Brian Toh: Digital Health, Combating Medical Misinformation and Seeking Advice - E123

· Singapore,Founder,Start-up,Mentorship

 I think one of the biggest things that I would really want to spread is being able to reach out for help and not keep it within. I think everyone knows, especially as you would know as well, starting your own company prior, it can be quite a lonely journey, right? You don’t want to just keep it in. You wanna make sure you can find help and surround yourself with good people and I’ve honestly found it to be one of my favorite parts of the job. Being able to work on a solution and I’m getting stuck, I get access to people. If I ask for help, they’re willing to help so I get access to experts in their field and be able to pick their brain. That’s one of the most fun parts of being a founder and part of the job that I like - Brian Toh

Brian Toh is a Singaporean software engineer and entrepreneur. He is the Founder & CEO of AskDr, a health information platform aiming to make reliable health information accessible to all, and is involved in product management, growth, remote culture, partnerships, and fundraising. Prior to that, he ran a digital product agency as the lead engineer focused on building, designing, and marketing digital products for clients across different industries. Brian received his Bachelors degree at University College London. Outside of work, Brian enjoys a good BBQ and is passionate about paying it forward by helping others learn how to code.

Jeremy Au: (00:29)

Hey, Brian, good to have you on the show.

Brian Toh: (00:31)

Thanks for having me, Jeremy, it’s an honour to share the beautiful Saturday afternoon with you.

Jeremy Au: (00:36)

Yeah, so excited to share about you because you’re tackling, of course, not just being a founder, but also tackling the digital health space which is such an important need across South East Asia, from Singapore to Indonesia and beyond. I am so excited to hear about your story.

For those who don’t know you yet, how would you introduce yourself professionally?

Brian Toh: (00:57)

Well, I’m just a Singaporean software engineer and entrepreneur trying to live out the dream. Obviously, the dream for me, right now, is to be able to touch as many lives as possible for us to be able to impact as many people around the region and currently the focus is on digital health, so being able to give millions of people in the region access to reliable health information, that’s pretty much it.

Jeremy Au: (01:19)

Yeah, that’s amazing and interesting because you’ve done a whole bunch of different roles, obviously. We both went to ACS back in school and then you went off to college to do information management for business at UCL. Yeah, so I guess the question is, have you always been interested in business and entrepreneurship for a while or how did you discover it? 

Brian Toh: (01:40)

Yeah, that’s an interesting question. You know when I look back, it’s kind of always there. I think it would help if I just kind of dialed back earlier days. I think it basically started with the mindset, so it’s almost a mindset thing and when I was young, I was very blessed with parents who had always drilled that mindset of ownership and the concept of bringing something to the table, to me. 

So, this kind of translated through school whether it was being on the football team to student council to different extracurricular activities. It was all about how you can be useful and how you can bring something to the table. For example, for the football team, I managed to get captain, but I wasn’t the best player on the team. So, it’s like how can you kind of bring value to them and make sure that you’re useful and you’re not benched all the time. Obviously, I saw that maybe there’s a gap in people actually trying to step up and be a leader, calling the shots here and there trying to play that role, and it kind of paid off. Similarly, we kind of formed a band when I was younger, so we competed with that; how can you actually add value to that and try to win something from there? It kind of translates into everything as well, I competed in jujitsu as well. When I think about it, it’s the inherent concept of making sure that you’re able to bring something to the table and be useful to society. That comes a lot with working hard and being dedicated to something, working for it and just putting yourself out there. 

That’s I think how it started and then the early forays of when I started with small business transactions here and there. You remember we used to have those cards like this Pokémon cards and WWE cards? I had one of those, I think it was like 5 bucks back then. I pulled out the Undertaker, his finishing move was the last ride. It was holographic and everything, so I sleeved it up, brought it to school, built up the hype, everyone was interested and I managed to sell it for about 20 bucks at the time. So, hey, that’s four more packs for me. The interesting thing is about being able to create something, create value, creation transactions, or finding ways that you can circumvent the supply chain. That kind of transcribed into selling Nokia ringtones. We used to have these Nokia phones, I found a way to actually download these ringtones into my phone and distribute them. It wasn’t Bluetooth then, it was infrared so you had to put the phones close to each other before you can transfer something, but I found that it worked. So, yeah, I managed to download ringtones and people liked it. I think it was OutKast or something, back in the day, and people liked this. We just basically transferred it over and I sell it for about $0.50 a pop. I was balling out then. 

