Reza always gets to the point without beating about the bush in all of his answers. As a result the whole interview was efficient and filled with enriching content. I could tell from the way Reza spoke that he was really experienced in the industry and a quality leader that is respected by all his employees. Most of his responses were also authentic such as how he said his source of motivation is nature and how he did not view monetary reward as biggest achievement. I was truly inspired by how he value and build a strong team culture.
Ql) What is the nature of your business?
The nature of our business can be described in two perspectives, business and consumers. One is we are trying deliver relevant messages to the consumers of companies at the right place at right time, so that advertising is viewed more as a service rather than annoyance. How we actually execute on that is through data driven messaging and advertising. So we are data driven advertising company or as we call it scientific media buying company. We buy media on behalf of our clients. These are usually the large branch across various channels. The media landscape is fragmented - we have mobile display,video,social. So it's becoming harder and harder for brand to know how to place their marketing and communication dollars across these channels that their clients interact with and how to do it in an intelligent and effective way so their message is received by the right segments and viewed as value add.
Q2) When and why did you decide to become an entrepreneur/take over your family business?
Well, I consider myself a builder and problem solver. So I guess I decided to become an entrepreneur when I felt that the corporate world did not typically allow for a lot of innovation and disruptiveness, by definition. There's a lot more internal coordination, processes and bureaucracy; I wanted to build stuff. So in 2007, I decided to leave the corporate world after 15 years and do some investing. After investing, in 2009 I jumped into the entrepreneurial world.
Q3) What are your reasons for choosing to do business in this particular industry?
It's interesting because I consider myself an entrepreneur first, and then an expert in this advertising, communication and marketing industry as opposed to somebody who's in the marketing industry and then became an entrepreneur. So in that sense my next venture could be in any industries because I'm a builder and problem solver first. Being in t he industry for 7 years, what I saw was that search was very data driven from the very beginning. However, other form of digital media like display and video were selling based on the old traditional newspaper magazine kind of ways. They were selling space a s opposed to selling exposure to particular audiences, which i n my mind wasn't really unleashing the power of interactive media. So, I wanted to figure out how to make online advertising simpler for buyers and also how to make it more effective and relevant for people that receive the advertisement. So we still have a long way to go with this.
Q4) How did you put together all t he resources needed to start your business? For example: getting the start-up capital, hiring staff, doing sales and marketing, advertising, etc.
Persona l investment, energy, 18 hours a day, friends, family, and power of persuasion, having been in the industry, having credibility from previous jobs. You end up spending not just from you r money but, credibility, profession and all the assets whether it's tangible or intangible.
When we started, late 2009, the ecosystem in Singapore for Tech start up wasn't as what it is today. There wasn't much support i n terms of funding, government programs, legal, finance or HR people who understood startups. As an entrepreneur you had to recreate a lot of the wheels that had already been created in the more developed ecosystem just to survive as a startup. It's like juggling 10 balls at the same time - wacke them all, when you fix one issue there's another issue. A lot of entrepreneurs think that by pursuing their passion they end u p spending a lot of time working on their passion; The reality is, 70-80% of your time will end up being spent on administrative things in order to get the 20% in there. That's one of the things young entrepreneurs underestimate.
However, as the ecosystem is more developed, the 80% can now be reduced to 60-50%. But still only the minority of the time will be spent on the passion.
Q5) What are some interesting stories you have about you r first few customers/first few years in business?
Couple of interesting stories. One is the way we buy media. We tried to understand who the audience is to serve the right ad to the right person. So by definition if you a re serving an ad to client X, only the people who are in that particular segment should be exposed to it. When we started, this concept wasn't easy to understand because when they buy an ad they expected to see it. We had to put a lot of market education because we got a lot of questions like "I a m on the site, why can't I see my ad? I paid for the ad, where is it?" So we have to educate them that you might not be in the target audience and that is you can't see i t. I n the past, they used to be able to go to yahoo and see their ad and that gave them sense of comfort.
There was also those days where we would hire that hadn't grasped that living in a startup meant that you have to be independent to make a lot of decisions. They came in from the corporate mind-set thinking somebody should tell them exactly how to get from A to Z and all decisions are already made from them. We got a lot of confused looks sometimes.
