Friday, August 11, 2006

The "Myth" of Gaining Work Experience (Part 1)

Upon hearing that I've gone off to venture on something of my own, people often ask me
"Don't you want to gain some work experience first? Now you're still too young!"

When I people ask me this, I often reply by saying
"I know... I may be making the biggest mistake of my life".

Yet, deep inside I have an answer to that question that I don't reveal often enough. But since all of you who are still reading my blog (which has turned from humour to boring stuff) are either my friends or my most loyal readers, let me share the answer with you.

A word of caution before we go on. My views and my philosophy of life tend to be very radical. So feel free to be critical. I love criticism, especially constructive ones because they make me think. But please don't take it too seriously.

I am after all a naive little boy who is probably misinformed into having the following views of life and career.

Now let me start by saying that I have the bad habit of questioning everything people tell me.

So naturally, when people tell me that I should gain some work experience first before starting on a business, I asked WHY.

When you work you gain 3 main skill sets.

1) You gain experience on how to work and deal with people.

2) You gain insight of how specific industries work.

3) You learn from people above you.

Yet, I will always remember what Richard Branson (Virgin Group) often advocates: Entrepreneurs are made in their early life and not in their thirties.

I look at my life now more like a ticking clock. I start thinking that ok, now that I've graduated and got myself the minimum of academic papers (a degree), I have till I'm 40 (18 years from now) to make sure that I am fairly wealthy by then.

If I am not 'fairly' rich by the time I'm 40, it will probably be far too late for me to be very rich in my lifetime (still possible... but unlikely).

Take for example Phillip Green, the retail mogul in the UK that owns Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and everything else under the shopping sun in the UK.

By the time he was 40, he wasn't a multi-billionaire like he is today. He had wealth in the hundreds of millions of pounds but it was with this that he was able to jump to being a billionaire.

But the question remains... is it wrong to spend time working to gain work experience?

In my opinion, the answer is "It depends".

And "It depends" on one thing.

What kind of work experience?

Today, if I decided to spend 3 years working as a cashier at McDs or as a receptionist at a cyber cafe, it's still work experience. But is it useful work experience and would whatever I learn there help me much when I start a business.

Let me give you an example.

When considering whether to take up a job at an investment bank in KL, I started thinking about where I would be 5 years later.

The conclusion I came to was that in 5 years, I would probably be earning a 5-figure salary and would probably know plenty about stocks. Since I would be in finance, I would also probably learn a bit about some of the successful companies listed on the stock exchange.

So I might learn a thing or two about a company that makes rubber gloves.

I might learn how their business works, how their products sell and how they earn money.

So is that enough for me to start a successful glove manufacturing business like Datuk Lim Wee Chai of Topglove did?

The answer is probably NOT.

Sure, I would learn the things on the surface but you don't have to spend years working in an investment bank to learn that.

All you have to do is buy a share of the company, pick up its Annual Report and go for its AGM.

Then ask plenty of questions.

Any man on the street could gain that knowledge.

What the man on the street won't be able to learn are the more crucial things like

What exactly goes into the rubber that makes the gloves?


How does the chemical composition of each glove differ from the composition of its competitors and why is it better?


How do they keep their quality control on each pair of glove?

The man on the street would probably tell you

"Blow it up with your nose and see how much you can do that for before it pops"

The only way to really learn things like that would be to work in the industry.

Therefore, I decided that if I was going to work in an investment bank, unless I planned to start a Merchant Bank of Penang (which is highly unlikely), everything that I learned on the job wouldn't exactly help me too much in any business I might pursue in future.

Sure, I would be highly paid at first.. but would I be a very rich man 20 years from now?

Pic info: If I had owned a Bank of Penang... this Maybank building would be MINE!!! And you guys would open accounts with me right?

Of course, there will be the general skills that I would be able to take with me like working in a team or organising time to meet deadlines.

But who says that an entrepreneur that starts fresh won't be able to gain these skills?

