My 10 Year Start-Up Journey — Lessons & Honest Reflections

The challenges and painful lessons learnt over 10 years trying to build a truly innovative startup from Malaysia.

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**This piece first appeared on johnsonkhoo.com. You can find more related stories and articles on his 10 year journey to build ASEAN’s first world-changing start-up that would help everyone in this world find true love and build lasting romantic relationships here.

Earlier this year, on 9 July 2019, I turned 29.

10 years ago, I was a bright-eyed 19 year old who just started his entrepreneurial journey.

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I came back from Singapore — I was studying there on ASEAN scholarship — because I was inspired by the power of entrepreneurship & wanted to help Malaysia fulfil its full potential.

Inspired By The Power Of Entrepreneurship To Change Malaysia

If Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates were Malaysian, their personal wealth alone could help educate our electorate in rural areas & kampungs — especially Sabah & Sarawak — so we can all make well-informed decisions, vote in a capable government based on sound policies & truly progress together as a nation.

So I thought, let’s do that!

Let’s solve a global problem, build a 100 billion dollar startup a go from there!

You can read more about my full journey in this collection of stories here.

Read Also:

My Impossible Grand Plan To Help Malaysia Fulfill Its Full Potential, Or Is It?

ASEAN’s Ecosystem Is Not Ready To Support The Next Facebook Or Google

Over the years, I’ve been through a lot, learnt many painful lessons and have realised a couple of hard truths about our start-up ecosystem that’s preventing the next Facebook or Google from ever having a chance of getting built in Malaysia.

Google & Facebook Would Have Died If They Started In Malaysia

Simply put, if Mark Zuckerberg or Larry Page and Sergey Brin were Malaysians, Facebook and Google would have died long before it even got a chance to get started, simply because as our current ecosystem is right now, no one would have understood what they were trying to build and no one would have funded them.

I have always believed in working hard on executing and letting results speak for itself. There is no need to complain, whine or talk a big talk; just do, deliver and everything will fall into place. I still believe that today.

Our Ecosystem is JUST NOT READY To Support Truly Innovative Start-Ups

However, after trying almost everything I can possibly try for the past 10 years, I’ve come to the realisation that there is something fundamentally wrong with our startup ecosystem, where a significant number of people in positions to allocate resources don’t really have the right mindset or knowledge to do so, which is preventing truly innovative and world-changing startups from ever getting built in Malaysia.

Worse still, some are doing it in a harmful way that would destroy a startup before it even started. That is very sad and frustrating, because so much talent and potential is wasted.

Read Also:

What’s Stopping ASEAN From Having A 100 Billion USD Tech Company?

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The Reason I Am Sharing My Story

I also want to clarify that the purpose of me sharing my 10 year journey here is not to put the blame on anyone or anything, because there is a reason for why our ecosystem isn’t ready to support world-changing zero to one startups.

Read Also:

Why Am I Sacrificing My Life To Build My Startup — Wowwwz?

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I Am Not Trying To Blame Anyone — Our Ecosystem Is Young

Our ecosystem is, after all, still a very young one; one where no one has ever built a world-changing global company worth more than 100 billion USD.

At least not yet, and I understand that.

**the best we have today are regional champions or regional hyper-localised copycats

**there is nothing wrong with that, I am very proud of them, it’s just that they are a totally different breed from world-changing companies like Google or Facebook & take a very different path

I am sharing my personal journey here because:

ONE — So A 19 Year Old Aspiring Entrepreneur Today Would Know

I want a 19 year old aspiring entrepreneur today — in 2019 like me 10 years ago — to know what he or she is really getting into. That if they wanted to build a truly innovative world-changing zero to one startup like Google or Facebook; as it is right now, it is IMPOSSIBLE to do so from Malaysia — unless I succeed and help you.

I hope my pitfalls, lessons and insider’s overview of our ecosystem can help a 19 year old aspiring entrepreneur like I was before avoid painful mistakes when starting whatever venture they may be thinking of starting and save him or her years of his or her life, plenty of money and the risk of falling into depression like I did.

I hope my story can help a young aspiring entrepreneur today better navigate the startup world and increase their chances of finding success.

TWO — Spark Positive Change In Our Ecosystem

Spark a positive change & paradigm shift in thinking among VCs, investors, fellow startups, the general public and the ecosystem to better understand how Venture Capital & a supportive ecosystem is supposed to work and be more accepting of truly innovative ideas — that are by default much riskier & would sound over-ambitious to a conservative ecosystem like ours — that could truly change the world and become 100 billion USD global companies that everyone in the world uses daily.

Read Also:

The Next 100 Billion Dollar Start-Up Will Be A Dating App

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Hopefully, convince some VCs who are engaging in damaging practices to change their ways for the better instead of unknowingly doing harm to the ecosystem.

THREE — A Plea For Help

Let out a sincere plea for help hoping that enough people reading this might be persuaded enough to take a wild bet and give what could potentially be Malaysia’s first 100 billion USD start-up a chance by supporting us in any of the following ways:

For Everyone Reading This — Help Spread The Word

Download Wowwwz

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Read Also:

Why Is Our App So “SuckShit” | Wowwwz

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If You’re An Investor — Take A Wild Bet On Us

*or at least hear us out with an open mind

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Read Also:

Here’s Why You Should Invest In Me & Wowwwz

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If You Represent A Brand, Venue, Restaurant, Building Or Community — WORK WITH US To Build Your Community & Engage Your Customers/Users

SCAN with Wowwwz to meet amazing single people in Kuala Lumpur!

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SCAN with Wowwwz to meet amazing single people in Singapore!

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The Risk I Am Taking By Sharing What I Know

Everything I am about to share with you about the ecosystem is true.

