Wai Hong Fong: Point of Sale Industry Dive, Gaming & Entrepreneurship Parallels & The Malaysian Dream - E306

· Start-up,Founder,Southeast Asia

“So much transition is happening. Southeast Asia needs many people to solve as meaningful problems as possible. It’s not just chasing the highest ROI problem, but chasing the hardest problems to solve. My hope is for us to solve meaningful problems because they’re incredibly hard but they’re not just about gaining profits. They’re also about serving the specific needs of people who are marginalized, underserved, and those who are on the fringes.” - Wai Hong Fong

“A lot of founders underappreciate the value of execution. I still see a lot of founders overstating the idea and the value of the idea. The appreciation is around the journey itself. Some founders only see the outcome. If your goal or outcome is to make money, don't be a founder. You can be an IB or something else with a more secure way to get there. Being a founder is about the journey. It is the most valuable thing about being a founder and I don't think that’s appreciated enough.” - Wai Hong Fong

“In every genre of games, there is an element that is incredibly meaningful toward understanding and making decisions as an entrepreneur. If you think about StarCraft, it’s all about timing and knowing your power spikes and when to and not to expand. If I had taken out the original phrase, you have thought I would be talking about business. It's really quite interesting that these things we practice so heavily in games influence our decision-making.” - Wai Hong Fong

In this engaging conversation between Jeremy Au and Wai Hong Fong, the Cofounder and CEO of StoreHub, listeners gain valuable insights into the world of entrepreneurship and the complexities of building a successful business. The discussion covers three key topics:

1. The Accidental Journey to Entrepreneurship: Wai Hong shares his unexpected path to becoming a founder, starting a business in his uncle's garage, and the challenges he faced in scaling StoreHub.

2. Deep Dive into the Point of Sale (POS) Industry: Wai Hong provides a comprehensive analysis of the POS industry's evolution, discussing different waves and common mistakes made by others in the field.

3. The Intersection of Gaming and Business Strategy: The conversation delves into how Wai Hong's gaming experiences influenced his decision-making as an entrepreneur and how gaming strategies can be translated into effective business strategies.

Throughout the dialogue, Wai Hong emphasizes the importance of open and honest conversations, especially during challenging times, to shape the company's future and make meaningful decisions. This candid and informative discussion offers valuable insights for aspiring entrepreneurs and those interested in the dynamics of the tech industry.

Supported by Baskit

Baskit is a company focused on digitizing Indonesia's supply chains. With a focus on empowering local communities, Baskit recognizes the immense potential within the 200,000 distributors and wholesalers scattered throughout the country's vast landscape. Unlike disruptive approaches, Baskit takes a collaborative stance, working hand in hand with these traditional businesses. By infusing technology and providing access to financing, they modernize operations and create efficient supply chains, benefiting manufacturers and consumers along the way. For more details about Baskit and their journey towards revolutionizing digital commerce and supply chains in Indonesia, please visit their website: https://baskit.app/

(01:37) Jeremy Au: 

Hey, Wai Hong, so excited to have you on the show. You are an incredible founder but also a gamer that I got to know and wanted to kind of hear a little bit about your story. So please introduce yourself.

(01:47) Wai Hong Fong: Oh, thanks for having me, Jeremy. So yeah, I'm Wai Hong, I'm the Cofounder and Chieftain of StoreHub. StoreHub's an omnichannel platform for over 16,000 stores across Southeast Asia, primarily in Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand. So we basically help a restaurant or a retailer automate their processes, grow their business, and operationalize everything. So yes, that's basically what I do.

(02:07) Jeremy Au: 

So how did you first get started as an entrepreneur?

(02:09) Wai Hong Fong:

I think I call myself an accidental entrepreneur because it is basically what it is. So I'm originally Malaysian, but I spent most of my life, at least prior to starting outside of Malaysia. So I went to school in Singapore, for four years. I was one of those ASEAN scholars also. I was a very good one. I think the Singapore government. It would have said that I was a non-model, like a scholar, always bothering me in my class and failing exams. So after that, my mom sent me over, to Australia. So I went to uni there and did an arts degree. I probably played more and spent more time in the cyber cafe than in school itself. I also failed a couple of subjects on the way to getting my degree, but I got that and eventually graduated, albeit a bit late. And so that's when I started my first journey as an entrepreneur. I started an e-commerce business out of my uncle's garage, just basically selling all kinds of random stuff initially.

So we were selling things like telescopes and binoculars and night vision equipment, and we built all these different sites. We SEO the shit out, everything. And we grew a business. And, you know, in an album, basically I was able to take that business from basically nothing in the first year too I think about 300K of revenue in the first year, to about $2 million of revenue the second year and became a $5 million business over four or five years.

