Business

Necker Island

Feeling Good

The 60″ screen served up lyrics and a dodgy karoaoke video. The mic was already in my hand.

“I feeeeeeel good!”, I broke into the midnight air with my James Brown number. Fellow entrepreneurs looked up in shock and amusement. Their wives came up to dance, with wild smiles and snapping fingers.

This was my last night at Sir Richard Branson’s home on Necker Island. I had to end it correctly.

The climax unfolded in the “Temple House”. Where hilltop views of surrounding Caribbean islands pampered our sights. Where Sir Richard Branson held meetings with The Elders, with the likes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Former President Richard Nixon, and Nelson Mandela convening to solve global problems. Where I brought James Brown back to life, for one night only.

To think that only 4 years ago, I had emailed Mike and Vishen,

And 4 years after the email, in the exact week I was off to Necker Island to spend 3 days with SRB himself. My dreams tend to have had a habit of realizing themselves, and this was a good reminder.

How did this happen?

I was dining with Vishen at Vineria. Our catch up dinner was long time coming. I had left MindValley, the company he founded, for more than 3 years now. We had a lot to catch up on.

I was told about an exclusive trip to Necker Island, where Sir Richard Branson wanted a group of adventurous entrepreneurs to ideate how his non-profit Virgin Unite can better solve global challenges. Vishen was going. He nominated me. I wasn’t sure if my credentials were enough for me to get me on this trip, especially after the rest of the group had already been selected.

But I was given a yes in 48 hours, and a list of everyone else in the select group. There was an eclectic mix of founders of market-leading companies in airport logistics, finance, direct-response internet marketing, air-purification, and the world’s best in fundraising, accelerated learning, intuitive healing, and more. I was the youngest, and only representative of the tech startup breed. I had a lot to learn from everyone.

3 Days in a different reality field

From the moment I got off my 30+ hour flight and transit, and got onto my yacht, I knew I was in for one helluva ride.

Vishen and I had chartered a yacht to get from Tortola to Necker Island. The yacht’s name was Aquila, which coincidentally is the name of my 24 year old colleague who leads community relationships at SAYS.com. This yacht was also where we would sleep on, as all spaces on Necker Island were full (half the resort burnt down a year ago, and spaces on Richard’s own yacht, the Necker Belle, was full).

What came next was whirlwind of surreal experiences. Beachside barbecues with glowing torches, Greek-themed toga parties, floating sushi kayak lunches, clubbing on other islands, feeding exotic animals, riding the Virgin Nymph sumbarine. More importantly, a series of mind-blowing conversations, fun, laughs, and peer learning with fellow guests, and Sir Richard Branson himself.

He made himself available to us throughout the day. Walking around the island. Challenging us to tennis. Teaching some of us how to swim. Joining us for every meal. Lounging around, chatting, listening, sharing stories. He was very laid back and took his own sweet time with us…. he was on an island, after all.

Highlights

The Necker Island Staff – World Class!

The staff on Necker Island attended to our every need. Each of them were consistently caring, super fun, happy, very beautiful people, and really good at what they needed to do. They had great cooks, too. I had different concoctions of fruit smoothies brought to me throughout the day. I ate the best steak I’ve ever tasted in the world. Every meal was top notch. Each of the Necker Island Staff were rockstars in their own way, and together, they made our experience unforgettable.

Sailboat racing against the Google family

On the very first day, we were informed that Larry Page (co-founder of Google) had friends and family over on the neighboring island of Eustacia (which Larry owned). They wanted to challenge us (Necker Island guests) to a sailing race! Despite never having sailed before, I wanted to be in this race. I got a Necker Island team member, Gemma, to give me private lessons at noon. That very afternoon, I was on Hobie Cat sailboat with team mates Robert and James, founders of The Elevation Group, and we were off! It was a close match, with my boat swapping lead position throughout the race. The last 50 metres had our sailboat and the brother of Larry Page’s boat neck-to-neck. It got really wild as all of us stretched across our boats trying to shove and push each other’s boats off-course! In Robert’s heroic last ditch effort, he threw half of his body over the boat, pushing our rival in the wrong direction, just enough to fall out of favor with the wind’s direction – and we hit the shores moments after – and won!