Being the one to run the show, an entrepreneur would probably be forced to learn/gain all of these skills and more.

For example, an entrepreneur would also learn how to manage his cashflow, how to take calculated risks and how to react when faced with problems.

With this mindset that was far at odds with the traditional thinking of gaining work experience, I went to talk to one of my father's friends.

A very successful Malaysian internet entrepreneur that has made millions after millions. He started doing business early in his life too, but not before he gained a few years of work experience as an engineer.

His answer to me was simple but made perfect sense.

"Timothy. Today the world's economy has changed. During my time, people had to work in order to see opportunities. Today, with the internet coming up and plenty of visible opportunities at bay, you don't have to work to see the opportunity. All you have to do is turn on your computer. So if you have an idea that you believe in. Go for it."

What he said made perfect sense to me: That the world today has changed but so many people are not adapting to it hence the old belief that it is a MUST to first gain work experience.

Decades ago you would never hear of self-made billionaires that made became billionaires by the time they reached their thirties, but today it's becoming increasingly common starting from Michael Dell of Dell Computers

and now on to people like Sergey Brin of Google Inc.

The world has changed in almost every way. Even in financing your business.

Many years ago if you wanted to do a business, you either put in your own money or borrow money from the bank.

(The latter can be very distructive especially if you're doing a dotcom since you'll have to be servicing bank interest when you probably won't be generating any revenue or making any profit for the first few years.)

What has changed today is that there are venture capitalists. People who're willing to invest in your company for just an equity stake.

There are also government grants and government support for dotcom companies down in the Multimedia Super Corridor.

Having no money to start a business has become less of an excuse now for the complacent.

How hard is it to get venture capitalists to invest in you?

Well, a few weeks ago, my little dotcom was unsuspectingly approached by a wealthy businessman looking to obtain an equity stake upon hearing of our business idea.

If an inexperienced and naive 22 year old boy (with nothing but an idea) could do get the door open... why can't everyone else?

Now if you managed to read this far in this blog post, the next question you should ask is

"So what's wrong with working for a few years first before I even attempt to start a business?"

That will be a question I will answer some time in the future.

PS: Of course, in life there is no one way to get to a certain place. So I'm not asking everyone to forget working and go straight into business. This is just what I'm doing... and something I may regret later in life if things don't work out...


Jason Lioh said...

Long entry, lots of point and deep thoughts. You made me feel stupid if I am to comment on what I think about. Anyway, I prefer to work under/for people compare to working as a boss and directing people. Heee...

Boss Stewie said...

yep jason.. i guess it's a matter of preference

Anonymous said...

You make some very good points. I'm quiting my job and starting a business. No, wait. I can do both! Timmy, best of luck, and you got approached by more than one venture capitalist, if I remember correctly. Hehe.

Boss Stewie said...

hahaaahahah hasan.. i can't believe you bothered to read the most.. i reckon 90% of the people who read this post will just look at the pictures and draw conclusions from them.

and fine fine.. i was approached by a venture capitalist from the middle east... but that probably doesn't count does it ? :P

Boss Stewie said...

and please don't quit your job hasan... i'm not finished with telling the whole story yet... there's a part devoted to "not quitting your job!"

Anonymous said...

"So what's wrong with working for a few years first before I even attempt to start a business?"

here's my take...
if u have a comfortable job that pays decently, u might tend to get complacent and happy with your current position and this might eventually add up towards u 'postponing' and plans u had in starting your own biz. Sometimes just diving in and doing it removes that part of uncertainty and forces u to make sure ur venture works as ur life depends on it :) ppl thrive when pushed to the limit

Secondly, it pays to be 'naively optimistic' when starting ur own biz....if i'd had actually been in the industry for a year, i'd be flled with so much self doubt and concerns that i probably would think twice about doing it

As for work experience, it really is up to u.. ur own initiative and how u carve up opportunities for urself counts.. if u do it right..i thikn it actually accelerates ur learning process..

well i must say that there definitely is a flip side to this argument and ultimately it really depends on who u are and what u want.. and mostly about how much u want it

okay.. i believe thats enough from me for now :)

Jason Lioh said...