However, I’m afraid that some people might get offended by the truth.

Founder Stories That No One Talks About

Unfortunately, there are certain horror stories that only founders would share amongst each other.

In fact, I suspect that doesn’t happen nearly enough in Southeast Asia where founders tend to keep things to themselves unless someone opens up first or asks them about it.

Repercussions From VCs & The Community

Generally, founders would never dare to voice out about such issues for fear of the possible repercussions, like getting blacklisted by VCs I know it happens, the community and the risk of never getting funded by anyone ever again — essentially getting their reputation destroyed & wiped off the ecosystem.

Knowing that such grave consequences might await me, I still feel that there is a need to bring such issues to light in order for us to improve together as an ecosystem so more innovative start-ups from ASEAN can have a chance of succeeding.

*because as the ecosystem is right now, it will never happen

I figured, whoever feels offended or blacklists me are not the right investors or partners for me anyway. On the other hand, those who find sense in what I am about to share & are willing to listen or explore more might just be the right investors or partners that I have been searching high and low for over the past decade.

Trying To Start A Spark For Positive Change

Having said that, I do not wish to start any legal battles or point fingers at anyone for that is totally pointless and does nothing to improve the ecosystem. What I am aiming for here is the realisation of the truth and a spark towards positive change.

I Will Not Name Names, But Will Describe Stories In Detail

Therefore, in my stories, I will not name any names, but will only describe each story in detail, so anyone who receives a similar term sheet or gets stuck in the same situation would know who I am talking about and can make a better informed decision moving forward that best safeguards the future of your start-up.

Siapa makan cili, dia rasa pedas lah kan.

A Summary Of My 10 Year Story

To save you time, here’s a point form run-through of my 10 year story.

Feel free to skip to the part about the lessons learnt below.

2009–2012 — Getting Inspired + Getting Started

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My First Start-Up — First Time Raising Funds — First Co-Founder — 19 Years Old

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Find A Co-Founder Who Complements You — People Might Not Always Mean What They Say

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2013 — Limited Time — I Only Want To Start Start-Ups That Can Change The World — Allstars Accelerator Program By Cradle & Proficeo

Read Also:

5 Things Multi-Billion US Dollar Companies Like Facebook & Google Have In Common

2014–2015 — We Could Happen — The Truth About Development Firms In Malaysia

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Watch Vanessa’s Perspective | We Could Happen Short Film

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Watch John’s Perspective | We Could Happen Short Film

Read Also:

Facebook Wants To Connect You With Your ‘Secret Crush’

MaGIC — Brought Ecosystem Together — Realised I Am A Different Kind Of Entrepreneur

Depressed — Am I Really That Lousy? — What Was I Doing Wrong?

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Feeling Hopeless & Powerless For Being Right But Unable To Do Anything About It

Read Also:

The Problem Of CS (Computer Science) Graduates Who Can’t Code

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Earn The Money & Hire The Best To Build It — Do Whatever It Takes

The Truth Behind Certain Successful Start-Ups — Privilege Is A Very Real Thing

I Was Not Alone In Making The Same Mistakes — Others Lost Much More

But I Don’t Have That Kind Of Money To Do What They Did — Privilege Is Real

I Don’t Have 10 Million USD Of Family Money To Do What They Did

*I am not going to say who they are, because a lot of people told me what they knew in confidence, but if you corroborate everyone’s account, together with public documents, public milestones and the various accounts of what happened, you’ll get a better idea of the full picture, but you’ll have to talk to me in person to find out more and corroborate everything for yourself.

Hiring Dev Houses Is Unsustainable — Each Iteration Will Cost Me A Fortune

2016–2017 — I Had To Learn How To Code — There Is No Other Choice

Read Also:

27 Things You’ll Learn In A Programming Bootcamp

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Read Also:

Apps I’ve Built In 9-Weeks @ NEXT Academy

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Finally Met My Technical Co-Founder — It Is Harder Than Finding A Wife

Learnt Whatever That Was Needed To Build Wowwwz

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Finally Met An Angel Investor Who Believed In My Vision And Understood The Risks

2017–2019 — Building & Launching Wowwwz On Mobile

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Staying At Our Office — From Web MVP To iOS + Android

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Scroll Feed To Card Feed — One Action At A Time

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Soft Launching In Universities & Events — Glitches & Bugs — Concurrent Users

This Was The Feature That Crashed

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Virtual River For Chap Goh Mei — Each Orange Is A User Of The Opposite Sex

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Read Also:

Pick Up A Virtual Orange And Get A Date On Chap Goh Mei With This M’sian App

New Features + UI/UX Revamp + QR Code + Lucky Draw Carousel + Deep Linking

Stuck With React Native’s Memory Leak Problem — Kept Crashing On Android

Big Companies & Well Funded Start-Ups Also Faced The Same Problem

Read Also:

Airbnb Engineering & Data Science — Sunsetting React Native

They Burned Money & Switched Away From React Native — We Can’t Afford To

We Are Stuck With React Native — For Now — Hacked Out Our Own Solution

Better & More Engaging Features Coming Soon — Insufficient Manpower To Execute Quickly

Ecosystem Isn’t Ready — Survive — Don’t Die — Extend Runway Until We Hit Critical Mass

Be A Cockroach — No Salary — Bare Minimum To Survive — Build Slowly — Arrive Eventually

China Trip — We Would Have Been Funded Long Ago If We Were In China Or Silicon Valley

The Frustration Of Being Right But STUCK In The Wrong Ecosystem

Read Also:

Why I Got So Frustrated At ASEAN’s Start-Up Ecosystem After Coming Back From China

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My Story — Youtube Channel — Let’s Spark Positive Change Together

New Features — Schools — Offices — Churches — Cafes — Stay Tuned

If you’re interested in more detailed stories, you can read all about it here.

