Scaling while staying true to your startup’s vision with Jeremy Au (Monk’s Hill Ventures)

In this episode, Jeremy Au (Monk’s Hill Ventures) talks about:

  • His experience building Conjunct Consulting and CozyKin 
  • How to balance business and cultural growth 
  • Why founders are 100% accountable for the culture and environment of the business they build 
  • His views on the difference between running a VC-funded versus a bootstrapped startup 
  • His personal development tips and tricks 
 

Podcast information:

About the guest

Irzan Raditya is the CEO and Co-founder of Kata.ai, an Indonesian-based conversation AI startup that specialises in Bahasa Indonesia. Prior to Kata.ai, Irzan has worked across multiple startups such as Zalando and amplitweet in Germany. 

Jeremy Au previously co-founded CozyKin, an early education marketplace, and led the startup from 0 to Series A to sale. He then moved on to co-found and bootstrapped Conjunct Consulting, an impact consulting platform, to deliver over 285 engagements and train thousands of new leaders to reach profitability. 

Jeremy is also recognised by Forbes 30 Under 30 and Prestige 40 Under 40.  He believes that growth solves all problems, and loves to coach people to be great leaders. 

Find him here:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeremyau/

Books, tools, people, frameworks mentioned in this episode:

Jeremy Au  0:00  

Would you hire this person as a teammate? Would I enjoy working with this person and I think a lot of ours lose sight of that very quickly. And then suddenly, they’re working at a startup that they don’t love anymore because, you know, they were chasing something like cash is the carrot in that sense, lower dilution or more ownership, but they ended up trading at the margins and the loss control Adobe control for control sake, but control around the environment and one.


Ricky Willianto  0:26  

At the beginning of their journeys, most founders know exactly the kind of company and the kind of culture they want to build. However, as the companies grow, it is easy for them to lose sight of this, especially as they bring in new employees, investors, advisors, and even partners into the business, all of whom can affect the overall direction culture and DNA of the business. Jeremy owl, a two times startup founder and now the head of strategic projects at Monk’s Hill Ventures believes that founders are protectors of the company’s vision and purpose. founders need to be careful in making decisions that might affect their control and influence over how their company is evolving, lest it develop into an unrecognisable entity that is completely disconnected from the founders original vision. My name is Ricky Willianto, co founder of Ravenry, and the host of the growth multiplier podcast. Through this podcast, I hope to uncover the pathways, startups and companies have taken in their journey of growth, share some stories from the trenches, and hopefully identify patterns and hacks that can be replicated by businesses in Asia and the rest of the world. I hope you enjoyed the show. Hey, Jeremy, thanks so much for joining me today. Well, before we begin, let’s get people acquainted to you first, right, so let’s get you to share a little bit about yourself and maybe also what you’ve done in the past that’s notable and what you’re working on right now.


Jeremy Au  1:47  

Yeah, so chronologically, obviously, national services, Singapore, then UC Berkeley, then in turn at a couple of startups in Germany, and China, then worked as being a management consultant across Southeast Asia and China, focusing on tech and consumer goods, as well as like mergers and acquisitions. And then went on to bootstrap my first company, a consulting agency that worked with over 100 clients as a social enterprise bootstrapped that to profitability ended after my successor, Harvard MBA. And then there built a second company, early education at Tech in Boston in New York, from zero to pre seed the seed to series A, the acquisition general manager there for a year. And then now amongst co ventures is the head of strategic projects, people may know me for a bunch of different reasons, you know, I’m using all these symbols, you know, like, Forbes 30, under 30. You know, I run a podcast at Jeremyau.com aware and as a community, I also interviewed Southeast Asia tech leaders there. And yeah, you know, people may know me because I like to hang out with other founders and shoot the breeze on founder life, and how to hopefully make things better, right. Also, there’s a long and short of it.


Ricky Willianto  3:01  

That’s why I get you to introduce yourself, I think the list of accolades just too long for me to remember and list down properly.


Jeremy Au  3:07  

I also want to say that I’m also very proud accomplishment of being a dad of a six month Oh, yeah,


Ricky Willianto  3:12  

congratulations. So pretty,


Jeremy Au  3:15  

you know, one of the easiest and hardest achievements, easy to achieve hard to maintain, you know, also like hiking and improv, and I drink a lot of green tea in the mornings. Anything else want to know about me?


Ricky Willianto  3:27  

I think I think I think it is spaced out a little bit about all these interesting things about you throughout the next, you know, 45 minutes or so.


Jeremy Au  3:36  

I got the data down for you, though, is like your tweeted or you’re like, Okay, not I know who Jeremy is, again, this. Close the browser, right?


Ricky Willianto  3:43  

But okay, let’s start. Let’s start with I think what’s most interesting about you so far is your interest in the startup ecosystem and your involvement as well. Right, not just in Asia, but also I think, in the US when you started your first startup, cosy kid, but let’s start with why is entrepreneurship such an interesting life path for you? What would you choose this path for yourself?


Jeremy Au  4:04  

Yeah, I mean, you know, it’s a good question. You know, I think growing up, as, you know, a secondary school student, I wanted to be a vaccine scientist and underside employee. And of course, I had no idea of course that you know, 2020 will come around.


