Transforming Community Center

TRANSFORMING PUSAT KOMUNITI / COMMUNITY CENTER
1) A few weeks ago, I first visited my friend’s new cafe in Singapore called Brothers In Fine Food. It is located in Tampines West Community Club (CC). It was then that I was first exposed to how the Singaporean government is rejuvenating their CC to be a center of activity for locals.

2) In the Malaysian context, the CC is equivalent to our community center / pusat komuniti. It is run by the local councils, e.g. DBKL. Some examples include Pusat Komuniti TTDI, Pusat Komuniti Bangsar.

3) Singapore realised a few years ago that while the CC was created to be a center of community activity, it achieved little as it was only a place for people to play badminton and basketball. This is the same case with Malaysian Pusat Komuniti today, with the addition that we host weddings at our CC.

4) To Singapore, CC is to be a center of community activity where the community is often HDB dwellers (affordable housing) and affordable living is important.

5) Singapore rejuvenation strategy was to bring in known F&B brands (McDonalds and Starbucks) to attract the masses to come to the CC. The CCs were then equipped with more activities, such as dance studios and free-to-play piano and have daily showings of movies and live sports. Outlet spaces were made available for other F&B to set up.

6) The CC enforces a very strict rule where all outlets that open in the CC will have a price cap per item – it needs to be affordable for the community!

7) Rent for outlets are cheaper than other commercial areas, encouraging entrepreneurship.

8) The result of it is today, many CCs are bustling centres of community activity.

9) I believe this CC transformation is a worthwhile initiative in Malaysia given that infrastructure is done – many neighbourhood already have Pusat Komuniti.

10) With coordination, I can imagine a similar concept done, e.g. In Johor, Pusat Komuniti to have KFC as main tenant to attract crowd (it is JCorp owned anyway), with additional spaces for classes and F&B outlets – all with a price cap.

 

Transforming Community Center

Lee Chong Wei

Dato Lee Chong Wei won the silver medal tonight. In the competition it meant he was second but we Malaysians know in our hearts he is second to no one.

National athletes are an embodiment of something special. From the pursuit to excel in their sport, they in turn become our torch bearers, carrying our hopes and dreams – perhaps that is why all participants in the Olympic Games are Olympians and not just the medal winners. For us Malaysians, I do believe that hope and dream goes beyond the collective dream of winning a Gold medal. It warms me that we have a collective soul, that we could dream the same dream, that we feel for Chong Wei and we could agree without doubt that he is a national hero.

Today has been a day full of talk about Chong Wei but it prompts for reflection and learning. Here is a man who carried our dreams in the last Olympics, and in his second placing was thought too old to continue but continued to carry this heavy burden. He lost his World No.1 title only to regain it back and continued to carry our hopes and dreams.

Malaysia will win the Gold medal one day. And when that day comes, we will all know it is because athletes like Dato Lee Chong Wei inspired us, united us and carried our dreams for us. Thank you Dato Lee Chong Wei.

#ThankYouLCW #badminton #rio2016 #nationalhero

Lee Chong Wei

Double A on BFM 89.9

As a corporate guy, one of the things I do to pass time while commuting to work is to listen to the Breakfast Grill on BFM 89.9. It is a treasure chest of executive experience which any  corporate executive could benefit from.

It was with great excitement that I was contacted by my former university mate to come speak on BFM about Double A Café on the Open for Business segment.

It’s a thrilling thought, to be playing a different role in your own daily ritual. Instead of listening to an interview, I’d be the one speaking and thousands (tens of thousands?) would be listening.

The beauty of overthinking is that you tend to be more thorough. “What am I gonna say?” “I don’t want to sound silly on Live radio…especially when they save a podcast!” One may think that since you are talking about your own business, you can technically goreng your way. Yes you can, but you can still sound silly.

