Plan, Push & Take the Pain

By Amanda Suriya AriffinEditor, Business Today


Walking into the bright, airy and spacious Bangsar South office housing Supahands’ teams of super hands, you would not guess there are 3000 super agents under the company’s purview. Chief Executive and co-founder, Mark Koh bounces in to the meeting room, all ebullience, beaming smile and infectious energy like Don Johnson in Miami Vice (sartorially) but without the manufactured cool aloofness. Thirtysomething but looking more like a twentysomething, it is only later that we learn that this energy most likely comes from his high tolerance of pain.

The former banker, an alumnus and graduate of the Australian education system when not helming the four-year old outfit that is Supahands, takes part in half-Ironman triathlons – for fun.

“There is going to be a lot of pain,” he says effusively but he is not talking about triathlons –he is talking about the start-up journey and experience.

This is the first of the three essential tips he imparts on this sunny Thursday morning while his teams in the cement-floored and charmingly quirky office are heads-down, eyes-straight ahead, peering at laptop screens. This is the what the future of work looks like but expanding this fluidity beyond the Supahands office into the three thousand strong network of SupaAgents is also the future of work if Koh and co-founder COO, Susian Yeap accomplish what they set out to do.

Global Mindset, Beyond Revenue

“We have fourteen different nationalities here from the UK to Iran and so on, in this office; we are building global mindsets.”

He admits that while revenue is important, having the right mindset to build the right product is just as, if not more than, important. There are now thirty five people in the Supahands office, and the start-up life practically demands that “We are constantly experimenting and constantly innovating,” enthuses Koh, and having that energy level in one’s team to match that of the co-founders is crucial, what more in a multi-cultural team.

“We were hiring people similar to ourselves,” smiles Koh recollecting the early days, but it is always good to balance out each other’s outlook and temperament; for instance, he admits, “Susian is an introvert and I am an extrovert.”

This natural extroversion is clearly needed if you are going to get rebuffed quite frequently.

“We got a lot of nos (in the early years), you need only one yes to get through the door.” There are only so many nos you can take, he adds, and it can give rise to you doubting yourself, “and that’s when support from the team is so important.”

Having this base and foundation of a solid team might be crucial when the business operates on a cloud-base, where outsourced resources work remotely, and automation is clearly the natural next step, not just in terms of business operations, but also in terms of business solutions for clients. From self-delivery robots to facial recognition, the Supahands promise is to make your life easier from general  assistance to AI specialists, in spearheading an Asian-centric workforce that gives companies both the localisation and the diversity needed to create truly global artificial intelligence systems. The official company profile states, amusingly, that Koh dreams of a day where there is a “supapowered red button that he can push to automate everything.”

But back to pain.

When I ask about the three essential points that all aspiring entrepreneurs need to remember on their start-up journey, Koh hesitates for just a fraction of a second. Pain, yes; but also, “You have to be able to push through different barriers; you have to persevere.”

Secondly, planning: on this he is emphatic. “You have to have a clear plan,” he emphasises. This is a refrain I hear often from entrepreneurs; while it seems like simple advice, the reality is, often in the frenzy and excitement of start-up life, some entrepreneurs might not have the appetite for meticulous, necessary planning.

And in an almost antithetical moment, Koh offers his last tidbit of advice at my prodding and smiles broadly, “You have to enjoy the journey.”

So, plan, yes, but also learn to enjoy the process.

He sees the slight tilt of my head, perhaps sensing my cynicism, but his effervescence will not be quashed. “Every day, you need to wake up and think ‘I want to do this’.”

And I smile, and he says, “After all, I have to lead by example.”

The Supahands site may begin by saying that they are obsessed with finding ways to hack productivity, but I can think of few other, better ways to tap into productivity than having someone with so much energy be so excited about leading the pack forward and onward.

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