Ricky Willianto  4:21  

You missed a big break, man,


Jeremy Au  4:23  

I guess so. And, you know, I think what I really resonated with that, back then was, I think, two things. The first part was working on a good mission, about something that’s really important to lots of folks, which in this case, with vaccines, helping people and so forth. And the second part, I think, that really resonated with me was the problem solving aspect of it, which was the part about, you know, the deep domain expertise, the knowledge, the intellectual rigour and solving diverse problems? Of course, if you get a chance to shadow people, then I started to realise that hey, although I like those two parts of it, that necessarily mean it’s like scenes research because I was extroverted. I enjoy At a time what I consider economics, and I didn’t really understand it was business at that time. And so I was drawn to study economics at UC Berkeley, where I got to do a lot around the behavioural economics as well as testicle ergonomics. And I was like, Oh, what is this business side and on that business double degree, because I had too much free time, I guess. And I was like, Oh, I know, this can only get warmer and warmer. And in parallel, I had honestly accidentally joined a club called the Berkeley group that really changed my life I, which is a consulting club for the social sector on campus, I joined it because you know, at the end of the day, it was an opportunity to, from what I heard, at a time, a way to volunteer at a time I heard it was a way to combine that with what I was studying, which was economics. So that’s all I knew about what consulting was, and was more interesting is the fact that it was very selective in selecting top 3%. And the fact that they somehow picked me as a freshman. And the reason why was they gave me this really tough case interview question. But a very management consulting approach was like doing a tarot practice case. And the case question they gave me, which was that they felt was very, very difficult was like, hey, Jeremy, you’re given 100,000 doses of vaccine? How would you distributed across the city, in terms of like distribution path would have targeted your approach concerns timeline, and I crushed it, right, because I knew nothing about management, consulting, market sizing, or timeline or methodology. But I really loved vaccines. And so they were like, wow, this guy really knows his stuff, is going to be a great management consultant for the social sector. And then turns out, I will say, though, disappointed in me, let’s say, the first semester where I had to learn everything from scratch, but it was this amazing ride. And I think there I kind of got the feel like, Oh, I think there is a way for business to do good. And for good, you know, to have a business angle on it as well. Right? You know, we talk about a different ways financial sustainability from the social sector side. And from the for profit side, we talk about ESG, and mission and purpose and all that roughly, quickly bundled up to the fact where I joined Bain as a management consultant, because I couldn’t get into bridgespan, which is, you know, social sector impact consulting, and I couldn’t get into Gates Foundation. So


Ricky Willianto  7:13  

Bain was like your second choice. choice. Okay. That’s not too bad. That’s a pretty good safety net.


Jeremy Au  7:20  

Safety Net. Yeah. No, it’s really unfortunate. I have no idea. Because I couldn’t get in. And they were like, oh, what should I do? They’re like, Oh, jointed corporate sites. I checked it out and joined it. And I think trotty stage I was getting ready to get wallman walmer. Like, at bay, and I loved the intellectual problem solving part of it, I loved the high performance culture, the company, I love the intellectual diversity, and also the range of high resolve the problems as is that not all the clients resonated with me into submission. And so I think that’s where I ended up building my first company, which was a social enterprise. And I really resonated with that foundings aspect of it, bootstrapping it. And at a time in Singapore back in, you know, 2011, when we were founding conjunct consulting, no one called themselves a founder back then it was this weird if you call yourself a founder, because it was just like, Who are you to cause our founders such a small title, because no one cares about the title. And it’s such a big title, because what’s the big deal of founding something I remember, I was one of the first few clients of at that time, it’s called Impact Hub, Singapore by grace I, so I was hanging out with a good group of people where, you know, eventually they became VCs, eventually, they became startup founders. Eventually, they became social sector leaders, but it was this weird group of people in a co working space, this figuring stuff out, right, you know, swapping notes on stuff we saw, it took me years to even understand, I was trying to build it, you know, a lot of us company, make it profitable, make it sustainable, you know, scale it across the country. And I’d even call myself a founder, until I went to do my husband MBA years afterwards. And I was like, Oh, I was being a founder, and identified a problem, I identify a solution, identify the approach, I rally people, I brought in resources than what we had in a way to create something new and innovative. And so those these were all the words that people in Boston was tagging along, you know, you know, social enterprise, founder, founder, focus on


Ricky Willianto  9:14  

what was the early days of conjunct consulting, like, I mean, I think consulting company, in general, it can be quite challenging to start, especially if you’re still pretty fresh out of college, you still don’t have a lot of track record, that you’ve been able to help business actually turn around and improve things. You know, how do you actually get started with that business?


