if instead of going for cheaper and cheaper like the rest of the market, we go for more and more high end?”.

What if instead of just the typical cramped private offices we have in coworking spaces or serviced offices, we had Suites. Big luxurious rooms that really feel like a hotel room. Over time that idea slowly evolved with more and more suggestions on how we can up the game. Today these Suites are built luxuriously and fully decked out with technology. From a Google Home controls everything from the lights to the curtains, to flatscreen TV, to standing tables, to lights that change to whatever colour you want to a butler service.

With that concept in mind we started a prototype called the Jamestown Suite in Colony @ Eco City. With our 3rd location in KL Sentral we had 5 of these Suites. It was a huge risk because the renovation costs for these suites cost a lot more. On top of that because they’re so much more spacious and take so much more real estate, the offices would be really expensive.

I know there’s a market for super luxury high-end bags, cars, clothes, food and experiences. But is there a market for super luxury high-end office? Would someone pay RM13,000 a month for a one person office?

You’re probably wondering now how cheap is cheap and how high end is high end?

Let me give you some reference points. In coworking spaces, a private office can cost anywhere from RM400 per head to RM1,000. Why the range? Because sometimes the published rate can be RM1,000 but if the space is desperate enough they can offer you up to a 60% discount. Colony holds pretty steady about RM900-1,000 per  workstation depending on the location.

So RM13,000 per person per month would be 32X more expensive than a low-end coworking space or 13 times more expensive than what Colony already charges in the past.

What’s amazing is that Colony @ KL Sentral just opened a month ago and we’ve already sold 3 out of 5 of our Suites. Our upcoming Colony @ Star Boulevard is going to have more of these Suites.

I feel a sense of relief that this new product seems to have found validation, but also a sense of joy. We took a risk to invent a new category and it didn’t end in disaster. More importantly we’ve created a huge point of differentiation for us among other coworking spaces that will last well… for a while.., until someone else copies the idea.

When I look back at what really made this possible. It wasn’t really me. The idea didn’t come from me. It came from Nitaya and was built on from a collection of ideas and execution from everyone else. My only role was to create a culture in the company where everyone has the space to come up with ideas. We then match these ideas with vigorous debates by other members in the team in the pursuit of the best ideas. Sometimes these debates can get really intense but it’s all part of our commitment to let the best ideas win. We have many other ideas apart from this which we get into arguments for and eventually call off.

I’m glad this one paid off.

How I eliminated my hot temper

Growing up there was one characteristic of me my mom never liked. That I just like my father before me and my grandfather before him, had a very bad temper. If something didn’t go as planned, if someone attacked me or if I felt that I wasn’t getting a point across, I would erupt.

The funny thing is that this behaviour of mine was in stark contrast with how I normally was. At my steady state, I’m normally very cheerful, I smile a lot, I laugh a lot and I joke a lot. But when that temper gets the better of me, I am another person.

I’ve heard all sorts of advice growing up from “count to ten before you erupt like Donald Duck” to “try not to take things personally” but it never ever worked for me.

Then two years ago, change came from a very unexpected place. It wasn’t from some self-help book or therapy or a huge incident or anything. It was from reading a book called Sapiens by Yuvan Noah Harari, about our evolution of human beings from our cavemen days to where we are today. According to the book, human beings in our current form have been around for over 200,000 years. That means that even assuming if we lived a 100 years, our lifetime would equate to a tiny 0.05% of the time human beings have been on this Earth.

During this period of 200,000 years, many human beings have lived and died. Some Kings, some nobles, some rich men, some peasants, some great men, some not so great men. Yet no matter how important a particular person was during his time, that person’s name is rarely uttered in our daily conversations today. When was the last time for example you talked about King Henry VIII?

If even King Henry VIII, the man who is responsible for splitting the Church and them being Protestants and Catholics today so that he could marry another wife is not talked about by us on a daily or even monthly or yearly basis…. who the fuck then am I… Timothy Tiah, some boy from Penang, an island in a small country of 30 million, in the world of 6 billion people.

So if I am nobody, do my opinions or thoughts or wants matter? If they don’t, what is there to be angry about? If I am nobody, why do I feel entitled to lose my temper and hurt another person?

This is hard to accept because all our lives we are brought up to think that we are special. That we are somebody because everyone wants to feel important.

This now brings me to the next part. My first revelation was that I am nobody and then I realised that everybody wants to feel important. So what if I decided to practice this on a daily basis. That I accept I am nobody and that everybody else is important.

Here’s what I would normally lose my temper on in the past and how I deal with it now.

  1. When I have a disagreement with someone because of a different point of view.

If you think about how all arguments start, it’s always because both parties feel that they’re not being heard. That’s why they end up raising their voices and speaking louder and louder until it reaches a shouting match.