That was my first few forays into that. It was interesting, it was thrilling and then we fast forward, we go to when I furthered my education abroad, as you alluded to in UCL in London. I think that was one aspect where I really got my first exposure into computer science. So, through my degree it was a mix between management and computer science. That was when I fell in love with programming, really. I saw it as a way to be self-sufficient, as an entrepreneur. I guess the analogy I always used was this - if I want to open a restaurant, I should know how to cook. Especially when you go into the tech world, basically I would love to have the skills to be able to run something and not rely on anyone, especially when I first start out. When I got into programming, I fell in love with it. It's a beautiful craft. I love the way you think about it, especially in first principles and it really translated through life and I think it was then that it really solidified for me that I was very interested in entrepreneurship. By that time, I had done internships. I had work experience here and there. So that was when I really solidified the idea. A lot of university was learning about myself, who I am and who I want to be. I was quite lucky to have that lesson at an early stage and that was when I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur and that’s when I started one of my first businesses, like one of my first successful businesses, which was Made in Alpha, which is an agency. We did design and development work for clients across different industries. So, right here, at this juncture, there’s an interesting story that comes to mind. I haven’t talked about it publicly; I could just drop it for the Jeremy Au BRAVE podcast. Or we could move forward into just zooming in to AskDr, which one do you want to hear? 

Jeremy Au: (05:25)

You gotta drop fast otherwise we’ll be kept with the suspense. You’re just hyping it up like the card right now, you’re just hyping it up. OK, now you got to deliver.

Brian Toh: (05:38)

Yeah, so, exclusive for the BRAVE podcast, right? Interesting…I haven’t told this publicly, haven’t talked about this publicly, but one of the first things that we did when we started Made in Alpha was, and it plays into their whole impostor syndrome role; when you get your first few gigs it’s the chicken-egg situation right? We started this, I think in 2014…so, it’s my second year of university. Me and my partner back then, he was my best mate in college and we were always the kids who were like I think the lessons outside the classroom, not inside. If we want to really learn programming and learn design, then let’s go out there and actually get some jobs. We got our first few gigs, we told restaurants hey, I think you need a new website we’ll do it for you, and this was in London. Got a few jobs and then I think on the third one, it was the third one that we landed a big client, big brand in Singapore, actually. We basically asked them what they’re looking for. They said they were looking for a bespoke, CMS (content management system) and a CRM (customer relationship management) tool. All these has to be customized because that’s why they’re looking for a custom developer. They can’t find something off the shelf. Has to connect to their UI/UX which has to be pretty as well…a bunch of requirements. Oh yeah, sure, that’s exactly what we do, we do that best. So, what we’ll do is that we can drop some wireframes for you if you don’t like it then you don’t have to pay us, but we can get started. We managed to clinch the deal and when my partner and I, we walked out of the meeting, we just looked at each other and we were like where the fuck do we start? We had no idea, we don’t have the skills, we don’t have the skills to actually build that kind of system…we were just starting out. I’m like how the hell do we start? 

I think that was one of those experiences that I attributed as my master’s, my master’s degree. We were just forced to learn. Someone was paying us do it, you have no other choice but to learn and that really helped us grind and get the skills that we needed to be good at what we’re doing. That was one of the big starts of the whole journey. After that we moved the business back to Singapore and we ran the company for about four to five years. We always knew we wanted to work on products eventually, but services were a good way for us to get an idea of the landscape in Asia. Since we spent some time in London and also hone our skills, really, and learn how to run a profitable business. 

Eventually, the idea of AskDr came about when it was sort of a personal problem that I had, and that was basically finding consistent information online. What I found was that I was often reaching out to a physician friend of mine. His name is Dinesh,  Doctor Dinesh Gunasekaran. He went to ACS with me as well and he became a physician. I couldn’t find a lot of the answers I was looking for online for my family and for myself, I had to constantly call him give him 10:00 PM night calls, he will still pick up. A lot of people don’t have that benefit of having a physician friend to channel their questions to. If you zoom out, how many circles actually have a physician friend? Then if you zoom out further into the macro, how many people actually have access to reliable health information? You know, we don’t really choose where we are born. If we born somewhere rural in emerging countries, somewhere in the region, Philippines or Indonesia you may have actual physical limitations of access to a doctor. But what we do know is that Internet adoption is picking up and more people are connected to the Internet through smartphones, androids, iPhones, things like that. So why in the 21st century, can’t we connect to reliable health information? That’s really how it started. 