Jeremy Au  9:31  

Well, we started when I was still in college, so it was even harder. Because I was effectively a junior go into my senior year when I started. You know, I think the way I think about it was I was coming back to Singapore and I had this wonderful experience if the budgie group, being a consultant for the social sector. I was very inspired by taproot foundation as well and bridgespan group. And I was like, why doesn’t this exist in Singapore? Right? And more importantly, how do I volunteer this organisation in Singapore and It turns out that there was no organisation like this in Singapore. And so this was very much founding by analogy, which is, if this works in the States, why can’t it work in Singapore and I was hanging out with at a time it still is my best friend Kwok Xuan we have been friendly acquaintances as poets in secondary school, we reconnected as fellow army buddies and the same cause we actually were in the bunk beds next to each other, we were digging trenches together. You know, I know it was it was weird. It was so lucky. So happy to see him in an army. I was like, Oh, I have a friend that goes in the army is there’s a lot of comrades as a lot of buddies as a lot of work. But, you know, like a friend from before, that’s rare. And, and, you know, that’s where we built a very strong bond of trust. And we’re reconnecting University. And it we were good friends, but not necessarily best friends. And I raised him this idea is like, Hey, why don’t we take this idea. And he was like, oh, it makes total sense. for him. He had been an Isaac before. And so we saw an opportunity to build like, at a time, we didn’t know it yet. But you know, a social enterprise that would really deploy not just consulting services for the social sector, but also, in many ways be an equivalent version of Teach for America, for Singapore, I think Teach for America is basically the Ministry of Education scholars for Singapore. But you know, consult for Singapore, like that training academy for business leaders, and social impact leaders to really get early exposure, but also hands on practical work and inspiration on that basis. And so we always thought about is like, you know, the short game is deploying consulting services, not these organisations. But our long game is building out a pipeline of like 100 leaders every year without fail, who we know are the top 3% of the university system is Singapore. And when I say top 3%, not in terms of skills, because we didn’t like that at all, but the top 3% based on their heart for the social sector, the ability to learn quickly, and the ability to do the work. And so we built this giant engine, which, of course, was building consulting services, which was very painful and initial early days, but very thankful for the early supporters, but also convincing students and professionals to volunteer to join at a time the social enterprise was also a huge lift. And you know, we build that giant engine to be training hundreds of students select the top 3%. You know, it was a very counterintuitive thing, right? Like in university now, we still train students for a whole semester free of charge. Wow. Okay. to anybody who wants to walk in, obviously, we did some selection criteria for the classroom. And then from that group, we would then select the folks who would actually get to join us on the consulting side. And so it’s easy to do well, in half an hour to one hour interview, it’s very hard to not show your true colours, or your best colours over the course of a semester, where there’s a lot of work and collaborators that you’re like, wow, these are people who love change and helping people and they take to this like a fish to water, right? They are learning so quick. they collaborate. So well, this is a joy to be with.


Ricky Willianto  13:00  

I’m curious. So I think with this kind of business, I think the challenge has always been like, okay, so do you train the people first? Because it does take a lot of effort, right? Or do you win projects first and close some deals and put in your own time to building credibility for the company first, like, how do you balance those two things?


Jeremy Au  13:16  

Yeah, long story short, it’s got to do both, right. That’s the short answer. There’s the beat while you’re doing this full time. And it’s that I was doing this full time for a certain period of time in the early days. Well, I was doing remotely part time while the university finishing off University. And I was doing that full time for some time. And after that, I was back to part time. And then eventually, we got the company to the part where we started hiring people. And I now went full time years down the road. And I think that’s something that I learned that turns out to be a very common issue for every founder, especially is they can be a SAS, it can be a two sided marketplace. But I think you just have to, like hold these paradoxical components where you’re like, I got to do both things. Right, you know, which is very different from being an employee, right? Because employee, you get to tell your boss and say, Oh, I have too much on my plate. I got to do one thing, right? You know, which is true, because if you had a giant company like L’Oreal, Unilever, there’s so many people doing every single thing that you get to focus and listen, load sharing, but as a founder, you don’t have to do all of it. But when the rubber hits the road is what is the MVP, right? You know, what is the lowest level of scale on both sides of the market that lets you prove at the risk of that one milestone, right. And so yeah, you know, the truth is, I had to find clients, and I had to train consultants, and then pick from them, which was very, very painful. But, you know, we didn’t start out with like, 30 clients, right, we start out just a very small handful. And then we were selecting a certain class size, training the class size and selecting again, but only for those couple of clients, right. And that smallest level of scale has to be done. Otherwise you don’t prove anything because I already knew that personally, I myself, Jeremy could do one project by myself. In California, right, in San Francisco. So that level of risk was the rest, right. And I knew that I could lead a group of five. So that was really the rest of my brain. So the next part was, can a group of, you know, a handful of clients and a handful of students? And can I manage that group, right? And then if you’re able to succeed, and when I say succeed, it means it’s, it’s not necessarily succeed in terms of all things agreeing, right? You know, I think, if we probably go back, I’m pretty sure like, some parts are good. And some parts, we just had to be like, okay, we need to tighten a process, or these consultants didn’t work out, or this client projects weren’t the right scope. But even the bad stuff becomes learning material to build and iterate on both sides of it, right? And you do step by step


Ricky Willianto  15:40  

with this kind of consulting business, right? At which point in time, do you know that this is something that is worth scaling? Because I think there’s a lot of work, it’s very manual, right? So like, the training itself, like you have to design the process, if this is the framework, the content, you probably were running the training yourself, I’m guessing right at the beginning. And on the other hand, you are also dealing with the clients, not just finishing up projects, but also acquiring new clients. And on the other side, you are also studying, right? So at which point in time do you say to yourself, okay, this is worth pursuing, it’s painful. There’s a lot of things that I need to build and fix. But I want to keep doing this because it’s worth it. Like, at which point in time, that became very evident in the business.