Sunset Drinks on the Necker Belle

It’s a pretty neat boat, as you can imagine. I was on the ‘crow’s feet’ with property mogul, Ash, going 100 ft up the stern. Scary! Did 2 different somersault dives into the ocean from off the boat, one of which had me gloriously land face first.

Massage session with Candice

I booked an early morning session with Necker’s resident massage therapist, Candice. We were on a high point in the island, overlooking a cliff. The sounds of birds and waves splashing joined us. She began with a conversation about how I was feeling, and recommended specific oils for me to approve. During the session we chatted about spiritual development, tantra, and I got to learn about her dreams to open a healing center to help women recover from emotional distress. I was inspired by her quest, and offered to make a few helpful introductions. But the big highlight for me, was about how all of the Necker staff were just really stellar people. Richard really hires only the best!

Interacting with Sir Richard Branson

He was really present, and accessible man. Imagine, my first breakfast on the island, noticing a new face, he came over to introduce himself to me. I was in conversation with someone else at the time, and had to look twice as he extended his hand out.

In our first beachside discussion, I probed him on Virgin’s involvement in Silicon Valley type tech innovation. He asked me and Vishen about Malaysia’s progress. On another occasion, I proposed ideas to help him bring his vision of ‘Capitalism 24902’ to life, drawing with coloured pens on paper (I always carry this with me). He looked at my visual interpretation of the idea, still and silent for a while, and told me he loved it! He then invited me to go an a walk with him, as we meandered down to the beachside in the dark, he chatted with me about my journey, my challenges, and gave me encouragement. At the end of the walk, he instructed his top staff to follow up on some of the ideas we discussed, and thanked me for coming to his island.

What I took home

My biggest learning had a lot to do with the relationship between happiness and wealth.

Everyone in the group had different wealth levels. Some gained plenty and lost plenty. Some were on their way up, some were way ahead. However, that didn’t stop each of them from being awesome people. Many of the most happiest ones, I realize were

  • Emotionally connected – One successful entrepreneur, when sharing his vision for his company with me, tear as he spoke. Another readily confided in his current challenges in his love life. This reminded me of Steve Jobs, as his autobiography often told tales about how he never hid his emotions from work, and wasn’t afraid to cry at work when especially passionate. The entrepreneurs here were so emotionally present and powerful.
  • Self-aware and authentic – No one bothered with ‘putting up fronts’, you could feel how each of them are coming from a place of self-acceptance and embrace.
  • Seeing the best in people and situations – They were so good at picking out the best qualities in others or in tough situations, and shining light on it. They were infectiously, constructively positive people.
  • Eager to give and share –  Everyone openly shared their plans and strategies with one another, unafraid of ‘competition’ or ‘stealing ideas’. They were here to give and share. Richard himself mentioned ‘Giving is as interesting as receiving, isn’t it?”
  • Living their life freely and in love (instead of in fear) – seeing Richard walking around in his flip flops without bodyguards, with strangers roaming in and about of his home… this was a free man, not living in fear, but in love of life itself.

I believe everyone has a natural tendency to embody and live the above qualities. I distinctly know I do as well, except that I sometimes forget. It’s like a foundational kind of happiness to fully accept yourself, be yourself, share, see the best in any tough situation, and live freely, doing what you love. This is what success looked like on that island, and from this trip, I can imagine how, practice of the above qualities, coupled with good ideas and relentless execution, can be a great wealth magnet as well.

Next

I left my yacht on a speedboat at 5AM to catch my flight. The stars and faraway lights were made brighter by the pitch black seas as I sped away from Necker Island.

As I write this, I am in a Malaysian Airlines flight, 7 hours away from home. I’m excited to see my team. I was informed that they broke an ‘impossible’ sales target while I was away. Things are looking up – and I know there is more ahead. I was given priceless insight and inspiration, which I can’t wait to put into action, to grow my team, and our company as a vehicle to serve the world in bigger, new ways. After all, we all have our own adventure ahead to create.

//

PS: Special thanks to Joe Polish, Yanik Silver, Kim, Eunice for putting this together!

The Modern Workplace = Spiritual Practice

OK. So, I was on SAYS.com checking out News Remixes when I came across a YouTube video which resonated with me. I’ll embed it for ya in a sec, I’d like lend some context first.