I learnt how live interviews are conducted. They give you a skeleton of questions in advance so you can prepare (I guess so they can prepare too). You would be invited to arrive 30 minutes before air time where the host would prep you by running through the questions – this is good as you get to plan the words you want to say. The Live session is somewhat of a recap of the prep session, albeit Live and recorded and everybody is listening.

Double A has had interviews before but few such as BFM, where we would go into the Whys of the business, Live.

Interviews are a great prompt for personal reflection. As a person, I’m a firm believer on the importance of reflecting on one’s experience. I believe reflecting helps you to rationalise your day, it helps with your stress levels, it helps you to better learn from an experience and most importantly, it helps you to grow and to learn what kind of person you are.

You can listen the full interview here:

http://www.bfm.my/open-for-business-ala-carte-double-a-cafe-aiman-syed-jaafar-alia-ishak.html

The interview was conducted by Freda Liu and being the cheerful conversationalist that she is, she helped tremendously in making us feel comfortable and have a great interview. Thanks Freda and Jermaine 🙂


(this is not the interviewer) 😀

Double A on BFM 89.9

Petola

Every weekend, almost without fail, we would have family dinners. If it’s not on my side, it’d be on Alia’s. Family dinners, with its certainty of good company, will almost certainly lead to great conversation.

MIL: Itu la, papa accidentally tertinggal the sayur at the pasar this morning
Alia: Ha, next time Aiman kena ikut pergi pasar, he doesn’t even know what daun sup is.
Me: Excuse me, I watch Gordon Ramsay please. Gordon Ramsay use proper names, not “daun sup“. And by the way, daun sup is parsley.
MIL: No lah, daun sup is celery.
Alia: Huh cannot be la, celery is the one you dip-dip at Chilis. What did papa leave at pasar?
MIL: Papa left the petola.
Alia & Me: Homaigod, what is petola?

-__________________________________________-

#majorfailmoment

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And so we got an education on what is petola, peria and bittergourd and its translated equivalent in BM/English – with drawings!

Although we are just bilingual, sometimes knowing the translated names of vegetables could be the hardest thing. Alhamdulillah we ended the night with renewed understanding of vegetables.

Possible next lesson: fish translated.
(Like c’mon, I know different types of fish exclusively in one language but not the other – like I know what ikan kembung is but what on Earth is ikan kembung in English?)

 

Petola

Birds on the Kaabah

  
In my two weeks in Mekah and Madinah, I prayed for many things. I prayed for Allah’s barakah and rahmah in this life and the hereafter, I prayed for the long life of my family members, that our sins be forgiven, that our ibadah be accepted and for my family and I to be rewarded with Jannah.

When I first arrived in Mekah last week, a question came to my mind. Do birds fly over or even land on the Kaabah? I’ve lived here for many years and never recalled seeing this. 

During my 6th round of Tawaf Wada’ just now, I recited a line from the Quran which I memorised:

“And when my slaves asks you [O Muhammad] concerning me – indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant whenever he calls upon me. So let them respond to Me [by obedience] and believe in Me that they be rightly guided” – AlBaqarah: 186

As I recited this line, birds flew in front of me and landed on the Kaabah. I thought it is a lovely yet deep coincidence this happened and whipped out my phone to take a quick picture (I generally dislike having my phone distract me during ibadah).

Seen here, birds on the Kaabah. I prayed for many things and had a simple question when I came to Mekah and Allah showed me his answer. May all my prayers be answered eventually Inshallah.

#mekah #umrah #alharam #kaabah #islam #peace

Birds on the Kaabah

“Do not become the person you dislike”

On Saturday 5th December, I attended the inaugural Lean In Malaysia Summit. For many years I have been part of Young Corporate Malaysians (YCM) where we too organised summits. With that in mind, I know the challenge of organising a summit of big speakers and I must say, I was very impressed with Lean In. From the format of the opening sessions (no seats, TED style), I was impressed with the combination of the speakers’ charisma, the format and the quality of the participants where the energy of the summit was well retained throughout the day.

The speakers were great and speaking on the topic of women empowerment, all raised very valid points which made great points for reflection, especially for men.