Now when I feel that someone is raising their voice, I try to catch myself from raising mine in return. Instead I remind myself that this person feels like he’s not being heard. So I change my posture. I stop doing anything else, lean forward, look that person in the eye and sincerely ask questions to try to understand where he’s coming from. Once he’s answered those questions, I ask more clarifying questions until I find that I fully understand how he feels. I resist the urge to respond even to any accusations he may have of me. I just focus on listening to him. Why do I do that? Well if I am nobody, and if I know he wants to feel important, shouldn’t I make it a point to listen?

I find that in most situations once I follow this process, the other person calms down very significantly. Here’s the amazing thing though, once he does that and have said their piece, I find that he’s wholeheartedly waiting to listen to what I have to say. I no longer find the need to be angry or to lose my temper and we resolve things very constructively.

2. When I don’t get what I want…

We live in a time of “ME”. We are constantly reminded on social media or marketing messages that we need ME time. That we need to do things for ourselves, go for holidays, buy things for ourselves.. whatever it takes to make ME happy. Sometimes we justify this by saying we work so hard or sometimes some of this stress come from work. That things at work don’t go the way we want it to go and it pisses us off.

Let me give you an example of how I overcame this.

In the past say if I went out for a event with Audrey’s friends and the event drags on that it encroaches on the ME time I had allocated for the day to play games or go for a run, I would get angry and sometimes lose my temper. I don’t get angry about this anymore. Whenever I feel like getting angry I would remind myself that hey… I am nobody. Why do I feel like I deserve ME time.. and on the other hand, Audrey is IMPORTANT. So even if she event drags on till night, deal with it because that’s more important than my run, or games or whatever else I have that may seem important.

3. When people talk bad about me…

In the past this would have me justify some reaction because hey, again we are thought by society that we have to defend our name if someone attacks us. In my case though, now that I have established that I am nobody and nobody apart from my own family and close friends give a shit about me, why do I feel the need to get angry about it or defend myself?

This has lifted such a huge burden off of me. Even if I were someone of importance, say a prominent corporate figure… do people really really care? Does anyone still even talk about how Mark Zuckerberg kicked Eduardo Saverin out of Facebook?


Now this mindset is really easy to adopt but there is one thing that really gets in the way of being able to do it consistently. That is the ability to control our emotions. Sometimes I have lapses too whenever I can’t control my emotions but hey… on aggregate I’ve done it.. and it has worked really well for me.

My relationships with friends, family and wife have improved.

I find it easier to manage teams at work. Heck try applying this at work. Treat all your colleagues, vendors, partners, investors like they were the most important people in your life and you’ll find they’ll go further for you. I attribute a big part of the modest success Colony has had to this.

Most important I find myself a lot happier. It’s liberating to feel that you’re nobody and you don’t have to defend anything about you. On the flip side it’s exhausting to feel that everything is about you. We all have that one friend who feels that way right?  That everything is about him (or her). If someone does something that affects him, that someone must have done it because of him. That he is entitled to strong opinions and that he must defend his ego. That in any social setting he talks the most, always about himself.

It’s exhausting being that person because this normally stems from a deep insecurity. But it would be great if we could also have the empathy to understand that there are many reasons why someone like that might feel like that. Make that person feel important and maybe that might help. For me though, hanging around people like that tend to exhaust me too so I tend to just fade away from their orbit.

Anyway I digress.

All in all I think this change for me has been really significant.  People who I’ve met in the past two years can’t imagine me losing my temper. More importantly my parents, my family and my wife realise that I am no longer hot tempered. I still have a long way to go because eliminating hot temper isn’t about just doing it for a month or a year… but doing it consistently for the rest of my life.

My 2018 and the year I became proud to be Malaysian

As I lazed around in my family home in Penang, the one thing at nagging me at the back of my mind was to write my customary year end review post on my blog. It did cross my mind about why I would do such a thing. It’s not like many people would read it. It’s an article about myself, and who cares about me.

Then I remembered why. I do it because the process of reflecting on my year helps me to remember the failures I’ve made and appreciate the success I’ve had in whatever things I’ve done. It’s also perhaps something that one day Penny and Fighter could read back to hear what his Daddy was doing with his years.

So here goes.

1. Colony closed another round of funding in the first half of this year valuing the barely 1 year old company then at over US$15-20m.

When I first started Colony, I didn’t expect to grow this fast so quickly but I’m grateful that it did. The best part is that a chunk of this new round of funding came from a PE fund that was introduced by one of our existing investors. I’ve learned that if we do a good job, treat our own investors with respect and radical honesty, they’ll be our strongest advocates in introducing new investors.

2. Colony continues to grow

We opened Colony @ Eco City in July 2018 with a huge anchor tenant deal and as I write this, we’re about a couple of weeks away from opening our 3rd Colony @ KL Sentral. We’ve also signed two more deals for two more locations. One at Star Boulevard and one more that hasn’t yet been announced.

The company is a good place, growing well but of course not without our own set of struggles. The best part though is that I enjoy every day at work. I once told a colleague of mine that I can’t believe our job is to build beautiful offices and work in them.

