Johnathan Teh

  • Wisdom of 2013

    2013 has truly been an astounding year filled with many experiences, lessons, people, and countries. Sharing here are some of the wisdom I gathered. From packing my bags leaving Sydney to this year long of travelling and entrepreneurship - taught me:

    1. Being spontaneous in most cases can yield positive outcome.

    Making decisions on the go may seem lack of thought but the truth is that these decisions are more likely to bring about positivity than negative. As I am writing this post, I am over in Romania building a mobile messaging application. Circumstances called for product re-development and I made a decision to Eastern Europe after a few talks with some Romanian friends in the Bay Area. Looking at it today, the risk definitely paid off choosing something I have little expectation or knowledge of.

    For every question you get on "why”, there's always "why not". I follow my heart: if it feels right, then go for it and be ready for any challenges.

    2. New experience enriched our lives in ways we least expect it to.

    SFO.jpg It’s in our very human nature to lean back to what we know best. Instead, look at each new experience as an opportunity to broaden our perspective. Being over in 11 different cities this year, I can’t help but to be reminded how different each of these cities are. Just a few examples – NYC - fast paced and glamorous, SF Bay Area - tech haven, London – rain and tube is almost part of everyday life, Stockholm - alluring and chill.

    3. In crossroads of making a choice; it matter less what you choose, what matter is that you choose.

    We do our absolute best not to miss out and research into more options. Suddenly, you are confronted with endless of options and worst yet not able to make a decision. So often this year I am faced with situations like this; who to couch surf with first arriving in Palo Alto, where to stay in SF, multiple events happening simultaneously and being presented with 9 different routes by 4 different travel agents. At the end of the day, all I needed was a plane ticket to get me to Europe. Don’t get too stuck with choice, make one and you will make the best of it.

    4. Plan, adapt, risk and learn.

    Simple as that - plan as you go, adapt if necessary and risk when requires. Then, learn from the experience. I personally believe there is no good or bad / right or wrong decision. There is just decision and the result of that decision depends on how we execute it and what we learn from it.

    5. “Oneself” and alone time helps.

    This year long of travelling help me discover my inner self. Try it; let yourself surface from all the noise modern society produces. Stop chasing after what every one is following and pursue the path that appeals you most.

    6. Make new friends in every place you go.

    Housewarming-Cluj.jpg New local friends will help you experience a new area much easier with much more fun. I have made friends with taxi drivers, hairdresser, waiter/waitress, friends of friends, cleaners, and streets people.

    7. In doubt or are curious, just ask.

    Everything I know today starts with curiosity and/or in a state of not knowing. I learnt about company structure in U.S., immigration, basic programming, design, drawing, and startup among many others this year.

    Be like a child seeking to unravel the truth in everything. There is absolutely no shame in asking or saying I don't know. You are not meant to know all the answer or worst pretend to have them.

    8. "Simple" is not the same as "easy". Simplicity is difficult to achieve.

    Be careful when someone says - "it's simple". Simplicity is never as easy as it seems. I have come to understand that simplicity takes time. Simplicity requires you to sit long and hard to consider what are the absolutely essentials and having them alone.

    9. Realise we all have the ability to simplify things even the most complicated situation

    “When things get too complicated, make them simple” - Jenny Perry (Yes, it’s possible to do that)

    10. Get your hands dirty and be creative.

    I believe we’re all born to create — create things that are bigger than ourselves. I get questioned a lot on my background and why am I in the digital tech industry. The truth is that my educational background didn’t direct me into the tech sector, my passion and interests did.

    “Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up”  – St. Francis

    If you don’t feel it yet, you just have to seek deep in you to find that creativity of yours. Don’t get trapped by the system set up before.

    11. Ego and selfishness will hurt.

    Learn to understand others, be an empathetic listener. Listen to their emotions and what they care about. Ask about their life, their culture, and their language. You will be different when you start letting go of your own opinion. I have come to see how different culture practices even on the simplest things in life – transporting, gathering and communicating. Start getting familiar with the idea of perspective.

