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“You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road, will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path. And that will make all the difference.” – Steve Jobs

 

Dear public diary,

Some of you know who I am. But do not think of me about what I have achieved. Just know that with Allah’s grace, I am the owner of Burger Bakar Abang Burn, a franchise well known among Malaysian Gen-Y in social media and also a steakhouse known as Toowoomba Deli & Meats.

Sometimes in life, we think we are prepared for it. But I can tell you something, life is tough. We dream the ideal, but only those with that emotional strength can be in the game.

I was diagnosed with a clinical symptom known as “situational depression” in July 2014. The outlook of “Sabrie Salleh” as an iconic successful young entrepreneur during those times I fell worth nothing in my mind. What I told myself during those times was that death appears better than living. While it’s easy for some to be judgmental and say as Muslim you shouldn’t even think of that, but that’s what I felt and at that moment, I knew I needed medical advise. And indeed it was medical problem.

 

THE CRISIS

My sales steadily went down from stable in January to -80% in July. It’s ok for sales to go down and adjust, but I was on a mission. A mission to save jobs. So our operational costs remained constant at RM400k region each month. I did not have the willpower to downsize. I wanted a big infrastructure because for me, its ok to have losses because I need to grow. I need all this infrastructure.

So I started finding alternative income on a big scale.

In January we were supposed to focus on franchising business but I chose an entirely different path. Myself and my team chose the path of diversification, creating new products not related to Abang Burn like popacorn, photography which needs acceptance but dreaming of great sales in an instant. It became worse when marketing budget was stopped from our main media channel and people forgotten about us because the last promotion or hype was in November last year. The sales started to collapse month by month.

There was also trouble looming. Quality was on a downtrend. Service was bad. Patties were not done correctly.

It was not because the product was bad, it was just that the company was too big, it grew too fast, foundations couldn’t catch up as fast and people were inefficient because there was too many people compared to what was needed to be done.

By end of April, the 12 point-plan in the Grand Strategy did not work. It was a disaster.

I also had to make a hard decision, I could not defend my plans anymore and I cannot save their jobs anymore. I had to reveal them the news and downsizing became imminent. It was a daytime nightmare. My hopes and dreams of creating jobs was going on reversal. I was down but I tried my best to find jobs for them, but I also had some which look at my efforts in disgust. They left me without notice. I was disappointed. Not disappointed with them, but myself. I felt guilty, I couldn’t protect them and their family.

Then the wave came in June 28th. The bazar Ramadhan planned did not turn out well due to poor execution and lack of enthusiasm and also my own motivation. The sales came in. A corporate giant recorded sales in only double digits. How on earth RM400k operational costs can be paid with double digits cash inflow?

Things went from bad to worse. My sales went down tremendously by 80% from the normal line. Bills unpaid, salaries unpaid, suppliers in-demand, EPF, LHDN and many other creditors.

I have my ex-staff whom once looked up to me now look at me in disgust. From a hero to worse than a zero. I am now their enemy, a person whom have not given them their salaries and their monetary rights, when all I wanted was to defend their rights when they were with me. Burnt myself with immense personal debts of more than quarter of a million to see their salaries paid month by month, now when I failed, I am their enemy. I felt utterly disappointed when one of them told me I don’t care if its your problem, I know I want my money now. At that time, it felt sacrifices I made before were worthless.

I received comments saying I cannot understand the company’s problem, we have our own. It seems everything was on me.

Gossips became assumptions. Assumptions were reinforced through discussion. Repeatedly done everyday, it became real. I became the No.1 public enemy.

I never had anyone came to me to ask if I was ok and what was my problem so they could test their assumptions. I was just judged. The worst boss have emerged. Just like the past, no one came to test their assumptions. They just judged, left and spread the news.

One by one, silently, they abandoned ship. One by one my managers & staff left me.

For some, they may read this and would happily smile. My competitors would love this as well and maybe they would say, “he deserved it.”

Everything I built crumbled. It fell down in shatters. I am left a broken man.

My dreams are done for. I started to doubt myself. I fear waking up everyday. I became paralyzed. I fell in an emotional pit and I couldn’t possibly climb back up. I fear everything. I felt like quitting but I can’t, I have my liabilities and bills to pay. I felt trapped.