So it's like 2008, 2007. So this is like way before Yeah, I know, right? Like this is way before everyone thought building a business or starting a startup was cool. And it was just like selling stuff online for me was basically what we were doing at the time. And so that was my first thing, so I stumbled into that and did that for five years. Ended up leaving the business in 2011 or 20 12. I went to Shanghai to study Chinese. because I was your typical Malaysian banana, so I couldn't speak Chinese, but I look very Chinese. I went to school in Shanghai for six months. Literally from scratch, I didn't speak more than 10 words of Chinese. I think the only thing I could say was something like that.

(03:43) Jeremy Au: 

Which means I don't know how to speak Chinese.

(03:45) Wai Hong Fong: 

Exactly. So I was able to, in six months, get from that to actually, I wouldn't say business, conversational, but probably more old school or grunt-like on-the-street conversational. So I could hang out with the business guy, the businessman who runs a factory. And we go out, hang out, have a couple of drinks, and I could have conversations there. No problems there.

(04:03) Jeremy Au: 


(04:04) Wai Hong Fong: 

So not bad. I was probably the most hardworking student I've ever been in my whole life in that time in Shanghai. I went to school for four hours and I went home and did another four hours of study. That was basically a life-changing experience for me. Eventually, it led me to travel a lot around China, and that's how I discovered the idea for StoreHub. met a lot of entrepreneurs, both right at the top but also grassroots entrepreneurs. So I met folks like, there's this guy called Brian Lee. He was one of Alibaba, one of Jack Ma's headmen in the early days. Well, Alibaba, and he shared a lot about the Chinese transformation journey and where technology, where Alibaba played a role in that very fascinating journey and on the grassroots level as I met a lot of retail entrepreneurs.

I met this guy, Mr. Guo. He was running a chain of LA women's lingerie retail stores across China. And he had just implemented this new system and he asked me, Hey, well how are you, this young tech guy? You've done all this stuff before? Why don't you have a look at this thing? I spend a lot of money on it.

And so I did and I was like, oh crap. This dude paid like half a million RNB for a piece of the shit system, right? I was like, oh my God. It's like, it's always Windows 95-ish looking. I used to say Windows 3.1, but then no one really understood what Windows 3.1 meant. But Windows 95-ish looking and its UI was horrible.

And I was like, oh, wow, this is crazy. You spent so much money on this. And so reconciling the journey that, I guess the macro level Chinese, the Chinese tech and transformation journey, my own experience as an online retailer for the five years I was doing in Australia, and basically what I was seeing right on the ground here with this bricks and mortar folks and the kind of the technology they had, they were buying and how expensive it was and how clunky it was, and really seeing it is their future for us to build a platform to bridge this gap, to help these brick and mortar folks transition right into the future. And so, that was the idea of StoreHub.

It wasn't about the POS, it wasn't about anything. It was really this idea of what does it take for us to help transition these people be there? Stand in the gap for these guys trying to figure out the future of retail, the future of commerce in general. And so, that's kind of the idea for where StoreHub came from. , And I met my co-founder at a start startup Christmas party shortly after Shanghai. I shared with her glimpses of these ideas. And we started working on my apartment in Shanghai a couple of weeks later. And just started coding. So I would say I coded about maybe 30% of the first version of the app. She might argue it was a little bit less.

But yeah we pushed it out and that's how we started. I moved back to Malaysia and started selling to a whole bunch of folks. I grew from nothing to maybe about a hundred stores in our first year or so. Got some seed funding, thousand stores. Got a series of funding, a couple of thousand stores, and here we are with over 16,000 stores across our key markets in Southeast Asia. Using the platform, it's no longer just a POS. We started out there. It was just a simple iPad, POS, but now it's really a full-fledged ecosystem, products, everything from inventory management the mini, kind of like Shopify e-commerce thing, cure ordering in store, loyalty, the Hosha Bank.

(06:30) Jeremy Au: 

Yeah. And what's interesting is that POS has been going through multiple ways, of launch scale def, and I think it's kind of interesting because I was just sitting down with another VC and the VC was just like, oh, POS is this terrible, POS is a POS. So, and then of course on the other side of the table, there was like another founder who actually started going to pitch his own POS company, so that made a little bit of an awkward triangle and a conversation there.

Triangles. And then, I tended to the person. I was like, okay, What do you think about POS? Why is this time different? What's going on, so forth? So I guess before we dive into that, obviously, POS is, to some extent a lifeblood of the company, right? It's like talking about taking orders, taking cash, transaction, and converting the service into revenue. So I guess, what's the dream behind POS first before we talk about what has happened since then?

(07:18) Wai Hong Fong: 

Well, the first thing is there's no dream behind a POS, I think. I think the POS is a means to an end as opposed to an end in itself. I think when we, even from the beginning, I never started this out, you don't convince co-founders by selling them on a dream that you're going to build a POS company. Let's put it this way.

