Last week, I had the opportunity to share about our entrepreneurial journey at Sembang-sembang (which means Casual Conversations) with a group of ladies.
Sembang-sembang is a monthly networking session for women entrepreneurs and women wanting to go into business. This event, although held for the first time in Penang, has been held for sometime now in KL. Sponsored by the US Embassy and organized by Warisan Global, it has been an event for women since March 2010. Sembang-sembang has made its rounds from KL to Kelantan and Johor and even as far as Kuching and now it is brought to Penang.
The title was evocative – The Creative Enterprise: Innovate Your Business – and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. And to add to it all, I was going to be answering in BM. It’s been so long since I’ve spoken formal Malay – my conversations with my sis in Malay is more like bahasa pasar than real Malay. It got me a little worried but then on the actual day itself, meeting the other panelists put me right at ease.
It was a panellist session with a moderator – and the moderator was none other than Malaysian actress, Fazlina (who really looks very much like her chirpy sister and actress, Fauziah Ahmad Daud, or Ogy, as we Malaysians know her).
I was going to share my experiences with Shahema Baiza-Yip, the CEO of The Rights Bhd; Yuslinov Ahmad, a syariah lawyer and the VP of the Malay Chamber of Commerce; and Hajjah Aishah Yeop Abdul Rahman, the Vice Chairperson of Perlembagaan Pertubuhan Kebajikan Wanita Darul Hasanah Pulau Pinang.
It wasn’t just women either – there were a few men among us.
When I told our story of how we started Redbox Studio, it made me think – wow. We’ve been in this business for 13 years already.
Didn’t Want to Do Stock Checking – That’s How We Started
If you don’t know the story yet, here’s how it goes. Back in 1998, Nic was toying with the idea of starting a business. Back then, it was a dangerous period. The Asian financial crisis was looming and jobs were getting precarious, even scarce. To resign from his job as an art director of an advertising agency was something totally crazy. I was then working in my first job as a junior copywriter at another media agency (we both started out in media agencies).
He knew working in an advertising agency wasn’t what he wanted, not after he realized that he could do much better on his own.
He loved Art and I loved Words and we wanted to start a business which enabled us to work from anywhere, didn’t carry huge overheads and didn’t possess inventory (he never liked stock checks and counting stock anyway).
He decided to resign from his job and start Redbox Studio, a business dealing with designing websites. At that time, the Internet was completely new. To access the Internet we used the famous bleeping TM Net dail up, our “line” to the outside world.
It was a huge leap from the print designs he was doing. We both didn’t know much about the web back then but we knew we would do something aligned with our passions – art and writing. Nic had to learn from ground zero about web design. Coming from a print background wasn’t an advantage. The web is completely different from print. If you don’t get this point, you will never make that smooth transition to the web.
I kept my job as a junior copywriter and went on to work as a web portal editor and corporate communications manager for a public-listed software firm for a few years before I finally joined Nic in 2004. It was scary when we were both finally running the business together.
Prior to joining him, I worked in the background – writing content for websites he designed but it was oftentimes tiring as I juggled a day job and did writing on the side, after work. He did most of the client communication and liaison but we figured that I was much more needed in Redbox Studio then.
I would say that innovation isn’t just about ideas or R&D or technology.
What is Innovation Really?
Innovation in business is about having the courage to move above and beyond the competition. Even if it meant we had to learn more, do more and work harder. We often state that the most valuable assets in our company aren’t the equipment or the PCs – it’s our brains and our books.
When we started, we offered web hosting besides web design. Along the way, we decided that we had to re-define our offerings. Web hosting would only be for our own clients. This helped us move away from being a web host which we didn’t want to be, anyway.
From the early days, we also told ourselves that we would always focus on quality content and usability in websites. This was back in the days when no one cared about content or usability – it was always about creative visual designs.
When every other web designer was using tables to design their websites or using Dreamweaver to create their websites, we got really serious and started going back to basics. We coded from scratch, using just Notepad. Our designers had to learn these when they came to us. In fact, I’d say that what most web designers or graphic designers learn out there in their colleges – they’d have to dump them and be open to re-learning when they got to Redbox Studio.
Are You Proud of What You Do?
The final note was, as I said to the crowd of 60 or so people, your purpose in business or your reason for existence.
When Nic and I started until now, we’ve never waivered in our purpose which is something higher than making money. No one can deny that making money is important but what else, besides making money?
Our purpose in Redbox Studio is clear – we are foremost truly excited about using our skills (writing, design, marketing) to help clients get more leads with less effort. If a piece of design does not meet our internal requirements, it does not get shown to the client. If the website copywriting does not pass muster, we will not show it to the client.
Our internal standards are such that we stand proud by each piece of web design work we put out there on the world wide web. I am proud of our design style, our precision in colour matching, our dedication to ensuring not only stunning, visual designs but also ensuring clear, persuasive and truthful content which makes our clients more money than any other marketing tool they have. And that is why our clients have stood by us for the past 13 years.
I’m glad Sembang-sembang gave me a chance to share my story.