*I will keep updating more stories each week

What Am I Building? — An App That Solves ALL Relationship Problems — Wowwwz

For those of you who still do not know, I am building a lifestyle app called Wowwwz that would meet all your daily romantic needs and solve all relationship problems.

We Help Singles Find Their One True Love

If you’re single, the app would introduce you to other like-minded singles who share compatible values and interests as you like a mutual friend would.

We Help Couples Find Interesting Things To Do On Weekends

If you’re attached or married, the app would help you find interesting things to do as a couple so you can create more memorable moments together.

There are also many other tools in the pipeline that would help singles have more meaningful conversations with other singles so they can get to know each other better as well as relationship tools that would help you remember important dates better, resolve arguments and much more!

Due to the limited resources and manpower that we have, our focus is on singles for now.

You Can Meet Other Singles Who Share The Same Values & Interests As You Today!

You can meet other single people on the app who are studying in the same university, attend the same church, work in the same building, work in the same profession or simply share the same values or like the same things as you on our app by downloading the Wowwwz app on the app store or play store and answering questions on the app.

Once you’ve downloaded the app here and signed up, you can meet other amazing single people in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore by scanning the QR codes below.

SCAN with Wowwwz to meet amazing single people in Kuala Lumpur!

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SCAN with Wowwwz to meet amazing single people in Singapore!

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If you wish to find out more about what I’m building, you can read about it here:

Why Am I Sacrificing My Life To Build My Startup — Wowwwz?

Key Lessons From My 10 Year Journey

Over the past 10 years, here are the key things I’ve learnt:

Mentors Aren’t Always Right

I’ve had many mentors along the way, I would go up to someone, introduce myself as a 19 year old who wants to learn more about entrepreneurship and business and offer to buy them coffee so I could learn more from them.

Over time, I have built up a close relationship with many mentors and have learnt a great deal from them across all aspects of business and life.

However, I realised that mentors aren’t always right, especially when they have not done what you are doing right now. Their past experiences are invaluable, and we should definitely learn from them, but what might be true back then might not be true anymore today because circumstances change, technology advances and society evolves.

What is important is to be able to understand why they failed when they tried it last time, whether you are doing it any different this time, what has changed and whether you would still fail for the same reason given the current circumstances.

It’s more important to understand the WHY behind their lessons and experiences rather than just taking their word at face value.

You can read more about the worst advice I’ve ever received from mentors here.

Worst Advice I’ve Ever Received As A Tech Entrepreneur

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SEA’s Start-up Ecosystem Isn’t Ready For World-Changing Global Companies

To achieve my dream of eventually helping Malaysia fulfil its full potential, I had to build a truly disruptive start-up that solves a global problem.

Building copycats or regional solutions would still be hard and takes up years of your life but will just never be big enough for me to be able to make sure all of us can grow together as Malaysians.

Unfortunately, our start-up ecosystem here just isn’t ready to support world-changing global start-ups like what I am building. It’s not so much a problem of talent or available capital, we have enough talent and capital to fund and build such start-ups.

Read Also:

Why Investors Date Dating Apps?

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The problem lies with the mindset of key gatekeepers like VCs who seem to have a strong preference for copycat start-ups and regional solutions that generate revenue from the first day. There is nothing wrong with investing in them, but perhaps we should also learn to understand and invest in truly innovative start-ups that are solving global problems that could become the first platform from ASEAN that everyone in the world eventually uses everyday. It’s about time we aimed bigger and not view such start-ups as over-ambitious

We can do this, we are good enough, all we need is a change in mindset.

There Is A Lack Of Entrepreneur-Led VCs

One of the reasons why many VCs here might not be able to identify the truly innovative founders and start-ups is because there is a lack of VCs who were ex-founders who have built a start-up themselves.

Most VCs in this region come from a banking, private equity or consulting background. While there is nothing wrong with that, especially if the VC is a later stage VC, it is important that VCs take the initiative to learn from the best VCs in the world on how to become a great VC and how great companies solving global problems are built in order to know how to identify the right founding teams and right business opportunities.

You Can’t Value An Early Stage Start-Up Like A Late Stage Company

For now, a lot of ASEAN VCs are investing more like banks or private equity rather than venture capital. While that might still be okay for later stage VCs, which are basically bordering on private equity, that’s very wrong for early stage VCs.

You just can’t value an early stage start-up the same way you value an established or fast growing company in a conventional industry with strong revenues and profit margins that’s getting ready to get listed on the stock exchange.

They are two very different creatures and requires a totally different set of skills.

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A caterpillar looks nothing like a butterfly, if you don’t know that butterflies used to be ugly caterpillars with no wings, you will never find a butterfly when they are still young.

The few entrepreneur led VCs we have here in ASEAN mostly started regional copycats or regional solutions, and would have extensive experience in identifying the next successful regional start-up, but seem to have trouble identifying start-ups that are solving big global problems and can become the next Google or Facebook and 100000x their entire fund.

This is because no one here has done it before, and VCs often make the mistake that innovative start-ups trying to solve big global problems are over-ambitious or naive.

Perhaps its time for VCs here to be more entrepreneur led and have a more open mindset towards taking a bet on the truly innovative start-ups that are solving global problems.

After all, venture capital as an asset class should be about super high risks and super duper high returns anyway, we need to start funding more ambitious start-ups.

A Significant Number Of VCs Here Are Set Up Wrongly

Word is also that a significant number of VCs here have been set up wrongly in the first place, with a lot of it structured as a loan instead of an investment. That discourages VCs from taking the risks needed to be taken to be an effective venture capital fund.