(07:34) Jeremy Au: 

Yeah. Right?

(07:34) Wai Hong Fong: 

And fundamentally, the vision for StoreHub was always about this core idea, where is the future of commerce heading? At that time there was this dichotomizing of offline, and online, and people were very hyped about that stuff. And for me, if you imagine what a store need to kind of like bridge that gap if you imagine the super advanced store, all robotics, super automated full-fledged loyalties platform that has integrated. Engagement with customers, and then you on the other side of the spectrum, the guy who's you using pen and paper to run a business.

So who stands in the gap between these two types of businesses? And for me, that was the vision for what StoreHub was. And starting on the Pures was a good starting point because it's the basic block. Everyone can relate to what it solves for and the value it creates. And it is in the majority of cases, the core system, the operating system, if you must the central point for all data collection.

Data going through it and then from there, that's where you stack all the other things that help you go from pen and paper to digitizing your transactions, to actually creating new experiences. So I think for us, that was always the vision, and when we think about what kind of company we're building, yes, we have that core POS core.

But of course, the difference here is that a POS is actually a very high bar for us, for the first product, right? Like the whole idea of an MVP, you throw it out the window because you don't have at least an awesome product, MVAP with a POS, you're not going to sell anything. So I think that's really the idea is it's not about a POS at all.

(08:53) Jeremy Au: Right. That's really interesting because I think that's super true because we're talking about the digitization or the improvement of the small medium enterprise, whether that's an FNB or whether that's a shop or services organization. So what's interesting is that I think so many people have built these companies and there's always that dream to become large.

They have lots of, you know what I'm saying? Right. So I'm just curious how you think about it because it feels like Southeast Asia is full of POS solutions. There are multiple players in each country in Singapore and Indonesia and Malaysia now the Philippines, and there's new players keep coming in as well. So what's going on here from your perspective as a veteran?

(09:25) Wai Hong Fong: 

Yeah, I would call ourselves like a first wave of cloud POS companies. I think since then we've seen multiple waves, and so I can say that, when we first started, it was very Southeast Asia as an ecosystem was very nascent, right? We're still very young, very new and. The truth is, like most of us, we draw inspiration from just what we can see, what we can experience ourselves. And so in many cases, some of these entrepreneurs you have met who have started POS companies, they would've drawn inspiration from the square right of that time. And everyone was, I remember there was a time pitch decks were all about, we are the square of Southeast Asia, right? That was the pitch.

(09:54) Jeremy Au: 

Hundred percent.

(09:55) Wai Hong Fong: 

Yeah. Yeah. The moca, the I don't know if we ever went out that pub, but there was a whole bunch of MO companies that were doing that. And then you know, eventually Square died down a bit of hype and then now you have everyone pivoting because Toast went public and trading a crazy model. We are now the toast of Southeast Asia. So I think there are waves of people that of entrepreneurs that have basically looked at what's worked in west side and basically come and say, okay, we are the ex of Southeast Asia for whatever.

And I think that's one way, one example of why people are so hot on this idea. The other example is also, I think because you also noticed this trend, a lot more F&B-focused POS than retail-focused and a very simple reason for that is that most of us eat that's a stupid statement.

I say all of us eat and a whole bunch of us are foodies, and so we often like to solve problems that we can relate to often, like to solve problems that we feel more intimately. And so I think a lot of entrepreneurs do that. They see, oh, restaurant, oh, you got restaurant friend, oh, you know, whatever.

And it's, oh, they're so painful. And then they naturally gravitate toward restaurants. Interestingly for us, like when we started out, that was actually the case. A lot of businesses were focused on restaurants. We were the opposite. We actually didn't wanna do restaurants. We were like, we were retail focused.

And then we ended up having a lot of restaurants coming to us just because there are not many good providers in the market. And so we end up getting a lot of cafes. So, I think that's all thousands of cafes using us and we're probably the largest provider for cafes in Malaysia at least. And so I think if you think about the evolution, it's very much connected to these ideas of what they've seen as well as what you can experience personally.

(11:15) Wai Hong Fong: 

Of course, the other thing that we ob observe in the market, that's probably really interesting, and I tell these VCs all the time, one thing that most of these entrepreneurs don't realize and the reason why, you mentioned right, they start, they die. They start, and they die. A very common pattern is a lot of these entrepreneurs are.

Often tech entrepreneurs, they're often techies themselves or product folks and they don't realize that when they start a company like this, it's fundamental an operational company. They're not actually running a tech startup.

So I think that's the gap here, right? Most people build a product, they try to sell it, and then they realize, Hey, crap, you know, I can't scale this. It's actually a really big pain to manage shoes. It's it, I think a lot of people start out with this idea, I wanna be the Apple for POS or self-service. Just let them, just give them the software and they'll do it themselves. Nonsense. People get sold on the idea of product-led growth.

