Entrepreneurship and the failure factory

The last two weeks has been tough, exceedingly tough. The indonesian rupiah is free-falling, the index down, and the interest rate has risen so fast. 

For my fledgling property start-up this is bleak news. Many of the partners are not feeling very confident about the future outlook, as am I. It is at this point that i started feeling rather sad about it. Although we are still running, i doubt we are going to take up any project this year. The risk is just too high. And in property you cant afford to fail.

So while my fellow partners has mostly quietly gone about doing their everyday business, i who is feeling a little unemployed, thought what could i do now, a million questions popping up in my head till the early hours of the moninrg, should i find a job, should i try to start another business, if its a job what job, is my skill suitable, is my skills enough and so on. 

I can finally realize the full impact of what my former lecturer said in entrepreneurship class. You have to be a crazy to venture down this path. The path is fraught with danger, abnormally high level of stresses and unknown traps that lies await. 

So as I ponder my decision to become an entrepreneur, and sometimes asking God if this is really my path, i read a magazine that was given to me, last weekend in a seminar. It was a motivation magazine, and in it, story after story of successful businessmen, who has a much much tougher start than I am continue to persevere. 

Then today, when i was in the taxi, back again when i was pondering, I saw a blue bird magazine in the back seat pocket, opened up to the first page and again i found encouraging words.

” Do not be afraid of failure, it is better for you to try and fail because at least you are making efforts towards your dream, rather than not try and sealing your dream to the boxes”.

I think the short quote above does encapsulates the essence of entrepreneurial endeavor. It was never going to be easy. Its never going the way you wanted it to be. Life will never be fair to you. There is always somebody better, faster, well-resourced and far more connected than you. 

Nevertheless, looking back at my decision now, i knew that deep down in my heart, starting and running a business was all i could ever think about. I thought about it day and night, in the restaurant, in the shower, in the cinema, at the mall, at the office, even while talking with people. I sometimes wonder whether it is a gift or a curse, that I am such a dreamer.

And i thought to myself, if i really only live once, it would be such a huge regret in my life if i stopped trying. In my old age, i can picture myself saying why didn’t I do this or that. And as much as an entrepreneurial endeavor is painful, i think living life full of regrets of not trying to fulfill my dream would be even worse.

And so, I will soldier on.

-Aries

Jakarta and the Great Gatsby

Jakarta

Jakarta

May 2013 is one fine year for movie lovers. But out of all the movies i seen this year, perhaps the Great Gatsby leaves me most impressed.

New York of the 1930s, the stocks has never been higher, the party were bigger, and the morals were looser. Then at the end of the movie, when all was revealed, it was so poignant. Vast wealth, but empty homes and empty heart. It was all for naught.

Cant say the New York of the 30s didnt remind me of the Jakarta of today. Stocks hit all time high, the party were bigger, and cheap thrills were to be found in almost every corner you look. The city of stark contrast, the buildings have never been taller, grander, and the slums just like they had always been, brown, dirty and polluted.

Then Gatsby spoke, “it was always about money doesn’t it. You have it, I have it, we are equal now.”

Those words never rang closer to home. In a country with distinct lack of social safety nets, money is everything. Money bought you connections, it bought you privileges, it bought you education, and it bought you life. Everything else is just noise.

Seems like people are lost in this world. Where are the characters? Where are the integrity? I couldn’t find it, I couldn’t see it, I never heard about it.

“Integrity you say, what does integrity buy me anyway?” That seem to be the byword of every self-respecting businessmen in town.

For all the advances we have achieved in this world, we seem to have progressed no further than the medieval ages. Kings of empire married their daughter to princes from another empire. All convenient marriages, all for the glory of the empire. Landlords ruled the land, and serfs work tirelessly, endlessly, again for the glory of these empires.

It all became very confusing when religious leaders in the city preach in their great cathedral with the finest chair, the finest equipment, an almost ostentatious statement of wealth, in a city with such wide chasm. The tycoons, proclaiming their religion on the media, but living in a mansion on a secluded island with 16 bedrooms, yet some of the richest men in the world, who are agnostic, lived in such modesty and pledged to give 99% of their wealth away.

What is this madness? I couldn’t make sense of it. It never made sense, and perhaps never will.