I was in a paddy field in Bali recently, when I thought about the opportunity to use the modern workplace as a place to practice spiritual growth. I thought to myself, that if you spend 90% of your productive life working, you might as well use it as a sparring ground to challenge n grow your spiritual / personal path, too!

That way you don’t need to only rely on a yearly escape in a paddy field to indulge in spiritual pursuit 😛

Example of the insight in action: If you think compassion and kindness are ‘enlightened’ ideas, you can use it with your colleagues and clients etc.

So when I saw minute 28 on the YouTube video I mentioned, I realized that this kid is using basketball / NBA to practice his spirituality too.

Note: Though he may be using a Christian context, I can relate to how he’s approaching his work, and it’s pretty neat. See minute 28.

So, what values, principles and ideas do you live by? How fun would it be, if the modern workplace as a daily 9 to 5 opportunity to live your truth? I’m grateful to have multi-faith colleagues who are already great examples, and knowing that this works for NBA stars too.

Wild lions and the design of a new kind of company

As MindValley grows in new people and new ventures – how can we maximize happiness and profit?

Let’s tap the brain of a guy who funded 80 startups with a total of about 200 founders, with a pretty good hit rate (conception to acquisition / profitability).

resolveYes, it’s Paul Graham. One of my favorite brains to tap.

Read his essay “You weren’t meant to have a boss” as he talks about

  • Optimal group size for work
  • The way humans naturally work in groups
  • Struggles in designing a structure to avoid becoming a “big company”
  • Lions hunting in the wild

In the article, he ponders the same problems we are trying to solve….

“A large organization could only avoid slowing down if they avoided tree structure. And since human nature limits the size of group that can work together, the only way I can imagine  for larger groups to avoid tree structure would be to have no structure: to have each group actually be independent, and to work together the way components of a market economy do.

That might be worth exploring. I suspect there are already some highly partitionable businesses that lean this way. But I don’t know any technology companies that have done it.”

~ Paul Graham, from “You weren’t meant to have a boss”

Personally, I want to solve this problem. Not theoretically, but I want it to work in action. It’s a great problem to solve, as the solution (perhaps lessons other organizations and startups can use) will unlock a world of talent, innovation, and happiness at work.

Solving this might take some fancy experiments with organizational structure, radical thinking, consistent hard work, a bit of patience, and a group of people who dare… which is why I’m grateful to solve this with MindValley.

We’re doing some crazy stuff right now, but I’ll only talk about it when we have RESULTS. Till then, do share your workplace experiments and thoughts, if any.

(By the way, usually blog posts like this and this go on the MindValley blog, but to reflect how my so-called work and personal are in perfect harmony, I figured I’ll republish selected pieces about management, marketing, and designing optimal work/lifestyle here too.)

The Way A Business Should Be

What happens when you form a partnership between

  • Customers
  • Suppliers
  • Media
  • And society?

I’d like to think you’ve got a brilliant business model. Especially when many conventional businesses tend to think only for themselves.

Easier said than done?

According to Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist, Web2.0 businesses aren’t the only ones pulling this off…  read his article, How Facebook Is Like Ikea

To the Initiated Taylor’s College Students

Thanks for the engaging session today! I can tell you, I really enjoyed the conversations we shared, and hope to continue our exploration here.


Any constructive feedback for me? This is the first time I’ve ever been paid to speak. Did you learn something you can use to win the Taylor’s Business School Business Plan Competition (and the RM3,000 cash)?!

As promised, you can click here for the list of relevant links.

And read on for a summary of the seminar. Please leave comments and questions! Or, you can email your abuse to Samuel. haha

Continue reading

GE + McKinsey Invites 40 Outstanding Students to Leadership Workshop

A smart HR strategy as well… how can you expect any less?

Open to ALL Malaysian students, you have until the end of this month to apply.

Designed and facilitated by young leaders from GE and McKinsey’s Kuala Lumpur offices. Workshop sessions will include topics such as What makes a leader, Personality types and influencing techniques, Applying logic to decision-making and Effective Communication….

Details in the application form, here.