There is a reason why the word VENTURE is in venture capital. You are supposed to be ADVENTUROUS and take risks in order to have a chance of generating a huge return.

There is also word that VCs here don’t get a cut from their investments and hence are not incentivised to invest in start-ups that has the potential to truly become something big, but often comes with much higher risks.

Most VCs here are just employees who would then naturally try to be as conservative as possible with their investments in order to not lose their high paying jobs, which essentially defeats the purpose of being a VC.

Read Also:

What Ails Venture Capital In Malaysia And Why Consolidation Is Not The Answer — By Dr Sivapalan Vivekarajah

VCs Here Are Too Afraid & Risk Adverse To Fund Truly Innovative Start-Ups

For some reason, VCs here seem to be too afraid or risk adverse to fund truly innovative start-ups, because most of them usually require a much longer development period and multiple iterations until they thoroughly solve the problem.

It could also be due to a lack of the right mindset and knowhow to identify truly innovative start-ups that could become the next Facebook or Google because they have never seen it happen and have never been part of such a journey.

It could also partially be because of their background in banking and private equity that makes them naturally more conservative when investing in start-ups. Unfortunately, that’s not the right way to invest as a VC.

Our start-up ecosystem still has much to learn.

Read Also:

Are Early Stage ASEAN VCs Valuing Start-Ups Wrongly?

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There Might Be An Overcorrection Going On Amongst VCs

Over the years, some VCs probably have realised that their conservative approach and private equity-like method of investing in start-ups have resulted in many small to medium sized start-ups that are profitable but can’t really grow anymore and are too small to go for an IPO or get acquired by anyone.

In a way, they are stuck with a bunch of start-ups that makes money, can’t grow much anymore, can’t exit and own a small stake in, which is a bad thing for VCs.

If you wanted to do that, you should have invested in a conventional business or food outlet with a great recipe and concept like Go Noodle House instead.

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Because of that, it seems like there has been an over-correction in the start-ups they invest in, focusing on later stage start-ups or deep tech start-ups instead.

I think that is a huge mistake because if all VCs only invest in later stage start-ups, then who is going to fund all the early stage start-ups? Only privileged people can start start-ups? You will be losing out on plenty of innovative start-ups that way.

Read Also:

Are VCs Over-Correcting Their Investment Strategy?

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Deep tech, on the other hand, is a totally different game, it’s even higher risk than starting something like Google, Facebook or Wowwwz, requires a lot more research and development as well as a physical manufacturing and testing infrastructure that probably only places like Shenzhen or Silicon Valley can support. You are talking about Elon Musk level stuff here.

My fear is that VCs are over-correcting their investment strategies and believing in the hype and bullshit that a lot of AI and deep tech start-ups are creating. A lot of VCs here tend to fall for these things because not many of them, maybe even none truly understand how AI and deep tech works and which are the ones who could truly become dominant companies in the future.

You need to know how tech is applied to solving a problem, whether it is possible, how it is going to be done and whether the problem you are solving is big enough to know which start-ups would be come the next Google, Facebook or even SpaceX.

I fear many VCs here don’t have what it takes to truly know that and they are missing out on all the innovative start-ups that could truly impact the world.

Read Also:

Are ASEAN VCs Stuck With Un-EXITable Dividend Paying Start-Ups?

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VCs Here Function More Like Private Equity Or Glorified Bank Loans

A lot of VCs here actually function more like private equity or glorified bank loans with very founder unfriendly terms, probably because of the wrong way they the are structured and the background most of them came from.

This is a huge problem because it then defeats the purpose of starting a venture capital fund, which should be all about taking big calculated risks that could generate incredible returns. If you just wanted conservative returns, you should really be starting a private equity fund or invest in bonds or fixed income securities instead.

The wrong way they are investing with such unfriendly and loan like terms would also kill the chances of the start-up from being able to raise a further round from a proper VC who really knows what they are doing in the future.

Those terms might also force founders to make bad short term decisions that would kill the start-up. You will basically be killing your investment before it even started.

Some VCs Here Are More Like Predatory Loansharks

There also exists a subset of people who call themselves VCs who behave nothing like what a VC should be doing. Those people are basically predatory loansharks.

Some of them are basically offering you loans that have extremely harsh terms that they could use against you to hold you ransom or force you to do things that would kill your start-up, screw you up or help them flip your company for a quick profit.

Read Also:

Asshole VC Terms Founders Should Beware Of In Malaysia

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Crucial Resources Have Been Inefficiently Deployed

Accelerator programs and incubators in this region actually have pretty good resources that truly innovative start-ups desperately need. Things such as AWS credits and software engineering tools are extremely useful for start-ups trying to build cutting edge technology and custom solutions to solve global problems.

Unfortunately, due to a lack of proper expertise, gatekeepers who are shortlisting start-ups tend to only accept copycats, e-commerce start-ups or simple booking or listing apps and shun truly innovative start-ups who are trying to solve big global problems.

There’s nothing wrong with copycats, e-commerce start-ups or simple booking or listing apps, they are all great and solve a problem. I have many good friends who are doing that and are creating real value for us. It is just that these start-ups usually have no need for crucial engineering resources like AWS credits.

Read Also:

Did Softbank Get It Wrong With Uber And WeWork?

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Most e-commerce start-ups can just use things like Shopify or Wordpress and don’t really need AWS servers or any custom built software while simple booking or listing apps can be hosted cheaply on something like Heroku or would just incur a very small costs if hosted on AWS.

Most of these start-ups don’t even need to use AWS, and they don’t.