At the end of it, this is the golden mirage, and I will perhaps woke up one day and found it disgusting.

But until then, I am ashamed that I have joined in this madness.

-Aries

2012 – The Year That Was…

121121_MOV_LifeofPi.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-large

 

Its really hard to quantify the flood of raw emotions and feelings over 2012. It was a tough year, and tough is probably an understatement. The kind of tough that Pi had experienced with Richard Parker in their tiny little boat. It managed to break me down completely with my hand tied behind my back for the first half of the year, unable to do anything. Watching your previous life, hopes, dreams, financial stability and relationship go down in flames so fast will break most of anyone.

During the first three months of the year, i was literally fighting for my existence. My relationship with a girl i had a lot of hopes in had turned sour. A close relative of my family had passed away. My family main line of business had suffered its biggest yearly loss since it begins 12 years ago, and was still holding a rather substantial stock of raw material that was already underwater. My father, himself usually a spirited man, was battling a back pain that requires an urgent operation and is now unable to take care of the business as well as he could in the past. I myself was battling to apply for the rights of permanent residence in Australia, the right of which i was entitled of at least a year before, but of which after 22 lawyers and migration agents later, I found out was no longer available to me.

By the 12th of March this year, I had to pack my bags and belongings and bid farewell to my home of 7 years in Melbourne, a city that i loved very, very much till this day. I still harbor a dream to return and settle in Melbourne one day. Of the many dear friends that i have, I only had the opportunity to say goodbye to very few among them. For someone who had owed so many friends in so many years of growing up, not being able to see them and say goodbye is heartbreaking.I can only hope bit by bit, i will be able to meet my old friends again.

Yet my time to dwell on a personal sorrow is short, as I have to be strong for my father operations the next morning when i touched down in Singapore. I did all the paperwork, talked to the doctors, find lodgings and accompany my mother. Fortunately the operations was a huge success and my father was discharged three days later after the spinal fusion operation. Full recovery is expected to take at least 8 months to a year. Unfortunately, the operation costed a lot of money. The hospital also refused credit cards, and accept only cash payment, and it was the first time in my life i seen so many Singapore’s $10,000 dollar bills taken away from me so swiftly into the dark recesses of the hospital pocket. Apparently my mom and dad had no health insurance, was still skeptical about insurance in general. The only insurance we have is apparently a car insurance. Suffice to say this is an extremely expensive lesson, especially when we had just taken a huge hit from the business problem.

By the end of March, the loss from our main line of business, and expected downfall in future earnings means our family makes only a third of the income from this compared to the previous year. That’s a 60% of downfall in revenue. Along with the raw materials loss and my dad one-time operation charge, it had wiped nearly a quarter of our wealth. I had reasons to be extremely worried

In April, the damage from my family situation is starting to affect my relationship rather badly. I was almost always a confident man in my 2 years of masters. I always have a plan, and it almost always worked well. I knew i had the brain and the resources to make my dream comes true. But at that moment, even though i technically speaking, i still have resources, just not as much, everything become sort of muddy. For the next two months or so, i became a lost man, friendless, in a country that feels foreign to me thou it was and still is my home country. When i visited my then girlfriend family, they understandably doesn’t feel very confident about how i bring myself, and also i did notice the particularly large gap in current income and lifestyle. I sort of knew from then on, it was only a matter of time before we would fall apart. The difference in lifestyle was just too big, and both dads are a proud man. This would never turn out well. A month or so later we broke up, although in a relatively peaceful manner.

We still communicate with each other sometimes, and I know owe her a great deal, not least because she stuck with me who had lost confidence and hopes for so many months. Although she can sometimes be mental,  she is a brilliant, resilient and relentless woman, like a diamond in the rough, waiting for the right artisan to shape. Nevertheless, i knew i am not the right person.

In July my father got admitted into a Singapore hospital again for sciatica, or nerve pain, somewhat related to the surgery problem. That was another 6 days @ 1500 SGD a night. Singapore hospital are painfully expensive.

In August, after a relatively short family meeting, we decided my sister isn’t going to study in Australia as planned the year before. The money for her education is still there, but maybe she will use it for master or to start a business later on.