    12. The impact of every person you meet, no matter how big or small they may seem to you at first.

    Landing-in-Paris.jpg The rich, poor, fortunate and unfortunate all have their teachings for you. I realised this year learning come from strange way and hit you when you least expect it to. I still recall an interview I had back with one of the richest man in Australia and what he told me about the importance of time. It’s still stay true to me till this very day. Or the decision to Romania after a demo pitch night in SF; how a Romanian couple sparked my interest in Romania as a destination for development. Also, the man suffered from a 3rd degree burnt made me inform of the unfortunate people and be compassionate.

    13. Accepting things you cannot change.

    Quote to live by:

    "Grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” — St. Francis

    14. Get rid of the unnecessary.

    How many emails do you get during the day from email subscriptions? Or that bookmark lists that’s pilling for the last 2 or 3 years? Make it a New Year’s Resolution to start clearing out all the unneeded belongings and/or attachments you have accumulated throughout the years. You will feel much more free and lightweight once you cut down to basics.

    15. Learn something new everyday.

    Go out, make new friends and learn something. Life is so much more than just working and staring in front of a computer screen. Everyday I strive to see and learn something new. Whether is it a new word in a foreign language or a seeking understanding on our human anatomy or learning to play a new board game. Be curious and learn to understand why people do what they do.

    16. Every person can gain so much from travelling.


    “In both business and personal life, I’ve always found that travel inspires me more than anything else I do. Evidence of the languages, cultures, scenery, food, and design sensibilities that I discover all over the world can be found in every piece of my jewelry.” – Ivanka Trump

    “Travel has a way of stretching the mind. The stretch comes not from travel’s immediate rewards, the inevitable myriad new sights, smells and sounds, but with experiencing firsthand how others do differently what we believed to be the right and only way.” – Ralph Crawshaw

    We, Aussies are definitely walkabouting out there.

    18. Unique idea doesn't exist, only golden execution.

    Forget about creating a unique idea or business proposition. Rather start following #4. Make mistakes and make lots of them. Mistakes are how we learn. Failures are the stepping-stones to success. Reminded by my uncle in London.

    "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett

    19. Be accountable and take responsibility.

    Complete something; create a list of what you need to do and be accountable to yourself. Being an entrepreneur is a tricky one; you’ll have to train your self-discipline and be reminded that you answer to yourself. Taking responsibility is an act of confronting yourself – knowing you have the ability to make change.

    20. Key to be productivity is to be organised.

    2013, the year I have been exploring on productivity hacks! Some quick fun concepts (google them): Inbox Zero, Task Management, Digital Folder Organisation, GTD, unsubscribing and deleting. I realised how much more productive I have became from choosing the right tools and approaches to be organised.

    21. If you can do it right now, get it done now.

    The time has come to stop postponing, if you can do it now, do it right now!

    22. Everyone everywhere basically wants the same thing.

    Everyone wants to feel loved and to be acknowledged. Show love and you’ll receive it back. Fundamentally, we are all seeking for that one thing regardless of the distance apart.

    23. Nobody has it all figured out.

    Met with some of the smartest and brightest individuals, one thing certain is that no body has it all. The great thing is that we humans are collective people. Work with people and we will reach and see further than to stubbornly trying to cover everything alone.

    24. You can’t please everyone.

    Don't fight too long and hard on a topic, everyone has their opinion and is entitled to it. Let it go and acknowledge others too. More than that, it’s hard on yourself to spend all that time and effort convince and please every person. Let it go.

    25. Don’t take anything for granted

    My airbed in Stanford: airbed.jpg Being now away from home for the last 11months. I too miss home, family and friends. I miss the food that I crave for only home could make them so perfectly, or the conversations you share only with close friends or the love you receive from your family. All these things never seem potent till you realise it’s missing.

    "we are said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasure." - Thornton Wilder

    26. Personal transformation and growth is found by confronting fears.

    It never gets easier, you just get better. Be happy and confident in everything you do. Experience is the greatest teacher of all. Stop reading about or watching the world passively and start living it. Never stop learning.

    That's it for 2013, let's look forward to the year ahead.

    Happy New Year to all.