Jeremy Au  16:18  

So you know, it’s almost inverted for me, right, which is I started it because I thought it was worded right. I thought Singapore needed it. I thought the students needed it. I wanted to be at this organisation. And it was fun, right? So I think a lot of people forget about founding stuff is like, he shouldn’t feel like work. And, you know, obviously, not everybody gets to have that moment. Right. But you know, I think if you get to work on a topic that you find is fun. You know, it was fun. It was fun hanging out of nashwan, getting to know him better, building my relationship with Him rallying people to joy. And you know, there’s a bunch of rejections. I was like, oh, okay, no problem. I mean, obviously, I was sad, but it was fine. And so it was always worth it in the early days. Because, you know, I was like, Oh, I’m helping these folks. And everything. And it was interesting was, as you keep going, I think the reasons why it’s worth it changes. And I think that’s very common, I noticed now with other founders, like, why you found something is not the same reason why you continue to choose to continue leading that organisation. So I think for me, in the early days, I never said myself, like, Oh, it was not worth it. And now it’s worth it. You know, it was like, Oh, it’s worth it in the sense that it’s fun. I’m engaged. And then after a while, you’re like, Oh, it’s tough. People are unhappy, I’m unhappy about ABC, we’re not moving as fast as we can. And I think that’s the most important moment. Whereas like, it’s not necessarily is it worth it? But how is this time worth me at this time period? Right. And I think there’s that rediscovery of why a study was like, oh, because I want to be part of this organisation. And as time went on, it became more of like, oh, because so many people are enjoying it, because so many people are getting trained, and joining the sector. So the meaning changes of a time, right. And then also, I think there’s a lot of stuff that you’re willing to put up with an early days, and that


Ricky Willianto  18:05  

you don’t want to put up again anymore.


Jeremy Au  18:07  

Yeah, exactly. It’s like, okay, you know, time to build up more profitability so that you can hire someone to do that part of the job, right. And things like that is pretty clear. Because just because you’re the CEO, and you’re running the company at a later stage doesn’t mean that you can’t say, I want to make the job more fun for myself, right?


Ricky Willianto  18:26  

Yeah, I think that’s especially important. I think in a smaller scale company, everything has to come from the founder, right? And especially if it’s still 100%, private, it’s not aligned with what you want to do. And what you care most about, it is really hard to get motivated about, like doing it and see meaning in the work itself. And I think that’s one of the most challenging things about being a founder, I think you mentioned it earlier, I see this as the duality of the founder, where on one hand, you have a vision, right? That’s what you start, right? You have an idea, okay, this is what I want to do. And on one hand, you have this resilience, right? You’re putting yourself in this driver’s seat ready to go through this road, trying to do whatever it takes to make it work. But at the same time, this is the other side of that founder mentality that you need to have, which is always reassessing whether it’s worth it or not. Whether it makes sense and trying to figure out of all the things I’ve done, is it telling me that this is not going to work? Or is it not worth pursuing? Or should I keep going and try until I can figure out the right formula to achieve that purpose? And that vision I have. So I feel like that’s what you’re talking about when you’re talking about your journey in conjunct consulting.


Jeremy Au  19:24  

Yeah, it is totally spot on. And when I went to Harvard for my MBA, I was very pleasantly surprised by the rigour and frameworks they had around, not just, you know how to run a business, but why you’re a leader and why you found a business. And so there’s a very huge entrepreneurship faculty, they generate a tonne of case studies, not just on how startups are built, but also why founders built them, and the pitfalls, both failures and successes, and the factors and the frameworks. And in the deeper level as well is that all the professors are very, very common. Career mentors. And I think the key thing that the said I remember a phrase was like early your career, you do what you have to do. And, and then as you get more senior, you get to do what you want to do. Right? Yeah. And I think that’s very true on a general arc of the career, right? You know, like, when you’re Junior, you just do what you have to do, right. And as you get more power leverage to do what you want to do, I think that’s also true for founders and CEOs, right? Where you found a company is mostly doing what you have to do. And then over time, you can change the job to some extent to focus on doing what you want to do, and what you’re best at. But I think also, you know, at the initial founding of the startup, founder, market fit is such a huge topic, I met so many founders, and they’re like, Oh, I have this great idea, ABC. And I’m just like, okay, hold up. Okay. I know, it is a great idea. But why do you want to do it right, you know, as a PA, as a friend, as a founder, because there’s a lot of tough times are coming in, you know, I have a notepad of like two dozen ideas that I’ve saved over the years, and they’re still in a notepad because I don’t see founder market fit, right. Those are great ideas that have you conviction about, but they’re not necessarily problems, I want to chase and dedicate, you know, 10 years of my life to and I think that’s something a lot people think about motivation is like, I think if you have not yet founded a company, and having that very powerful constitution, do I care about this problem, because it’s a rebound. I literally talked to someone he was targeting a problem, because it impacts a societal problem. And secondly, from a startup approach, because his family had been impacted by that problem. And I literally told him, I said, I have an issue with chasing this problem. But is this a rebound problem you’re chasing? Because of your grief around this issue? I’m not saying that you can’t be a powerful catalyst for you to build this company and be the foundation. But having that self awareness to be aware about, where is it because you’re doing this because you’re doing our grief? Or are you doing this our purpose, right, and that’s totally different. And for people who have not yet started the company, and for those who started a company, you know, some sunk costs dilemma there and huge dilemma, suicide cause dilemma, right? You know, because especially reputational. And I think it’s hard when you’re failing to call a spade a spade, because now you’re like, you’re failing, and you don’t want to fail to go work harder, and you’re stuck in this thing, and so forth. At the same time. I also think it’s even harder when you’re succeeding, right? So you’re the company succeeding is a good idea. And you don’t love the problem as much as you thought. And that’s even tougher, because then the conversation then becomes, okay, how do we think about changing the job to rediscover something you love about it? And how do we think about your timeline with the company? Right? Because if you don’t love the company, that’s important to know. Right? I mean, yeah. So I think it’s tough bubble phase round, once that is underway.