3. I’ve built many new relationships.

I don’t know if it’s because of Colony or serendipity but this year I’ve had the opportunity to meet and build strong relationships with a lot more people. I pass on the favour best as I can too, introducing people I know to others so they too can maybe start something.

4. I’ve picked up my reading habit again.

I’ve always been reading books all my life but sometimes I go into periods where I fall out of the habit. This year I’ve quite consistently had a reading habit and I’ve learned that it has come at the expense of Netflix and iPad games. Though in the last month of the year I’ve just picked up PUBG with some enthusiasm so lets hope that doesn’t get in the way.

5. I’ve never been skinnier thanks to intermittent-fasting.

Somewhere in the middle of this year I hit 75KG which was my peak weight. So I started intermittent fasting and I don’t know if it’s the fasting itself or that I stop doing my late night munching while watching Netflix (because I watch less TV), but I went down to as low as 69 KG. Now I’m about 69-70KG and I’m trying to stay around 70-71.

6. I’ve learned how little I know about managing people.

Before this year I think I belonged to a group of people who thought we knew how to manage teams because of our past experience. Well this year, thanks to my reading habit I’ve read a lot about management and it became obvious to me that I was doing a lot of things wrong in the past. That really whatever success I had with managing teams in the past were a fluke.

I’ve learned so much and implemented the things I’ve learned in Colony and I think that’s a big contributing factor for the success we’ve seen this year. The thing about learning though is that the more I learn, the more I realise that I don’t know. So it’s still a work in progress to me.

7. I’ve learned to truly be proud to be Malaysian

I’ve always loved my country which partly explains why after graduating in the UK, I wanted to come home. Loving my country and being proud of it is another thing though. I used to love my country but hate what the leaders were doing to it. The corruption in the ruling government and the regular stupid things our ministers would say that would make me feel so embarrassed that these leaders were meant to represent my country.

Then 9th of May happened. Our country showed that against odds and a rigged electoral system, we threw out the corrupt ruling government at the time. It’s hard to describe that feeling but I felt a sense of camaraderie with my fellow countrymen who worked together through the ballot box to say no to the way the country was being run.

Since then, every day that passes has been a delight. News about politicians in the past that we suspected were corrupt being charged and scandal after scandal being dug up. Our new government was given a daunting job of repairing a damaged country but looking at the way they were handling things, I was and still am happy. For the first time in my life I am able to say now that I love my government. Yes I sometimes disagree with some of the new leaders on some issues, but in aggregate I’m happy and proud of the new government in aggregate.

I realise that I wasn’t the only one experiencing this newfound pride. My friends, family and fellow countrymen were all experiencing it as well. For the first time, in spite of the situation our country’s finances are reportedly in, I feel hopeful. For the first time in my life I’m thinking that maybe I don’t have to have a backup plan for my kids to migrate overseas and have a better life. For the first time I am truly truly proud to be Malaysian.

That is something I never expected 2018 would give me. And that is something I am so thankful for. May 2019 be a great year for us all.

Why I think we should disagree with our bosses

Not long after Ching Ern picked up her phone with a “Hello?”, I went into a passionate argument about why I disagreed with one of the decisions she made at work in Colony.

Ching Ern is one of my colleagues at Colony Coworking Space. Before joining Colony, she was an engineer for a Korean firm in Seoul, having landed the job after she finished her university there in Korea on scholarship. After her many years there, she speaks, reads and writes Korean fluently.

Our heated debate carried on for a while until finally she remained quiet for a while and said she understood. At that point, sensing she wasn’t fully sold on my reasoning I asked her to tell me why she still disagreed with me. I said

“I hate it when people just agree with me because I’m the boss. Agree with me instead because you really think I’m making the right decision”.

I pushed her a few more times until she finally let out a few more points she had inside her until I felt like she was finally fully convinced.

Why did I go to this extent when she seemed to agree with me the first time round?

One of the biggest traps that I’ve seen leaders fall into is the trap of confirmation bias. That we believe in a business decision so passionately that we only want to look at reasoning that supports it, ignoring the reasoning of those that does not.

How often do we see in companies where we think the boss is making a mistake but we keep quiet because we’re afraid to stick our neck out and offend the boss. Worse still, how often do we know he’s making a mistake but continue to openly support his decision because we’re afraid to get scolded for not being a “team player”. That isn’t culture that will lead to a company making lots of good decisions.

How do we prevent this? The answer to me is to have a culture where people are willing to argue against any decisions even by the boss. The tricky part though is forming the culture to do so especially in Asia where people are non-confrontational and in many companies for better or worse, it’s almost seen as disrespectful to argue against the boss.

I disagree with that. At Colony I take great pains to make sure people feel safe enough to voice out their thoughts especially if it’s in contradiction to my own. How do I do that?