Q6) What is your vision and mission and how do you convey this to your company staff and team member?
The vision has always been to provide consumers & audiences (SMEs and business a re included as we do B2B), message that is relevant and seen as benefit. And for advertisers is to just simplify that process of getting relevant advertising to the right people. How we do it is through the abundance of knowledge, data, science, trying to decipher what users a re looking for at the right time, place and device - we a re trying to bridge this gap. I n the past, advertising most of the time was seen as a nuance. However, advertising ends up as a pain in the lot of content and service that we use. Rather than view it as necessary evil, we try to figure out how we can change that around and make it seemed as benefit or service.
In terms of how we communicate i t is through what we do every day: through communication, exemplifying the vision and mission, aligning yourself with the interest of the audiences and also figuring out how to execute that mission to create a win-win solution between our audience and clients.
Q7) What are some of the challenges you faced when you first went into business? How did you overcome these challenges?
Quite a few. You always have the chicken and the egg problem. You have a vision, investors need to be comfortable with that vision to fund you, you can't hire people until you have f und, yet investors want you to reduce you r risk by having at least some kind of working prototype. I n Singapore 5 years ago, as I said the ecosystem was not as it is today, funding was very tough to find. We also need to find talents who a re willing to take the risks. It was hard to find because entrepreneurship wasn't given the support and push by the relevant organization that time. The aspiration of people who came out of colleague that time was to work for big banks, not in entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Convincing them to work in entrepreneurial ecosystem and to take less money was a double hurdle. It takes sometime to build.
To summarize, our challenges were the challenges of nascent ecosystem. So we were not just
battling the battles of startups but we were also fighting the battle of nascent ecosystem. Because if you go to the F&B the rules a re well understood and well known in Singapore already, because they have been a round for a while. But the startup scene in Singapore had not. So we also pushed on the boundary to develop this support system that the ecosystem needs. We talked to our friends in the government organizations, we helped them to understand the issues, and solutions. We still have these challenges. When we tried to hire people and those people happen to be foreigners, the ministry of manpower will look at the offer letter and look at the salary. I n start-ups, salaries aren't supposed to be high. We can't compete with the banks large tech companies out there. The part that they always miss is the equity package. So we still have this challenge, how to value equity when the equities a re subject to high fluctuation of risks. Yet, you need startup talents to build the system. So if you just look at it salary to salary, our guys will always be lower and therefore their EPs (Employment Pass) will have more issue.
We tried to overcome these challenges through education, convincing, talking, networking, getting groups of entrepreneurs together and having leadership impact within the industry and the relevant organizations.
Q8) Can you remember your worst day in business or a time when you felt like giving up? What happened that made you feel that way and how did you triumph over it?
It happened multiple times. I've had a few worst days. I think startup there's always a lot of ups and downs. The irony is that the m ore passion and time you spent on it the less you want it to fail of course, and you become more and more invested in it over time. So you double down. You keep doubling down. The only way I found to get over those bad days is to step away, try to enjoy the journey rather than destination, remind yourselves why you did this hits. It's really about the journey - even though I like to focus on the destination because I'm goal oriented, if you miss the journey, it will be a really bumpy ride.
Q9) When was the moment that you realized the business will work and support you? What are some of your proudest business achievements to date? And why are they so important and meaningful to you?
I think when we had many satisfying clients, beating our competition on performance, getting the right results for our clients and we started overtime getting more, better talent and specialized talent. We also fine-tuned their product, process, and we saw results. It's all about people. Once the people came together and start pushing into the right and same direction, we started getting a lot of satisfaction from our clients.
Q10) What are some of your proudest business achievements to date? And why are they so important and meaningful to you?
I always struggle with that question because while monetary goals and rewards and accomplishments are important, to me the most important ones are non-monetary. Non-monetary rewards are things like following your passion, inspiring people, building tea m that shares the same passion. So to me the biggest sign of accomplishments would be if my tea m would want to continue working with m e, whether it's this company or other company or another vision. That's the biggest accomplishment for m e because I thin k what happens in terms of monetary reward and success is the result of that, as opposed to the other way round. That's how I measure accomplishments. I'm happy to have at least to have 3-4 colleagues in my old days working with us in Adz or support us from outsides Adz.