Oh yeah. Just let the product be, just focus on the pro and the product will sell itself. Just put it in a market, and people would just download and also nonsense, right? So I think all these are interesting trends that we've observed over the years, and I think for me as an entrepreneur I've been very honest and very real that no, this is not just a tech business. We're building something with an incredible amount of operational scale that we need to focus on. An incredible amount of focus is on building a sales engine, a sales system, not just hiring salespeople or not just thinking about PLG or product-led growth.

All of these things are basically the business we're building here is really just a lot of hard work, arguably for not a lot of ROIs sometimes because of the work. In relation to the outcomes, it is, it's a lot more work than most people expect.

(12:34) Jeremy Au: 

You know, you mentioned obviously that, you know, you had to build a sales engine, which is totally understandable for every startup scale, but you also mentioned that operations are underappreciated by these founders. So what is this what are folks overlooking or underappreciating about operations required to make this happen?

(12:49) Wai Hong Fong: I actually think it's both. It's, so the sales engine as well is super, is underappreciated. So most entrepreneurs would think of the sales engine as, okay, you hire good salespeople or hire good sales managers, and they hire good salespeople, and then they train people and then you, that's it.

You've got a sales engine, but that's not the case at all. I mean, the way you should, we think about SME sales particularly has to be very different from the way we think. Traditionally about enterprise sales. And so if you are building an enterprise sales organization, sure, what we've just described works, right?


(13:13) Wai Hong Fong: 

You hire good salespeople with proven track records making decent dollars, and you can pay them all of that to sustain an enterprise sales funnel. But for semi-e-sales, the reality is that you would likely be dealing with a high turnover of Salesforce simply because of the price range of what you're selling and so on and so forth.

And so, a huge thing that we did in the earlier days as well, is to be very clear about this and to draw inspiration not from enterprise sales organizations, which a lot of VCs, by the way, tend to point you downwards but rather from MLM companies. So, so my inspiration is this, right?

If you look at an MLM company, what's the difference between them? It's, they are evil to take any Tom, Dick, and Harry off the street, Uncle Joe, Cousin Harry, and turn them into sales monsters overnight. And that, that's a thought that captivated me as we were thinking through all these things.

And I'm like, well, let's study that. How, and of course you don't actually build a multi-level system, but you think through the training that they do, you think through the material that they give you, think about the tools that they give to empower those people. And when you put all those together that.

This is probably where we find more success, rather than thinking in terms of hiring good salespeople, we need to think about how do we build a strong sales system. And so for me, that's the sales system difference, which a lot of entrepreneurs don't really get because it's not something they think about heavily.

You know, especially in this space operationally. I mean, it's that it's the light that people that we like to believe now because the light that we like to believe is we can build an apple. All the US ecosystem and people just do stuff themselves because the alternative is painful. We don't want to think about what it means to take to scale a system like this without hiring a whole bunch of people and sending them out all the time.

Now, my answer to this is it's not about hiring a whole bunch of people and sending it out all the time, but the challenge here is actually a lot in the details.

So when we think about the kind of systems or the cons solutions that we're selling it's almost like infrastructure solutions, really. If the peers go down, boom, then, business is just screwed. And so how do we think in terms of supporting that level of dependency with if, with what we are building for them?

So everything is down to the routers that our customers are using. The monitoring on that, the software we are building for that the choice of routers. Brands, there's a whole bunch of businesses out there. POS startups out there, they're still giving consumer great routers to their customers.

And then they wonder why they keep having support problems. Why they, you're like, dude, it's because you don't think about these things enough. If there's an important reliance on the network, then you have to make sure that there's dependencies because if the network goes down, even if it's not your fault, guess who they blame first?

(15:32) Jeremy Au: 


(15:32) Wai Hong Fong: 

The POS company.

(15:33) Jeremy Au: 


(15:35) Wai Hong Fong: 


(15:35) Jeremy Au: 

Yeah, I think it'd be quite unpopular if you say like, oh, the problem is your, you know, router. Yeah.

(15:40) Wai Hong Fong: 

I mean, you can say it, but the thing is that if you don't have a meaningful step for resolution what is the poor guide? That's all going to do. You know, so I think we've all gone down that path of blaming someone else, but at the end of the day, blame doesn't they'll still think it's you, right?

So you, so what is the step here? The step here is to actually own that or as much as you can of the data there. And to actually offer meaningful solutions regardless of whether it's your fault or not your fault. You solve it first, and you tell them it's their fault, right? It's kind of like a funny thing. You can't, even if someone else's fault, you have to solve their problem for them. That's essentially it.

(16:09) Jeremy Au: 

Oh yeah, it's true. It's true. And I think what's interesting of course is that you're also building this, in Malaysia as well. And I think, like you mentioned earlier, a lot of folks are making assumptions about us. They want to port a US model to Southeast Asia.

