Return to site

David Foo: Malaysia’s Kampung Spirit, First Time Founder Journey & Giving Feedback

· Founder,Start-up,Podcast Episodes,Malaysia,Southeast Asia

I totally underestimated the whole entrepreneur journey. Although we can read a lot of it, we can hear a lot of it from different podcasts and stuff like that. People say starting a business is tough. I knew it’s gonna be tough, but I didn’t know it’s that tough. For the first time in my working career, I see no income coming in and just outflow and that part of the journey is actually very challenging. And of course, I still need to pay my bills. You know, still take care of the house, so it’s very challenging on that part, and I think the mental stress that come with it as well, is very hard for people to imagine.- David Foo

By leveraging his experience as a former investment banker and FMCG corporate manager, David co-founded Red Ideas to create JaGaApp. JaGaApp is a mobile application product developed and distributed by Red Ideas Sdn. Bhd., a tech startup company based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Since its launch in December 2015, and subsequent listing on Bursa Malaysia LEAP board in 2017, the company has reached more than 500 neighbourhoods with its total solutions for neighbourhoods, namely JaGaSolution. JaGaApp helps neighbourhoods to enhance their security, communication and convenience by offering features like Emergency Assist button, Wireless Intercom, VMS, Notice Board, Facility Booking, Bill Payment and many more.

After graduating with a Master of Commerce at the University of Melbourne, David began his career as a Fixed Income Analyst with HwangDBS Asset Management (now known as AffinHwang Asset Management) in Kuala Lumpur. He subsequently joined Credit Suisse in Hong Kong as Debt Capital Market Analyst. David left Hong Kong to join Malaysia's top food manufacturing company, Mamee-Double Decker in 2010 as Business Development Manager, before rising the rank as Head of International Business, Head of Strategy and Commercial Director for Beverage & Chilled Division.

Jeremy Au: (00:30)
Hey, David, welcome to the show.

David Foo: (00:32)
Hi, Jeremy, thank you for having me.


Jeremy Au: (00:33)
I’m excited to have you because you not only represent a very interesting form of vertical technology which is really about digitizing property and all the various management functions and communications at a neighbour level, but you also represent Malaysia technology, right, in terms of sector, so I’m excited to get into it. So, David, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

David Foo: (00:53)
Sure, my name is David, I’m the cofounder of Jaga App which belongs to Red Ideas company. We’re based in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia. We started selling since 2015, December, and, right now, we listed on Bursa lead board in 2017 and now we have over 500 neighbourhoods in Malaysia using our solution.

Jeremy Au: (01:15)
Amazing. What’s interesting is that you really went though the technology and through an interesting route because what stood out to me was that you used to work on Mamee which was our favourite childhood snack. I definitely ate a lot of Mamee in Singapore and Malaysia, walking around. Now, it’s still very tasty. So, tell us more about how you ended up joining Mamee and becoming an executive there.

David Foo: (01:39)
Sure. I started off in the banking industry. I was an investment banker. I used to work in Hong Kong for a couple of markets. After that, I realized that banking wasn’t for me in the sense that I wanted to feel like I was doing something that was more real. It’s not just finding opportunity to raise funds and just loan, different kind of trading, etc. So, I came across this fantastic company called Mamee Double Decker and stumbled upon the chance to join them as their Business Development guy. I took the opportunity to join them and went into the corporate field. Started off doing export, doing sales and head their strategy team back then and also running their beverage commercial division which was a very fruitful experience for me in terms of FMCG. I think it was always inside me, this burning desire to start my own thing, to be an entrepreneur, to do my own solution that can help to be more real and also to help the world like what Steve Jobs use to say – create a dent in the universe. That was back when I was younger and more foolish. Of course, with advances in Malaysian tech and the world tech, technology has become more and more available and everyone has a mobile phone, even back in those days. So, it’s an interesting solution. It actually happened with a small story between me and my cofounder. Me and my cofounder, Ignatius, we were long time friends and ex-colleagues. So, we always have this “Mamak sessions” to talk about the next big thing that we want to do, whether it’s running a hotel, running a new business, we’d always explore different ideas and sometimes, we’d talk until 3-4 am talking about ideas. One day, I came late. I went late in the Mamak session and he asked me what happened. It’s very simple, the condo that I live in, I stay on the 18th floor. The lift was under maintenance, so they shut down the lift, and no one knows about it at all. I kept pressing the lift, nothing happened. So, I walked down 18 floors and there was a notice on the ground floor saying that the lift is under maintenance which wasn’t much help to me. At the same time, he was sharing about his frustration about his neighbourhood where he had to collect money for the security fees and it’s very troublesome to do that and there’s no way to enhance security for the neighbourhood. So, we kept talking and talking until we figured that there’s someone doing this out there, let’s look online to see if there’s any solution readily available. Back then, it was 2013-ish. There’s nothing close to what we talked about. We thought that this sounded interesting, so let’s draw up something and that’s how we came up with Jaga App and the whole Jaga solution, as we call it.