I read the whole post, every single word ok? Hehe. Yeah, I will open an account, borrow a house/car loan, put my fixed deposit and everything if you open a bank. :D

Anonymous said...

Well, as Tony always says, i-bankers don't make quite as much money as someone who owned their own business. He tells me his friend who owns a supermarket back home can match the income of an investment banker and more. At the end of the day, i-bankers are still employees. If you want to be making the dough, you need to start your own business.

I once met this man who bought Perfect Fried Chicken franchise, and he said that it brings in £30k every week on top of his day job. I'm not that convinced, but he claimed so.

I agree with slacker and I guess it would depend on who you are. And Tim, I think you were born to run your own business. I know you'll do a great job because you take action and don't just wish and dream.

For people like myself, being an employee is my destiny. HAHAHA.

Anonymous said...


So am I a loyal reader or a friend?

Boss Stewie said...

slacker: you are absolutely right in everything in your short and to the point comment. you're also right that it depends on what you want. if your dream is to be head of Citibank Malaysia by the time you're 40 then you've to play a whole different ball game.

this opinion of mine is more to naive guys like me who want to start businesses. i notice that all young men these days want to do business.

jason: ok good.. i give you higher interest a bit ok? :P

bunny: i guess it's nice to be able to take action and not just wish/dream. but in years to come we'll all find out whether i'm cut out for the job or not :P if things don't work out i might have to give you a call and ask if you can give me a job at your company :P

skyler: you're a friend :P

Jackson said...

Like yourself, I hear about more and more people talking about starting their own business. One friend of mine has already started one, and another is planning on it in a couple of years.

A funny aspect of it is that they all have some sort of partnerships, close friends mostly. And once (or if..) it starts to grow, they also seem to be planning to draw other friends into it as well, instead of hiring other people. So with the changing of starting businesses, it seems that other aspects, like setting up a socializing network (way before you actually start an own business), also take on a bigger role.

I think I need to make more friends...

Gwendolynne said...

So totally off topic response da ...

My dad used to sell chemicals and solvents to all the big factories in Thailand-Indo and Msia that makes rubber gloves. And we had tons of samples at home, so my sis and I used to fill them up with water, then use a pin to prick holes at the ends of the "fingers" and then milk them like cow udders. MUAHAHA Maybe you should blog down a list of 100 things to do with rubber gloves.

Anonymous said...

if i remember correctly,richard branson did not work for anyone but on his own with group of friends. just like you.

most of the big dotcom company start of with venture it's good for your company + no risk for you rite??your dotcom adventure is getting more interesting

Boss Stewie said...

jackson: well i guess sometimes making more friends is one thing, but finding the right person is another thing. i've made many friends but only a few that i can actually imagine doing a business with. i'm lucky to have found a like-minded friend that soon became my partner in this wild jump.

gwenneh: i used to do the same thing but with 'another type of rubber product'.

yothemans: yeah i don't think richard branson worked for anyone too. he started out on his own.. same for some other people like alan sugar (the uk apprentice host).. but then again there are many people who worked for a few years first before going on to do their own business.. there's just no one way to get somewhere in life

Anonymous said...

Quote "The conclusion I came to was that in 5 years, I would probably be earning a 5-figure salary and would probably know plenty about stocks. Since I would be in finance, I would also probably learn a bit about some of the successful companies listed on the stock exchange."

Tim, I spent a good five years of my life in the investment banking / advisory business slogging an average of 14 hours a day including weekends. Where am I now? - I am earning a 5-figure salary, know plenty about stocks, learnt a bit about some of the successful companies listed on the stock exchange and still wondering why glove makers don't diversify to making condoms.

I look forward to seeing your company list on an exchange.

Boss Stewie said...

investment banker: hahahaha... that is a good thing isn't it. congratulations in making it to a point in life where most people wish they will be in 5 years after they graduate.

