In the recent Technopreneurship panel session that I moderated for the 3rd KDU International Student Entrepreneurship Conference 2018, it was determined that the business digitalisation wave has changed the Entrepreneurship landscape globally. Entrepreneurs emerged without much hassle and with a much lower barrier of entry, even in the high capital industries such as lodging, transportation, entertainment, retail, and even production.
The panelists in the panel session include: Ian Chua, the CEO of Hermo Malaysia, a leading online beauty shop. Equipped with an IT background but without any business knowledge, Ian is an adventurous yet active individual who cannot settle for a 9 to 5 office environment. Hermo has about 150,000 active users on a monthly basis and generated about RM 60 million of revenue last year, about six fold of its revenue recorded in 2015.
Prashan Chitty, the CEO of Paranormal Group Asia, a leading entertainment agency in Malaysia. This social advocacy agency specializes in connecting brands with key local opinion leaders and celebrities. Its talent development and management as well as music and content production capabilities continue to expand regionally in recent years.
Jin Lim, the founder of JinnyboyTV, a leading YouTube channel in Malaysia, with about 910,000 subscribers and a whopping 149 million total views. Jin is also well-known for his career as a deejay at Hitz.fm.
Dr. Sahadah, the Deputy Director of UUM Enterprise and an Academician at University Utara Malaysia. Specialising in Technopreneurship and Digital Business Management, she has been directly involved in Technopreneurship Development in the Malaysian Institutes of Higher Learning since 1999. Sahadah, who challenged herself to be self-sustainable during her university life, started to be an Entrepreneur herself since then, riding on her expertise in Technology Management.
Despite the diverse backgrounds among the panelists, they shared one thing in common- the ability to believe that they can make a difference by adopting the right technology to craft valuable marketing strategies and creating a unique personal branding of who they are.
New start-up ventures into the marketplace is a norm, particularly among the Gen Ys and Zs. The growth further escalated with governmental support where funds were disbursed and programmes were organised to churn out more Malaysian entrepreneurs. Selangor alone has about 180,000 registered SMEs in 2017, almost 20% of the total SME population in Malaysia, making them the top state to house SMEs in the nation. As the SME sector has been getting more competitive, many would assume that disruptive technologies are destroying the traditional industries. However, industry players should also be aware that technology is also creating new opportunities to renew and refresh the industries, in order to stay relevant.
The right adoption of technology in a business setting can create unique value propositions for new start-up ventures while personal branding is essential to portray their credibility in the marketspace and to better connect them to their target customers. Creating personal branding requires a story to tell, and what’s more relevant if it’s not an entrepreneur.
Among the key take aways from the panelists in creating their own personal branding include: (a) Technologies created opportunities for all to grab, otherwise, we need to create one. One should let go of his/her ego and grab any opportunity that allows the garnering of experience and learning lessons. So, it's about how we see and define opportunities. Failure is just part of the journey, thus, there is nothing to be afraid of. Ian started Hermo with little to no knowledge on business and operations. He took every opportunity to learn, unlearn, and relearn, and that includes cleaning toilets. Being resourceful, perhaps, is what Ian’s personal branding is about.
(b) One should be mentally ready, take calculated risks, and determine the bottom line before embarking on an entrepreneurship journey. Jin told his partner, who was working a high paying job, to give him 6 months to try out the business model that requires lots of creativity and the use of multiple digital platforms. If the business failed, he will pay him the salary. The rest is history. Being an innovative individual, perhaps, is what Jin’s personal branding is about.
(c) Be prepared to sacrifice your life as the focus on building the business is intensifying. The sacrifices highlighted by the panelists include time, family, friends and to a certain extent, health. Despite his busy schedule, Prashan plans to spend several hours a day with his 3 year old daughter to keep the bonding going and replaces the missing hours later for work. In most cases, technology also plays a key role to help him keep in touch with his family and friends. For him, work-life balance is part of his life, and not something he would demand for specifically. The ability to persevere, perhaps, is what Prashan’s personal branding is about.
(d) Technology has created the shortcut for new start-ups to enter the marketspace, with the aim to chase money and fame. The panelists unanimously agree that the aim is meaningless and non-sustainable. In fact, to find the purpose and passion in embarking into the entrepreneurship journey is more crucial. Sahadah indicated that entrepreneurs may see success in a short period of time, but to get the momentum going in the rapidly changing technological environment, one needs to have the endurance to sustain further. Personal branding that bears the image of persistence perhaps enhances the credentials of an entrepreneur.
In all, personal branding closely relates to the individual entrepreneur and is part of the wholesome entrepreneurship journey. The adoption of technology enhances brand communication effectiveness among the entrepreneurs. In fact, in this digital era, it doesn't matter if you are a business owner or an employee, personal branding is about value establishment where the target audience appreciates, thus favours your engagement over others.