Settling back home is a very tough experience for me. Being friendless was difficult, and it was only because of work that i find some serenity and sanity. Working kept me occupied, as I worked Monday to Saturday. I do whatever job that I feel are suitable for the company, and it didn’t take me long to find stuff that needs fixing. Between April and August i hadn’t made any friend, the longest i have ever been physically friendless. I miss Melbourne dearly. It wasn’t until September that i began joining the local church and signed up as a volunteer.

My new friends i met at the local church was mostly of people who had never lived (lived not visited) in other countries, and generally work at a local company, so understandably their income is lower than my friends back in Melbourne. This makes it a little difficult, because i have to actively go out of my comfort zone. I begin eating at cheaper eateries, and ordered at smaller quantity. That is not so hard. The hard part is finding someone who can argue with me over global issue or economic topics. Although i am now no longer friendless, the part of my brain that needs sharpening and enjoyment still feel deprived. I cant even began to fathom when the time comes again that i feel ready to try a new relationship (could be another 2 years), how would i even start. Where would i look for somebody who comes with the same level of education? It sounds a bit snob, but i feel education level and intelligence is an important criteria, the rest can be compromised.

The rest of the year fortunately turns somewhat better. Business at the rental firm was good, so it kept me busy. We added one employee after another. We expanded our buildings and made record investment this year to focus on domestic market. When i recently done the consolidated financial statement, my family’s rental firm business increased revenue by 84% and profit by 68%. It sound like a big number, but when you were small and not well looked after for so long, i guess that kind of growth was relatively easy.

I seek to try to use as much of my education I used in Uni at my business. It was almost always met with some resistance, most often from my father. Although he was the person who had built the business from the ground up, i think at 50+ years old, his vision had already peaked, whereas I have just begun. Most frequent of his complaint that were levelled against me was that while my ideas were good, a lot of them would be hard to implement. Of course being the stubborn man i am, I tried anyway. He was right on some of them, it is difficult for some, but others were not that hard. If we were to grow big, we have to change and change fast. As they often said, in business, time is indeed money. I took on the role of marketing, procurement, public relations, IT, financial officer and salesman. For the first time i feel glad that i took on so many business subject and is also a computer hobbyist. My only experience as a door-to-door salesman of an energy company in Melbourne lasted only three days and it was horrible. In this one, i had done sales only a few times and all of them was relatively pleasant. It didnt take me long to realize that the business is something that a lot of people need. Sometime i get to meet contractors and engineers from out of town, and when i gave them the sales pitch, they were like ‘this is just what we were looking for’. So it kind of encourage me that my family had unknowingly sat on an abandoned opportunities for so long. It is a viable business with a solid demand.

When the end of the year came round, i treated myself to two massive lego sets that i couldnt afford before. I also went to a local tourist destination with my friends. Turns out Indonesia still has a lot of great tourist attractions to offer, its just not managed very well. Two of the photos are here:

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Thus, after surviving the end of the world (for me) in 2012, I was just glad it was over, and I came away hopefully stronger than before. Although if it is possible, i hope the Almighty will never heap upon me again the kind of trial i went through in 2012.

I will end this post with a few quotes from Life of Pi, my favourite movie of the year:

“Even when God seemed to have abandoned me, he was watching. Even when he seemed indifferent to my suffering, he was watching. And when I was beyond all hope of saving, he gave me rest. Then he gave me a sign to continue my journey.”
― Yann MartelLife of Pi

And that folks, is how 2012 ends.

 

Reverse Culture Shock and other thoughts

Looking back at 2012 so far, it has been a crazy year. But the memories of this year are crystal clear.

Until this day i am still struggling with what some people may associate as reverse culture shock. People who does not understand how it feels sometimes say that i am out of touch, lacking the local culture, or worse prideful and minding of one social status. To those who has doubts about me including some recent interviewer, let me be clear that it is none of those things.

Eleven years living pretty much by myself, setting my own rules, in command of my time and flexibility, when i choose to wake up, when i choose to sleep, when i do my work, and when to hang out with whom, pretty much set my path to a particularly devastating effect of reverse culture shock. Until this day, i still think in english, and i speak with myself in english, when i lack the indonesian words to utter, i turn to english as if its reflex.

Back in my hometown of Semarang, and living with the family again has been a difficult time.
Back to having curfew, back to being under my parents watch. I shudder at the thought of how will i find the flexibility to date somebody if it ever comes to that.