It was also at this moment, I was served an eviction notice from my home, I lost my car & cash assets to pay my liabilities. I felt paralyzed looking at my baby and here her father, unable to defend her home. I was not positive nor zero networth, I was starting to go on a negative networth.

I go on, but deep down, I gave up everything about life. I never think about my ambitions anymore. I just think about the worst things in life, every single second, every single day.

I look at my wife and baby everyday, and I felt helpless. I felt that I have failed them.

I fear life.

Broken.

 

The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.
It’s a very mean and nasty place…

And I don´t care how tough you are,
it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently,
if you let it.

You, me or nobody, is gonna hit as hard as life.
But ain’t about how hard you hit…

It’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward… how much you can take, and keep moving forward.
That´s how winning is done.

 

THE DREAM

I remembered when I was a young boy my dad told me; “Ari bila besar jadi usahawan, you can create jobs, and creating jobs you get pahala.”

Little do I realise deep down it gave an impact inside me, it became my guiding principle.

I went for Hajj and in front of Multazam the door of Kaa’ba, I prayed to Allah; “If I am being given the talent and skills to be a successful entrepreneur, let me do righteous deeds, for all that counts in life and the afterlife is only my deeds.”

Inspired by corporate waqf, I dreamt of a corporation endowed with cash waqf where its profits are meant solely for the community, not the shareholders.

So I dreamt of championing corporate waqf before my last breath, I dreamt of generating jobs, I dreamt of growing companies to prepare myself for handling bigger corporations in the future, in hope of creating a successful waqf in the future.

But slowly as success progresses, I tend to forget my dream.

I became indulged with the comfort of life and the glamourous feel of success.

I focused on not my dreams but many other things, unnecessary.

I because thick-headed, arrogant, sound humble but deep inside my heart I turned dear ears for any advice as I though I know better.

Hey, a young guy at the age of 27 with success, definitely I know better than makcik nasi lemak.

How wrong was I.

If I am given the chance today I would kick myself in the butt if I can.

Just like heart of a champion, he focus on his dream. If he does not have a dream, there goes all his motivation. He starts to move in zig zags not knowing what to do.

So culminated with my forgetfullness, Allah knows best, I fell emotionally during that worst of times.

 

HOPE

But there are also those who sacrificed that they believed in me during darkness.

My wife assured me everyday and gave me that motivation to go forward. “Just like you succeed before during your failures in the past, I know you can do it again.” She was my cheerleader, sending me off everyday with a big smile, telling me everything will be alright. Not to mention my baby which keeps on smiling. Love to smile at her daddy.

When I was crippled in my office alone with a worrying face and emotions uncontrollable beyond measure, one of my staff told me; “Allah uji untuk beri kita yang lebih terbaik. Lebih susah lebih banyak yang kita akan dapat nanti.”

And there are also those who sacrificed their time, sweat and tears for our deliveries to be met on time. I did not have money to buy raw materials to produce products, hence no sales. So they advanced their own money, we had to produce and deliver on the same day. Then came the news our lorry broke down completely and we had no money to fix it.

It was a sad moment, they had to sacrifice all their belongings to keep the company afloat.

And that is life. Sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down. Life is hard. It hits you hard. But there is hope.

Our team devised a plan to increase our sales based on statistical frequency and customer acquisition while our staff focused on product quality and defending the company by tooth and nail.

From double digits it increased to triple and then it slowly when to four digits again and finally it went to five back again.

But danger was looming, short term debts to be repaid in like 1 month are increasing at a terrible pace. It was in 6 digits and approaching to 700k.

Creditors called. Letter of demand came. CTOS was imminent. Court case was possible.

“Ring” “Ring” “Ring”. My phone rang. Banks, creditors, debt collectors, every single day. Harassment has just started.

It seems recovery could not catch up as fast as the creditors.

I was stuck. I felt trapped again.

My emotions were very much like a rollercoaster. I can be happy on one end but suddenly turned out entirely depressed. As the chief executive of the company, I was effectively partially paralyzed.

 

You know when you get old in life things are taken from you

You know that is part of life , but you only learn that when you lose stuff

You learn that life is a game of inches

On this team we fight for that inch

We fight and claw with our fingernails for that inch

Because we know when we add up those inches that is what makes the difference between winning and losing.