Jeremy Au: (04:21)
So, for those who don’t know what “Jaga” means, could you explain it to everybody across Southeast Asia?

David Foo: (04:25)
Sure. Jaga is a Bahasa word. On the surface it means to protect, to take care. It also means to care. Colloquially, we refer to the security guard as Jaga so it can be like I jaga you, you jaga me means I take care of you, you take care of me, in a funny way. Of course if you live in Malaysia and are following Malaysia COVID situation. We have tag line like Kita Jaga Kita means we take care of each other. It’s a history between the brand name as well. We started off calling ourselves as Graaab. This was back in 2013. Had to be mindful of the timeline so we actually “GRAAAB” we come with 3 A’s. Reason is very simple, we actually wanted GRAB but the domain name was way too expensive for a small little startup. So we registered a AAA and the reason being is that we want everyone to be able to grab the better life to have more secure neighborhood, better communication and more convenient lifestyle. And then we went on that. Of course, after we launched, we’ve been selling for a while and then suddenly, Grab was taken, the name. I was thinking. Hey, maybe we should change your name and just be a bit more representing a bit more us. A bit more real in a sense. Although it’s risky when it comes to local name per se, but we think that it is easy in a way that people can relate directly to it. Credit my friend who came up with the idea. That’s why we went with Jaga.

Jeremy Au: (05:45)
Amazing. What’s interesting is that you know you had this desire to build a business, and how did that come about?

David Foo: (05:52)
It’s probably me in a sense, I always find inefficiencies in a lot of things that we do in life, and I’m always all about optimizing efficiency. If you can. So like, let’s say when I join Mamee Double Decker or even when I was in a bank. I always look for ways to do things better. How to photocopy them in the fastest manner, how to organize files in a better way. The more you do, the more inefficiency you will discover and that gives me joy in a way right to fix it. So I always want to do something in the sense that it will help, mankind is a big word, but I just want to use it anyway, right, to help the world to be a better place. one of the ways is to use technology to make connectivity better so everyone is interconnected and things can be more efficient and things can get better. That was always at the back of my mind. Of course, I thought about a lot of ideas, my partner as well. So, we always talk about e-commerce, etc, but there are certain parts of things we can do, certain things we can’t really do, but that’s in me, I always try to fix inefficiency and we stumble upon this opportunity to start Jaga app.

Jeremy Au: (06:53)
Before you made that plunge, were you reading about technology or startups or entrepreneurship?

David Foo: (07:00)
Yeah, I was reading tons of books back then. Of course, I was also trying to learn some coding as well. Not very good at it at all. I always stuck at introductory and chapter one for Python and whatever language is it. I guess I always interested in tech. I always try to build something. I always find it very cool to be able to build something by myself. I read a lot of books as well, lastly was inspired by Steve Jobs speech about, be hungry and be foolish. It's not literally just need to be hungry always be foolish always, is the desire, the acknowledgement that you don't know everything and the desire to always find out new things to learn, new things to do, and it kinda like shift my mindset. Hey, actually I can do it better. I want to do something different and that kick start the journey itself.

Jeremy Au: (07:44)
What’s interesting is that you had this long-time collaborator that you talk business ideas with called Ignatius. So, how did you first get to know him, and, eventually why this idea is the one that actually made you start that journey with him?