I miss the restaurant in Melbourne terribly, the standard of food here is just subpar. Also i miss my hang out friends. I sometimes go to the only Starbucks in the city alone, buying the same old Frappucino Mocha Java Chip with the name Alex on it, and then sit down alone, wishing my friends were there with me to talk shit, except of course there were none.

I may never again have Starbucks drinking buddies for the foreseeable future, as Starbucks is considered upscale here, even though it is cheaper than Melbourne.

I miss going to the bookshop and browse English books, because even the biggest local chain doesnt have any.

I am also reduced to eating Mcdonalds and Pizza hut, as Grilld and +39 is of course not available here.

My internet is literally back to stone age. And even though you can buy HDTV in indo, there are no free to air HDTV channel, which means ur hdtv purchase is now useless.

But chiefly, i miss melbourne cold weather, and the free public spaces that it has for people to sit down and do nothing, because here every piece of land is for sale.

I doubt many people would understand how i feel. It is not because i am out of touch with the real world here in Indo. It is simply because their real world, is not how my real world used to be.

And i am still struggling with that.

-Aries

Information Whore

The reason why i am writing this is because one of my family member casually mentioned that since i am going to install an internet connection at the office the internet connection subscription at home might as well be stopped.

Following that casual comment, i literally went into aggressive mode and i spewed almost an endless reason why i would want the internet connection to stay on, and plainly saying that i absolutely can not live without the internet.

Even a few hours after the incidents had passed i am still unable to fathom why somebody in this day and age would consider not having the internet at home. To me it is like somebody saying i no longer want to drink water or eat food. It is unthinkable, unfathomable, and absolutely unacceptable to me.

If i were to list my basic human needs, information and utility from the internet would come just after food, clothing and shelter.

Now i have a confession to make. I am an information addict. I may not have thought as much, but that comment literally forced my brain into an overdrive. It is as if my brain is inciting me to move into a survival mode.

Over the course of my lifetime i have gained a number of nickname, one of them is the title of ‘Information Whore’. While it sounds like something other people would not like to have, on the contrary i sometimes pride myself that i have such a ravenous appetite for information.

I was not born with a big physique, i am not as smart as some of my friends, and neither am i born with good looks. So i have come to rely on my voracious appetite for information as my source of survival. Ever since i was a child i have developed a habit of reading everything from books, magazine, encyclopedia, newspaper and TV. Back in the days when newspaper was used as a wrapping paper for some goods sent over by courier, i will even start reading whats on it.

When i moved to Singapore at 13 years old, i continue to read newspaper even at 6.30 in the morning before school, everyday. So obviously when three years later the school decided that morning reading was to become a routine during morning assembly i was delighted. Now i could extend my reading time in school.

So it comes almost naturally that i specialized in argumentative writing ever since a selection of writing themes was made available as part of O-level. Since secondary three, i have never wrote anything else other than argumentative essay. In the university, especially in my master degree, i pride myself in including the latest piece of information from first rate, reliable and verifiable source up until the deadline of the assignment.

To cut a long story short, information to me is like air. Without a constant source of information, i might as well be a vegetable. Information allows me to develop my own competitive advantage. Information overcomes my lack of confidence in talking. Information allows me to be relevant. Information to be knowledgeable, to help other people, to hold my grounds against other in intellectual warfare. Information has made me a lot of money and saves me a lot more money. My main purpose to buy all the latest gadget is so i can be constantly connected to new source of information wherever i go, and the reason why i can justify myself to buy those its because it is an excellent form of investment. All the gadgets that i have, have paid for itself several times over in utilities.

And of course, the internet is the single greatest source of information provider. Let me make it clear to all of you, that in the course of my lifetime, i have not known a better form of investment than an internet subscription. Even the most expensive price plans a provider offer will pay for itself thousand of times over easily.

And somebody wants to take away my internet. Over my dead body.

-Aries

Breaking the Routine Mentality

I just thought up about this post 10 minutes ago, in the shower.

My mother mentioned something casually that i took notice of, and that is during the majority of our working age, we go to work in the morning, we come home in the afternoon and we go to sleep a few hours later only for the process to be repeated again and again and again, for maybe 25-30 years of our life.