One of the points that I felt worth discussing was a point raised by Raja Teh Maimunah, which was “Do not become the person you dislike.”

This point may sound like common sense but unfortunately, it is not uncommon for people to succumb to this trap given the environment.

I recall speaking to my colleagues who handle clients from private companies and authority bodies on unreasonable demands. Stories that came out include how a breakfast meeting arrange for 2 people had the client inviting his whole department forcing my colleague to pay for them, another was how when my colleague visited the client, the client announced to the department “Ok kontraktor dah sampai, bolehlah dia top-up Touch N Go kita” (“Ok the contractor is here, now he can top up our Touch N Go cards for us”). A more common one was how clients who are invited to workshop (read: going to the workshop is part of their work), can demand business class travels and 5-star hotel rooms as ransom to not going.

One thing that fascinates me is how people think and how people, over a course of time, can change in their thinking and behaviour. Naturally, I asked my colleague, what triggers such an extortionist mindset? My colleagues unanimously agree on this point: it’s what their bosses do and it becomes validation for them.

I believe fresh graduates new to the workforce are impressionable and the younger generation have a default strong sense of justice and what is right and what is wrong. However, when one enters an organisation and remains for a long time, the values of the company (both positive and negative), what is perceived to be acceptable, overwrites one’s own values. Here, the fresh graduates and younger staff see the act of bullying contractors for personal gain as a perk of a senior position. Even if they may think this to be a dirty thing to do when they were younger, when promoted to positions that be, they tell themselves “my bosses did it and everybody is doing it anyway, when am I going to reap this benefit?”

While the above is about professional conduct, another point worth mentioning is on religious observation. A colleague told me how in his early days of working in a non-Muslim majority company, because he feared justifying long lunch for fear of being thought lazy and incompetent, he simply did not go to Friday prayers, which in hindsight, he regretted.

I personally believe that the workforce should not force you to change your beliefs. There are many underhanded values in the professional world today and if the young professionals turn out to be just like the past generation, what hope is there for all of us? If you look at your bosses and you cannot see yourself becoming like them in their professional conduct, you know it’s not the right place to grow and it’s about time you think of leaving.

 

 

 

“Do not become the person you dislike”

6 things I have learnt after 6 months as an F&B entrepreneur

Twelve months ago I was working a corporate job, working in the CEO’s office of a large organization based in Johor Bahru. It was then that I decided to venture into F&B by opening my first café, Double A Café. When the café opened six months ago, it was timely and opportune for me to leave my corporate job and I did so.

I was formerly a management consultant who later transitioned into the oil & gas / real estate industry managing from the CEO’s office. I believe in hard work, proactivity and high performance. At the same time, I believe in humility, empathy and doing the right things the right way. Given what I believe, as a food entrepreneur for 6 months, I have learnt much – about the industry, about the social situation in Malaysia, about jealousy, about friends and most importantly, about myself. The following are the six I want to share.

  1. The F&B business are filled with people generous with advice

When I started my business, I approached it like how I approach my work in the corporate world. All aspects of the job needs to be identified so we may manage risk. I started my business not knowing many things –  I didn’t know how contracting work works, I didn’t know different types of wood, I didn’t know what a greasetrap was and hey, I didn’t know how to cook. I had friends who have friends in F&B and I was pleasantly surprised how the café fraternity in KL and JB are generous with their advice. (To those who want F&B advice, you can come see me at Double A :D)

 

  1. Don’t let business affect friendships

In starting a business, it is tempting to take comfort in the fact that you have friends here and there who you may rely on. Friends who may be your customers and friends who may be your suppliers. One of the things I have known about money, even before I started this venture, is that money can destroy friendship, maybe even change that friendship into unnecessary feeling of hate and anger. You may learn that your friend who becomes your customer is a consistently fussy and complaining customer. You may learn that your friend who is your supplier may choose not to supply to you anymore because it is not convenient for him. When you are in business and you are stress about managing costs and maximizing profits, things like this may make you feel bitter about your friendship. Take a step back and I tell you this: your friendship matters more than such squabbles, just because they are your friends does not mean they need to support your business. It is not their job to make your rich.