  1. Before I make a decision or answer how I would handle a situation, I normally ask my colleague what they think. I hear out their thoughts first before I deliver mine. I do this because it helps them commit to a position without being influenced by my position.
  2. I have never said to anyone in the team “I’m the boss so when I say do it, just do it”. The problem with pulling the Nike (ie Just Do It) is that it imbues a culture where the leader isn’t up for debate anymore. It turns the whole organisation into one that takes orders rather than one that thinks on their feet. So no matter how painful the process, I take it upon myself to convince my colleagues on the merits of my decision or ideas.

But… don’t leaders have to be decisive?

I think being decisive and never changing your opinion once you commit to it is overrated. We must always be open to changing our opinions when there is new information in play and the way to have new information is to create an environment where people aren’t afraid to give their thoughts and opinions. A leader’s role isn’t just to make a decision and stick to it forever. It is to curate an environment where the best ideas win based on merit and not because the boss says so.

A lot of my time as the leader of Colony is spent trying to find the best people and then coaching them to peak performance. What’s the point of having the best people if we’re going to tell them what to do?

I’m going to end this article with a quote from the late Steve Jobs,

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

To my team at Colony, we owe it to ourselves to always argue against me if I make a decision that you think is wrong. Always have the courage to convey the merits of your argument and stay true to the commitment to let the best ideas always win. I can tell you often that my ideas, and my decisions… are often not the right ones. Your role is to show me how they aren’t.

How I once again resisted the temptation to “fake it till you make it”

I’m constantly paranoid about how well Colony does as a business. Since we started we’ve been lucky, constantly beating targets. Every quarter that passes we break new occupancy, average prices, revenues and EBITDA records so things look like it’s doing very well but I’ve always told people internally and externally that some shit will happen eventually that will cause us to miss a quarter’s numbers.

That quarter is this quarter. How do I know even though we’re not even 1/3 through the quarter?

At Colony we set up these things called leading indicators that are meant to tell us in advance how our business is going to do in the next 2-3 months. The idea behind this is to see a problem before it happens and fix it before then. This has worked very well for many aspects of our business. There is one problem though where the leading indicators started showing cause for concern as far back as 6 months ago, but while I took some steps to solve it, I didn’t do what needed to be done.

The unfortunate thing about this problem is that the solution isn’t something that I could fix before the quarter ends. It’s something that will probably take 3 months to fix, so that’s how I know we’re going to miss our targets this quarter. To add to the problem, this last quarter of the year is especially important to us because we’ve been having talks with some parties on a really big fund raise next year. Missing targets in Q4 would make us look bad and may scare away the potential investors.

So for startups in my situation there are 2 potential way-outs for this.

  1. Even if it comes out bad, just sell on the other metrics that are growing and easier to fluffFor coworking spaces, when revenue, average price per workstation or EBITDA numbers are bad, coworking spaces can just rely on talking about how many “members” they have or “occupancy rates”. Both metrics that are easier to “pump” and “fluff” and could be used to show some growth story. I didn’t want to do this because I believe in having a consistent set of metrics that we share with investors and with the team so the team knows exactly what we’re going after every quarter.

    Which brings us to the alternative solution…

  2. Spend to pump the metric we need just to get us over Q4 and finish the raise.This would mean if I need to pump revenue I cut prices, or spend more on advertising just to boost occupancy even though I know it’s a short term game because cutting prices means taking on customers that will leave us eventually when we try to normalise prices. That means we’d be spending money on acquiring the wrong kind of customer.The problem with this method is that this isn’t what anyone would do if they had their own money at stake. For example say my problem is that our website has below average conversion rates because of the way it’s built. Before I spend a boatload of advertising money, it’d make sense to fix the website first right otherwise it’ll be an inefficient use of marketing spend. But in this scenario, if you’re chasing a Q4 number, you do it anyway because you have to hit that number right now to show consistent quarter to quarter growth all the way. In other words you fake it till you make it.

To be sure I called up two of our biggest investors at Colony: Oak Drive Ventures and Cornerstone Partners (a hospitality sector focused private equity firm).

I explained the problem I faced and then told them that if it were my own money, I wouldn’t spend more marketing money to pump the metric for Q4. Instead I’d rather take a miss in Q4 so I can fix the problem and then spend the money next year when I’m ready. I also explained that even after allocating all the investments for all the new locations we’ve committed to open next year, we still have millions in the bank as a safety net so even if we don’t raise money, we’re not going to go broke.

When I was done explaining, Cornerstone’s CEO asked me

“Tim. Do you know why we invested in you, when we have the chance to invest in so many other coworking spaces? We invested in you because of all the spaces we’ve seen, you’re the only one that makes money. You’re able to do so because of a combination of financial discipline, to picking the right locations, to negotiating good landlord deals and executing the business well. That is the value of the Colony and I think the type of investors we want would value that beyond just what you report in metrics”.

Oak Drive too agreed and explained that they were in this for the long term. So any decision I make should be for the long term. That was settled then. I would just focus on fixing the core issue and not throw good money after inefficient results.