David Foo: (08:01)
Right. So, Ignatius, I met him during my first job in Malaysia in the financial sector. He was the equity analysts, the only equity analyst. I was the only fixed income analyst, so both of us were sitting next to each other. The common joke that we always still tell until today is that we started off sitting next to each other and until today, we still sitting next to each other, so there’s no job career progression at all. He’s a funny guy, he’s a creative guy, he is so very ambitious, very easy to talk to and smart guy as well. So, he studied Bristol. I studied in Melbourne so he’s always have this Australian UK fight about which university is better etc. So we get along pretty well. I know him for more than, that will disclose my age but I know him for more than 10-15 years. Among all my friends, he’s probably one of those that with real entrepreneurial spirit and actually put his action into it. He started a couple of business, a bit small of them. Some of them he invested in some F&B business. He also did some buy, sell home renovation projects as well, so he’s always very into property and very into entrepreneurial journey as well. So, when I brought this idea to him, I will be discussed about it and talked why don’t we do an app? Of course, initially, he was very reluctant because both of us we are from financial background we and we are not coders. So, I don’t know about coding. But one thing I like about it is related to property which he like. So, we started go in to it and talk more about it and then I realized that, hey, this is a big problem that we can solve and this is a very underserved market as well. So during the market research phase, we also went to visit some condo. We spoke to some property managers. We went into the property management offices as well. Even some property developers. We find that a lot of them were, back then, they were still doing things on whiteboard, paper and pen. Even at guard house you see the guard just registering people using paper and pen. So, I think hey this is a really underserved market. Huge opportunity here. So, we talk about it, we deliberate about it. I also talked to our mentor about it. He said let’s do it. So, that’s how it went.

Jeremy Au: (10:02)
When you decided to go for it, what was the conversation that you had with him to be like this is a good idea versus another one of the ideas that we talked about for so many years?

David Foo: (10:13)
I think for those that not in our industry, they always think of it as this is a very easy industry because you have tons of condos out there. You have a lot of houses, a lot of home, a lot of neighborhoods. It’s just tonnes of it. One of the biggest upside that we see back then, right. Of course, now we still believe it, it is. Is that there are so many homes in Malaysia. If we charged x amount of money per house, we can be super rich. That kind of concept, so, we make the calculation, we do the numbers and say hey this looks like a big market and it’s quite interesting and it’s very expendable as well. After residential, we can actually look into commercial space as well, even factories, even warehouses etc. So when it comes to property, it’s very scalable in that sense. So of all the options that we talked about it, all the things that we thought too, we thought this is the most pretty interesting one, and both of us have huge passions in terms of property sector, that’s why we went into it.

Jeremy Au: (11:06)
So, let’s talk about the property sector in Malaysia. So, what makes Malaysian property market different or unique from your perspective?

David Foo: (11:15)
The property sector in Malaysia has always been interesting in the sense that there are new projects being launched, putting COVID period aside, before this, every month, there are new launches. And there’s always interest in it. I’m from Ipoh. So, when people from out of town come to KL, the first thing they do is to rent a place. After that they will find a place to buy. In terms of Malaysian development, out of the 13 states, 12 states will actually come to KL or Selangor in general, so there’s always a demand in terms of Klang Valley properties, and after that you see the booming in Penang’s properties and also in Johor properties. There’s a lot of interest and talk about that and also for most people, if not all, property purchase is probably the single largest investment in their life. So, naturally, everyone cares about properties and also in terms of home setting, is the closest to us. So live in a good place and a property, a good property will actually be the most for everyone. That’s how I look at property sector. But also we look at it from a property management point of view. We always talk about it this way. When you buy a property, it’s like love at first sight. You go for dating and then you like this property is so nice. You know it’s affordable. I can see we have long future with it, so I buy it and after that when you live into it and then let’s say you live in a condo for instance, there are a lot of factors is affecting the marriage. So, property management, it’s like managing your marriage in a way that is a well maintained properties. The value will actually increase overtime, well managed properties it make you feel safe and actually it makes people want to rent a place. It makes you want to buy the place, the sexiness of buying properties is always the property management side, which seems a dull sector per se. Property management is actually a very interesting and noble job, and it’s also no one really appreciate what property management team has done for the condo. When we first started this business, we don’t see people say hello, goodbye, thank you to property managers or the security guards for this matters. Thanks to our team, we see this improvement in it. People start to show some respect in that. Also, is our society in a way I think you can speak for Asia in general. No one actually grow up on your primary school and say that I grow up, I want to be a property manager, so that kind of mindset is that then the people that got attracted to the industry in the early days. They say they have no choice. There's no other job out there, so just pick it. So the industry is at it’s infancy. So, we see there's a huge opportunity here for us to make property management better. To be more professional, to have a standard and guideline and all of that start with a tool. The right tool for them to work on. So that is where we look at it. That's how it started in Malaysia. As a matter of fact.

Jeremy Au: (13:59)
What's interesting about property management, like you said is that it’s so undervalued in the whole property sector, let alone the tenants. So, why is it so underappreciated?