 

  1. The reality of F&B – our national leaders need to do better with cost of living

As a former corporate person who was interested in current affairs, discussion on how the economy is poor, how income levels are poor and how the poor is poor is common. All this is done amongst groups of people who are paid well above urban poverty level and these concepts we discuss about, have no face – we actually know no individuals who fit this bill. We talk about ‘urban poor’ but we actually know no one who is an urban poor who we interact with intimately on a daily basis. Being an employer in the F&B world, I was taken aback by F&B industry standards on pay, how low the salaries are and what they are to poverty levels. As my staff explains to me the realities of their lives, the hardship they have to accept to be their life, part of me is angry and disappointed with our national leaders for not managing cost of living better.

 

Examples would be recent policies – GST, toll revision, public transport price hike. All done while income levels stay stagnant. The salary they earn is worth less as they can buy less things and what it means is the poor gets poorer.

 

  1. People: Hire everybody on probation and put everybody on contract

People are not your best assets. People in the right positions are. Even though budget is tight and timing is crucial, putting together a team that is aligned towards your vision is and should be your priority. When I interview people, I always set my expectations upfront. I tell them that I want them to be happy at work, passionate about F&B, show initiative and proactive. Truth is, just because you clarify expectations upfront and just because they say “yes sir, I can be all that”, it doesn’t mean they will be. Also, never ever give people a higher starting salary thinking that they will be more motivated to work – it doesn’t last and eventually they will just be costly. People who are a right fit will ease your stress and those who are not, will drain the team’s motivation and affect your establishment’s ambience and for a shop that depends on customer service, that is crippling. Firing of course, is a difficult process – mentally for both you and your staff. My advice is, start everybody on probation (long, like 3 months) and hire staff on contract.

 

  1. Starting a business requires great optimism

I started this business using money that I saved and there wasn’t much float or working capital left when the business is launched. I was fortunate as the business was launched to a great success. Traffic was good and we received great attention from the Instagram community and mainstream media. However, over 6 months, it wasn’t all that rosy. Some days are slow to a point where you wonder if your competitors are stealing your customer and some days are so slow you wonder if your projections to break even is realistic. I learnt that you need to teach yourself to be optimistic (if you already are, be more optimistic) and you should always remind yourself of the enthuasism you had when you decided to start this project of passion.

 

  1. If this business venture is meant to be a side project, get a manager on Day 1

Before I started my venture, I read an article about succeeding in F&B start-ups. One of which is the need to have a few co-founders. Having a few co-founders means you can be assured that motivation among manpower is always high and depending on how each are empowered, decisions can be done fast. I started my venture knowing this and knowing that I do not have the luxury of having multiple co-founders. Its just my wife and I. We also started this venture knowing that we would eventually go back to full time corporate work.

 

As people with no experience in F&B, we figured processes ourselves (e.g. how cash box, floats and accounting works) and we manage all ad-hoc emergencies ourselves, from not having enough milk to suppliers not delivering on time. I took 5 months off work and my wife took 1 month off work to get this venture started. It is stressful. There’s a lot to figure out and some things you would only know work after rolling it out and making mistakes. My advise would be to hire a manager with experience running an F&B outlet from Day 1. While this may sound like a costly option, I sincerely believe this option works best. It works with the seniority complex among staff (i.e. I’ve been here longer, I know more), it works at freeing up your time and it works at enabling you use your time strategically – instead of calling up the milk man, you can call your leads on a potential collaboration.

 

Ultimately, I have learnt a lot over these 6 months and these are only some that I feel worth sharing. Like many things that involves your passion, my last advice is simple. If you are already thinking it, do your feasibility study and if it works out ok in your head, go ahead and do it.

 

6 things I have learnt after 6 months as an F&B entrepreneur