 

FAITH 

It was at this time I came to reflect. It’s not the end.

I revisited those days when I was down as a student leader and put to heart the concept of test. Allah test one not beyond his capability and he who have said “saya beriman” shall be tested. And the reason we are here is to be tested. All we need to do, is to understand during good and bad times, we must pass the test.

Slowly through prayers and tears on the praying mat, I regained hope through faith.

I regretted my past actions of luxury indulgences. I regretted my arrogance and all my bad attitude of forgetting Allah when things were easy.

I learnt the meaning of “syukur” especially during tough times. I came to put in mind qada and qadar and everything I have in life is pre-determined. I just have to be present and pass the test.

I met with my entrepreneur friend and he mentioned to me the significance of istighfar, tasbih, surah al-ahad and selawat. These words are uttered on my lips to be closer to Allah. I felt a great remorse on my previous attitude and I started to ask for forgiveness from Allah.

My idola is now prophet Muhammad because of the hardships that he received, he managed to go through all odds.

I took inspiration from the tales of Nabi Yunus and Sulaiman, where Nabi Yunus ran away from his qada dan qadar and he was punished for it, while Nabi Sulaiman became even pious with wealth bestowed on him.

This is enough for my inner peace but just like Allah mentioned in Quran, Allah will not change those who do not change themselves.

So I had faith, but I could not take the effort because I lost my ambition. Somehow I do not believe in my capability anymore. Deep down I was still in depression.

I found inner peace, but I just don’t believe in myself anymore.

 

THE DREAM IS THE TORCH & THE FAITH AS GUIDANCE

What is it that would ignite myself to come back again and again? To accept failure and not quit. To not give up when things are tough.

And I found that in my dream.

And my faith.

My dreams keeps me going when things are so rough and I will not give up no matter the costs, while faith is where I could not control my events and I leave my fate to Allah. I must pass his tests and pray he will not make it as hard for me to go through..

So in the name of my beloved parents, my wife, my little girl and those whom have always believed in me through thick and thin, this is for you! I will not falter, I will go forward. I will fail forward and not fail backwards. The game does not end until my last breath. There will always be time until Allah says my time is up.

If Allah will it that I fail thousand of times, I accept my fate, but that is also my test, as long as I DO NOT GIVE UP, I will not fail. Success is just a matter of time.

I will rebuilt what I have and the momentum have started.

We are now structurally as a company, sustainable. Current bills can be met and those small surplus are used to pay our debts.

Although there are such HUGE liabilities to pay in the future, as a team we will go through the pain and pay. Here goes to our creditors, we will not give up and rest until our responsibilities are discharged.

Now that the business model is tweaked, we will go forward as one.

And I am determined to achieve my dream, with humility, humbleness and perseverance to Allah.

The road ahead is tough but it’s ok. We will rise and push forward!

Pray for my success, dear friends.

2-3 months of being in a state of fear, shock and paralyze, much work is to be done.

May this lesson guide you in your path in life and entrepreneur. Learn from my mistakes and be better than my mistakes.

 

“If you want a thing bad enough to fight for it, to work day and night for it, to give up your time, your peace and your sleep for it; If all that you dream and scheme is about it and life seems useless and worthless without it.

If you badly sweat for it and fret for it, and plan for it, and lose your terror of the opposition for it and if you simply go after that thing that you want with all of your capacity, strength and audacity, faith, hope, confidence and stern pertinacity, if neither poverty, famish or cold, sickness and pain, a body and brain can keep you away from the thing that you want, if through darkness and severe conditions you beseech and beget it, with the help of God, YOU WILL GET IT!”

 

Finally some inspiration:

Failed in business at age 21.
Was defeated in a legislative race at age 22.
Failed again in business at age 24.
Overcame the death of his sweetheart at age 26.
Had a nervous breakdown at age 27.
Lost a congressional race at age 34.
Lost a congressional race at age 36.
Lost a senatorial race at age 45.
Failed in an effort to become vice-president at age 47.
Lost a senatorial race at age 47.
Was elected PRESIDENT of the US at age 52!

-ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Malaysians, when they see MLM, property or gold flourish, they flock to it like there’s no tomorrow.

Lesson #1: Because, we, as a people are driven by emotions and sentiment. 

Malaysians, when the MLM, property or gold market crash, they run away like crazy.