Jeremy Au: (08:58)

Amazing. So, what is so bad about health care and health care access in South East Asia? I’m just asking on behalf of everybody because I think for so many people who are listening to this across the world, South East Asia seems pretty advanced, isn’t healthcare good? Then, of course, there’s a lot of people who think of Singapore as South East Asia and see that good health care access as well, so how would you describe what the gradient or spectrum of health care access or availability information is across countries like obviously Singapore but also like Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, Cambodia, Malaysia and the like? 

Brian Toh: (09:38)

Yeah, that’s a good question, so I probably should clarify what AskDr is about. Essentially, just to really touch on what AskDr does, it’s a health information platform and the main mission here is to make reliable health information accessible to all. The way that we do that is, by connecting the members of the public to verified doctors. 

When we really studied this problem, what we were finding is not just inconsistent information, but there’s also a lot of misinformation out there, and we have to be cognizant of the fact that we live in the 21st century where ease of information travel is so accessible. I can send over something to you at lightning speed and you get that information through things like social media, instant messaging. 

So, we have a lot of information, we’ve solved that part of it being able to be connected with each other, being able to have transparent flow of information across the whole world. Then comes the issue of being able to filter out the quality information. When it comes to health, it becomes extremely detrimental. I’m sure you’ve been privy to some of these WhatsApp, chain messages that were going around, I think last year, stuff like if you can hold your breath for 10 seconds in the morning, it acts as a diagnostic to if you have COVID-19 or not, you know, things like that. It can get very detrimental or even things like children are not susceptible to COVID-19. So, this is really the problem that we’re tackling. If you look at even the World Health Organization, they coined this whole battle as the battle of an info-demic, so we have a pandemic battle that we’re fighting, but now it’s also a battle of an info-demic. What we’re trying to do here right now is to be able to filter out, or rather try to put out reliable content and allow users to reach the verified sources which we believe are the doctors themselves and gain access to not just reliable, but also personalized health information from legitimate sources. 

Jeremy Au: (11:34)

That’s so true because I’ve been forwarded so much rubbish information and I think I benefit from, thankfully, having a lot of access to information. Like you said, I have doctors who are friends and I’m able to have that literacy rate in terms of digital information where I'm like OK, this is probably shady and this is probably a little bit more credible, depending, and then I think like you said, the pandemic really put everything on steroids, so I guess the question is why is it that medical misinformation is so popular? I see that all the time. I don’t actually see too many get rich quick kind of stuff getting forwarded, but I see a lot of health adjacent stuff. There’s videos and articles releases being shared and reshared. So, what is it that makes it so much more compelling as something to be reshared? 

Brian Toh: (12:29)

Yeah, that’s a really good question, so I think there’s two parts to this. The first part, it’s more to the point of playing into people’s fears, because when you talk about health, it’s something personal and it can affect you in a very direct way. When we look at a lot of misinformation, how they spread, sometimes it’s not spread on purpose, but it’s by the caretaker or family, for example. It’s usually the mother who wants to make sure that the whole family is healthy and getting the right information when they come across certain pieces of content that may be misinformation or disinformation, they’ll probably get fearful. They’re like we don’t want this to affect my family and kids and things like that, so they start spreading it, just to ensure that everyone is safe but they don’t know if that information is accurate or not, so I think, just to sum up the first point is mainly because a lot of people, sometimes, it’s just that they don’t know any better and they don’t really do it on purpose. They’re trying to spread it, in a way, from a good place with good intentions to help people. I think that’s one of the main things about why it spreads quite fast.

The other aspect of it is the understanding of this information, it can be quite esoteric, and that’s why we try to focus on personalized information. You have guidelines coming out by MOH on different COVID measures, but how does it apply to you? For example, what we’re seeing now on AskDr are questions about the COVID vaccine and how it might affect them because they have some allergies. It’s not one size fits all where it’s easy to understand and you can relate just based on the information related to yourself. It’s something that becomes quite important and how you actually digest the information and, so, with that kind of barrier to knowledge, it’s quite easy to spread something when you don’t have an accurate understanding of it. I think those are the main two points that really feeds into why it spreads so fast. 