Ricky Willianto  22:52  

Yeah, I think it’s, it’s, you mentioned that because I think I’ve been in a lot of situations where you start with the vision, and I was keeping you going, is the carrot, right? Which is the money. Initially excited. You’re like, Oh, yeah, this is the change I’m going to make in the world. And then eventually, you start to make some money. And you’re like, Oh, no, no, I want to do it because of the money. But then you’re not as in love, you’re not as passionate about doing the work anymore. Right. And that’s also a dilemma in itself. Because that is the reason why in the first place, you left corporate, that’s the reason why you started a company to do what you actually care about, right? And all of a sudden, you’re basically creating your own prison for yourself. And it’s like the hardest thing to escape because you’re being judged and being analysed by everyone around you, your family, your friends, you know, every single thing you do, and I think there’s a lot of pressure for you to prove that. Look, this is what I set out to do. And I’m doing it and I’m living my life. Right, right. So if anything is even the money, it’s like that idea that you’re right, you know, you’re doing something that is really meaningful in front of the people that you care about.


Jeremy Au  23:45  

Yeah, I mean, I think that’s the interesting thing about not is cash a carrot right, for most founders, and a hunter is not right. I mean, you know, does this analysis I have and I was looking at, they were laughing, because he was showing, if you look at probability adjusted outcomes, you probably earn more money being in a private sector, that being a founder, and more interestingly, is that the type of people who are founders that’s already like adjusted lifetime earnings, but if you actually look at the type of person who does become a founder, they tend to be much more high potential much more coachable, much more self directed, and so actually they’re earning on the private sector as an employee is actually an order of magnitude higher than what the research is showing versus the average outcome. So in most ways, as a result chasing cash at a carrot is not a rational decision, right? I mean, I think you could say one aspect of rationality is like, oh, there’s gonna be a big payday as well if the time and attention to do so. Especially with what I’m putting in we’re just I think something that all second time founders joke about, are you aware about and then the other thing is actually the real carrot and I think a lot of founders as they chase the valuation game and everything is, I think they’re forgetting about, is this the company I want to work with? Right? You know, a lot of people are chasing that. capital is saying like, I want the lowest amount of dilution, and I want the cheapest capital in that sense. And then they forget and say something like if I could hire this venture capitalists, because that’s what you’re doing right? You’re giving a stake of the company to bring someone on board with you to talk to you every quarter in a formal way, with border control and writes, I had to talk to you every month, you know, would you hire this person as a coach? Would you hire this person as a teammate? Would I enjoy working with this person, and I think a lot of ours kind of lose sight of that very quickly. And then suddenly, they’re working at a startup that they don’t love anymore, because, you know, they were chasing something like cash has to carry it, in that sense, lower dilution or more ownership, but they ended up trading at the margins, and they lost control. And it’ll be control over control sake, but control around the environment, they want the decisions, they want to make the trajectory they want to have. And obviously, I’m not saying a binary choice, right? No one’s saying go all cash as a carrier, and no one’s saying go all control. But the question is, you know, at the margins, you know, at every step, you know, there’s always a fork in the road, right? What kind of employee you want to hire, who are the venture capitalists, you want to reach out to what’s my three year and one year operating plan, you know, your decision at the margin is really going to do that. And all those decisions will stack up and create the environment. And I have a quote from reboot, which is a founders coaching thing. And if this great thing, and they call it the founder shadow, but he says something very often, and I love this phrase, I use it all the time as well. It’s like, you know, all these founders, they built this, you know, $1 billion company revenue, $10 billion 100 billion dollars, and they say, I don’t like this company. You know, I don’t like the culture of this company. I’m frustrated, because it’s too salesy is too aggressive, or we’re not entrepreneurial enough.