So Apple, Square, now Toast. So what do you think are some of the dynamics of localizing or building, this was obviously Asia that you think folks underappreciate.

(16:28) Wai Hong Fong: 

I think the biggest one is definitely the idea that, well, at least the difference in the mindset of the SME business owner I think you have a lot more hands-on do yourself business owners in the US in Australia where I was living for a long time very hands-on, like I know business owners are doing their own accounting.

You won't find many business owners here doing their own accounting. And so obviously to be able to be very clear about those nuances and reflect that, whether it's a sales process about what. Makes a business owner tick what value they perceive or whether it's in, you're trying to upsell value, right?

Like sometimes we think, oh, integration with all these solutions. Wow. Such a cool thing. Then you, right from the beginning, I remember, I used to word VCs because I mean, they're always very happy to give advice. So they do, and they always say, oh yeah, you should integrate all these accounting solutions da.

Don't, because we've seen this work elsewhere. But the truth is this doesn't care. I mean, I don't do my, even I, if you're not doing your own accounting, who cares whether it's integrated or integrated? The accountant is doing this, feeling the pain, right? Not you, but you are the decision maker. And so I think there are very clear nuances for us that we've observed that, what works, quote unquote there does not work here because the person experiencing the pain or perceiving the value is not the same person always.

(17:38) Jeremy Au: 

And how do you recommend founders dodge that mistake from your perspective?

(17:43) Wai Hong Fong: 

How do I recommend it?

(17:44) Jeremy Au: 


(17:45) Wai Hong Fong: 

I don't know if I can recommend it per se, as much as I can probably share how I perceive that myself. So I think for me, I was that business owner, so I was the guy doing my own accounting. I was the guy integrating these solutions. And then I come back and I probably have made a mistake as well.

I'll probably talk to business owners and say, oh, let's do this. Of course, Xero QuickBooks, let's work together. Then I start talking to business owners and these guys don't care. And I think if you wanna translate that to recommendation, it's there. Founders just have to be down and dirty with the details of actually what the life of a business owner is like. What they, how they think, and what they go through. There's really no simple solution here, but just you going to know that the devil's always in the details.

(18:25) Jeremy Au: 

Right. And you know, talking about this, I think a lot of folks are trying to build all these vertical SaaS solutions for all these various business owners now. So I think you see people trying to build an operating system like you said for F&B, right? So I think like you said, people trying to be toast and so forth, like Atlas and so forth.

And then you have other companies that are like trying to be os for. Ex-business owner, right? HR offices or IT professionals and so, so forth. And I think you kind of shared, to some extent, you talk about how it was very important for you to provide that full suite, right? That one-stop shop dynamic for these business owners.

So what do you think about that? Do you feel like your vertical SaaS or do you feel like how does that work from your perspective?

(19:02) Wai Hong Fong: 

I'm not a fan of super niche vertical SaaS places. I think it's I think the reality is that the market, It's not big enough for those not to say the total population's not big enough. But the people who are able to appreciate the depth of those superly super niche, vertical solutions, are not big enough.

I think. I think you would find a lot of Singapore startups In that category because Singapore's a bubble, right? In Southeast Asia, Singapore business owners Singaporean, their exposure and their thinking and their mindset is not Southeast Asia at all. And so I think the, when you look at the Southeast Asian landscape as a whole, what you realize is that it's less about doing a lot in really like fancy ways or really advanced ways.

It's more about doing the few in very simple and easily executable ways. So, I think that is really why we chose to go down this path. That is essential, right? Like, you know, do the few critical things that a business needs in ways that they can execute very simply, rather than try to give them, the Rolls Royce of that specific vertical.

(20:04) Jeremy Au: 

And you know, as you, you know, you've obviously been thinking about this and obviously from a very strategic side as well. Does gaming help since I'm just kind of curious? Does it like, you know, I mean, you know, it's like when I was a kid growing up, my mom was like, gaming is bad.

It's brought to your brain, and stops, like gaming. It doesn't help at all. And I'm like, no, this is a strategy game, right? It's helping me, with my strategy. You gave me a personal life, and you have that mindset, but when you think about this strategy, et cetera, do you feel like it? There's some overlap or do you think it's something else? What do you think about that?

(20:30) Wai Hong Fong: 

It's like complete overlap, right? I don't even, I don't even know how to answer the question. Does it help when it's like saying, there's so much a part of your psyche and your mindset already, and it's impossible to separate my gaming experience from the way I see the world, the way I see the business, and the way I grow it? So let's put it this way. You can name a game in whatever history of games that we had, and I probably have played 70% of it, right? That's how it is extensive. I've played everything from your f p s, your and your CSS goals, your or not. Your StarCrafts, you're whatever.