David Foo: (14:10)
I guess in a sense that it’s human nature as well, because people look at property managers as someone there to serve them. Most of the time, they treat property managers like a concierge in a hotel. You are here to serve me, that kind of idea, but what we find out. The most important thing is people don’t know what a property managers need to do. A lot of work done by property managers is also called behind the scene – routine check on the lift, they do the routine check on the pumps, water filter, etc. They make sure the cleaners come on time. They make sure that guards come on time, do their job, manage their finances. Manage the collection. Manage the security concern. Manage all small projects like enhancement of neighborhood, add fencings and barrier gates, issuance of access cards, issuance of carpark stickers. Tons of work. There's no proper communication tool to let the residents know that hey, your property managers have done all this for you. Well, what they see in olden days is just a paper notice that stick on the notice board to say that please be informed that blah blah blah blah blah. So there’s not much connection there. There’s not much communication going on and most of the time before the implementation of technology in the neighborhood, residents only go to property management office to complain and to make payment to your bills, and most of the time, residents coming with a negative feeling. So when I see this guy, it’s all about I want to complain, is about I want to scold them. So that’s the sentiment build on, build on. People don’t really, back then, appreciate much property managers had down. They jusy say hey, why this problem not being solved? I submitted it two hours ago. And also, property management team, they have a lot of things to do. As I mentioned earlier, they were just a part of it, but there’s no proper to do this for them. There’s no proper system for them to track their work, and also there’s no proper workflow for job assignments follow up. Keep track as well so there is a thing that we can help them with our solution.

Jeremy Au: (16:07)
So what’s interesting is that. As you build out this app, it’s really a way to make the experience better rather than to replace people in the property, which is quite interesting because a lot of technology, classically, is like replace people, save costs, whereas yours is about better experience. How do you find the benefits for the tenants versus the developers?

David Foo: (16:28)
Basically, we work very closely with developers as well, so I started with that. We work with developers, basically help to make their projects on the property management site slightly better. OK, let me put this way where most of the time what we don’t see at the behind the scene from the handover from property to the we called GMB Malaysia, the management bodies. The committees for the neighborhood. There’s always a lot of friction in the sense that the developers can’t be handing over their property developers’ accounting software over to the committees and that is just one part of it. So, most of the time they just handover Excel spreadsheet to them and they would just need to do whatever they need to do about it and along the way they are a lot of track records, the maintenance records, etc, that need to be handed over. So, back then, it was a lot of meetings after meetings after meetings for those files will be sent over and you need the committees that are property managers to pick it up from there. So we see a lot of value in that we help to bridge that to make sure that the communication is better, the files in all one system since day one. So it’s easy for property managers or the committee to use it straight away, even we also develop the accounting solutions quite a while back that even have the smooth transition from developer side all the way to the GMB. So we see there’s a big value in that. And then for the tenant itself it’s very relevant to us today because back then as a tenant, as a resident, as the owner, no matter what, even issuance of car park, issue access card, you have to go to management office. There’s no other way about it. Make payment, booking of facility, etc. So, right now, with technology, with our solution, residents even they’re overseas, in Singapore, they also can book a facilities. They can book for badminton court for tomorrow for for his friends, for instance, right so he can preregister a visitor before they come. They can read notices in the app itself. They can even call for maid services, cleaning services, plumbers, etc, in our app so that add a lot of value to them. And more importantly also we have a tenant features in our app as well. So, both owners and tenant can sign on to our platform and even owners don’t stay in the neighborhood or don’t say the same country. They can still manage the tenant from there as well.

Jeremy Au: (18:40)
So now that you have become such an expert in property in Malaysia, especially because before that you were not right, you were in finance, and you were at FMCG, right? Now that you come in, what myths or misconceptions do you now know is different from reality regarding the property sector in Malaysia?

