In Life, You Have to Ask

One of the most important lessons I have learned in business development and working in a startup is asking for the things you desire. (in a polite way of course)

As a business developer, my day to day revolves around getting other people to take certain actions in order to move towards the next step. I could be asking to schedule a call with a prospect, asking the prospect to share a piece of document with me, asking for that final signature, asking for finance to process the payment, the list goes on.

I have realised that most of the things we want in life could be one “ask” away. How I see it is, if we don’t ask, the chances of getting something is always zero. On the other hand, if we ask, the probability will be greater than zero. Meaning there’s always a chance.

Getting a free conference pass

I would like to share a bit of my experience in the past asking for certain things. When I first joined Supahands (the company I’m with right now), I wanted to attend a startup conference called Tech In Asia (TIA) conference in Jakarta, Indonesia. As Supahands is a startup and we’re mainly targeting other technology companies as clients, I thought it would be a great opportunity to immerse myself in the regional startup scene.

I started planning my trip to attend the conference. The to-do list include checking with my manager if I could go, secure a conference ticket, booking my flight and accommodation etc.

As we’re a startup, naturally we have very tight budget to begin with. There wasn’t any “conference budget” which I could apply for, so I thought I need to get creative in securing the conference pass, which costs around USD250.

Since our co-founder has been an entrepreneur for a while, I checked with him to see if he has any tickets from his network of peers. He couldn’t get one. He then told me to ask one of the sponsors of the event, MaGIC, a government agency in Malaysia setup to support the local startup ecosystem. The idea is since I have some contacts there, no harm reaching out to see if they have some complimentary tickets.

To be honest, I was very uncomfortable and reluctant to ask them for this. What if they reject me? What if they think I’m crazy? Who am I to ask them anyway?

I gave it some thought, and I still really want to attend the conference. It turns out MaGIC has partnered with TIA to bring some Malaysian startups to exhibit in TIA Jakarta. Startups meeting certain criteria could apply to join the cohort, so we applied. After a while, we got an email back saying we have not been selected as one of the startups in the MaGIC cohort. This was pretty sad, but all is not lost. In the same email, they mentioned giving away one free startup pass for us!

I felt ecstatic, had I not want to attend the conference badly enough and submitted our application to be part of the MaGIC cohort, the free ticket will never present itself in front of me.

I booked my flight ticket (as evidence that I’m actually attending) and lo and behold, the conference pass arrived in my inbox. I’m heading to TIA Jakarta!

Of course it doesn’t always work

There are numerous times just simply asking didn’t work. Coming back to the conference pass scenario, the speakers and sponsors that I have approached sometimes said they don’t have any tickets, have given them all away or never respond to my enquiry.

It’s certainly not the end of the world. By asking, I was also nurturing the relationship, catching up with people in my network and exploring other opportunities on working together.

Sometimes, when you get lucky, someone would actually give you a ticket at the last minute when they have extras. This has happened to me a couple of times, which was awesome.

This further proves the point where if you ask, the odds of something happening is always greater than zero, despite the initial setbacks and rejections.

Give it a try

This whole experience really taught me a valuable lesson —

In Life, You Have to Ask.

I have since asked for passes for other conferences, and managed to attend a few, all without actually paying for it. Some of the conferences I’ve attended with a free pass include TIA Singapore, Echelon Asia Summit Singapore and RISE Hong Kong.

In addition, I’ve extended this mindset when carrying out my daily activities. Want that referral? Ask. Want to meet the CEO for lunch? Ask. Want to learn about new ideas? Ask. Want to get the payment from Finance? Ask. Need help on a problem? Ask. I think you get the idea.

Ask. Ask. Ask.

To me, the fear of rejection or judgement from other people is severely holding us back from achieving a lot of things. What’s the worst that could have happened when you ask? You get a rejection. It’s not the end of the world, and we certainly can live with it.

Plus, most people say yes because there isn’t anyone else asking them! So since you are the minority few, they just agree to your request.

So the next time you really want that something, just ask for it.

Works like magic.

PS. For those who have helped me along the way by providing guidance, advice, tips (and sometimes free passes), I can’t thank you enough. I promise to pay it forward.

If you think I can help you, you know the trick ;)