Two months ago, The Picha Project was chosen to be part of the MaGIC e@Stanford program – an immersive innovation and entrepreneurship program at Stanford University and Silicon Valley for two weeks (yayyyyy!)
This gave me and my co-founder Sweelin the chance to travel to San Francisco and Silicon Valley to learn how the big companies do it in the real business world.
Oh boy, both of us were truly mind-blown throughout the whole journey. From the companies that we visited (Google, Facebook and Airbnb), the lessons we attended in Stanford University to the people we met – this program has taught us so much and widened up our mind towards the work we do.
I’ve attended programs like this before for the past years, but this one was really life-changing. It changed the way we think about building a better business and impacting more lives.
Firstly, being able to be with a bunch of like-minded peers was truly a blessing. They are also extremely supportive towards us as they constantly find ways to help grow Picha. Throughout the journey, so many thoughts and ideas were contributed by them, and they probably have 10-20 more years of experience than us in the Malaysia business industry. Secondly, the way the professors in Stanford deliver their lessons was so eye-opening as into how education is supposed to be – it’s supposed to be fun, engaging, up-to-date – and that’s what they delivered.
In the spirit of Picha, which we always love to share our food, stories and knowledge – we would like to share with you the things that we learnt from this program. I might not be able to capture all of them but here are the 3 main things that we got out of the trip. We are still trying to get a grasp of what we learnt and apply them to Picha, hopefully this will help not just us but also you in whatever you do.
1. The purpose of being an entrepreneur (or in whatever you do)
I know it sounds really subjective but in whatever we do, it really boils down to this word – PURPOSE (or WHY). What’s the purpose of starting a business? What’s the purpose of designing this product? What’s the purpose of such solution?
When we have to present what Picha does, whether it’s to an investor, audience or student, we always tell them this: Today, we have 10 families from 5 different countries cooking with us, serving more than 30,000 pax and earning a revenue of half a million in a year. But, the question today is – why only 10 families? why not 100 or 500 or 1000? What’s stopping us? What’s the excuse this time?
During the trip, we were forced to push ourselves to think, what’s the purpose of creating The Picha Project? Besides the purpose that we exist today – which is to empower refugee families, is there a greater or higher purpose? Impacting 10 families in 1 year, can we do better? Or can we be the face of sustainable solutions for the marginalised group?
We wanted to help 1 family when we first started, and then it grew to 3, to 5 and then 10 today. As we grow, the dream got bigger and bigger. Today, Picha’s purpose is to reach out to many as we can, hundreds and thousands as fast as we can, be the face of sustainable solutions for the marginalised group because we know if we continue to do what we do, people will follow our foot-steps and create more innovative solutions to empower and lift up the underserved communities. We want to make Picha a movement for many years to come, because in today’s world, there isn’t just one way to solve problems, there are many innovative ways to do so, and Picha is just one of them today. We believe that Picha will be an example for many more solutions to be created and start changing people’s life in all walks of the corner.
So before you start anything, ask yourself this. Why?
2. Entrepreneurs turns problems into opportunities
This is what they always say – “the bigger the problem is, the bigger the opportunity is” – even Jack Ma has mentioned this before. It applies to any situation whether within the organisation or when you see a problem in general. We always see problems as a subject to find solution, but we probably have not see beyond that – problems mean opportunities.
An example, what if we ask ourselves this question? 12% of the minority refugees (those who came from Middle East) who are professionals back at their country are in Malaysia without a job because they are not allowed to work. So what’s the solution? Help them get odd jobs in Malaysia? Or donate money to them? What if we can use their language proficiency or their profession, use technology to create a platform where they can share their expertise online, charge a fee for those who would like to learn from them and probably get a living out of that? We’ll never know who is out there wanting to learn about architecture, language, literature, etc from different cultures unless we try?
Of course, there will be challenges or problems when we start setting up such platform, but remember again, the bigger the problem, the bigger the opportunity. Within Picha, we always have all sorts of problems, from logistics to operations to human resource and many other problems that probably the all businesses face, but we believe instead of whining and complaining, we can turn these problems into opportunities and create a whole new business out of the problem. That’s also what innovation is.
3. Never underestimate your competitor or be afraid of competition
Every kind of business has its own competitors, even if a business is a very new solution in the world, there’s always competitors. Competition doesn’t just mean those that are going head-to-head with the same business you have. Competition also means the other stakeholders that are supporting the business, the suppliers, and the consumers or new initiatives that allow new entrants and substitution of new products or services. They call it the 5 forces. (You may google more about it).
It is really important to analyse our position with the 5 forces, will the consumers bargain for a lower price? Will the supplier increase their prices and provide better quality supplies? Will new products be able to substitute our product? What’s our weakness and strength in this 5 forces. To have a broader view on all these competitions will help us to better understand how we can develop our products/services too. Also ask ourselves this, how are we disrupting the industry?
However, we should never be afraid of competitions. If we ever move forward faster and accelerate, part of it is because there are competitions constantly pushing us to be a better version of ourselves. Instead of fearing that our competitors will catch up on us and be better, be the better version of yourself, and I think this applies to us in our daily lives and motivations too.
So here are the 3 key things me and my co-founder found very useful for us to re-access our whole business and purpose. Of course, there are many other lessons but it’s always better for us to experience or listen ourselves from the big names that are making it out there. Sometimes, it is good for us co-founders or managing team to be out of the operations for a week or two, to re-look into the whole business, and restart/re-work.
Thank you MaGIC for always being such an amazing Picha Hero, constantly pushing The Picha Project to where it is today and sending us to San Francisco for such valuable lessons and experience.
Never stop learning guys!