David Foo: (19:00)
The biggest misconception that we see is that when they say they know about property, it’s always about the buy sell property part of things. At first, I thought I’m pretty good at property as well but apparently, I’m not. My partner is very good at renovation and stuff. When you come inside there’s so much thing to learn. The biggest misconception is people don’t know how much work the property managers and the committee need to do, and more importantly is how to be a good committee. Most of the time when we go to the neighborhood we actually talk to them and we do some sharing with them. Being a committee, it’s like a board of director of a listed company. Your job is to provide good governance, to supervise, to set the directions and manage their funds and make sure there’s fraud, etc. But the CEO will be your property manager. The property manager is not your slave or your errand boys. They are your CEO of your condo or a neighborhood. A lot of people don’t know that. They treat like a old fashioned way. So, chairman must be someone that is highly reputable, respected doctor or lawyer or whatever la, that kind of thing, so there’s a huge misconception to that and when we talk to the residents and they have a lot of dissatisfactions, they have a lot of complaints about things. We actually always encourage them to say that, hey, why don’t you join the committee? They’ll be like ah, not for me. No, I’m not good enough, that kind of thing. It’s like, I’m gonna plug in something I learnt from crypto, in the sense that everyone in the community has a part in it as well. And this is your neighborhood. This is your property. If you want it to run well, you have to be part of it and have to be brave to attend AGM where people don’t go to AGM at all, so these are biggest misconception that everyone think about property as just leave it to the property guys and nothing much for me to do. So, what we have done so far, we actually try to bring people closer together and understand this is our common problem, it’s not one person problem which is the biggest misconception in my point of view.

Jeremy Au: (20:55)
You’re totally right. So many people complain, but should I be part of the committee, should I help out, and just no. That’s interesting because it’s not just a human thing, but also an interesting community thing which is that you are acting as a consumer, but you’re not really a community member helping to improve the situation either. That’s interesting because parents are from Malaysia, always talk about the Kampung Spirit, we knew each other, we knew our neighbours, there’s a head man who will be in charge of the little small zone. So, what do you think about that Kampung Spirit now at a condo, is that a condo spirit?

David Foo: (21:35)
Yeah, you brought it up at the right time. Me and Ignatius always wanted to bring Kampung Spirit back to Malaysia. I grew up in a small town, small neighborhood itself. Not Kampung, but it does have the kampung feeling as well. Currently don’t, right? I mean most people don’t know their neighbors. When they see people in the lift, they will be like stay away from me. I don’t talk to you. Generally, that’s what happens in big cities as well. We hope we can bring back the kampung spirit. We also acknowledge that things have changed. Parenthood style has changed as well. Back in my days where people left their gate open and the kids running in and out across the street to the bottom or whatever to the field to play. Right now, no, no, no, no. The parents will be like no, no, no way, that kind of thing, but while we can still foster it, is to bring out the spirit of care. We believe that if you have the right means to know what’s happening in the neighborhood, if you have the right tools to act on it, to provide feedback, to report wrong visitors or wrong incidents, to activate our emergency, for instance. You actually play apart into enhancing your neighborhood. For instance, give you an example, right? A lot of people ask us - hey, why do you guys focus so much on preregistering of visitors? We say that look, if everyone in the condo preregistered their visitors means that they already preregister and done the vetting first. So not only help out the guards in terms of the registration work but also enhance the security of the neighborhood itself. Most of the time, robbery and attempt robbery can be prevented if they have a better vetting of visitors. This is the same as border control for our customs, so this is very important element. If everyone played a part in vetting their visitors, preregistering their visitors, we will help to make a place much safer place. Example one. Number two is about reading what’s happening in the neighborhood in terms of notices, updates, that right now the most popular use features on the app is notice board because it’s COVID cases update, what’s happening, etc. So, we see people are doing that as well, so going forward we also will try to make a marketplace for them in the sense that in the spirit of we care each other kita jaga kita. So let’s say I cook curry, I can actually put it up and let neighbors to claim, take, buy, sell, whatever lah. We just provide the platform and the facilities for it and then people just expand the usage of it. People might lose their job, but they have a piano at home. They can be a piano teacher, open up piano class in the neighborhood itself. So we are very excited about the neighborhood setting the community spirit. The communal spirit, building of it, it’s nowhere near the kampung spirit, Jeremy, I’m gonna be honest to you. People are always busy with their life, but I think working from home and I everyone stuck at home for so long. It kind of bring back a bit of that because nothing matters more than our own place. So we see there’s a good time for us to do that. Part of the kampung spirit program as well, we actually have a so-called CSR program called Jaga Care. Currently, what we do is that we actually link up some charity groups so that I would user can donate to them or reach out to them for help. That’s one. But going forward we believe that every neighborhood…in the marketing slogan we say that we take care of you. We jaga your neighborhood. So your neighborhood can jaga a cause, for animals, for a charity group for instance. So, these are things that we’re working on as well to make everyone to be more involved in the neighborhood.