And so in every genre of games, there is an element and a, well, an element of it that is incredibly meaningful towards understanding and making decisions. As an entrepreneur. I mean, if you think about it. The typical StarCraft game, right? What is StarCraft? StarCraft is all about timing, right? Timing is knowing your power spikes, right? Knowing when are you strong against them and when are you weak? And knowing when to expand and when not to expand. And even if I had taken out the original sentence, StarCraft, you have thought I would be talking about business here. And so when you think about those concepts it's really quite interesting where we are able to take. These things that we practice so heavily in, games and allow that to influence our decision-making or even just a natural thing, right? And so, yeah, that's that aspect of things, that's also the aspect of how we, so I used to play a lot of, do I still do? And I used to lead. Or at least was my, my, we used to lead my team to play a tournament in Melbourne. And we used to win a bunch of tournaments. And we would buy leadership books.

You know, I'm not sure if you, back in the day, it was like John Maxwell's 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. We were like, really, like old-school shit. And we would read this stuff and we were like, all right guys, there's a law of the lit, the law of the lit, the leader caps the whole team.

So we going to think about and we going to, and so we were teaching people, we were training the folks in the team, like about the, about leadership. And communication, right? because is everything in the team. And so again, like all these concepts, within the context of a game, it makes so much sense in the context of the company, it can even make more so I think, yeah, whether it's learning skills or skills I'm learning today and drawing inspiration from those and re-expressing them in the way that we organize ourselves as a company, I think that's very meaningful.

(22:29) Jeremy Au: 

Yeah. I love what you said about how there's a lot of overlap and there's a lot of dynamics, of shared learning and, excitement about the future, about how to improve on both sets. So, kind of curious, What do you think about the game of startups or the game of business building? You know, what are some of the systems or analogies we can use?

(22:45) Wai Hong Fong: 

The game of starting out.

(22:46) Jeremy Au: 

I don't know. I mean, okay. I'll start with one first. I think the game of building a sustainable business is very different from building the game of a VC-backed startup because one is you're trying to build a company that's sustainable, is profitable, versus one that is trying to achieve a hundred million dollars of revenue within 10 years. That's very different

(23:03) Wai Hong Fong: 

It depends on which patch you're talking about, right?

(23:07) Jeremy Au: 

I'm telling you about the patch.

(23:10) Wai Hong Fong: 

Oh, I mean, you know when the VC back game was just released in Southeast Asia. There was a particular matter to that. Again, and of course that matter changed in recent years, there was a big patch applied a couple of years ago, and then there was another major patch that was that nerve that, that game star recently.

(23:25) Jeremy Au: 

Minerals have dropped by 50%.

(23:29) Wai Hong Fong: 

Aarguably more.

(23:31) Jeremy Au: 

If arguably more.

(23:32) Wai Hong Fong: 

Yeah. So, so I think there is a I mean, in a nutshell, what you first described was sustainable businesses is a game style. And VC-backed startups are a changing matter. And who knows, right? Two years from now, three years from now, suddenly money is cheap again and bam, right?

That matter changes. So I think there is, and the first thing obviously is that the difference is You going to understand the matter of the VC back game and you going to play to that matter. My problem was probably that, I think I was always just behind the matter because of how unsexy our business was in the earlier years.

In more recent years, of course, things have changed. A lot of people study love the matter of sustainable, meaningful growth. And the reason why, you know I guess didn't capitalize on the earlier matter was I just didn't feel like that was a game I wanted to play. I didn't feel like I wanted to raise a, maybe it's because I was running a bootstrap business in the past, and so something about burning a lot of money to, to get a lot of non-paying users just didn't stick right with me. So I was always fighting with my VCs, right? They were always like, why, how, why not going faster? I'm like, oh, but then, you go through sacrifices and scam has that.

I said nevermind you raised next round. I'm like, oh shit. So it was always that battle And of course, you can't, you come to a climate like today and suddenly you're like, Hey you talk to, to, to VCs and hey, you haven't burned a lot of money for the attraction you've got, but that's not bad.

That's really interesting. And so I think it's it's like how like certain games, right? Like I think Diablo when Metaverse came out, everyone was saying SOR is the best barbarian was really crap, a beta. But then when the, when it finally changes, you're like, oh, no, Barb is the best.

And so it, it's almost like if you're stubborn enough your time will somewhat come. Not always. So a bit of luck has to have a play in it. But if you're always chasing the matter, it's one way to play the game.

(25:09) Jeremy Au: 

Yeah, true.

(25:10) Wai Hong Fong: 

But it's not every, I would say for me personally, I don't know if that's my approach towards playing it.

I don't necessarily need to, I don't have the ambition of being a unicorn or a billionaire or whatever, and therefore I will play that game to get there. For me, it's like, no I want to, I wanna have an expression of. My approach and if the matter adjusts for me or if the matter fits me, or if my time comes and I'm prepared to capitalize on it, great. But I would not, at all costs chase the matter for whatever it is.