Ricky Willianto  26:47  

Talking about your own company,


Jeremy Au  26:48  

talking about an old company, and then all the coaches that reboot is what I say is like, well, didn’t you found a company? And didn’t you hire all the employees, the company? And didn’t you incentivize or penalise people on their behaviours that creates the culture? And did you not also pick the source of capital? So you may dislike the work environment that you’re in? And that’s okay to realise. And the coach’s job, at least in this conversation is say, How are you responsible for creating the environment that you now are no longer in love with? Right? Yeah. And I was I heard that I was like, Oh, my gosh, bingo. Right? You know, no one is saying that you couldn’t make decisions that you had to make. No one is saying that it’s your fault. Should suck it out. Right? Right. We all know that when you’re aware about what the problems are, and you’re also self aware about how you are accountable and own the responsibility for how the company has got and become the culture that you now have issues with. Only then with those two things, can you actually take the ownership needed, and take action on the things that will make the company a place that you now love again, right. And I think that’s such an underrated piece of it, because, you know, I myself, I’ve been there in those shoes as well, Father saying, like, Oh, I don’t like this, because, you know, we’re all to buy the books. And


Ricky Willianto  28:11  

so what you did it You did


Jeremy Au  28:13  

it you you asked everybody to create SRP. Yeah. And then you train everybody in SLP on day one. And you praise people who followed SRP. And guess what, you created what you dislike now, right? So but if you don’t say that yourself, you can’t unwind those changes, right? You can’t choose a different kind of person, you can’t change the training programme that you build, you can’t change the training materials you build.


Ricky Willianto  28:36  

Yeah, yeah, I think having that awareness to see what’s going on with your company. And also partly having someone from the outside like an external person, giving you a bit more of an objective assessment of what’s going on. Because sometimes when you’re in the mud, when you’re doing everything, you don’t really see the big picture, you don’t really know that you’re turning into something that you actually don’t want to turn into. Right. So I think having that locus of control, knowing that you are actually responsible, and you know, bringing it back to you as a founder, like, what have you done? And what are you going to continue to do and be able to recalibrate along the way? I think that’s one of the most important things I learned as well, because I think at the beginning, you don’t really care much about this, right? Because you just want it to work. You just like whatever it takes man like okay, money, okay, fine, we’ll raise some funds. Okay, new hire person, okay, the first person that can help me with this, I’ll hire them because I just need this project to be done. I just need this marketing thing to be taken care of, I have no more time to edit my podcast, but you just want immediate cure, right. But I think like being able to recalibrate, I think that is what’s going to help you build a company that you really care about, and you can build long term. And that’s what I wanted to transition towards, because you’ve built your second venture that you’ve successfully exited as well. And I think in that second venture, it’s not the same as conjunct consulting, you’ve gone through the VC rounds, you’ve gone through an acquisition. So maybe tell us a bit about how you transition from service style business like conjoint consulting into a cosy kid, maybe tell us a little bit more what cosy kin is and Yeah, tell us a bit about your journey there as well.


Jeremy Au  29:57  

Yeah, happy to share that and Talk about, you know, what we see in Southeast Asia today as well not I’m back. So I think the big thing here is serendipity. Right? I think that’s the phrase, right? I mean, I was looking at exploring mental health as an issue. And so we were zooming in on how to help people through the mental health issues.


Ricky Willianto  30:17  

This was what 2016 2015


Jeremy Au  30:20  

Yeah, around. Yeah. And we were tackling med healthcare. And we identify that postpartum depression was a big issue and identify bull population of folks who are always undergoing certain level issues, right. And so we started doing a bunch of user interviews, you know, we did 107 of them, we really came to understand something really interesting, which was that so many of them in the states were really stressed out about the lack of quality childcare, they could trust. And as a result, they were stressed out, because they felt unable to return to work, because they didn’t trust the childcare. And as a result of the fact, they weren’t able to continue the career as well. So it’s kind of like being caught between a rock and a hard place because of that, right. And so I think that’s where we, you know, remember, our medical advisor was like, Hey, you know, maybe you should teach them meditation and come to some acceptance, right, that the career can happen, right, you know, and I was like, whoa, whoa, like, can we solve the problem and solve this child guy thing? Right. And I previously Dennis interning at an early education startup in China as an undergrad and in passionate about education. So I think it was a pivot to tackle this issue. And that’s how we got started. And yeah, I think one of the big differences is like you make a lot of different decisions. I mean, when you bootstrap being you’re very focused on building very carefully, very slow. You know, I think there’s a very clear intellectual straightforwardness to the business, we’re just if you do this, you get why it does a profit, which lets you do more x, right? x plus n, right? I think that is very different. Because when you’re in a venture capital thing, one thing I realised was like, you know, you have x and a, you want to build, you know, plus n, and you’re like, anyhow, bookbub was actually a little bit, we’re just n should be x plus x, right? You’re trying to double every year minimum. So you’ve worked backwards from day like, Okay, if I want to double the business, how much do I need to spend and burn to make it happen, right. And I think that was a really interesting set of learnings I had because it was almost like running the model and reverse that that’s what you call it like your back solving, you had this amount of growth, let’s back solve for the capital needed to grow it out, which is much easier. Why management consultant because you know, what happens as a consultant, right? They’re like, Oh, we need to make a capital investment at this multinational corporation in Indonesia, and Thailand, then, you know, as a capital initiative, and you don’t really worry too much about the people that execution, the competitive execution risk. boxed up problem. Yeah, exactly. But I think when you’re building it from a venture capital site, you do all of that. And then you still have to do the work. Yeah, very different. as a consultant, you do the model. Yeah. And you’ve got a slice that said, You’re like, hey, they execute it all. And then you’re like, if they succeed us, because the strategy if they fail, because of the execution, right,


Ricky Willianto  33:09  

and it’s not your fault, because you didn’t do the execution?