Jeremy Au: (14:13)

I think the first part is so true, feeling scared for yourself, which is why you pay attention, but also being caring for other people makes you forward that message, so, I think that’s where the health part comes in. Whereas the get rich quick stuff, you care about it sometimes, but it’s not necessarily something that you need to forward either to other people. That’s something I already understand, and the second part is also very true, that relative consumption of it right? Medical information that you said is so esoteric, so boring, so hard to understand, so much jargon versus a quick video and a guy saying if you do this kind of like energy waves like crystals. You get to blow past and increase your immunity versus COVID. Anyway, one is much easier - buy crystals, do these three moves in the morning equals protection versus the WHO jargon, which doesn’t feel very assuring either. 

The last element, just to bring us back into view. I think there’s also comfort because I think all the medical advice I find online is very achievable because it’s like if you do this thing, you’ll be safe, you’ll be healthier and I feel like so much medical stuff is just like if you do this, the evidence suggests that there is some positive effect on your immune system which may lead to an improved effect on X. It is so probabilistically weak as a claim which is accurate, but it’s not comforting. What do you think about that, the comfort piece? 

Brian Toh: (15:41)

That’s also one of the issues of what we’re seeing with platforms online who have been around for a while. You Google something about your health and then everything points back to cancer, so I’m just Googling for a toe infection or something and, apparently, you have cancer now. Half of it obviously has to have some truth to it, so everything that we look at, every content we put out has to be evidence based and has to be true and what we want to do is really empower our users with the right health information so they know exactly what decisions they can make to stay informed. With access to this sort of information, you’re able to get access to verified professionals who help allay a lot of fears that are out there that may be unnecessary, but at the same time, it’s kind of a balance in certain situations as finding out the right information and knowledge is power.

With that knowledge, you should be able to know. OK, we gotta act now there’s something that we got to do, to probably reach out for treatment, so I think there’s two aspects to it. There’s definitely the comfort aspect if you manage to actually find accurate information from a verified provider, then you are able to allay your fears but on the other hand you should also be able to be very real with yourself and if certain things are getting serious then you should know it’s time to act. 

Jeremy Au: (16:47)

When they’re looking for this information, they’re scared and it’s hard to tell who’s right, who’s wrong. So how does your solution be better than Google? Like you said, if I feel like my throat is scratchy and I’m trying to alleviate it, I google it right? COVID pandemic, I definitely googled it. So, what would make me say, OK, I want to use AskDr instead? 

Brian Toh: (17:10)

I think Google does a good job at connecting people to what they’re looking for. What we find is that, oftentimes, we don’t know where to look, alluding towards what we were talking about earlier. Sometimes, information is very esoteric, so you don’t really know what it means and how it relates to yourself. Google does a really good job of connecting you to the right source information but sometimes these sources are inaccurate or incomplete. What we’re trying to do is to be able to put out enough information out there and not just information but accurate, quality health care, health information so that we can help to take steps to drown out content that is inaccurate, incomplete, or just complete misinformation or disinformation. 

The main idea here is that you can connect with a verified provider and you know the content that’s being generated out there is by someone who is practicing, and a reliable source. A physician who either it’s his specialty or practice family medicine. At the end of the day, they are the foundation and the source of verifiable information and what we’re trying to do is just really connect them to that source instead of having them wonder and try to figure out for themselves what is right and what is not. I think that’s an important piece of the puzzle. Really connecting them to the direct source of reliable health information, and if you look at it, it’s really quite a big market. One in 14 searches on Google are health searches. It is pretty crazy so that equates to about 70,000 health searches per minute, so there’s a lot of people out there searching for health information and they’re looking for content that is accurate and reliable, and the fight here is to make sure that they don’t end up in a source that is not true, that is disinformation, that is misinformation and they can land on something that is reliable so they can be equipped with the right information to make the right choices for their life. 

Jeremy Au: (18:52)

What else do you think about? Right now, you’re just providing information. What does that expansion look like? Because you mentioned geographic expansion is definitely a key one. So, how do you think about geographic expansion and then later on I’m going to ask you, how do you think about product expansion because it’s not just information, there’s other things you need to do as part of the health care medical journey, but let’s talk about the geographic expansion. How do you think about that? 