At the end of this whole episode it really made me realise how important it is to have the right kind of investors with us. It doesn’t matter whether we’re selling coworking space, serviced office, event space or virtual office in KL… the end goal is to do it in a profitable and sustainable manner.

Why I can’t buy an iPhone XS for myself

As I was rushing to my gate at Sydney airport I passed by an Apple store. It didn’t escape my eyes that they had a sign up to say that the new iPhone XS was available for sale today itself. Australia is one of the first countries to get the latest iPhones and yesterday was the first day.

I thought of my parents. Both are iPhone users and my Dad has been using an iPhone for 2 years. My mom’s on the other hand is about 4 years old. I quickly decided to buy them each an iPhone XS. An iPhone XS for my mom and XS Max for my Dad. The total bill was something along the lines of RM11K or something.

When I got home later that night, my parents were in town so I gave them both the phones. My Dad was happy and gladly accepted it because he’d been thinking about changing his phone. My mom on the other hand protested strongly. She agreed that her phone badly needed a change (lots of features stopped working) but she insisted on buying an older version iPhone itself. She felt this iPhone XS was too expensive.

I don’t disagree with her. iPhones have gone up so much in price in the past couple of years that it’s just gotten really ridiculous. I no longer find it in myself to be able to buy an iPhone especially when other phones are so much cheaper. I currently use a Huawei P20 Pro which cost me only RM2.8K (and comes with free powerbank and all sorts of accessories) and it’s an awesome phone. It has every high end feature I could expect. It has a really awesome camera, finger print, face unlock, great size and screen, big battery… everything! And it only cost me RM2.8K.

Full disclosure, years ago I used to be a Huawei ambassador but for the past year I haven’t been. I bought my Huawei P20 Pro myself and even though I no longer work with the brand, my personal opinion is that it’s awesome. It’s a good value for money phone.

So when I’m used to paying RM2.8K for a top spec phone, the stretch to pay what… RM7K for a top of the spec iPhone XS Max is really too far. I can get over buying it for my Dad and my Mom because they’re used to iOS and don’t want to go through the learning curve of Android. But for myself… it’s just too much money to pay.

I’m getting messages from people now asking why not I just use it myself. Well the truth is that… it’s just way out of my budget of what I would pay for a phone. There are just other things I’d rather buy with the difference I would have to pay in price.

The good news is that I kinda just convinced my mom to just take the phone. She was looking at the iPhone 8 Plus 256GB which costs about RM3.6K. I worked out the math for her and based on a 4 year depreciation of the phone, she’s better off just taking the iPhone XS I bought her. Even when it comes to value for money and since she’s only limited to iPhones.

I think iPhones are a great phone and I admire Apple’s ability to price phones so highly and still drive demand. I just fell out of their market with the prices they charge for their latest phones. That and that I like an Android phone because it works well with my Google Home.

Why it’s worth buying a super TV for our homes

This article is in collaboration with Panasonic OLED TV.

Have you ever been in a mall, standing in front of a TV shop admiring whatever big TV they have on display as it screens high definition nature videos to show off its colour?

I know I have. I would watch it for a while and imagine how beautiful it would look in my living room and fall into the temptation of checking its price. When I make eye contact with the price tag, my body would exhibit a natural jerk backwards as the words “SIAO!” would leave my mouth. I watch a lot of TV but I find it so difficult to fork out anything in the 5-digits of Ringgit to buy one.

Then just a couple of weeks ago, I got connected to Panasonic who decided to let me have one of the best (if not the best) TVs in the market now just to see if I might change my mind about how much I would spend on a TV.

The TV they got me was a 65″ Panasonic FZ-950 OLED TV. It’s this beautiful baby right here.

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This TV has such accurate display of colours that it is known to be used by many producers/actors/artists in Hollywood to screen their own videos.

I’m all about aesthetics so it matters to me how the TV looks. I love its super slim side profile and I love how the screen expands to the very edges of the frame. This makes it look really beautiful when I sometimes leave the TV on to look like a piece of art on my wallet than a TV like this.

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But okay.., beauty aside the big question is… is it worth buying what I would refer to as a “Super TV” or the current top of its class in the market. Well after using it for a few days here’s what I’ve totally underestimated.

  1. We watch a lot more TV than we used to.

I gotta admit. 5 years ago I probably hit the minimum amount of time I ever spent daily on a TV. Why? We would just watch things off our computers or phones or iPads. That has changed significantly for me.

Why? Well… a few reasons ranging from Netflix constantly coming out with binge-worthy content to dominate every free hour to technologies like Google Home and Chromecast. With Google Home if I ever wanted to watch something, I just say “Hey Google, play Friends on Netflix” and it’ll come on right on the TV and pick up where I last left off. Much much less effort than it would take me to search for it on my phone.

Then there is the Chromecast. Any video whether it’s on YouTube and all that I would have watched on my phone? I just click one button and it goes on to the TV.