At the same time, start-ups trying to solve big global problems with custom solutions and technology usually require custom setups for their software and desperately need whatever engineering resources they can get like AWS credits, but they can’t get it because they can’t get into these accelerator or incubator programs because the gatekeepers usually don’t really understand the businesses due to the fact that it has never been done before, does not fall into a common category or does not generate any revenue yet.

It’s sad that the truly innovative start-ups that really need those resources can’t get into these accelerator programs but many who don’t even need those resources get in and don’t even use those resources.

We need to stop crucial resources from being inefficiently deployed and being wasted in order for the first truly innovative start-up from ASEAN to be able to emerge, and it starts with equipping the gatekeepers who are shortlisting these start-ups with the necessary mindset and skills to understand and identify start-ups that really need those resources.

I know, because I have gotten into these programs before with my previous start-ups, have helped many start-ups get in with theirs, but can’t seem to get in with something like Wowwwz.

Ecosystem Matters — I Was Wrong That You Can Succeed Anywhere If You’re Good

When I came back to Malaysia when I was 19, I believed that if you were good, you will be good anywhere and you can still succeed.

I never really understood why Warren Buffet said that most of his success was due to the fact that he was lucky enough to be born in the US, where the economy was booming and there were stocks for him to invest in. If he was born in any other country, he wouldn’t be as successful.

I guess that’s also why Elon Musk tried so hard to emigrate from South Africa to the United States by first emigrating to Canada via his mom and then moving to the United States, because ecosystem matters when building truly innovative start-ups.

You can still build good regional businesses here in ASEAN, but a lot of investors and the ecosystem here don’t really have the right mindset to support truly innovative ideas that could change the world yet.

It’s frustrating when I discovered that if I was a Chinese citizen in China, Wowwwz would have been funded long ago and we would be well on our way to building out our vision. Investors here would fund me if I started a regional start-up that made money, which I could do, but that’s not what I want to do right now because my time on earth is limited.

If you try to start something innovative from an ecosystem that isn’t ready, key people whom you need to succeed might think you are overly ambitious or arrogant, because they don’t understand how global start-ups are built.

Ecosystem matters, unfortunately.

I Probably Should Have Left For Stanford When I Had The Chance To

You would still have people who ridicule you and not believe in your dreams and ambitions in a mature ecosystem like Silicon Valley. There are also asshole investors there, in fact most of them are.

However, at least there exists a group of right people who have done it before that could help you get the resources you need to build out your vision.

It’s normal, because disruptive ideas are by nature, contrarian, but right. You are by default going against conventional wisdom, because you saw something many people don’t see yet, which is part of why it’s such a big opportunity if you succeed.

You Need A Mature Ecosystem To Build Truly Innovative Start-Ups — Unless I Succeed In Starting A Paradigm Shift In Thinking Among VCs Here

It hurts me to say this, but if a 19 year old who wants to build a truly innovative start-up that solves a global problem that could become the next Google or Facebook asked me for advice today, I would suggest that he or she find a way to get to a mature ecosystem like Silicon Valley because ecosystem matters.

LEAVE. Take that scholarship to Stanford, Harvard or anywhere in the US. Network your way to the right investors there — there’s only a small group of people like that in the world, even most entrepreneurs & VCs in Silicon Valley are those looking for a quick exit — and start there.

*unless I succeed in starting a paradigm shift in thinking via this story, become successful and come back to fund you, otherwise, if you want to change the world, you’ll have to leave

Read Also:

How I Almost Lost Hope In Life As A Start-Up Founder

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I used to think that if you are good, you will be successful anywhere. Today I can tell you that I was wrong. Your ecosystem does matter.

Don’t get me wrong, you can still build a very successful career in Southeast Asia, make a lot of money, start a successful business, a copycat “X for Southeast Asia” or “hyperlocalised” start-up. Things that have been proven to work overseas but have yet to be done in Southeast Asia, things that generate revenue instantly or at least have a GMV (Gross Merchandise Value).

Our ecosystem is ready for that. But not the world-changing zero to one type where you aim to build something that is orders of magnitude better than anything out there today that would solve a global problem thoroughly and determine how people behave for a generation that no one has built before like Google, Facebook or even Whatsapp & Instagram. Things that can become at least a 100 billion USD company.

I Missed My Chance — It’s Much Harder To Move As A Start-Up Or An Employee

On hindsight, one of my biggest mistakes is to not go to Stanford or Harvard when I had the chance to. It’s much easier to get a scholarship and work on a start-up and build a network when you are studying there.

It is much harder to move there as a company, because you already have investors here and are already a separate legal entity, you will also have to get US funding first or get into a program like Y-Combinator, which has its own set of problems and biases for an ASEAN start-up trying to get in, which I would elaborate in a later story.

If you move there as an employee, you can build your network, but you will have to work on your start-up part time, and it is going to be tough because you will be on a visa and be somewhat restricted and dependent on the company that sponsors you there.

A postgraduate degree is expensive, and it’s hard to get a scholarship at an older age. You would have to join a corporation here for a few years before they would sponsor you for an MBA program, and you would be bonded to the corporation as well. That isn’t very feasible if your plan is to get there to build a start-up.

The best time to get yourself to a mature ecosystem is during your undergraduate years.

VCs Here Generally Only Fund Copycats, Proven Models Overseas, Things That Generate Revenue Instantly Or At Least Have A GMV (Gross Domestic Value)

If you want to start a truly innovative tech start-up in Malaysia like Google or Facebook, it’s going to be extremely tough, bordering on impossible, as I’ve found out.

You’ll probably have a chance if you come from an incredibly wealthy family that can fund your start-up all the way from pre-seed to at least Series A — that’s close to 10 mil USD at least. Otherwise, it’s going to be extremely tough, unless I manage to start a paradigm shift in thinking among VCs and the ecosystem here by doing this — sharing my story and the next steps I am about to take in an attempt to spark a paradigm shift in thinking.