Jeremy Au: (24:56)
That’s interesting because when we started talking about care, it almost seems like in order for people to care about their neighbours, they also have to feel safe as a neighbourhood and community which is quite interesting because that means you have that wall, and within that wall, you can be more warm. So, that’s kind of an interesting dynamic, what do you think about that?

David Foo: (25:16)
Yeah, that's very interesting as well. We have a lot of difficulties and challenges in the industry. In terms of this bigger challenge in this industry is the line between communities and privacy because it's our home after all. We are very mindful of that since day one. So when we develop the system, basically whatever data is on the platform. It's yours, it belongs to the neighborhood itself. Even in our dealing with property managers, we allow two-way communication between one and one, so it's not one too many in a sense. So if I as a resident, I need to provide feedback to the committee, only myself will send to the building management team, but, of course, the building management team can do broadcast to all, but when he replied to me it just replied to me. So we keep the channel private, in a sense. We have notices. Like I mentioned just now, which is a bit more community based, more broadcast based, but the key thing that we realize that is that when it comes to this space, people, of course they’re very worried about the private policies and PDPA that data and stuff like that. Of course, we gotta address since day one and we already make sure of it in the sense that you’re property management team right now already have a lot of datas about you and, of course, it’s stored in paper and it just now just start in digitally rather than Excel, put it on the system itself for them to use. So we as a platform we make it very clear that we don’t go into that. We are just a platform to provide you tool to work on your data, but we don’t meddle into that. But as a platform itself, the key thing is that we, like I mentioned just now, we try to provide a bridge first for them to feel safe to interact with each other, that’s why in the features, we don’t unlock the feature for neighbor to talk to neighbor because it could be very scary and very encroaching as well and it could be a lot of stalking activities going on. We don’t know, so we do want to go there, but for us, it’s about being part of a neighborhood while not be too exposed.

Jeremy Au: (27:07)
So, here you are and you’ve learnt along the way, could you tell us about a time when you had been brave?

David Foo: (27:14)
The moment that I feel was the bravest is going into this business altogether. Quitting a comfortable job, much better pay, much better company car, much better perks…into nothing. Started with nothing. Zero salary. Zero employee. Me and my partner Ignatius, we had to design our own invoice and receipt. I bought my own table, I carried it back as well, everything. It’s rewarding nonetheless. It’s a very fun journey. I think having the courage to take the leap of faith was the bravest thing that I ever done. I’m glad that it turned out pretty well.

Jeremy Au: (27:52)
What was it like? I totally get it, you had your own car, your own perks as an executive at an FMCG company. What was that like? Did you know what it was going to be like to not have those perks anymore?

David Foo: (28:07)
No idea. I mean, I totally underestimated the whole entrepreneur journey. Although we can read a lot of it, we can hear a lot of it from different podcasts and stuff like that. People say starting a business is tough. I knew it’s gonna be tough, but I didn’t know it’s that tough. For the first time in my working career that I see no income coming in and just outflow and that part of the journey is actually very challenging. And of course, I still need to pay my bills. You know, still take care of the house, so it’s very challenging on that part, and I think the mental stress that come with it as well, is very hard for people to imagine. So I will tell my friends. Let’s say that you know I hate working for other people. I want to start my own business, so what I share with them is very simple, right? Something working for people is good, it provides you a very good platform. You probably have a stable income if you can be intra-entrepreneur, even better. Try to run certain projects. Be proactive in the work you do. Don’t be so stupid like me and just quit the job and go do other stuff. It’s rewarding nonetheless, but you must be ready for that. Having income coming every month, it’s a good thing. In a sense it makes you feel very comfortable, have a peace of mind. When you stop seeing the income coming in your bank account. You have this mental stress building up and you’re feeling you’re running out of time. I need to make it better and make it faster and the most important thing is the support from family during this. I have a very understanding wife, she takes care of a lot of stuff for me during that time and I say I leech on my wife as an entrepreneur and have a very good cofounders and team. Their belief in a dream together and work on it together, that helped me push through the whole period.

Jeremy Au: (29:40)
Yeah, that’s really good advice. One interesting thing I remember, my friends and I were always like thank God for our wives who have health insurance…or husbands who have health insurance, because as a founder, you have no health insurance, so you have to go on their plan. I never knew health insurance was a nice perk to have.

David Foo: (30:00)
Exactly. In Malaysia we call it EPF, in Singapore it’s CPF. It’s a pension fund contribution. That stopped as well. It’s quite a shocker. As I’m a salary man for most of my life, that’s a shocker. At the end of the day, I need to go to the pension fund to withdraw funds for my property maintenance stuff, I need to live on that as well which is quite shocking, but it’s all good, all good.