Brian Toh: (19:17)

That’s a very, very good thought. I think for us to really realize our impact, we have to move into the region. We have to move to places where we can really expand and scale up our impact. As you mentioned and alluded to earlier, Singapore is known for having a good health care system and things like that. So, what it does lend us, is that it lends us their credibility because the medical system here is well known. It’s widely regarded as very good system and we have very, very good doctors that are recognized all over the world. So it lends us that aspect and, don’t forget, AskDr is a two sided marketplace, two sided platform. There’s the supply side which are the doctors and the demand side which are the consumers or patients. When we started out, we wanted to deepen our focus here by building up a supply side and credibility on that front to make sure that what we have is a reliable source of information that is of high quality. The next step of it is, which is where we’re at right now, as to how can we actually scale up our impact to more people who are in need of it and that’s how we kind of think about where to go next. If we’re going to another country, an emerging country, we look at how can we really scale our impact? Do they really need our services, will they really benefit from this, what’s out there already for them and if we are able to go and try to improve their lives, are we able to do that well for them, and if we are, then we look at the place and we think very seriously about it. 

Of course, a lot of it depends on product management concepts, so it’s a lot about testing. That’s what we do a lot in the company, so we run a lot of rapid experimentations and we try to create a structure or test to make sure that we can gauge the demand and test out hypothesis, basically, to see that if there’s actual demand or actual want for a product like ours out there, that’s pretty much how we go about thinking about it. 

I guess one thing to add, just jumping the gun to the next question about product expansion, is that we always remind ourselves that customers or users are loyal to the problem, they’re not loyal to the solution. So, if you think about it, you look at one problem, one problem, an example problem I have right here is access to music. I really like music. I want to listen to music. How do I do that? So previously you had cassettes and you load one up, you can play something and then he had the evolution to Walkmans. It’s like super cool now I have a CD I can plug it in, it’s portable, I can bring it anywhere and I have 10 to 12 songs to listen to. How cool is that? But if you think the customers will be loyal to that solution, the Walkman, and is invested in stuff like that? Obviously, at the time I was told that it went very wrong because a new invention came up. There was something that you could put into your pocket and it contains thousands of songs and you can listen to it anytime, anywhere. That was the iPod. So that really reinforces our belief that customers are loyal to the problem and not the solution and what we have to be really good at is knowing what problem we’re solving and continuously iterate and improve how we’re able to deliver our services. The main mission here, again, is always to make reliable health information accessible to all. The product might change but we have to be true to the mission, and that’s how we basically start thinking about expansion in terms of product or even in terms of regional expansion. 

Jeremy Au: (22:26)

I love the phrase loyal to the problem, not solution and we have to be careful not to sucker ourselves that we ourselves are the be all and end all solution when Google exists, when WhatsApp exists, when my friends and my mom’s advice exists in this situation, right? So, we think about being loyal to the problem. What’s the problem here? Is the problem that I want to get well or the problem is I’m scared or is the problem I have no idea what’s going on. How would you define the problem from your perspective currently? 

Brian Toh: (22:56)

Yeah, sure. The problem here is quite clear for consumers, it’s really being able to access personalized, reliable, legitimate health information. There were studies put out that surveyed a bunch of people and 90% of participants were not able to consistently differentiate reliable from unreliable sources of information. Again, it’s very hard to. We live in an information age. Again, access to information is so easy with instant messaging with social media, but how do we make sense of it and how to make sense of it ourselves, especially when it’s something as important as health. 

How do we solve someone looking for personalized information that is reliable and that is consistent? That’s what we’re really trying to work on and what we’re trying to solve the way that we started was by launching forums with a Q&A module. On our platform you have different spaces. We call them spaces, but essentially a space is a condition based micro forum. We started out with a dedicated module for COVID-19. We launch it in February last year and a catchall which is general health and dentistry, which are popular ones. Those are ways that we thought and the idea was that if we’re able to solve this problem then let’s let people access verified providers directly, and in these forms they’re able to ask personal questions whether how something affects them. If you want to make it personalized, upload a picture that’s fine, or if not, you could just browse and read and find questions you never thought of asking and learn more about the condition itself. That’s how we started out, tackling the problem, and then we’ve extended into longform editorials, events, and things like that with the core mission at heart. 

Jeremy Au: (24:35)

So true. One interesting part about it, of course, is that the opportunity as you grow regionally is that we are crossing the language boundaries because there’s so much good information in English, but as you go to countries like Indonesia, Bahasa is different in Indonesia versus Malaysia. Vietnamese is totally different as well, so I think it feels like there’s a lot of different parts of the Internet that doesn’t have the content that’s needed for that legit information. How do you think about the localization extent that you’re trying to build out? 