Lesson #2: Because, we, as a people fail to see the actual / reality of something. 

I’m sure we have seen our friends who flirted with beautiful girl and yet when they got married they fall into divorce (some not all) Why so? Because the man is driven by sentiment, and when he understood the actual attitude of his wife, he made the “market” crash (metaphor for divorce).

What do this have to do with the Malaysian budget?

Everything.

  1. We Malaysians are driven by emotions, we want that subsidies but yet we don’t want to pay for it.
  2. We Malaysians want large welfare programmes, which lead to such a big government, yet we blabber on wasted spending.
  3. We Malaysians want higher income yet we do not work to advance our skills & education through lifelong learning.
  4. We Malaysian SMEs complain of minimum wage yet we do not focus on productivity to cut costs and increase profits.

We don’t care, yet we want it. Period.

Who cares if the government couldn’t pay, I’m the rakyat. I should get it.

If the rakyat continues to have this attitude, it’s perfectly fine for capitalists.

When a country is strong emotionally but weak in it’s structure, our economy can go into a recession.

How so? I’ll sum it up in economic terms: US recession, QE, capital inflow, QE tapering, capital outlflow, Ringgit weakens, Interest rate increase, NPL increase, tightening of credit, Malaysian recession.

In layman terms: rumah kita tak cukup simen tapi kite nak duduk tingkat 3 sbb ade bilik paling cantik dalam rumah. Bile rumah retak, semua lari dari tingkat 3. Kalo nak semua duduk tingkat 3 kene kuatkan simen, etc.

Same with our beloved Malaysia.

Our investors will pull out their money when they are left with no money (because US kurangkan print money) and they see something retak, they run away from tingkat 3. When that happens we are left with an economic recession.

Our economy is always positive because of the government control of media. Actually it is fueled with debts. All this businesses flourish because consumers use debts (credit card, personal loan, refinancing, easy credit for business, etc). Not to say we are still manufacturing low value things, same to 20 years back.

GST is just meant to reassure our investors not to lari from tingkat 3. That we are putting in more simen so don’t worry.

It’s just reassurance (sentiment).

And GST is only a short term measure to avoid collapse.

We Malaysians need to work hard on implementation, transparency in spending, being accountable for every 1 cent spent and understand the “real” picture is what matters the most. Our human capital as well needs dire attention. I know the new blueprint is good in terms of performance based culture.

But I worry of the implementation. We are known for great policies but implementation = fail. For example: tabung usahawan siswazah for graduates take 6 months – 1 year for disbursement. Imagine the reality, business cannot afford to waste time because they will fail.

I worry GST is good, but when they method implemented is bad, there goes everything. At that time, Pakatan Rakyat may have been right about this, but I don’t agree on them not doing GST now.

I sum it up in 2 things:

  1. Sentiment: people are herds. they are driven by sentiment. This is short term.
  2. Structural: people are by nature forgetful, they xbersyukur. This is long term.

When you do something like invest, do business, choose to do MLM, buy minions at McD, classify it. Is it no. 1 or no. 2?

If it is no. 1, it will likely fall soon. If it is no. 2, it will stand for a long time.

Like Luxor MLM and Amway MLM. Amway has structural, while Luxor have sentiment.

That’s why my business focus so much on the structural (management systems, people planning, product enhancement), etc. Burger Bakar as a trend itself, should have been dead 1 year back. That’s the formula why we are still profiting every single month now.

Singapore have both no. 1 and no. 2.

Malaysia unfortunately, judging from our rakyat and our government, have more of no. 1.

Sad.

Warren Buffet can sum this up with his quote:

“Be Fearful When Others Are Greedy and Greedy When Others Are Fearful”

Having the right information allows me to understand what is happening in the company. The power of cloud computing when done right and pushed in terms of it’s maximum potential, allows the entrepreneur to see what will and what can happen.

There were some ideas which we should have implemented during this month which does not win the support of the team. At that time, we lost moral influence.

Wars or battles (in this sense business or new product line introduction) cannot be a reality without the support of the team or moral influence.

I have 9 days left to prove that we can turn the ship around and prove that we can push the sales and defy the norm and trend.

Now that the deficiencies are experienced by the team, moral influence suddenly appears and skyrocket to massive proportions.