Because the applications of TV have grown so much more in our lives, I find it much more worthwhile to have one good one. Also I think that the amount of innovation each new iteration of our living room TVs have gone through have largely gone unnoticed. I mean look at the apps that the newer TVs come with now, so much that my TV that’s just 5 years old really feels like a Pentium PC.

2. We spend a lot more time at home.

Another reason why we use a lot more TV apart from its expanded applications is that I find we spend much more time at home. Partly due to technology. We used to go out a lot to socialise but we do a lot of that from our phones now. We also used to have to go out to buy new clothes, groceries or sometimes that irritating one multi-plug we are short of. Well we don’t anymore. I find myself just buying everything online and staying at home much more.

This is even more compounded by the fact that we now have two kids. So it’s a lot more difficult to go out and we really really pick our trips. The rest of our time is spent at home where the kids will play with their toys or watch some TV. The things kids can watch on our TVs these days aren’t the limited options we had as kids from Cartoon Network. Now they have everything from all the Disney shows on Netflix to Ben & Holly on YouTube.

Some of the happiest times I spend at home is when our whole family of four is sitting on the sofa watching TV.

3. There is a noticeable difference with the experience of watching an “okay TV” to a “Super TV” like this Panasonic OLED one.

My mom was watching Britain’s Got Talent on YouTube on it just a few days ago and the way the screen stands out at you with the built-in sound that comes out really doesn’t make you feel like you’re just a spectator to the experience but that you’re part of it. This is one thing that I just can’t figure out how to explain in words.

But then again there is still that thing about the price. How do we justify spending so much more on a super TV?

Well… I did some math.

When the four of us (two kids included) go out for a movie, we pay RM60 for tickets on a movie that goes on for an average of say two hours. That’s about RM30 an hour.

The TV is used by 4 of us at home. I estimate that it’s on about 4 hours a day on weekdays (two hours by the kids dancing to Psy or watching Peppa Pig in the background, and about one or two hours from me and Audrey each night). But just to account for some nights that Audrey and me might go out, lets just take 3 hours as an average for a weekday.

On weekends we watch more. I estimate about 5 hours in total. So per week we watch about 25 hours of TV. That’s 1300 hours of TV a year.

This Panasonic OLED TV that I have cost about RM10,999. If I divide that by the hours I use a year it would be RM8.4 per hour and that’s if I assume I keep the TV only for a year. Realistically though TVs will last us at least 5 years. So If I take 5 years that would be about RM1.70 per hour. That’s gotta be like the cheapest form of entertainment there (minus the electricity which probably won’t be material).

Based on this, owning a “Super TV” is a great investment and I’m glad Panasonic gave me the chance to experience on before I came to this conclusion.

Refunding unhappy guests, renovating smoking areas and building prayer rooms: How far Colony goes for its guest experience

The Coworking Space industry is brutal. Last year there was a reported 37 coworking spaces in KL alone, this year I expect the number to be at least double of that. What makes it brutally competitive isn’t just the number of players but because of the amount of investor money pouring into the industry. In this era of cheap money, operators have the opportunity to raise a lot of money at high valuations and use that to open more outlets, spend lots of marketing and cut prices in order to gain market share.

Colony’s strategy isn’t to raise more money to outspend others or open more outlets. In fact in a world where other coworking space operators are targeting to open hundreds of outlets in two years. Our ambition is to just have 20 well run and profitable outlets in five years. Any time we’re in doubt about what to do, we go back to our mission of empowering life at work. To change the experience of work so that going to work no longer feels like going to the office but going instead to the Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons.

In order to do this, we need to be obsessed about our customer experience. If there’s one thing you’ll notice about Colony, is that other coworking spaces refer to their customers as tenants or members, we refer to them as guests just as hotels do. We’re less about creating a community and more about hospitality. We don’t sell desk or office spaces. We sell an experience. The Colony experience.

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Because of this we are obsessed about the guest experience. We send out quarterly surveys and track customer experience with metrics like Net Promoter Score. On top of that, every week at our huddles, our team is asked to present feedback that they have compiled from our guests, good and bad (though we tend to give priority to the bad because that means we need to act immediately).

We take extreme ownership when it comes to anything that affects a guest experience from when the time they walk into Colony to the time they leave. Apart from the great hospitality that my team puts together in terms of anticipating guest needs and always being around for them, here is an example of the things we’ve done.

  1. We killed the industry-old practice of auto-renewing client contracts

A common practice in the coworking space/serviced office industry is an “auto-renewal” term. If you rent a space for 3 months, when it comes closer to the end of your contract, the operator will send you an email reminder that unless you formally terminate the agreement, they will auto-renew your term for another 3 months, That’s great for the operators but it pisses off the customer if they forget to formally terminate because they feel cheated into going on for another 3 months. Nevertheless many just accept it because it’s all in the contract they signed.