Read Also:

Why Start-Ups Today Need To Raise More & More Money Just To Get Started?

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While most would probably deny it to officially keep their options open, the truth is VCs here generally only fund copycats, proven models overseas that doesn’t yet exists here in ASEAN or things that generate revenue instantly or at least have a GMV (Gross Domestic Value) which they can put a value on.

Their actions speak louder than words.

Read Also:

What’s Stopping ASEAN From Having A 100 Billion USD Tech Company?

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They don’t seem to understand truly scalable and innovative start-ups like Google or Facebook that don’t generate any significant revenue until enough people are using your product every day — and that could take years to happen — because no one has started a start-up like that in ASEAN.

Some VCs were honest enough to admit that to me, that if Google or Facebook started in Malaysia, they would have died because no one would have funded them because the problem they are solving seemed too big and they din’t generate any revenue at the start.

I Really Hope I Am Wrong About This — Come Talk To Me

This is something that I really hope I can be proven wrong on, because this defines the future of our start-up ecosystem and would determine whether we will ever see a Google or Facebook — or Wowwwz and what it could become — emerge from ASEAN that can truly put ASEAN on the world map and create so many opportunities for innovation, including raising wages, quality of living and creating many high-paying job opportunities in this region.

Read Also:

Here’s Why You Should Invest In Me & Wowwwz

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So, if you are a VC in this region that is not like that or I have not managed to reach yet due to all the roadblocks by gatekeepers or any other reason and would like to invest in truly innovative start-ups who are solving big global problems that could become the first 100 billion USD start-up from ASEAN that everyone uses daily, come talk to me.

I really hope I can be proven wrong on this.

ASEAN needs more visionary VCs like you!

80% Of Dev Houses Are Semi-Con Jobs

Before I start, don’t get me wrong. I have plenty of good friends who are running dev houses and they do a good job. They are the few in the industry who can actually do a good job delivering your product, but because the demand for them is so high due to their scarcity, they are pretty expensive to hire. It also took me a long time to know who they are.

The sad part is, having hired and worked with multiple dev houses over the past 10 years to build various products and exchanging stories with other founders, I’ve come to the sad realisation that most, I would say close to 80% of dev houses in Malaysia actually operate as semi-con jobs.

After I’ve learnt how to code myself, I realised how terrible a job plenty of dev houses in this country are actually doing.

Many people have lost money hiring dev houses just to get a bunch of unusable code or get an abandoned project that no one can salvage, including me. Some have lost thousands, some tens of thousands, some hundreds of thousands, and some have even lost millions to dev houses who can’t deliver.

Most would promise you the world, and try to get a 50% deposit from you. If you’re really lucky, you’ll get what you want, but you will be surprised that more than half of all projects don’t really get completed. You’ll get sloppy work that you’re naturally not happy with and won’t pay more for to get it completed, and the project just gets abandoned, with the dev house pocketing the 50% deposit. After a while you start to suspect whether these dev houses are just planning to con you of your 50% deposit in the first place.

There are some good dev houses around, but it is very hard for you to know if you don’t have technical knowledge or trusted people who know how to tell them apart.

You can read more about the problem with dev houses in Malaysia and how to choose the right one in my full story about it here.

Read Also:

My Experience With Software Development Houses In Malaysia

*Coming Soon — Kindly Leave Your Email + Join Our FB Group For Updates

Founders Here Don’t Go Out Of Their Way To Help Each Other Enough

Another problem that could be preventing our ecosystem from truly thriving is a lack of a culture of going out of our way to help each other. Don’t get me wrong, founders here do help each other, but they are usually just helping friends or people they already know, and our ecosystem is broken down into cliques.

What I am getting at here is the lack of a culture of going out of your way to help strangers when you can and when they ask for help.

I know some amazing founders who do that, but if you ask me, that’s not nearly enough. We need more founders who are willing to go out of their way to help each other out.

In Silicon Valley, there’re cliques, unfriendly and unhelpful people too, but there are enough awesome people who would go out of their way to help you if you ask for help, many would even offer it voluntarily if they see a way they could help without you even asking for it.

Read Also:

How Is A Dating App An Innovative Idea?

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People there are trying to solve the world’s biggest problems, and they understand that it is extremely hard to do so. In fact, most will fail. That’s why they have built up a culture of helping each other whenever they can so more of them stand a chance of succeeding, so the ecosystem has more success stories that can absorb and recycle talent into new attempts and new ventures trying to solve the world’s biggest problems.

For more of us to succeed, founders need to go out of our way to help each other more, even when a stranger approaches you for help, and not just help our friends.

One of the things we can improve on is the way we make introductions.

I’ve realised that founders here are rather stingy with making introductions. While I understand that an introduction is to a certain extent a stake on your reputation and hence should not be made easily, I feel that there are plenty of legitimate cases where introductions should have been made but weren’t.

My view is that if the person needing an introduction is a decent and genuine person looking for help or is proposing something of value, we should just make the introduction regardless of whether we really like what they are doing or whether the person you are introducing them to would reply.

That should be up to the person you are introducing them to judge, you are not them, you wouldn’t really know, unless you asked them personally beforehand and they explicitly told you that they are not interested or do not want to be introduced.

Even then, you might not be the best person to present the case to that person besides the person who asked for the introduction in the first place.

In the end, the person you made the introduction to might not reply, or might not be interested to help or might not find value in whatever it is the proposal is, but that’s fine. It just takes a few seconds to type out a simple no or for the person receiving the email to simply ignore the email along with countless other emails they are receiving.