  • The Entrepreneur’s Enabler: Focus

    Manhood.jpg I’m a self-styled global entrepreneur: I started out in Australia, and hit the Big Apple by way of London and San Francisco in pursuit of building my business, Onswer. When I reflecting on my experiences in each of these (very) different startup meccas, a word comes to mind: momentum.

    In a mere New York minute (really, a week’s time), I have surrendered to startup momentum. It’s a grand thing! Momentum is the lifeblood of a fledgling business. It’s the very reason why smaller businesses can gain market share. They are more agile and adaptive to change. But the true key is the ability to focus.

    In this past week, I secured office space (free, fancy that!) and have a lead on some development resources. I believe I hit my stride here in New York. Unlike my experience in San Francisco. I feel like I’m finally moving with velocity towards my goal … very similar to the way I felt in Sydney. Things just keep happening.

    So I spent some time thinking about why things came to a screeching halt in San Francisco and why things are different NOW.

    As the founder of my startup, Onswer, I have many things that keep me up at night, including strategies concerning product development, sales and distribution, marketing, general administration and funding. I sought to tackle all of these areas when I set foot in the Bay Area.

    Now that I’m in New York, I took a step back to prioritize. My immediate priorities included product development and general administration. And there you go. I honed in on my objectives and I found some successes (i.e., office space and development resources). As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. There’s so much to do – and most of us aren’t fortunate enough to have a team of staff available for delegation. A little bit of focus goes a long way here.

    Focus is the enabler for moving forward. Moving forward leads to momentum. Onward and upward!

  • On Pivoting: Productizing Onswer

    I should be clear. Onswer was Onswer prior to being Onswer. Just kidding. This part of the story may not have been conveyed very clearly in previous posts, so let’s revisit it and be a bit more specific. Onswer originally started as a customer support call centre in Australia. How it all began was through an unfortunate event that left me stranded in an airport on the way back to Sydney. Quite naturally, as with any consumer, I made a phone call to their customer support team to understand how we could bring me back to Sydney. As you would expect, the phone call was a long and helpless conversation leading to little resolution.

    As a consumer, I felt like being placed on hold forever was ridiculous. Especially when I was finally connected with a customer service rep, I got the feeling that the person on the other end of the line was hardly qualified. I thought this got to be a problem worth solving since so many people are facing this problem on a daily basis (think CrazyDomain, Vodafone, JB-HiFi). I sought to improve this chain of the business process and in creating a call centre locally in Australia

    I poured seven months of hard work, sweat and tears in the original form of Onswer. And I started to see the following downsides associated with a service business:

    • Recruitment: Finding talented employees is not an easy task.
    • Training: Once you find the right employee, getting them to operate as desired is a harder task!
    • Acquiring Clients: In the service industry, you’re constantly chasing clients. No wonder outsourcing providers use 2x or more employee salary rates for pricing. That is, if your going hourly salary is $50 per hour, you should consider charging $100 per hour. Half of your time will be spent seeking customers.
    • Scalability issues: A positive linear relationship of acquiring new clients and training new call centre agents exists.
    • Systems Development: I believed that the existing solutions on the market did not adequately cover my business. I had to develop my own solutions to manage the program, which adds a lot of complexity when you’re trying to get a business rolling!
    The last point raised my mentor’s eyebrows. I distinctly remember him asking, ‘Are you a technology company or are you a service company?’ It’s true: I was chasing the technology as much as I was chasing the business. onswer_office.jpgonswer_whiteboard.jpg One day, it hit me. I was reading Business Model Generation at the time. Delivering a service, no matter how great, would never get Onswer to the masses. But a product could. Especially leveraging social technologies – gave Onswer the scalability I desired. I called for a meeting with various stakeholders and explain the direction that we are heading. Fortunately, they could see the reasoning behind the pivot and supported it.

    Is your startup in need of a pivot? Here’s a great Forbes article to get you thinking.

  • The Global Entrepreneur’s Guide to the Bay Area, Part 3

    San_Francisco_Stay.jpg A global entrepreneur in San Francisco needs to make do. Space is limited and prices are sky-high. Especially when we’re talking working and living.