We will do all we can without our limits of resources and power.

Being educated from the aspects of Entrepreneurship methodology, it had helped me a lot in terms of helping me predict that “corner”.

What is that “corner”? That corner is when you can anticipate upsides and downsides in a business through theory and experience. 

I have always understood the product lifecycle and growth levels where every organization needs different system as it grows. It’s simple, when you have a new product people don’t know, you need to sell em quick, dump those paperwork, it’s not needed. But as your product grow and there are lots of demand, the paperwork is very important in terms of system to keep up with the demand.

But I did not understand economies of scale.

I guess it was because I did not pay attention during my micro and macroeconomics class or I was just plain dumb.

May people say when you grow big, with economies of scale you get richer and prices go down.

True.

However they din’t tell you that as you get more economies of scale, there will be a tipping point as you grow, your cost will start to rise again.

And these costs are associated to many things like, last time hantar barang to gerai pakai kereta sendiri = no cost.

With 18 outlets you need 3PL logistics = new cost.

These new costs give upsides but it must be done in the most efficient way manner.

It’s complicated.

To put it simply, when you have a business, maximize everything in terms of efficiency. Make sure everything is productive and you don’t have the attitude of, oh company dah besar, boleh splurge duit sket.

It is not true.

Many PLC listed on Bursa Malaysia suffer from tiny margins and I believe it’s because of this.

Economies of scale if you are not efficient enough, will kill you.

Good lesson for me, never thought about this.

So learn from my mistakes, if you can understand. 

As our company grows and generate more than 200++ employment around Malaysia, I couldn’t help but to remember my younger days.

Those times when my venture went bust and I had no one to turn and settle my business debts.

Those times when I couldn’t even pay for my roti canai and had to ask for money from my staff.

Those times when everyone doubted our efforts and thought it was just another burger stall.

Those times when you cry alone because you just could not settle your problems and there is no way out.

Those times when you act strong and confident to the team but inside you are full of sorrow for you know the next month you can’t pay wages.

Those times when people say you will never succeed because you are just another failed entrepreneur.

But these things changed after my Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

Suddenly things went boom after the pilgrimage.

And everything God grants has its reasons. And I know the prayers I made and the reasons.

I did not ask for rezeki, nor I pray to be surrounded by richness.

I only prayed to do righteous deeds and if God grants me the capacity to make money, then let me do it for righteous deeds for afterlife.

And when things go hard, I know it’s just a sign for me to learn because Allah loves his worshippers. It’s just to teach us things which is hard because we need that knowledge to settle problems in the future.

I measure not someone’s wealth as his ability, but his deeds.

Deeds are what is more important in the eyes of God.

For all this wealth, does not last forever. We’re just custodians. Wealth was never ours from the start. It belongs to God. We just administer it. So how could we be arrogant on something which is never ours from the start?

Wealth and sex are one of the most deceptive weapons on earth, worst than a nuclear weapon.

Some people will agree will most will disagree.

This is what I have learnt about wealth:

  1. Wealth creates envy and these ill feelings lead to malice, jealousy and sadness.
  2. Wealth calls on men to play the “interest” game. Sooner or later everyone will be slaves of debt because of wealth.
  3. Wealth leads to war between nations and families.

Ironically, wealth leads to happiness if administered for righteous deeds for self and others.

Funny how wealth has more cons than the pros.

It’s easy when accountants like myself preach JIT. JIT means just-in-time where you only buy raw materials as needed. You don’t accumulate stocks.

You see, the problems with many startup entrepreneurs start when they get involved in an industry which is related to inventory.

Services don’t need inventory, but for a big business, inventory is a must, if not what to sell la?

A business grows and revenue grows, so does your cost buying the inventory to convert into products to sell.

Everyone is happy and you are happy.

Until you realise the net profits suddenly diminishes and you are faced with a cashflow problem.

You ask your partner or your staff, why do you ask for so much?

Without proper recording, an enterprise might die.

When a business operates in a country where the supply chain is not effective, you cannot do JIT.

You have to keep stocks as the suppliers can’t provide stocks on time and sometimes they don’t have stocks.

You have to resort to inventory buildup or train your supplier.

As the business grows, so does the inventory and cash tied up to it.

Growing is painful, being an entrepreneur, you need to ask yourself, how much is enough?