Jeremy Au  33:12  

Yeah, exactly. Right. That’s the that’s the cynical view of it. Having a positive view of it is okay, you know, the best case scenario is good strategy, a good execution works together a toughest consulting budget still being spent today. Because I think there are many scenarios where it works out well. But I think you don’t have that luxury of being able to walk away when you’re the founder, see, build that model, you work backwards, you back solve for the growth needed to hit this at a level of milestones, you derive the capital, you fundraise based on a story in a vision, and then you get a tonne of celebration, because everybody’s like, congratulations, you raise a tonne of money in a BSc. And you’re like, why are we celebrating? We got to do more work now. Right? I was like, please, you know, I decided I want to double or triple this year, instead of growing 20% in a bootstrap methodology. And I think that’s a really interesting dynamic for so many folks. Because then you’re not just doing intellectual exercise, but you’re also doing an execution and delivery thing. Then there’s an element of change management where the company is enacting change. And you’re part of that change itself. And I think the toughest part is your own personal rate of change. Right? And because you asked me about a difference between a VC back startup and you know, a company where you’re bootstrapped. I think the way a company bootstrap, I think the beautiful thing about it was you could grow the company at your own pace. And in many ways, you personally grew at the same pace as the company and when you have a linear company growth, I think the truth is that most humans actually grow pretty linearly as well. You know, obviously, that s curves are stacked on each other. But you know, humans grow pretty linearly, right? Nobody plays the piano. And I suddenly shows a hockey stick. They don’t you know, they I think, you know, pretty shortly


Ricky Willianto  34:55  

I suddenly became, you know, astellia Maestro, right The rule, isn’t it the rule of the rule of 10,000 hours? Yeah, that’s well, that’s why I live by 10,000 hours of playing my guitar really should really and hopefully another 10,001 hour, I suddenly become a Spanish terrorist.


Jeremy Au  35:13  

Yeah. I was true because it’s taking in those hours linearly, and then sometimes you grow really well. And then that’s your plateau as a measure to find a new way to unlock that next stage. Right. But you know, it’s not a straightforward linear thing. It’s not for sure it’s exactly. And so I think that’s the beauty of the VC as well, because now you have this exponential growth curve. And so it’s pushing you to grow really fast. So zigzagging in a more accelerated way for sure, compared to a bootstrap company. And any The question is whether you keep up with it or not. And I had this interesting time where we were just sitting down and I got to do some deep Asana, meditation. And I think there’s something analogy they gave, I was really good. And obviously, I’ve just massively simplify and shifting it. But I think the core concept is, you know, all of us as founders, we’re always thinking about, how do I change? How does the company change, you know, and the funny part is that we’re already changing, right? The company is already responding, the customers is already moving, everybody is growing, making decisions, and you are changing every day already. You are already living, breathing, feeling happy, feeling sad about something, reading something, having a tough conversation, having an easy conversation, and fundraising. So the truth is, you know, it’s not about whether I should change or whether a company should change, because we already are changing, we’re already in the midst of change worthy, you know, floating down the river, the real question is, how do we change? What do we want to change towards right? And that’s such a tough conversation in any normal life stage. But a Detroit this hockey stick growth, expectation, and hockey, like stick investment of capital. And I think that’s where I personally found a big difference between a bootstrap company personally, and a VC backed company personally. Now, I think the something I always do think about quite carefully. Every time if someone is just like, Hey, you know, let’s add to the conversation, right? Like, what’s the challenge? What are you already learning? How are you already changing? And how would we like to change this? And every time I run through those that question, it takes a while to sink in, because it took a while to sink in for myself. But it’s also super obvious. It’s a it’s like, yo, we’re already changing. Yeah.


Ricky Willianto  37:28  

I mean, I think that’s, that’s really profound. There’s also that other question that I have in mind all the time, which is, I mean, there’s this huge assumption that you are fully in control of how you change. I think there’s a lot of environmental factors that you’re not in control. And you don’t know if it’s going to be good for you or not. Right. So you may be under the assumption that, Okay, I’m ready for a $1 million investment. Right. I know exactly what to do with it. But when it happens, what you thought you would do, and the way you react could be significantly different from what you actually planned for. Right. So I think that’s also that question that a lot of founders always have in their mind when it comes to whether or not they actually really in control of some of the changes they want to make. Right? How is it for you when that happened? Because you did raise some phones. I got to, I got to run off. So one last question. Sure. Yeah. How did that work for you? You know,