Personally, i think that is simply quite retarded. I understand that not everybody have the convenience of having a choice, but must we spend such an extremely long time just so we can retire in our old days and finally have fun? The old days when we are no longer fit or healthy anymore to enjoy all the experiences that life has to offer?

I have said this and I will say this again, that life offers much more than what the society has expected of us. There are a multitude of things we can do, whether it is for us to earn money or for us to enjoy. And i would think it would be highly regrettable if in the course of our short lifetime here on earth that you only begin to do your bucket list when you are already knee deep in the grave.

A lot of new research have come to show us the benefit of taking time off and doing things that we like. It boost creativity and production. I also need to mention that working for long hours each day have diminishing rate of return, at which point it is better for you to rest.

I may be called a lazy or a spoilt person by people of the older generation who values sheer hard work, but i i firmly believe that i am smart enough to live the life that i would not regret at my deathbed, even if the means to achieve it is unconventional.

Because of this, i would make a resolution to myself to keep one day each week to do things that I enjoy doing, just like the days of my university life, like learning how to code, trying out new restaurant and documenting it, and go on a photo hunt. I would try to travel at least once every two months.

I hope i can keep this resolution, and write about it in this blog every week, of what i have done.

-Aries

 

The State of Jakarta and the Upcoming Election

Yesterday i was due to visit Jakarta for a short-procurement trip to purchase two unit of machineries. Although the journey was by all measure, long and arduous, and the trip rendered a failure because the seller had wholly lied regarding the state of his machines, i learnt quite a lot about Jakarta in that one day trip.

When i arrived in Jakarta at the airport yesterday, and started taking the bus to Cikarang, i didnt know that the journey would take 2 hours and 30 minutes. For a distance of about 72 km that is really quite a long time. Traffic is obviously a major factor when travelling anywhere in Jakarta. At least this bus is good, on-time, and had no manner of nuisance on board.

The trip back however, was another story altogether. We took a bus back to the city, by the recommendation of the locals, and man was the bus experience interesting. It had no aircon, and had all kinds of people coming on board on the roughly 50 km journey. I counted no less than 5 full “live music” performances, and various vendors riding on board to sell whatever stuff they can for small sums of money. Almost all of them mentioned in one way or another about, “mengais rezeki” or literally translated “scrapping by” just to live in the harsh capital.

I also happened to come in the middle of the governor election season, where five governor candidates and their team have posted banners in just about every place imaginable. One banner promising a fast, and affordable election, the other promising to clean up Jakarta of filth and poverty and so on.

Looking from the window of that bus, blending in with the crowd from the lower socioeconomic status, and putting myself from their perspective, I can finally understand what the fuss is about with people complaining of the government people spending lavishly on their seats, purchasing Camrys, not to mention the rampant bribes and corruption that they are doing.

If i were at their situation, i too would probably gather masses and throw rocks at the government door.

Poverty aside, of which Jakarta has plenty to see, this city has many complex and deep problems to solve. If any governor candidate thinks that they can solve Jakarta problem in 5 years, they are either overtly ambitious, or they are purely lying. 

On the reflection of an outsider such as myself, Jakarta’s problem, such as overcrowding, poverty, pollution, filth, inequality are unlikely to be solved by just focusing the effort in the capital alone. There is a reason why people from all over the country flock to Jakarta. Most companies have their headquarters here, the country main port is here and the government is also here.

If companies and government keep focusing their efforts in the capital, the problems of Jakarta will never be solved. They need to create opportunities and develop other cities as well and to spread out that uncontrollable growth over the rest of the country.

Jakarta now is literally at its breaking point. Its infrastructure are clearly crumbling in the face of massive urbanization. Finding evidence that many of the people who comes to Jakarta are immigrants is relatively easy. If you happen to visit the capital during the Muslim New Year, you will find that the roads are relatively empty.

I suppose there is not much i can expect from writing a post in an obscure blog about it, but I wish there are still some smart people in the government who would be wise enough to spread out the growth.

Jakarta at the moment is just about unliveable, no matter how many gleaming apartments they build.

The post on this blog is an opinion of the writer alone and in no way seeks to incite any governor candidate.

– Aries

 

Turning over a new leaf

The past month or so has been rather plain and boring if not for the unexpected 4 days trip that turned into a 16 days stay in Singapore.