I’m a huge fan of GE and McKinsey’s org-cultrue… So I applied anyway, claiming I am a student at heart! *fingers crossed*

Treasures from Amoeba Music

The last time I came back from California, I brought back 58 used CDs for cheap, from Amoeba Music. It’s the largest indie record store in USA, and the most fun place to buy and discover great music. I used to spend whole days, crawling in there with my notepad and shopping basket.

Amoebamusic
See photos of it on Flickr

This time around, I only got half a day, and 13 CDs, from USD2 – USD10 each….

I Really Liked

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
I love the way the voice just let’s go, catchy tunes too.

We Are ScientistsWith Love and Squalor
I can dance to this! Playing in Zouk next month.

GrandaddyJust Like The Fambly Cat
I am very sad they decided to stop making music as a band =(

Mull Historical SocietyThis is Hope
Mull Historical SocietyLoss
Can’t help it – I’m a fan, and I have all his albums now!

Not as satisfied with…

Ours – Precious
Majorie Fair – Self Help Serenade
The Concretes
Barsuk Records – Treats
The Reindeer Section – Son of evil reindeer
Cursed Reindeer shit.. I only bought it coz of MHS was involved – but that Snow Patrol bastard spoiled it all.

New soundtracks to my life!

Phoenix
PhoenixIt’s Never Been Like That
First heard them on the beloved Lost in Translation Soundtrack. This CD had a hint of a bit of a hint of the lastes Strokes CD.

Small Sins
Small Sins
Wah! This dude reminds me of French Kicks with all the synth and bass emotion I’ve listened to this 20+ times so far.

Magnet
Magnet – the Tourniquet
Better than the previous album! No joke.

//

Ah… everytime I gush about CDs I wonder if I will ever, ever, buy anymore… new ones are so expensive. Still, Amoeba Music is still getting more and more profitable despite this online piracy BS!

For a deeper look, read:

+ FastCompany’s “What’s Selling in America
+ Businessweek’s “Amoeba’s Simple Music Formula”
+ “Talk About the Passion”

For other music+business related reading, I recently imported my old research into BlinkList.
Check it out.

Mission to Change Malaysia?

Is the typical Malaysian student ready to contribute to a competitive workforce? Samir of thecicak.com probes further, sampling some local university student leaders in his article, “Thinking outside the third-world mindset”…

Rather than questioning what a first-world mentality really is, the UKM president went on mouthing off statistics and reading from his little notebook, like a little robot dressed in a blue batik shirt.

When asked whether it would be helpful to develop a first-world mentality by going overseas, the second youth panelist from Kolej Yayasan Melaka responded that there is no need to go overseas as we now have the Internet.

It’s obvious that he has done his research; after all, who needs to leave the country, learn English, absorb foreign cultures and develop a sense of independence when you can do it comfortably at home?

It’s a good article, click here to read it.

And it leads to a bigger problem…

42% of Malaysia’s youth are under age 20, and most of these kids will eventually end up in the workforce. Even though they can be led by a few super-capable leaders, if most of them depend on that forever – and don’t lead themselves, both in thought and action – Malaysia will not be able to compete globally.

I don’t enjoy telling people how they should be like etc – Malaysian youths can of course choose to be less critical, less proactive, and less demanding in their lives – but I doubt they will be happy with their personal choices if the friggin’ country was poor.

Okay, so this is my plan. Continue reading

On management styles

I personally refrain from blogging about my work – in the same way I would’nt blog about my girlfriend (even if I had one) – but something really hit me at work today, something worth sharing.

I’m a keen observer of the process to which things get done in my office. And when I reflect on my days at work, many questions would poke at me, such as…

When is it more involved, exciting, and effecient?
What communication styles are used?
What tools help get best results?
When to focus on what?

Above all, I’m trying to develop my own management style.

And it is interesting when Mike and Vishen (the co-founders, and my bosses) cannot be any more different. They work in a yin yang, constructive conflict/harmony fashion which is fun to watch.

mike n vishen
So I discussed my observations in my 1 on 1 session with Mike, over lunch, and he was quick to focus my wandering mind on

1. Be authentic, above all
2. Be extra-extra sensitive to people

That really put a stake in the ground for me, as far as contemplating on management styles go.

Do you have anything to share with me? Something you learnt from a great boss, or mentor perhaps?