Q11) Can you describe the company culture that you have?
The company culture we have is casual, open doors, and meritocracy. These are some of the things that describe our culture. Trying to find the best ideas no matter where they are, Flat, not top down but at the same time accountable. We tend to be cerebral, because we're more than data driven scientific bunch, passionate about what they do, quality oriented and transparent. Make sure we align ourselves with our clients.
I think if we have the right set of values and cultures, you don't have to have instruction manuals for everything. It's like guiding principles. As long as the tea m buys into that principle, you can hire very capable professionals to come in and once they buy in, they can innovate within that framework.
The good ideas don't come from one person, it comes from everybody. As long as they have guiding principles they ca n still be within company norm, culture and innovate in m any aspects. Also If you have integrity, even if you make mistakes, clients will be willing to stick with you.
Q12) How do you promote learning? How does the culture contribute to the performance of your company growth?
That's a big challenge for startup honestly because startup doesn't have a lot of budget or time or resources for training. Most training happens to be informal, especially in the ecosystem where we're being disruptive and cutting edge. Therefore it's not like I can send these guys outside to training facilities because we're the pioneer of this space. So if anybody we should be training other people. That's why it happened internally and informal y through keeping up with industry knowledge, camaraderie between people, sharing and having an open culture.
Q13) What do you see your business in the next 5 years, and does it include any plans for Expansion?
Absolutely. We're looking at growing geographically and offering more product and services to our clients and also in terms of team members.
Q14) In your opinion what is good and ethical business? How d o you think this helps you n your company/business?
Ethical business is very simple to m e. It's living by the standard of integrity, ma king sure you have your clients, investors', shareholders', employees' interest in mind and if at any point there's a conflict between those interests, try to solve it in a win-win situation. It's putting yourself in your cl ients' and investors' shoes - if you are your client and investors would you want X to be done to you or not.
Q15) How will you describe your working relationship with your customers, suppliers and service providers?
Friendly, cordial, professional.
Q16) Can you share the working terms (e.g. payment terms) that you ave established with your suppliers?
It varies. We have a lot of suppliers and most of what our suppliers offer are digital goods. They are not tangible goods or services. So it really depends.
Q17) How do you differentiate your business from your competitors? Please provide specific examples.
Some of the attributes that we have in terms of transparency, independence, having the best interest of our clients in mind, and also covering the pact market with a team that speaks 13 languages. So we got multiple, languages, currencies and regions covered. Because most of our competitors are part of conglomerates, they're not independent. We are the company that is not swayed by corporate direction because are trying to disrupt a lot of the corporate. So in that sense we strive to offer better service better alignment with our clients.
Q18) What are some business ideas you have implemented t hat created great results in your business? How have these business ideas impacted you r Company or business?
One of them is being really focused on the end client. A lot of cl ients have agencies and when agencies a re involved, there a re a lot of parties to keep happy. And often times the true goals get murky. What we tried to do is make sure we understand from the clients as much as possible directly, what their goals are, as opposed to playing the telephone game which ca uses lower fidelity of information. So it's about understanding goals, metrics and what they are trying to achieve, getting closer to the source and execute it accordingly. We get most of our business ideas internally. We keep up with industry knowledge. Look for inspiration - you need to be inspired, look at thing differently not in a status quo way and always challenge yourselves and the status quo. That's how we com e up with the ideas but as part of that we listen carefully to our cl ients.
Q19) How have these business ideas impacted you r Company or business? Please specify t he qualitative and quantitative terms of the impact.
One of the things that we've done is to commit to operational excellence. Operational excellence comes from putting in the right system and processes for people to be able to communicate with each other easily, and be able to see from start to finish where the project is, what the metrics are and who is supposed to do what at which part. So we've invested quite a bit in operation excellence.