Brian Toh: (25:07)

I was having this conversation last night actually with one of our advisors. It’s an interesting one, and I think it’s a very important piece of the puzzle to solve as well. What we do know is that we’re building up a knowledge-based repository of health knowledge that’s reliable and the next challenge, which is what you’re alluding to is - how do we actually give more people access to it in terms of their understanding, which is through language. A lot of times what we try to focus on is leveraging help from the community and that’s one thing we’re starting to explore so you’ve seen an uptake on crowdsourcing, crowdfunding and things like that, but a lot of it is community based. What we do in AskDr is to follow what the community says. We basically eat feedback for breakfast. We love feedback. We offer lots of feedback and we use that to redirect our product road map. It’s a powerful effect because what we’re building is not something just for ourselves, but we’re building it for people who actually use it, and that’s very motivating to us and so we want to hear what they have to say and what they want to build. That effect can be translated into amplifying our efforts in helping out for cause like giving people access to reliable health information. I don’t think we can do it alone and when we’re localizing, we’re inclined to a direction where we’re able to leverage the community’s help in each place. 

Jeremy Au: (26:20)

Yeah, that’s amazing. So, starting to wrap up here. Just kinda curious, but could you share with us of a time that you had to overcome challenges and choose to be brave?

Brian Toh: (26:31)

Yeah, many challenges to choose from. I suppose a lot of the challenges were innate, like learning by myself, who I am, who I intend to be. So, a lot of that was introspecting and being very comfortable with myself and then one of the big hurdles that I found, especially, that is more domain specific is coming up to speed with how the medical industry works. It’s a very steep learning curve and it takes people years to understand, but I was very, very blessed that I was able to surround myself with amazing people who are genuine and wanting to learn and wanting to grow and willing to help. Obviously, my partner, he’s a doctor himself. So that was a good way for me to learn about the medical industry. We managed to surround ourselves with advisors from the industry and also from outside who understand the medical industry and that really helped us get up to speed with it. One of the most important things for us that I took away from this was always being able to surround ourselves with good advice, good people because it brings you a long way and it’s not something that you do is a one off like I go, I consult someone and seek someone’s advice once or twice and it’s done. It’s a continuous thing. It’s something that should be going on all the time, because it’s a continuous learning journey and it’s very counterintuitive, especially in Asian culture in how we’re brought up. We’re not very inclined to ask questions or reach out. If you remember when you’re in school, if you ask a stupid question, everyone just scoffs at you, right? No one does that in Asia. That might be hyperbole, but you see the point. We don’t really like to go up there and put our hands up and ask questions because we don’t know how we are gonna sound. Might sound stupid and we don’t like that. Conversely, with my experience in Western education system in London, everyone is asking questions. It doesn’t matter what question, it doesn’t matter how it sounds, they want to understand and I saw that was a very powerful effect. That was actually corroborated recently by an interview that I saw with Steve Jobs, one of the old ones, and he’s talking about reaching out, asking for help. He was saying that when he was 12 years old, he called up the founder of Hewlett-Packard and ask him to get him some spare parts because he wanted to build a PC and he actually got it and he got a job from that, and if I could tie that into my experience as well, I could draw a parallel to the time I had with Accelerating Asia. So AskDr was one of the three or four…it was one of the cohorts and one thing that they really focus on and drill down on is basically ask, what are your asks? Always have an ask so we do have this monthly update that we send out to our stakeholders and people who are interested and we always start with what we are looking for, what are we looking for and it’s about reaching out and being able to be vulnerable enough to ask for help and that was the way that I overcame trying to understand the whole medical industry because if I don’t understand it, I can’t operate in it. 

Jeremy Au: (29:11)

Wow, that’s really deep here because I think you’re talking about something that’s a very difficult thing to do - asking questions. Feels like basically saying I’m stupid, educate me, I’m incompetent.

Brian Toh: (29:33)

You didn’t do your homework last night, you didn’t know?

Jeremy Au: (29:37)

Why do you ask a question, didn’t you know the answer? Yeah, why do you ask that why you asked? Talked about in the last class you were talking about a long time ago, right? You forgot, is it?

Brian Toh: (29:45)

Stand outside!

Jeremy Au: (29:46)

It’s not right, you so smart, you should know what? I think the worst part is I think you hear that as a kid, I think, one thing I noticed as I grew older is that sometimes I still hear that voice. That ghost with that voice and talking to myself, it’s crazy. 

