By VICTOR LOH
Some of the best known brands in the world today got their start from founders who left comfortable jobs to pursue their entrepreneurship dreams. For instance, David Packard who left his cosy job at General Electric (during the Great Depression of the 1930s) to join his buddy Will Hewlett to start HP. Tan Sri Tony Fernandes left his regional management role with a music label to start AirAsia despite the uncertainty following the Sept 11, 2001 incident.
On some level, we seem to know who these people are. They’re familiar like the colleagues who we have lunch with everyday and share the same photocopier with and yet, we couldn’t really understand how they could just resign from their jobs and start their own businesses. Let’s explore why people leave their jobs to become entrepreneurs through profiling three entrepreneurs.
Loo Chee Ling and Chatime
A little over two years ago, Loo Chee Ling was working with Shell. It was more than just a safe and stable job; she was employed by an established global corporation that many people would love to add to their resume.
Then her brother Bryan Loo started Chatime Malaysia, a Taiwanese F&B franchise that focuses on high quality tea. Chee Ling did the uncharacteristic. She left Shell to support her brother, bringing to the business in-depth knowledge about process management honed from years in the corporate world.
To the outsider sipping his umpteenth roasted milk tea with pearls, it might seem like an easy decision. After all, business must be booming given the queues and continued buzz at Chatime outlets. “It definitely was not an overnight success as perceived by outsiders. We paid our dues like all start-ups and faced a lot of uncertainties,” shares the group general manager of Chatime Malaysia at a Kickstart.my event, a community project designed to connect budding entrepreneurs with proven business mentors.
“Every business goes through phases, and at every point, you need to recognise the unique needs and challenges of that period, and stay focused on the end game,” adds Chee Ling. She says Chatime faced its fair share of rejection in the early days. They sent out over 50 proposals to secure retail space at shopping centres, each of which were turned down because bubble tea was viewed as a pasar malam business.
Undeterred, The Loo siblings simply kept at it until they got a breakthrough at Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, their first mall-based outlet. The rest, as they say, is history. Now a Chatime outlet is practically a requisite of the retail mix with almost every major mall.
Don’t spend too much time of how things are not working out, especially in the jittery start-up phase. Focus on what you need to do to grow the business and, to steal a phrase from Nike, just do it.
Jason Moriarty and Rebel Bootcamp
Jason Moriarty is the founder of Rebel Bootcamp, Kuala Lumpur’s fastest growing fitness group. The Irishman has called Malaysia home for the last 15 years, and sees it as a place filled with opportunities.
Moriarty was brought to Malaysia by a global health and fitness chain to hire and train sales professionals who were responsible for membership acquisition. Chances are if you have been sold a gym membership in the last eight years, it was by someone trained by him.
Life was good. Moriarty was a star employee. He did what he did so well that his annual bonus was the equivalent of two years take-home pay! The company gave him a company car, housing privileges and even a generous expense account.
So why would anybody quit a job like that? “Opportunity. I had been making a lot of money for my bosses so why not do it for myself? I knew the market. I knew the systems. I thought, ‘I could definitely do this’,” shares Moriarty.
But he did not just quit his job to start another fitness centre; he challenged the very industry he had helped built. Rebel Bootcamp changed the way fitness was viewed. Instead of investing millions in equipment, he put his money into hiring the best trainers. Rather than get tied down with rental, he took his classes outdoors in public parks throughout the Klang Valley.
Moriarty was confident that he had a winning formula in his product and his insider knowledge and experience in the business. But it was not an easy journey. “I went from eating at five-star restaurants to checking to see if I had enough for maggi goreng!” he laughs when recalling the early days.
“Nothing was an overnight thing for me. I knew I had a great offering, and my trainers were amongst the best. My job was to get as many people as possible to experience my brand,” says the tough-as-nails entrepreneur. So he stuck to his vision and focused on his strength: sales.
Success is imminent but today Rebel Bootcamp is an up-and-coming regional business. Moriarty runs six camps in the Klang Valley and has five camps in Singapore under a licensee. Franchise discussions are underway with parties in Indonesia and Thailand.
Moriarty is also the official fitness consultant for one of the Sepang Moto Grand Prix teams tasked with training its already super fit riders mentally and physically using his proprietary Rebel Bootcamp methods. He has also been featured in The Biggest Loser Asia in which he was invited to design one of the challenge rounds. The Rebel Bootcamp session goes on record as one of the toughest to date with the highest choleric loss.
“Persevere and sell; these two got me through the initial stages,” says Moriarty.
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Anthony Roberts III and Kickstart.my
After 10 years of success in the corporate world, Harvard graduate Anthony Roberts decided to hang up his suit and tie to start a business. “At the time I was already an assistant general manager; not a bad achievement after just a decade,” he recalls. “But I reached a point where I had enough. The thought of being my own boss became more and more attractive as the years passed.”
So he finally decided to take a leap of faith and quit his comfortable corporate job to venture into the unknown by buying over a wholesale business. “Since I had no business experience I thought buying over an existing one posed less risk than starting from scratch.”
There is, however, no typical happy ending in this case. The venture tanked. It was, as Roberts, calls it, “a horrible failure.” Sales dropped, and one thing after another went wrong culminating in the company’s warehouse being broken into and its computer equipment and backups stolen.
Surveying the situation and rightly recognising there was no other option but to call it a day, he decided to wind up the company. “I lost a lot of money and it was a painful experience but going through it felt like doing five MBAs, and what I learned from this will serve me well in future ventures,” he adds.
Would things have turned around if he had hung on? Roberts thinks not. “While perseverance always sounds more noble, part of the entrepreneurship experience also involves knowing when to walk away,” he reasons.
Inspired by his experience, Roberts co-founded the KickStart.my community project to help other entrepreneurs while he considers his next venture.
Get advice from other entrepreneurs. “If you are thinking of starting a business, talk to other entrepreneurs; benefit from their experience, failures and lessons learned,” Roberts says empathetically.
There you have it:
Three entrepreneurs with three different journeys and outcomes. Each went through struggles but all resoundingly agree that none of them have regretted the path of entrepreneurship.
As Chee Ling of Chatime puts it,
I’m not saying that you should not analyse and think things through but in business, you often have to just do it. If you have an idea, go ahead and start that business. You will never know until you give it try. We did not know that Chatime would take off the way it did; we simply went with our vision and it paid off.
Victor Loh is a passionate advocate for life skill education for youth and children. He is also a best-selling author, award-winning marketer, corporate trainer and entrepreneur. If you would like to connect with him, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.