Getting accustomed to the working lifestyle of my family was never going to be easy. They start the day at 6.30 and finish at 5.30, Monday to Saturday. It does looks like hard work and it is. I suppose this is how a standard work life in the East are like. If there is any consolation, my friends in Singapore are working just as hard, going into perma-overtime into late hours of the night.

I am glad I had the chance to go to Singapore for that long, although the reason was far less joyful. Meeting up with old friends that i havent catch up in such a long time was a good change, as well as tying up some unfinished business near the end of the trip.

I realized i was never going to be able to polish the diamond in the rough into a gem, and I hope one day someone is able to do that.

With that done, i feel its time to turn over a new leaf. My friends are returning back to Indonesia and with this reinforcement, i am feeling a bit more hopeful that i can finally begin living in Indonesia in earnest.

-Aries

PS: Thanks to everyone who have met me during my stay in Singapore

Joshua and Hannah, Davies, Jeremy, David, Victoria, Sandy, Sylvia, and Adrena

Hope to see you guys again:)

 

Forever alone

Being back in semarang, and not knowing when i will leave this place again makes me lose quite a bit of my soul.

I have no friends, and doing work i dont see myself doing in the long-term, with people who misunderstood my skills and doesnt value what i do and what my ambitions are.

I have to get out of this situation with a plan B. I have to make that plan fast.

-Aries

Aries’ end of year entry 2011

Hey everyone,

As people bid each other christmas greetings and happy new year, I know that 2011 is finally drawing to a close.

2011 is a rather mixed bag for a lot of people around the world, rich and poor, weak and powerful alike. To recap some of the events in 2011.

-Uprising across the Middle East region against long-term dictator and despot specifically in country like Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and finally Syria.

-Across the Mediterranean water, we seen old European masters in deep trouble following severe austerity plans in countries like Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal with unemployment as high as 40%.

-USA is still having its enormous debt over its head and a relatively high unemployment although its corporation has done relatively well so far.

-Last but not least, lets not forget about the shockingly awful disasters and the sheer frequency by which they have hit this year, it is truly unprecedented. We have the Queensland flood the size of france and germany combined, followed by Cyclone Yasi, a Cat 5 cyclone. Then over the water Christchurch was hit by a powerful earthquake. A month later Japan had the double whammy of quake and tsunami, decimating many coastal towns in north-eastern Japan and a prolonged radiation problem. We also had the Thailand and Philippines flood that shut down industry and claimed many lives.

-We had riots everywhere across the world and in cyberspace, with Anonymous and the Occupy movement, as well as the London riot.

-Finally, for the rich of the world, the financial market has taken a serious beating this year after the strong recovery in 2010 with major blue chips down between 8-15%.

Personally for me, 2011 was still a relatively decent year, i did really well in university, and towards the end, got myself a Monash Marketing Excellence Award, which i am rather proud of. I have been in the care of truly inspirational university staff and i am eternally thankful for their help and contribution in my journey of learning.

I have also made some really wonderful friends and acquaintances along my journey in Monash, and i will strive to do my best to keep those friendship for as long as possible.

However, my performance at the university was somewhat shadowed by the fact that I once again graduated in a time where the economies around the world are showing lackluster performance, and may put off hiring as the forecast are not very bright for 2012.

Many people still said to me that i am still young. My advice to younger people though, being young is not a reason to be foolish and stupid. Even if you are young, take your early life seriously, as these are your shaping years and the decision you made today will be amplified in the future. If you make the right choices now, you will reap bountiful rewards in the future and if your choices are wrong, it would be very hard to come back up.

I have always dreamed of building an empire of my own someday, even though until today i have yet to attain the real world experience of how to run even one small business on my own. Nevertheless, i would rather die than commit to a life of endless 9-5 labor, unless the company i worked for are truly a great company that rewards well not only monetarily, but also through career advancement.

If anything, i know that dreaming up something big in my life is always going to be an uphill task. But life would be very sad for those who never dared to dream what they have always wanted. A word of advice from a fund manager i saw not too long ago is, take your risk, but manage it well. 

That in essence is how you should run your life, take risk, but diversify. Draft up a risk management plan for yourself, and take insurance wherever possible. In times of uncertainty, risk management has never been so important.

And of course, be daring to dream, take a leap of faith in yourself. Always.

-Aries

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