We have quantitative dashboard that tells us what percentage of the time we met client's expectation, what percentage of the time we do it within budget with good quality, etc. We've invested quite a bit in fixing our operational foundation. That's one business practice we've done. For a startup I would say that we a re quite well equipped in that. That leads to better efficiency because you can't improve what you can't measure.
Q20) How do you think your business have made a positive impact or contribute to the community that you serve?
The com munity that we have most impact on has been the startup and tech ecosystem. I think with 2 or 3 other companies, we were the first few tech startups i n Singapore. I'm not talking a bout consumer tech, there a re many of those before but by tech I mean interactive media type of companies. As one of the first we tried to blaze the path for others because we helped with various authorities, government entities in trying solve some of the ecosystem issues so the future generations of entrepreneurs will have an easier time. We provide mentorship to other startups as well; I do a lot of mentoring, business plan mentoring, judging and so forth. So we tried to impart our learning and our entrepreneurial journey to other entrepreneurs.
Q21) What does ent repreneurship mean to you?
Daring to be different and daring to blaze your own path, looking at things not at the status quo way but different way and dare to take risk.
Q22) What are some entrepreneurship qualities that you have which has helped you come t his far?
Not to be discouraged easily, having the positive outlook. Being persistent. Knowing your strength and weaknesses, and the passion.
Q23) In your opinion, what other qualities does a person need in order to be successful in business? And why?
Experience helps quite a bit. Sometimes a first time entrepreneurs will get it right but a lot of time you don't know what you don't know. So what I recommend to a lot of first time entrepreneurs is that unless you are independently wealthy, and want to take big risks, work with other entrepreneurs and see what goes on. Prepare yourself for the journey. If you are prepared for the journey, you make fewer mistakes, less risks, and at least you know what you a re getting yourself into. I see a lot of students graduating from university, first thing they want to do is becoming a n entrepreneur. While i n reality not many of them have the right tool s. So it might be an interesting journey and they might learn a lot but it's also a lot of risks. So to the extent you want to lower risk and learn the trick of the trade, I'd say work with other entrepreneurs.
Q24) In your opinion, what does it mean to have the spirit of enterprise?
The spirit of enterprise is a lot of things we talked a bout. It's looking at things, questing them and ask how can they be done better; not looking at the status quo - it's really a bout daring to be different, challenge things and being confident in you r ability to make a change.
Q25) Who or what inspires you?
Nature - the way nature works where not everything is perfect but If you look at it, it works, it's beautiful. The way things a re strung together. I would say nature and the rest is self-reliance and inspiration. For me this is a spiritual question, not in religious sense, but in the sense of it's all a bout self-exploration, independence, and reliance.
Q26) Can you share some of the more significant events/incidents t hat affected or shaped your business philosophy and the way you conduct your business?
It's upbringing. Culture is really the embodiment of the founders of the company. Their values for the most time end up being the values of the company. Your upbringing, set of values, like and dislike, your dispositions in the large extent that forms the foundation of the company. So to me, the most significant event is actually my formative years in terms of values instilled in me.
Q27) With the changes in the market today, do you think it has become harder or easier to succeed in business? Why do you say so?
It's easier to start a business. You just have more com petition because more people are starting. To the extent that your idea is differentiating, then you may succeed. To the extent that you follow the masses then it may or may not be. But it's definitely easier as you got stuff from the cloud now, many services being offered you and can start a startup with very little resources.
Q28} W hat advice would you give young people who want to start their own business? What are some of your business values you would like to pass to them?
It's really about the passion and creativity. It's should not be a bout the money. Because money might never com e. I thin k only 2 out of 10 startups actually make it. So 8/10 fa il. What will make entrepreneurs want to take those odds? It's really about the passion, the journey and even if you fail in your first endeavour there's always a second, third, fourth. If you always measure yourself by the financial rewards then you might be very down on yourself. So it's really about the passion, getting the right advice. It's about knowing yourself, strengths and weakness, and being coachable, picking the right mentors. You have to make your own decision how you want to live your startup. You need to ask a lot of question to know yourself, where you want to go and put yourself in uncomfortable situation. Putting yourself outside of your comfort zone teaches you a lot about yourself. If I would give one point of advice it would be to put yourself outside your comfort zone and see how you react.