(25:35) Jeremy Au: 

Right. Yeah. I think that's interesting that there are different, like they said, play styles, there are different strategies and also there are different, like environmental factors, right? That's there. When you see founders starting out right in the game of, entrepreneurship and building these companies what do you think the stuff that they, you know, like underappreciate or they don't? That you feel like they have to learn very quickly?

(25:54) Wai Hong Fong: 

I think a lot of founders underappreciate the value of. The execution part. Think I still see a lot of founders overstating the idea and the value of the idea. I mean, I meet people and say, don't tell me anything until I sign in NDA or I will, or I still meet people who say, I will only tell you if you say yes to working with me now. Like, what? I think the other appreciation is around the journey itself, where a lot of founders are outcome driven. They're like they only really only see the outcome. And they don't ex they don't realize that, hey, no, actually I mean you, you think about it right as startup founders. If your goal and your outcome are to make money or to have that kind of outcome, don't be a founder line, just go, maybe be an IB, do something else. It's a more secure way to get there. The founder is about the journey and I don't know if that's, that is appreciated enough. The journey is the most valuable thing about being a founder.

(26:45) Jeremy Au: 


(26:46) Wai Hong Fong: 

Things people have learned really quickly is people always say, oh, if you love your job, you never work a day of your life. Kind of nonsense. Yeah. You very quickly learn that as a founder, you hit 95% of your work. You will. Why?

Because you are, you're trying to build a fast-growing company. You're trying to do things that are completely outta your comfort zone all the time. You are putting yourself in a position where you will not be comfortable for a long time if you are ambitiously trying to grow the organization.

I remember when I first started the company my previous company when I left was about 30 people. So when, when StoreHUb became like 30 people within one or two years, I started feeling really panicky. I was like, oh my God, I've never let a company more than this number of people before I, so I was fighting.

I was like, that's why I saw the business coach really early on as well. But that concept of your every six months or so your scope changes, your comfort zone changes. You learn very quickly that if you want to feel good all the time or you want to feel like waking up every day is great. It's the wrong job, the wrong career choice.

(27:44) Jeremy Au: 

Yeah, I always remember that someone was like oh, wow, congratulations on, I won, you won the award. You know, like your marketing person put it up. And I was like, no. It was me. After the dinner is very exhausted from the award ceremony, I put up myself in my pajamas. And then I realized at 1:00 AM and no one celebrate it with either.

So I called my neighbor and said, Hey, can I come by and celebrate a little bit? But yeah, totally get it. I think you going to do a lot. So I think what's interesting is that obviously, you've done a lot of reflection about the strategy, your own personal play style, and so, so forth.

What do you think you know are your personal hopes and aspirations? What are you personally working on for yourself? In terms of, what you're leading and how you are building?

(28:21) Wai Hong Fong: Yeah. So, I had kind of lived the Malaysian dream, when I was when I moved to Australia. So for context the Malaysian dream, I'll put it this way. It's the opposite of the American dream. So the American dream, you come to the, you come to the United States of America, regardless of what, whatever you look like, whatever what background you have, you can make it if you work hard enough, right? That is the American dream. Anyone can make it whenever whoever comes here.

Malaysia is the opposite. Malaysia. You going to get a fuck up Malaysia, and then you going to be a success somewhere else. And then there, yeah, that's, you live the Malaysian dream. So that's basically why I grew up hearing it as a narrative.

(28:51) Jeremy Au: 

Right, right.

(28:51) Wai Hong Fong: 

So, I kind of had that dream when I moved to Australia. I got my PR, I got my house, my car, my job, my career, everything there. But coming back here was triggered by all the politics. Shifts that happen in the hope of a Malaysian being able to bridge stand in the gap. I think that one of the biggest advantages of my experience is my having lived in 1, 2, 3, 4, In five different countries, extended periods of time and then, and is incredibly flexible and incredibly able to adapt.

And to take all of that and say, what does it mean to build a world-class strong, meaningful culture, meaningful companies in this part of the world? And that was really a, a. An incredible hope that I brought with me. When I came back to set up a store, we don't call ourselves a Malaysian company.

My co-founders are Malaysian, Chinese, gets we have lots of people across the region, the Philippines, Thailand even Singapore. And so, but the idea here of what does it mean to take what we see are meaningful bits, behaviors, cultural traits that we can collectively pull together and say, this is what, this is the kind of organization we wanna build, and this is the kind of impact we wanna have in this part of the world in such a time as this, right? Where so much transition is happening. Southeast Asia needs as many people to solve meaningful problems as possible, not just chase the. Most have the highest ROI problem but chase sometimes the hardest problems to solve require the best people type of problems. So I think that's essentially really my hope is for us to be solving this kind of problem is really meaningful because it's an incredibly hard problem, but it's an incredibly meaningful problem because it's not just about. Serving profits it's about serving the specific needs of marginalized folks. The people going to fringes are the small, the underserved.