Brian Toh: (30:04)

You know it was one of the feedbacks I still got. I was talking with this guy, he helped to run Accelerating Asia, his name is Nash and he’s amazing with these kind of things and he’s like, you know, Brian, like it’s really good that you’re able to put yourself out there, but you still have that part of you that holds you back. 

I think I just attribute it to this, like the upbringing and things like that, but it’s just about being cognizant and aware of it. I think as long as we are aware of these kind of things that we’re able to work on it. If we’re not aware at all, then there’s a problem. 

Jeremy Au: (30:31)

Yeah, so true. I remember army days, I’ll ask a question like should we go left or whatever and then the instructor will be like. Well, we should go left and then, I don’t know, buy chicken rice and then do 20 squats and then buy a cup of color purple and he says at me like, yeah, you know such a stupid question, stupid questions get stupid answers. I was just like wow and the worst part was like obviously I didn’t get my answer. No, I didn’t get trained by that instructor very well, obviously, and then, secondly, I got scared to ask questions which made me perform worse, I think, over time 

Then, thirdly, I think the worst thing is that yeah, I definitely carried their attitude for a long time where I would hold back, right, and try to ask smart questions, ask good questions, and the truth is, you can’t walk around thinking that you get judged for the question, because if you do that, you can never ask a good question at all because you just lock up. 

Brian Toh: (31:39)

Yeah, no completely agree. Yeah, but I think it’s seriously a good if. I mean, whoever is listening. I think this is targeted to founders as well this podcast. Whoever is listening to this, I think one of the biggest things that I would really want to spread is being able to reach out for help and not keep it within. I think everyone knows, especially as you would know as well, starting your own company prior, it can be quite a lonely journey, right? You don’t want to just keep it in. You wanna make sure you can find help and surround yourself with good people and I’ve honestly found it to be one of my favorite parts of the job. Being able to work on a solution and I’m getting stuck, I get access to people. If I ask for help, they’re willing to help so I get access to experts in their field and be able to pick their brain. That’s one of the most fun parts of being a founder and part of the job that I like. 

Jeremy Au: (32:20)

Amazing. I love what you just did which was you took something very scary and articulated how it’s actually a benefit and an asset and fun especially when you’re a founder which is something I think people look at it as the fear but I think you really articulated well the benefits, but also, the emotions of getting help, which is amazing.

Well, wrapping things up here. Brian, thank you so much for coming to show. The three big themes that I saw and I wrote down here are…firstly, thank you so much for sharing your founder journey from selling those trading cards and getting a little profit as well as sending those ringtones. I definitely understand what Outkast song you’re talking about, it’s probably Hey Yeah right? So, you’re probably are responsible for that epidemic.

Brian Toh: (33:12)

I’m redeeming myself now with AskDr.

Jeremy Au: (33:15)

It’s OK, you brought some joy. I’m sure teachers saw it as attacks, auditory wise, but it’s amazing part to hear you found a journey from there. Nice seeing that arc from there to your first founder journey and then eventually going on to found AskDr through that. So that was really good. 

Second one, thank you so much for sharing a lot of the technical advice around being a founder and for example, talking about how customers are really fundamentally loyal to the problem, not solution. That’s a brilliant phrase because it’s such a common thing where we spent so much time building a product and we want to be loved and we forget that at the end of the day, you’re still loyal to the problem and I think we also got to talk a lot about the dynamics around healthy information crisis that we saw accelerated by the pandemic. Then we got to go deeper into why it's attractive and compelling to spread unreliable or unsourced news versus more credible slash peer reviewed items. Thank you so much for that. 

Lastly, of course, thank you so much for sharing your bravery and advise to founders to really be brave and asking questions. I, too, resonate with that problem of being scared to ask questions and fear looking dumb and I really thought that I was very brave of you not only to obviously ask questions, but also brave of you to share that that’s something that you have struggled with in the past and is something that is still working on today, and I think that’s such great advice because I mean my point of view is like, hey, if you are a founder we are trying to solve something that’s never been solved before at this time and, so, if there’s a time to ask questions and now is the time right? Because no one has the answers, so ask away, right? So, Brian, thank you so much for coming on the show. 


Brian Toh: (35:05)

That was a really good summary. Thanks for having me as well, appreciate the time.