If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again

Posted on  31/01/2012  |  Media Centre

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

“IN BUSINESS, we have to fail many times. I failed a lot that I learned to engage that failure, and in business that happens a lot but it’s okay.”

Fong Wai Hong, a Melbourne-based Malaysian who co-founded online retailer OZhut had these words to share yesterday at Asia Inc Forum’s ‘Unplugged’ session attended by budding Bruneian entrepreneurs, bloggers, and innovators.

The 25-year-old accidental entrepreneur, who has won a number of awards in Melbourne for the creation of OZhut (which raked in $3.4 million in revenues between 2010 and 2011), urged Bruneian entrepreneurs to embrace failure “as much as you can”.

“A lot of us have big dreams, big visions. I didn’t,” said Fong.

“Whether it’s computer skills, your university degree, or people that you’ve networked with or that you know. Use that. I was an incredible geek growing up, and I used that which led me down this path,” he advised.

He also reminded that networking is an important tool, and humility was the key for him in that area.

“A lot of people I’ve met along the way, the most unassuming people turned out to be the most amazing. If I didn’t engage them, I would have missed out the opportunity. I’ve seen many impressive people who have brushed me off. So looks aren’t everything,” he said.

When asked how he would measure success or whether or not he thinks his business is a success, Fong replied saying: “success is a mindset, and not based on your accomplishments.”

“I don’t think I am at a place where I feel successful yet, as there are many areas of my life I feel is lacking. I need to grow and improve.”

Fong advised start-ups to re-invest in their own businesses if they can afford to.

“We have a total of 17 staff and an office in Kuala Lumpur and Melbourne. A lot of (our revenue) goes to payroll, running the warehouse, upgrading technology, improving customer service, marketing and product sourcing. The main focus from seeing fast growth, from two to five and now 17, is to have a strong and healthy foundation. It revolves around the culture and how we go about doing business. Our focus this year, is laying that kind of foundation,” he said.

With current market conditions and the growth of online retail, Fong believes that “things are going to explode” and advised Bruneian businesses to lay foundation for their system, process, developing people, training and investing in them.

“The biggest investment is in people. Even if they leave it’s okay. We must invest in people,” he said, adding that the first three years of revenue went back into the business, as a reinvestment.

He stressed: “We as start-ups can’t just take money out of the business at an early stage. It’s not wise and it’s just silly if you do.”

Fong also reminded that there is not one set-in-stone business model, as it changes frequently.

“The business model changes over time. There is a whole changing landscape of e-Commerce and the single most important thing to develop is the ability to quickly adjust and adapt to what the market dictates. Companies need to be quick and agile, that’s why I believe in start-ups and small businesses because we have the ability to do so,” he said.

However, he doesn’t believe in adapting to everything, but to adapt only to what’s necessary.

“(In e-Commerce), I believe that the way people shop online is already changing. The only way to survive that is to adapt. This year, we all should at least have a mobile optimised website. Mobile applications are not terribly important unless there’s a huge customer base and I’ve seen too many mobile applications go to waste,” he said.

Being the number one online retailer for optics, such as telescopes and binoculars, many members of the audience were curious about how OZhut achieved that, and how it built its customer base from that niche.

“Our key strategy is SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), we used strong SEO as a lot of optic players in the market had no interest online and within 18 months we were the number one player in that field. For us we contacted a lot of astronomy forums, and gave their members a five per cent discount for shopping with us and they put a link to our site. We also did a lot of things like writing guides for star gazing and so on, and these draw attention to the site. So that’s how we started ranking well and it’s definitely by design,” he said.

The whole idea of SEO is to shape the website, and shape what people say about the site, so that search engines can give a certain amount of authority to the site.

OZhut had also engaged paid search from Google, which Fong believes is a great way to gauge the market size, and can see whether or not it is a good return of investment.

“We do a mixture of both,” he said, to a number of queries during the question and answer session.

In response to a separate query, Fong said that in the not-so-distant future, m-Commerce will take off.

“The word potential is not the right word. It’s already here. The use of mobile phones to transact online is increasing and we are already seeing (about) 15 per cent of site traffic coming from mobile. This year is the year to get your m-Commerce game together. There’s going to be more mobile phones in the world than there are computers this year,” he said.

Lastly, Fong emphasised on the importance of his team.

“You will never have all the skills required to be successful, because you are only one person. The biggest thing for me is to learn from a multitude of people. I had the benefit of being young and knowing nothing, as it made me willing to learn,” he said.

The MD said that he had to surround himself with people he trusted, as their ideas drove the business.

“I bring ideas and 70 per cent of the time they’re wrong,” said Fong, but he brings leadership to the table.

“It’s me serving people, being there for them to support them, that allows everyone to respect each other,” he said.

During the business’ early days, he recalled hiring his best friend and sister which many will categorise as a cardinal sin in business and over time that relationship turned sour and resulted in both people leaving as the business grew. But Fong said he has no regrets.

“Without them, without making those mistakes, the business won’t be where it is today.

“I guess in general, try not to hire (people close to you), but there are advantages to it.

“The trust factor, how hard they work, there are benefits. The business wouldn’t have been possible without them,” he said.

The Brunei Times

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