At least, you would have done your part in attempting to connect them and brought something of value or potential interest to the receiver, even if you don’t find it interesting yourself — leave it to the receiver to judge that. You can even make your thoughts known and say that you don’t find it interesting, but just in case they will, hence you made that introduction. Otherwise, you can also just let the person asking for the introduction send out a cold email to them and see what happens.

You really never know what could happen.

Great products and start-ups are built when the right people connect with each other, and your simple gesture of providing an email or a simple introduction can help increase the chances of that happening drastically.

Often times, the opportunity for the right people to connect with each other is severed by people who let their own flawed and imperfect judgement get in the way. You might not know enough about the subject or the receiver to know whether something is worth a person’s time or not. We have to accept that there are a lot of things that we don’t even know that we don’t know.

If someone is genuine and decent and has a genuine request or proposal, just make that introduction, it helps to build key connections in the ecosystem that is crucial for all of us to thrive and succeed in.

Make that bloody introduction guys. Don’t think and assume too much.

Maybe it’s part of our asian culture, but people here tend to mistake healthy ambition or confidence for arrogance. There is nothing wrong with having bigger ambitions and wanting to solve bigger global problems, as long as you have a real plan to do that, are willing to sacrifice, pay the price and learn everything you need to know to do it.

It takes a huge amount of courage to be able to take the risks and make the sacrifices in order to pursue a bigger mission, knowing full well that the chances of failure are high, but we still do it because we believe it is worth it, despite all the sacrifices and risks.

That’s the only way society moves forward. Without people with dreams and ambition who dare to take risks and make the necessary sacrifices pursuing those dreams, we would still be stuck in the stone ages. We won’t have electric lighting, still be riding horses for transportation and won’t have computers, social networks or email.

Our ecosystem needs to be more supportive of people who have the courage to dream big and try hard things.

They will definitely make mistakes along the way, because it is extremely hard to do such things, but they still persevere and improve and keep on soldiering on, despite the odds and pressure to give up. We should learn to respect that kind of courage and spirit of perseverance instead of ridiculing them for trying or judging them for taking on something they can’t do.

Doing so would be like laughing at Thomas Edison when he was still trying to find the right filament that could last long enough and each filament he tried burnt out and did not last longer than a minute.

Support those who have ambition and dare to try to solve hard problems, respect them for having the courage to sacrifice and try something that they would most likely fail at and make plenty of mistakes along the way.

They are the ones who will eventually end up changing the world, and they will remember those who were there to support and help them when the rest of the world was laughing at them when they were still trying.

One thing I have learnt is that there is always something we don’t know that we don’t know. That’s why, we need to always keep an open mind and try to understand things from another person’s perspective and always give others the benefit of the doubt.

Plenty of people in our ecosystem are often too quick to judge, based on their own experiences, which only represents a very narrow and limited perspective. There is a lot that they do not know, and don’t even know that they don’t know.

But because of their narrow perspective, they would think that certain concepts are dumb or impossible, because they don’t have the knowledge and perspective required to make sense of it, and would think that a person who thinks that way is out of touch or arrogant, when in fact they are the ones who are the arrogant ones who refuse to see and learn things from another person’s perspective.

That’s why, we should never be too quick to judge.

Plenty Of Malaysian Computer Science Grads Can’t Code

An observation I have made over the years is also that a significant portion of Computer Science graduates in Malaysia still can’t really code.

I’ve written a full story about this here.

Read Also:

The Problem Of CS (Computer Science) Graduates Who Can’t Code

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The First Thing I Should Have Done Is To Learn To Code

One of the worst advice I’ve ever received from my mentors was to focus on what I do best — which was business and — outsource the coding.

They were right in their context where the businesses that they were building only involves selling stuff online or building a simple listing or booking app where the technology and template for that is already readily available. Together with their age and financial resources, it makes sense to not learn how to code and just pay someone to do it for you.

Unfortunately, if you want to start a truly innovative tech start-up solving a global problem that has never been solved before like what I am doing, that’s very bad advice, because you would need to have at least 1 technical co-founder in your founding team.

It is going to be very hard to find a Steve Wozniak in this region, they would probably be overseas or working for a big corporation and taking a huge salary, that’s why you would need to be your own Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg and be technical yourself.

One of the first things that I should have done was to learn how to code.

It will give you the ability to keep iterating and building stuff without spending millions, and tell the good software engineers apart from the bad ones. Knowing how to code will save you a lot of time, money and frustration.

Privilege Is A Real Thing

I’ve also realised throughout the years that privilege is a very real thing.

What you read in the news and media is often not the full story. Whatever is reported is true, but is often far from the full picture.

It can be true that a start-up started with just RM2,000, because that is more or less how much you would need to register a Sdn Bhd in Malaysia, but what you don’t know is the hundreds of thousands to millions that were put into the start-up later in order to build the product, hire a team and launch the product properly to get sufficient traction.

In that sense, it is not untrue that the start-up started with just RM2,000, but it also needed the founders to put in hundreds of thousands to millions later in order to properly get started.

Read Also:

7 Famous People & Startups That Started Or Started As Dating Apps

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While it is possible to do well without privilege, the things you can succeed at might be greatly limited.

I know people who truly started with nothing and built successful businesses, but they often needed to start with some sort of a sales job and gradually build their way into a distributorship or some other venture.

That’s alright, but for certain kinds of businesses, you do need privilege, otherwise you would have to fight really hard for it, and might still fail. Privilege does make things a lot easier and makes a huge difference in your chances of success.

It is also a privilege to be in the right ecosystem to be able to start the kind of start-up that you want to start.