The problem I had with that practice though is that even if we do win over the customer for another 3 months or 6 months or even 2 years, it ruins the customer (guest in our case) experience. Is an additional 3 months rental worth forever losing that customer? Since I’m trying to build a long term sustainable business though, that answer is NO. So with Colony we specifically took that term out. If your contract ends, it ends unless you tell us you want to continue. We don’t lock you in anymore beyond that.

2. We have fully refunded customers if they didn’t have a good experience

In fact at Colony we go even further. We had one guest that signed a contract to rent our space for one month. He spent two weeks working at Colony though in his second week we had a number of events going on in the space. So it was a lot noisier and crowded than he would’ve liked. He came to our front desk and vented his frustration as our team listened empathetically. The team offered as many alternatives they could think of to solve his problem but they weren’t good enough so he left angrily saying “I’ve had enough of this place”.

We take these kind of things very seriously so our team had an emergency meeting to discuss how to proceed with this. After listening to everything that happened I suggested that we should fully refund him.

I watched as eyebrows arched upwards around the room. After a few seconds, one of my colleague asked “How much?”. I said “Everything”.

“But he’s already used two weeks worth. Should we just refund him the remaining two weeks?”.

I thought about that for a moment then replied “No. Refund everything, even the first two weeks that he used the space for.”

I then went on to explain that we have to build a company with guests who are happy with what they pay for. Sure this mindset opens us up for abuse by guests who do these things just to get a freebie out of us, so we have to evaluate this case by case to see if the guest has a genuine problem or they’re just trying to take advantage of us. In this case I believed him. He had a genuine problem.

There’s an ending to this wonderful story. A few months later, this same guest came back and rented out an office for a year. He is now one of our strongest advocates for the space. What we did turned an angry customer that we would have lost forever, to a loyal one. Now the Colony team makes decisions like this on their own if they think it will create a great experience for the guest. We do a lot of things like that at the expense of short term profit sometimes.

3) We built a prayer room

In one of our guest feedback recently we were asked if we could have prayer rooms in Colony itself. Coworking spaces and serviced offices are about fully monetising every square footage of space. We worked out converting two existing offices into Suraus would cost us RM57,600 a year (not including the cost to convert one) in foregone rental but we decided to go for it anyway. Why? Because it was an important part of the guest experience.

4) We spent our own money renovating the building’s fire escape because people often hung out there to smoke.

Another thing we did? We noticed that because Colony @ KLCC doesn’t have a smoking area, a lot of our guests resorted to just going to a fire escape to smoke. The fire escape looked really bad with black walls and no light there so it was really dark.

While the fire escape isn’t part of our property, we knew that where our guests hang out (to smoke or otherwise) is part of the Colony experience. So we asked the building management if we could do up the place at our own costs and they agreed. Here is a before and after photo of the space.

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When our guests found out about our plan to renovate the fire escape so they had a nicer place to smoke, one of them said to me “The extent to which you guys go is amazing”.

If we could, I’d put a fan and some seating there but it is a fire escape after all so we can’t put anything there to block it.

Our new Colony @ Eco City though has a kickass outdoor smoking area. Here’s how it looks.

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All these things cost money, so what’s the upside? Did it help us make more money in the long run?

Well Colony @ KLCC is surrounded by other coworking spaces that are cheaper to rent. So far we haven’t lost an existing guest to another coworking space yet even though our average prices have gone up by 25% in the past 12 months. Sure we’re bound to lose some eventually but I believe that if we keep improving on our guest experience, we’ll have a strong retention rate and be able to deliver consistent earnings.

We have a long way to go though, hospitality and service is about consistency and we still have lapses in our service levels every now and then.

The story of how I cured myself from worrying about everything

Have you ever gotten into these worrying fits where you worry about something so much that all you can do is think about it all the time that it paralyses you from doing anything else?

Like if  it’s a health related problem, you end up spending a long time on Google trying to find out all the possible causes and symptoms even if deep inside you know it’s most likely nothing?

Well that was me for all my life apart from maybe the past year or so. My mom knows it, my friends know it, heck everyone I work with know that I was a chronic worrier. This is the story of how I went from a chronic worrier, to someone who does not worry at all.

Early last year I was going through a period of self-reflection to analyse all my flaws and one of those flaws was this chronic worrying habit I had. I read all sorts of books to get over it. From tips to think of the worst case scenario so that you know it might not be so bad to meditation. None of those worked for me.

To solve this problem I first had to figure out what was the root of my worries or stress.

What is stress?

There are 3 main types of things that cause us stress:

  1. Fear that reality won’t meet expectations. Whether it’s not doing as well in an exam, or winning a competition, or even that you expect justice from harm done to you but you don’t get it.
  2. Fear that we might lose something be it money, someone that we care about, or our health.
  3. Fear of humiliation. That we might be in a position that people will think poorly of us.

These 3 things cover about 95% of all the stress or things we worry about. How do we get over them? Well the first thing we have to accept is this.