    Working Space

    In Australia, I never understood the value of a shared workspace. We were highly productive in our own office in Pyrmont (it’s also our proud achievement). Being in the Bay Area, however, shared workspace is the norm, especially for an entrepreneur or startup. These spaced foster a sort of ‘instant network’. Strangers you encounter on a daily basis don’t hesitate to collaborate. It’s a boon for the global entrepreneur looking to save money and build a network simultaneously.

    I visited eight separate locations prior to deciding on my particular workspace. You can find me at WeWork located in South of Market Street (SoMa), which is the hottest space for startup to be located in San Francisco. I picked this particular location because of the community support. It is a growing and thriving community, the community manager is amazing and there is extensive support in searching for the right connections.  Plus, I love those cute little telephone booths.

    That said, every office space has its strength in a particular niche. When you’re evaluating a shared workspace option, carefully consider a few factors:

    • Is it the right location? Is it convenient? Does it appeal to individuals that share similar or complementary interests?
    • Does the space promote interaction across its user base via events or other community engagement? Is the level of community engagement appropriate for your needs?
    • Is the office comfortable? This is an important one.
    Living Space

    Finding a decent apartment in San Francisco was a challenge. Frankly, it was a horrible experience.

    First, I found a temporary place through A Stanford graduate opened up his floor. This was my first couchsurfing experience – I was excited about both the experience and checking out Stanford.

    Those that aren’t lucky enough to couch surf with one of your friends in San Francisco, your next best bet is Craigslist for an sublet or apartment. Set aside a few days to sift through your options. Beware … you can find some of the worst places on Craigslist, so visit your options prior to committing to a lease and don’t always trust what you see in the pictures.

    Carefully consider your budget before relocating to the Bay Area. Allocate at least $1,400 USD per month for a modest place in or around San Francisco. And don’t live in the Haight or close to the Tenderloin, it’s a sketchy neighbourhood.  :-D

    Here’s the tip for entrepreneur looking to relocate internationally or domestically. Find comfortable places for living and working. In my experience, your work and living conditions have a massive impact on your emotional state of mind. Don’t let anything get in the way of building your network.


  • The Global Entrepreneur’s Guide to the Bay Area, Part 2

    cowork.jpg OK, so Part 1 was about the two things that every entrepreneur cares about: money and the start-up team. It’s not easy to acquire either in the Silicon Valley. Don’t get me wrong – it’s possible, but it’s never a piece of cake.

    In the last post, I mentioned the immense value of building a network several times. Here’s how you do it.

    Seek People (Networking)

    San Francisco and Silicon Valley are the places to be if you want to network and attend events. Dozens of events occur every day and every evening. The cost-of-entry varies from free, paid to sponsored. The types of events range from hackathons, coding enhancements and pitch contests through cocktailing and networking. Take your pick.

    It was shocking (coming from Sydney by way of London): San Francisco and the Silicon Valley are incredible when it comes to delivering quality and informative events. Hackathon, coding enhancement, learning, networking, there is something everyday. I remember back home, there were a few big events (and certainly growing) throughout the year, but over here things are very different. You actually wish that there weren’t that many everyday so you can avoid choosing amongst the variety. There are definitely lots to learn and experience around the Bay Area.

    This is how I prioritize networking events in the Silicon Valley:

    • Evaluate the event host: Law firms tend to throw the best events out there (although usually not free). It’s reverse psychology: if you are seeking advisors or investors, lawyers are generally the ones with the closest relationship to these individuals.
    • Work in teams: Form groups of start-up friends to help each other out with event search and curation. You might be surprised -- some of the best events are those you spontaneously decided to attend. I remember signing up to Launch: Silicon Valley during a drive down to Palo Alto. It turned out to be one of the best events in the Bay Area.
    • Find yourself in the right place: Co-working spaces around the area tend to have good ties with great events/function. I am currently co-working at WeWork, which hosts great events from time to time (others includes PariSoma, NextSpace, CitizenSpace, etc).
    For the starving entrepreneur, attending events can be good thing. You can kill two birds with one stone (i.e., eat and network). Free pizza and fried food is very common in the Bay Area, you can almost avoid paying for dinner for an entire month as long as you keep attending events (and I know two entrepreneurs done that). Keith Ferrazzi said it best: “Never eat alone.”