Warren Buffet has repeatedly said in multiple interviews that the greatest reason for his success was that he was lucky enough to be born in the United States, and that he wouldn’t have been able to do what he did if he wasn’t in the United States, where there was a mature stock market and booming economy for him to invest in, and that is very true.

There would be no stock market for him to invest in if he was born in Zimbabwe. If he was born in Malaysia, the stocks he could ever possibly invest in won’t be as big and he probably would not have been as successful as he is today given that Malaysia was just a newly independent country.

Realising that Wowwwz would have been funded long ago if I was a Chinese citizen based in China and or in Silicon Valley and would be well on its way to building a product that solves a global problem for everyone in the world is further proof that ecosystem matters, and being born in the right one is a privilege that makes a huge difference.

Not being privileged enough, you will just have to try a lot harder and do everything you can so you have no regrets even if you fail, because you have tried absolutely everything.

Stay Tuned For More Stories Here

There are still plenty of stories and lessons that I’ve yet to have the time to pen down, but I will be sharing a couple more stories every week via my blog.

I Will Be Sharing More Stories Every Week

So, if you’re interested to find out more about our start-up ecosystem and my journey trying to build Wowwwz and help everyone in the world find true love and live happily ever after, do stay tuned and leave your details below!

There’s Hope — Talking To Some US VCs In Singapore + Indonesian VCs

All hope is not lost, we are currently talking to a couple of Silicon Valley based VCs with a Singapore presence and a few Indonesian VC firms who are starting to wake up to the idea of funding truly innovative startups that could go global and become 100 billion USD companies like Wowwwz.

The Silicon Valley based VC’s ASEAN arm traditionally has been focusing only on Series A and later stage start-ups, but has recently opened up its investment portfolio to earlier stage start-ups like ours.

Let’s see what happens!

It’s Time For ASEAN Start-Ups To Aim Bigger

It is about time for us to aim bigger and try to solve big global problems that could make a lasting positive impact on the world rather than just start copycats and regional champions that have a limited potential.

Read Also:

Here’s Why You Should Invest In Me & Wowwwz

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ASEAN Is Ready For It’s First 100 Billion USD Start-Up That Solves A Global Problem

Our region is ready for it’s first 100 billion USD start-up that solves a global problem and everyone in the world would use every day. We are ready for a Google or Facebook to emerge from ASEAN.

Read Also:

The Next 100 Billion Dollar Start-Up Will Be A Dating App

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We have enough capital, talent and resources. All we need is a slight shift in mindset and the courage the deploy some of these resources to start-ups that might not be generating revenue at the start but are doing something that could become the next big thing!

Let’s Help Everyone In This World Find True Love & Live Happily Ever After Together!

I have sacrificed 10 years of my life trying to build such a start-up with Wowwwz.

Please join me in my mission to help everyone in this world find their right life partner, not just any partner, but their right life partner and soulmate, who shares compatible values as them, and can grow old and live happily ever after together with.

Many People’s Lifetime Happiness Is In Your Hands — Help Us Out

There are so many broken families, broken hearts, broken souls and lonely hearts out there because people either settle for the wrong partners or just can’t meet someone who is compatible and right for them.

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With our graph and tools that we are building, we can introduce you to your one true love like a mutual friend would and go on to help you build more memorable experiences together as a couple.

You soulmate is probably just one introduction away, and we can introduce you!

Help Me — So That I Can Build The Tools To Help Them Find Their Soulmates

If you are reading this, please share this story and the many related stories with as many as your friends as possible so we stand a chance to start a paradigm shift in thinking among VCs and our start-up ecosystem so they would finally start funding start-ups that are trying to solve global problems like helping everyone find their right life partners like what Wowwwz is trying to do.

I know our app might be buggy and doesn’t look that nice for now, that’s because it’s largely just me and my co-founder building the app.

It’s largely a 1 to 2 man show.

Read Also:

Why Is Our App So “SuckShit” | Wowwwz

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So I really hope that you would understand and give us a chance. Do download the app, give us a good rating despite our flaws and share it with as much as our friends so we stand a chance to raise the funding necessary to build you a better app with more features that could help you find interesting couple activities to do with your significant other or find that one special person to do them with.

Download the app, give us a good rating, subscribe to my Youtube Channel about relationships, leave your email, join this Facebook Group and check back every few months for cool updates. Help me so that I can build the tools to help them find their soulmates whom they can grow old together and live long happy lives with.

*Search for Wowwwz on the App Store or Play Store to download

JohnsonKhooTV — Subscribe to my upcoming Youtube Channel where I will be talking about real life stories about love & relationships

FB Group To Stay Updated On Wowwwz’s Journey — Join this Facebook Group so you can stay updated on our journey, new features and new stories and new updates on our quest to build a start-up that could help everyone in this world find true love and live happily ever after

You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

More stories and articles can be found on my blog johnsonkhoo.com or via this link to a list of all published stories here.

Help me out, because many people’s lifetime happiness is in your hands.

Once you’ve downloaded the app and signed up, you can also start to meet other amazing single people in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore who share the same values and interests as you by scanning the QR codes below.

*Search for Wowwwz on the App Store or Play Store to download

SCAN with Wowwwz to meet amazing single people in Kuala Lumpur!

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SCAN with Wowwwz to meet amazing single people in Singapore!

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Do SHARE this with as many of your single friends as possible so they can find their soulmate soon, we can get more traction, and raise the funding necessary to build you more cool features that will help amazing single people meet each other and amazing couples grow their relationship!

Let’s do this together!

The world needs YOUR HELP so all of us can find true love!

You have the power to become a superhero!

Written by

ASEAN Scholar | Founder @ Wowwwz | Start-up entrepreneur from Malaysia trying to help everyone in this world find true love and live happily ever after.

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