Jeremy Au: (30:28)
What advice would you give to people who are in your position – an executive, a leader, someone who has initiative and they’re thinking about setting up something new, what advice would you give to them? One piece of advice like use this time to become intrapreneurial and do something for the company, what advice would you normally give them?

David Foo: (30:45)
Talk to people about your ideas, try to brainstorm a bit more. Sometimes, we are overconfident about own ideas. All the time, we’re overconfident about our own ideas and always think they’re next best thing after sliced bread, right? Talk to people. Don’t worry about people stealing ideas because, after all, it’s all about execution. Talk it out. Talk to people from different age group, not just with your best bud or just your husband or wife. Talk to someone older. Talk to someone younger as well because the generation gap thing is real, is very real. Talking to millennials, talking to teenagers these days, it’s different. Talking to people in the 60s seventies, they are different as well and, also, they always say that if you cannot explain your ideas in simple words, maybe it’s probably too hard for anyone to understand anyway, especially for VC. That is a first step to do that, and after you’re talking to other people. You have to do a lot of calculation. You must have one way to do it. You must have an idea of how you’re going to raise your funds. You must have a very clear revenue model. If not, don’t do it. Don’t do it. You will be begging money from friends and family and then, that’s it. Nothing gonna happen. Thirdly, you must have good people with you to start the project with. Don’t just expect that I’m gonna raise this seed funding. I’m gonna hire a team of 15 people, that kind of thing. It works for some, but a lot of time you will be just hiring people that might not share your dream. It’s important to have comrades next to you to fight this journey together. If everyone believes it’s a good idea and you believe it, just go for it. Life is short.

Jeremy Au: (32:15)
One tricky part is that as someone who is a little bit more experience as a founder now, I’m sure you have a lot of friends who are coming to you with different ideas asking you for advice, and I think I’m in that position too and I almost see like a bell curve. Some people you hear idea with your background. You’re like wow, this guy, for sure, he’s gonna be more successful than me. There’s a bunch of people who are like me who are still figuring stuff out. You know, there’s something and want to keep working along and pushing it along. And then there’s also a group founders who are friends, but I’m not sure what advice to give them because I feel like and I know they’re struggling or they tell me they’re struggling and it’s a very tough conversation to have because you’re trying to have a conversation you’re not trying to say, like, oh, you are a terrible person or you would never be good at business. We’re not trying to be like that. Yeah, but we’re just trying to like, hey, you know what’s going on? So what advice do you have for that conversation for third category?

David Foo: (33:08)
Normally when people come to me with business ideas and just to brainstorm. I always tell them I’ll be quite blunt, in a way. I’ll be saying that I don’t think you are good salesman, you are a good thinker, probably good at execution, but you’re not a good salesman. What you need to do right now is find a CSO or someone that can sell as your partner. They have to acknowledge that they have a shortcoming first. I will normally turn their shortcoming to hire or find someone to work with you. If you don’t like to present, find someone that like to present. If you don’t like numbers, find somebody that like numbers. You have to do that because that’s how you start business. In the journey itself you realize that if it’s very hard for you to find people to share the same idea with, tend to like your idea, then you have to reassess your idea. Maybe need to make a tweak about it right? It’ll be crazy for me to start a ride hailing company today. It’s a proven model, but it’s tough, but if someone is crazy enough to do that with me and I really want to do it, why not, right? So that’s what I always give them.

Jeremy Au: (34:05)
Yeah, I think that’s good advice which is less about saying that here’s my direct feedback. But also saying hey, one way to solve it is to bring that on your team, and I think that’s a tough one because I remember as a founder it’s very hard to acknowledge your own weaknesses or weak points because there’s all these assholes who tell me I’m not good at something. I’m just like, yeah, totally get it so I’m just trying to figure this stuff out as well. It’s also quite hard to feel OK accepting the feedback. What advice would you have for people to be better able to take feedback or know when to take the feedback?