STRESS IS NOT NECESSARILY BAD. STRESS IS GOOD!

Why? Well my answer on the first point explains it.

  1. How to overcome the fear that reality won’t meet expectations

The only way in life where reality will consistently meet expectations is if our expectations are always low. If we never try to succeed, we won’t stress about failing will we? But is that a good thing? If we want to succeed in life we have to consistently push our boundaries, do things that put us into uncomfortable situations so that we can grow. So that we can do better things.

Avoiding stress would mean staying within our comfort zone all the time. Never taking any risk. Never achieving what we could be fully capable of. Is that a reality that we’re willing to accept? It’s a choice we have to make. Live a happy life without stress and not feel pressured to achieve anything… or live a stressful life and die knowing what you are really capable of.

2. How to overcome the fear that we might lose something.

I borrow a Buddhism teaching on this one.

“Suffering arises from attachment to desires. Suffering ceases when attachment to desires ceases”.

We feel attached to our money, our homes, our possessions and losing them causes us “suffering” or stress. What if we accept that nothing we own is really ours, but just borrowed for a certain period of time. To be general on this one, lets just refer to money here. Even if we lose it today, we could possible earn it back tomorrow.

I know I know it sounds nuts but I feel better about losing money these days not because I take money for granted, but because I feel I have a chance to earn it back since I’m still young and able. Plus we humans have this amazing ability to adapt. History has shown that even when humans are thrown into concentration camps we have the ability to find a way to survive. So in our very 1st world problem world, even if we have less money, we’ll still survive.

Now there are some attachments that I think are worthy of stress. Attachments to our family, our kids and heck life. I don’t ever underestimate the stress losing any of these things might bring but hey if we can just manage our stress when it comes to money or material things that’s a huge chunk of stress we’re eliminating.

3. How to overcome the fear of humiliation

Humiliation comes from something that happens that is the opposite of how we want other people to perceive us. We worry about what people might say about us, or what our reputations might be.

Well…this is something I’ve said before but I’ll say it again. Modern society brings us up to believe that each and every one of us is special. We’re unique. Well… guess what… we’re not.

Human beings have existed on this earth for 350,000 years. Our lives which may span 100 years accounts for about 0.029% of all human history. We are one dot in the timeline of the entire human race and even if we compare ourselves to all the 6 billion living humans today… who are we?

How full of ourselves must we be to think that anyone really gives a flying f*ck about who we are or what we do? People are driven by self-interest and the only interest people are going to have in us is if we offer something that serves their self-interest be it something funny, or a juicy scandal or something… and even then it’s only worth a short period of entertainment value at the water cooler. Notice how even the most viral scandals die off after a few days and people move on?

That’s because unless you’re someone everyone should give a f*ck about because you affect them (like if you’re the President of the USA)… nobody is going to care after a while.

So why do we care so much about what people think about us? Sure if it’s something that affects your integrity like stealing money from a sovereign wealth fund (like 1MDB) or being found guilty for stealing or misappropriating money from a company then that’s much harder to come back from… but anything else about what people might think of us? Don’t sweat it.

I know I don’t. I detach myself from social media only going in to post and hardly to browse or read comments. I don’t know what people are saying about me… it could be good it could be bad… but all I know is that in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter because I am nobody.

So once I learned how to overcome the above, the last remaining piece of the puzzle I needed to understand was this.

Stress is a muscle. The more stress we expose ourselves to the higher our stress threshold becomes.

I knew personally that I wanted to at least try to achieve things in my life so it’s not an option for me to live a stress free life. Instead I needed to drastically raise by tolerance threshold for stress. So what I did in the past year was to go out to get more stress. If I found something new that stressed me out I would load myself up with even more of that one thing until I was numb to it.

The first time I took on a heavy lease commitment for Colony I was worried. Then I went on to take 3 more. Now I have 4 and it doesn’t stress me out anymore. In the past if anyone ever threatens any legal action on me I’d worry about it. Now I embrace it and I’ve actually learned to appreciate the process. I was afraid about the cyst I had in my pancreas and whether it might be dangerous, so instead I went on to read about all the other diseases and sickness I could die from and poof I stopped worrying.

My pain threshold for stress has gone up a lot in the past year and it has really improved my life. I can’t remember a recent night that I couldn’t sleep because of stress. I sleep well every night and if I ever can’t sleep it’s more because my mind is active thinking about what I’m going to do the next day or other things rather than stress.

I am also a lot more calmer when shit hits the fan, preventing myself from making emotional decisions and allowing me to make very calculated calls. Heck I used to make emotional or knee jerk reactions all the time… but now I don’t and I think that has helped Colony grow so well to what it is today in such a short time.

It’s ironic that my cure to chronic worrying isn’t to take myself away from stress but to embrace it and take on more stress. I don’t think I’ve totally mastered it yet, but I’ve seen a significant change in myself and I hope my experiences here help other people out of it to.

It’s no fun being a chronic worrier. I would know. I was one.