Anonymous said...

Boss Stewie, u 4got the most important thing 2 b enterprenur, tat is CAPITAL...not every1 is borned having millionaire father....

u got the boss look.......

i fully agree 101% enterpreneur is borned and not borned to the man wif the enterprenur character, i dunno how to said..

Boss Stewie said...

anonymous: ahh i don't have a millionaire father... but that was what i was saying.. there are always many problems if you want to start something of ur own.. but there are again always many solutions... among which i've mentioned are... finding venture capitalists to help with the capital

Boss Stewie said...

and ahhaha ... i don't have the boss look.. i have the look of a lil' boy

Anonymous said...

Boss Stewie, im jus a girl and dunno real thing abt enterprenur, i jus said out according to girls feelings & thinking pls dun blame me!!!!

since u hv so many girls bloggers who read u, maybe u shud post abt how to kau rich enterprenur man or rich man's enterprenur son coz girls no interests in enterprenur laaa

Anonymous said...

i'll open an account with bank of penang too, just issue me a platinum card with 0% interest! muahahaha. glad to see that you're not gonna let others sway your determination in this.

Boss Stewie said...

anonymous: 'how to kau rich entrepreneur man'... lol.. that one ... i have no experience in i'm afraid :P

suicidal: platinum card with 0% interest.. consider it done

Anonymous said...

Boss Stewie, wuaaaaa if male can get platinum card wif 0% interest den if i be ur chip-si wat i get la?

Leon said...

I would say it would do good to work until you fully understand what makes a company work

It's easy to read about it, but the books will never mention the details. Ever heard of the phrase "the devil is in the details?"

I would say even studying up on companies as an investment banker will not give you the full picture.

In the end, it's just my opinion. And definitely there are a lot of paths which leads to the gold pot at the end of the rainbow. so good luck:)

Boss Stewie said...

cc_lol: if u be my chip-si ar.. then u get shares of my bank.. lol

leon: ahh.. spoken like a true engineer leon

Anonymous said...

Well said. =)

Boss Stewie said...

did u even bother to read it lance.. i know u didn't :P i know u didn't!!!

Anonymous said...

All the best! :) You'll never know until you give it a shot, right? And a damn good one at that! Hehhe...

Anonymous said...


Boss Stewie said...

lol suicidal

Leon said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Leon said...

Absolutely nothing wrong with no work experience. If you've got've got it. You might have it because being able to analyze companies definitely helps. Sometimes work experience helps. It's very situational though. So hard to say when exactly it'll come in handy.

こうゆうけん said...

You know a lot of theories neh! Sure in the future you will become a successful entrepreneur!

Anonymous said...

*damn i knew he'd catch me faking a post just to show i still came to visit during the hols*

Anonymous said...

*damn i knew he'd catch me faking a post just to show i still came to visit during the hols*

Boss Stewie said...

leon: well.. there is something wrong with work experience in some cases.. but i'll explain my theory of that in future

koyuuken: no lar koyuuken.. ever heard the saying "talk is cheap"?

lance: hah! i knew it! i don't love u anymore lance!

Eve said...

cant believe u are just 22 o_O I'm graduating next year in finance too...que boss stewie..what will i be then? hehe

all the best in ur dotcom!

Anonymous said...

Tiam, good luck. Enjoy the book. And good to see you over the last few days. Your cousin.

Boss Stewie said...

eve: u'll know when u get there eve

anonymous: thanks cousin :)

Anonymous said...

i guess it all depends on how naturally talented you are in that area or how intelligent you are. if you take a donkey and make him run a company of his own with or without experience he will probably drive it to the ground.

however, if you take someone intelligent, but with no talent in that particular area, for example if he is more scientifically inclined but lacks a business sense, then a few years of working under someone to gain experience will he helpful.

if you have the whole package, then you will be successful bar some freak event.

i am not saying that you have or dont have talent. i am just making a general remark. only time will tell. all the best. i wish you great success.