David Foo: (34:39)
You're right in the sense that every founder is overly confident in their ideas and business they’re in. Some are easier to take feedback, some are harder to take feedback, which put it this way, from my point of view, every idea is a good idea. It really depends on executions and the team is executing it. So, I normally don't downplay people’s idea unless it's really, really crazy they will know themselves anyway. But I don’t really criticize an idea. I normally say maybe you can try add on to this, that kind of thing, but I always bring it back in the sense that try to recommend things to do differently in a sense that you are great at coding, you have your tech guys, etc. I think what you’re lacking is funding, then I'll try to share with them like you know what is A-series, B-series, C. Maybe you should read that up first and then see how it goes. Jeremy, for you, you will be better than me at this, but I will always try to find things that probably he or she hasn't covered yet to make him feel excited about learning something new. Then from there, maybe it's easy for him or her to accept it back. Yeah, normally I think that when people try to do a new business on their own, they are normally a bit stubborn, a bit crazy and it’s very hard to accept and listen feedback. So the best way to go about it is to throw them new challenges and they will like, yeah, sounds fun, you know? Then they probably will go for it.

Jeremy Au: (35:54)
I love that tip, it’s a good one which is instead of saying you're bad at something which, we're all bad at something, make it more like hey, there's a chance for you learn something new which is maybe you're good at sales at your last job but now you're doing sales in a new sector. So this is our chance to learn something new about sales at the Series A scale in this new vertical is a much more positive way of saying it, for sure. I guess for me I’m just kind of curious if you sort of wrap things up here. What’s something that you read these days? Is there any good books that you like? They read over the past year.

David Foo: (36:27)
Yes, because of COVID. I read a few books last year, but I haven’t been reading much these days because I have been reading a lot of crypto these days. I’m very fascinated by the whole white paper design and blockchain and stuff, and I won’t go into that. The last book that I read I find very interesting. It’s the journey of a lifetime by Bob Iger. It’s a very easy read. It’s very interesting as well in the sense it relate a lot to us in this business space and startup space as well. Even running a company like Disney is challenge. We always look at it as pirate ship. We run a pirate ship. We would need to have a fleet of pirate ship and then after that we will turn ourselves to. Maybe this is what those guys you should say, but most of us don’t think of it that what happened to my business when you become really big? Become a Disney. What is my growth path? Let’s say I want to run this business for life. How should I build it? Am I building it the right way to enable it to be the next big thing, to be a bigger entity, to be a responsible companies in the world and from Bob’s book on Disney Story, I find it very interesting the way he structured a small unit, a small team and crazy ideas. He has the best job in the world and he can also talk to Steve Jobs about buying over Pixar and stuff like that. It’s crazy buying over Lucasfilm and how you put things together and the transformations to make Disney as a company that could very highly likely to be irrelevant into this market to be super relevant and they had the vision to do that. I think it’s very interesting to read on that.

Jeremy Au: (38:00)
It’s interesting you say that because I think I love the phrase journey of a lifetime. And obviously I love the phrase about what you do when you cross those different phases, and I think there’s something you covered a lot of, so wrapping things up here, I love to paraphrase the three big themes that I took away from this conversation. The first, of course, is thank you so much for sharing about. Your life from Mamee, and banker, to becoming a founder and I really love the details and the chronology where you shared about what was actually like brainstorming multiple ideas or actually was like talking and getting started with Ignatius and what it was actually like to found something. So that’s something that is really helpful. The second thing I already enjoy, of course, was a lot of the tips and thoughts around property, and more specifically the fact that we all think we’re good at property because we buy property. I mean we know anything about managing property and I actually really like what you shared here about how you see the difference between why people are so negative about property management because every interaction is a negative one and contrasting that actually to the kampung spirit where if your part of the community and frustrated about something you too also have an active role to play in that, and I think it’s really exciting to see Jaga App be part of that transformation and bringing back some of that community spirit back to these properties. And lasty, I really appreciate you sharing about the difficult psychological part in terms of the transition from becoming an executive and salaryman towards founder and some of the tough times. And we joke a little bit about how we don’t have health insurance. We use our spouses health insurance and things like that. And I also really appreciate about how you think about giving advice to other founders as well, because I think it’s very tough for ourselves to acknowledge feedback, and it’s very tough for us to give feedback to other founders as well, because you feel like that the world’s pretty tough. So we don’t want to give each other more negative stuff. And I thought it was quite smart about how you thought about how to give the same feedback as bluntly and honest as possible, yet at same time repositioning it in a positive way, for example like and now you can hire someone for that or this is a new way and new chance to learn something about this space, and I think that was really good advice for lots of different folks.

David Foo: (40:19)
Thank you. Thanks for having me. Thank you so much.

All Posts

Almost done…

We just sent you an email. Please click the link in the email to confirm your subscription!