    I don’t have to convince you of the power of a professional network, do I? Here’s some general tips that I hope help other Aussies coming to the Bay Area:

    • Don’t be overwhelmed with all the new people you meet in San Francisco or the Silicon Valley. It may be at first difficult to speak to all the Googlers, Facebookers, and CEOs/CTOs of the big, medium, and/or small start-ups. You have done the hard bit to push yourself to where you are today.
    • Keep that in mind when you’re networking. You should listen twice as much as you speak. Ask questions. Be truly interested in what the other person has to say. Remember, the goal is to build relationships when you’re networking, not collect business cards.
    • Be prepared. I research prior to the event. I try to ascertain who is planning on attending the event and identify whether a connection would be mutually beneficial. This generally involves research on LinkedIn, etc.
    Seek Advice (Guidance) Ask a question out here and you’ll definitely get an answer! I heard about it back in Sydney – the people in the Bay Area are happy to help. If you’re looking to learn something, don’t be afraid to ask. If you are daring enough to knock on the doors, be sincere and do the hard yard, it will happen. In fact, a few people you speak with may see an opportunity for themselves (or someone in their network) within your opportunity. That’s when your networking efforts truly pay off!

    I have done just this. And fortunately, I’ve been connected with several high profile individuals. There’s not much myth on this topic, the only thing I encourage you to do is “pay it forward” - help others during the process and in time they may help you too.

  • The Global Entrepreneur's Guide to the Bay Area, Part 1

    golden_gate.jpg There is so much to learn here. It really can be overwhelming when you arrive at the airport. So much to do, so little time!

    But I’ve been here … and I’ve done that. I’ve made mistakes, but I’ve also made some great inroads here with some fabulous people in the pursuit of building Onswer from the ground up.

    This will be a 3-part series of how a global entrepreneur can survive the Bay Area – and how to avoid common startup pitfalls. This post, the first part in the series, will examine the top two things that every entrepreneur cares about: (1) money, and (2) building your team.

    Money (Capital Raising)

    I think most entrepreneurs, whether from Australia or other part of the world, perceive that VCs and Angels in Silicon Valley are ready to cut a cheque for anyone that comes to town ready to build a concept. While these financiers may be ready to cut a cheque, unless your idea is extremely compelling, you might not receive that cheque immediately.

    There are tons of ideas and tons of entrepreneurs here. Consequently, raising capital is a competitive process in the Silicon Valley. For instance, I was at an event just the other day. At this same event, there were six entrepreneurs from every corner of the world seeking capital in one form or another (VCs, Angels, Accelerator, Seed).

    After speaking to different types of people in the area, ranging from advisors through investors and accelerators, it’s clear that many people from across the world fall into assumption that raising money is an easy feat in the Silicon Valley. I think much of this can be derived from the media (TechCrunch, Mashable and AngelList). The problem is, the media is only telling stories of funded startups, rather than those that are working extremely hard and in the process of making it all happen.

    My recommendation? Be patient. Your quest for startup funding should really focus on relationship building with Angels and VCs than to impatiently ask for money right out of the gate. You may have the expectation to immediately be funded upon arrival – I think a little dose of reality may help! It’s a hard road, be patient. Work hard. Work your connections and network.

    Building Your Team (Recruitment)

    Recruiting talented and great people in the Bay Area is apparently extremely difficult! I always assumed that I would easily find the best and the brightest around.

    While it may be true that the Bay Area is home to many of the world’s smartest fellows, many of these bright individuals have already affiliated themselves with a startup or are receiving a massive paycheck from a large corporate (think Google). Interesting conversation I had last week with a partner in a large law firm in Palo Alto: I was told that searching for great engineers are more difficult than seeking funds. This gives you a perspective on how competitive it is out here.

    My recommendation? Build your network, attend a ton of events and communicate your message. It’s simple, the more people you know, the better off you are. Also, sometimes asking simple questions helps too.

    And how to network in the Bay Area and maintain relationships? Well, you’re just going to have to wait until Part 2 of this How To Guide (next post).