Jeremy Au  38:16  

I think the biggest thing I always recommend people to do is really consider executive coaching. I think that’s such a undervalued tool at the founders toolbox. And there’s a lot of reasons why it’s underutilised. Right? It seems a bit woowoo. You know, Berkeley tie dye Kumbaya, like, what is that? Yeah, that’s one and a two. So there’s a lot of coaches a few very self promotional feels very, like energies and stuff like that, at 30. It’s also really hard to tell who’s a good coach or not, because it’s hard to compare, like, no, no Pokemons stats, this guy’s a good coach, versus a bad coach, and then five years, so they feel expensive, because it’s all human. So in a world where I can pay nine bucks a month for unlimited and Netflix and burn 200 hours a month watching Netflix, versus paying $100 for a single hour of a coach, you know, the value doesn’t feel right, right? You need to spend a one hour right how many things you do by spending like $100 an hour. So I think there’s a lot of stuff that makes it very difficult for founder to be like, Oh, this is something I want to do. Or if you comfortable choosing someone that being said, I still am a huge proponent, because at the end of the day, unlike an employee of the company, where if you don’t grow the company, you can always leave the company and join our company. Yeah, you know, and in many ways the company serves as your coach, right as the mentors, US employer, who’s your manager. He has incentive structure. In many ways. I think many companies and I’ve met many founders and many people who are very proud, you know, they’re like, I got trained Apple, I learned stuff at Facebook. I became a product manager. Google,


Ricky Willianto  40:00  

right, let’s delete LinkedIn title with full of access, right? This x that x everything


Jeremy Au  40:05  

exists. Yeah. And ship is because those places spend the time to do learning and development as the cliched phrase, but the coaching and guiding the folks, but I think when founders become a founder, they’re like, delegates like, Oh, I don’t have a manager anymore. But then that part is like, Oh, I don’t have a guide or mentor or a coach anymore, right. And so I think there’s two sides of the same coin. And so we’re not saying like, please inject more control in your life. But you know, who is that person that you trust, who can be your feedback, who can give you that feedback? 360, have you looked through your reviews, performance wise, help you think through about what you need to do better and points A or B, or C. So I think it’s much more beneficial as a result for the founder to have that experience. Because, again, they couldn’t pick another company to join, if they need better coaching or mentorship. But now they have to pick a different coach, right, they can change coaches, to help them have that same level of guidance. But I think the other aspect of it as well is the fact about how much business value is there. So if I was an employee at a company, getting coached doesn’t generate a tonne of value, because, you know, it generates value, but maybe it shows up in my performance reviews. And I think this module for senior executives, which was about performance reviews, and I get promoted more, and I get better. So I think it shows up to some extent, but there’s so many startups that totally 100% dependent on the founders for decision making, or performance reviews for culture building for enterprise engagement, for marketing, like all of that audit decisions, the buck stops with the founder, right? And all the enterprise value is being generated, or stopped, or vetoed, or handicapped, or slowed or accelerated by the founders. Right. Yeah. And so what’s interesting is that suddenly a coach that was not extremely valued creative to employee is suddenly create a tonne of value for the founder, because it’s showing up in the enterprise value, because, you know, the five people reporting to the founder, 20 100, to 1000, to 10,000, all those people, and he had reported this person, right. And that’s where the coach, the leverage in helping you, the founder improve by 1%. This week, it will not show up when you’re a junior employee. But if you’re 1%, better as a founder every week consistently, that stacks up, right, that’s like this leverage. The leverage


Ricky Willianto  42:32  

is compound. Right? It’s a it’s a growth multiplier. Personal Growth and financial growth multiply. It’s compounding interest, you know, exactly. Yeah. Anyway, Jeremy, I know you have to run. So what I’ll do is this, we will have a part two. But let’s pause here today. We don’t rush the conversation. But thanks so much for joining today. I promise part two, we will talk a bit more about Southeast Asia tech. 


Jeremy Au  43:00  

Awesome. We’ll do so. Alright, thank you so much. 


Ricky Willianto  43:03  

Thank you so much for listening to this podcast. Check out other episodes to hear more growth stories and hacks from experts who have been there. You can find our show on iTunes, Spotify, or via our website www.theravenry.com/growth multiplier. See you next time.


Transcribed by https://otter.ai

About Growth Multiplier

The pursuit of growth is never-ending for any business – from a small startup all the way to a large global corporation. The Growth Multiplier podcast examines pathways, strategies, and hacks companies have explored and tested in their efforts to scale up their businesses. 

In each episode, host Ricky Willianto – co-founder of Ravenry – speaks with CEO’s, growth hackers, product managers, and marketers all around Asia to find nuggets of wisdom and insights from their journey multiplying growth. 

Ricky and his guests discuss viral marketing, community building, pricing strategies, channel development, and also company culture and people. Growth Multiplier explores not only replicable successes, but also phenomenal failures that we all can learn from.

Growth Multiplier is produced by the team behind Ravenry.
www.theravenry.com

Other Growth Multiplier episodes

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In this episode, Irzan Raditya talks about how he’s built Kata.ai into a leading B2B SaaS Startup in Indonesia. He talks about the importance of being laser focused on your vision, why he favors collaboration over competition in a market that relies on personal relationship, and why he thinks distribution trumps product market fit.

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