And yeah, so I, I think for me it's that I get to build something that leaves a lasting mark. A wise person has told me that, Wang, if you have a vision, For the world that is like, that goes beyond your own life. That's a vision worth living for. And I was always flabbergasted by the thought that can you actually formulate a vision that like exceeds your life. Most of us only think about what we can experience in our own life and work for that vision. But yeah, when I think about the work that we do and the kind of life I wanna lead I'm always thinking in those terms, saying, What does it mean to have a vision that's 200 years from now? 300 years from now? Wow, that's so crazy. I think about it, it blows me away. So it's, yeah

(31:02) Jeremy Au: 

On that note, could you personally share about a time when you have been brave?

(31:06) Wai Hong Fong: 

Brave. It is a difficult word to navigate. You know. I mean, the cliche is that brave is not having that confidence in the midst of trauma, it's really despite how crappy you feel, you still make decisions. And I think for me probably the closest to that would be let me think.

I'm just trying to like, take away all the sexy stories and go back to go to the truly. Challenging ones. So every single, I think we've probably lived through three times where we're like, the runway is down to almost nothing as a, as an organization. And we and I think brave for me was pulling my co-founder together and say, Hey, this is where we're at. What do we do, or what you wanna do?

And it's less about the things that we end up doing. And I remember having this, I think, the conversation probably just like a couple of years ago. And it was more about the choice. Is this still worth doing? Because we could walk away from this and we could get really nice cushy jobs, but is this still worth chasing?

Is this whatever we do, is it still worth doing? And we've done this for 10 years right now, and I think at the very least two of these conversations, I would say those are probably the most, the bravest things we've done. It's. Having these really honest conversations with each other. And a lot of the time, I think if anything, it's my fear is what if she, when she goes, when she doesn't want to do this journey with me anymore.

I mean, she's in a different state for me. But a as a leader of the organization you have to be most honest with the people closest to you. Be brave enough to walk them through that process. Whatever the outcome it is. Yeah. So I think that was probably the most challenging for me the most challenging conversations for me and the things that I need to be most brave about.

(32:37) Jeremy Au: 

For folks who are trying or thinking about having that conversation that you had with your co-founder, How would you recommend or advise them to structure or pull that conversation together?

(32:48) Wai Hong Fong: 

I think the first thing that and before even talking about structure, the first thing not to do is to delay that conversation. I think the worst thing is to always put, put aside or put away, or, procrastinate on this kind of conversation. And really, I remember when I went to those conversations, I didn't walk in with an outcome in mind, right?

I think as founders, it's very easy to do that. In every conversation we go in, we want an outcome, we have an outcome, we're gunning for the outcome.

But I feel like for conversations like this, If you go in there like that, you lose what's most important about conversations like this, which is, let's honestly evaluate both of us where we're at. In our view of the future of what we're doing and things that we're doing now, and how much it's still important, how much it's still meaningful. Some, sometimes founders, especially co-founders, go into everything and they're like I'm trying to move you to this decision. And that's natural and that's habitual.

I feel like for a co-founder conversation about where we're at drop that probably, and in my case anyways it works. Sometimes it doesn't work.

But is that okay or not okay? For me it's okay. I don't think we are, we're meant to manipulate our way through life. I think it's more important that we walk the journey as it allows us to.

(33:57) Jeremy Au: 

On that note, thank you so much for sharing. I really appreciate you sharing all of that and being so open with that. I'd like to summarize the three big takeaways. First of all, thank you for sharing about your accidental journey to becoming a founder, where, you build that business out of your uncle's garage, and by then went on to build a POS system.

And I think a little bit about your learning journey as a founder. Over that story. The second of course is thank you so much for sharing about the POS industry. And I think it was a very deep dive. I think about first generation, second wave, third wave, and I think some of the underappreciated parts, but also some of the mistakes that people have made, but also I think how you're trying to see it differently.

I thought that was really good advice for folks who are either evaluating the space or thinking about a space or wanting to join a company in that space as well. So I thought it was really interesting to hear that dynamic. Lastly, I think thanks for sharing. I think a little bit about your personal philosophy on life.

I thought on one hand of course we had a game of mindset. I think it was father's joke and laugh a little bit about what the current state of play is but also what the current matter is and play styles. But I also really appreciate it, especially your sharing towards the end about how some conversations don't need to have objectives or outcomes to be gunning for.

And it's important to have that open conversation. I really appreciate you taking the time to share.

(35:05) Wai Hong Fong: 

No worries. Thanks. Thanks for having me, Jeremy. It was definitely a fun, fun time.