Article 20 – Inevitable changes in the business landscape

by Tan Thiam Hock

My wife calls me a serial “wonkipedia”. Already suffering from selective memory loss especially on anniversaries and birthdays, she claims that I am now quoting supposedly inaccurate facts and figures thus the “wonky” monicker. I do admit that my “CPU” or brain is of the first generation model and my memory chip has degraded rather dramatically over the years. So, maybe it is time for a memory upgrade since my physical degradation is irreversible.

Just last night over dinner, my son managed to diffuse another wonky dispute by instantly googling the subject matter with his iPhone and the verification was instantaneous. Accurate information is available at your fingertips. No memory upgrade is required. Just invest in the latest smartphone and subscribe to the best WiFi and data package, and you are connected to the world.

Technology illiterate entrepreneurs must try to understand how Internet has changed and transformed the human race. The younger generation just do not appreciate stories about playing marbles, fighting fish and keeping spiders in a matchbox. They play different games, shop online with your credit card and talk gibberish. What kind of consumers do you think they are now and will become?

For low-investment-type entrepreneur wannabes, I recommend that you invest in the latest consumer lifestyle and trend for the young. If the business can be adapted to the next fast-changing trend, the better. Business done over the Internet now may be small but it is growing at such an exponential rate that you just cannot keep up. This is the era of the young entrepreneur, or for entrepreneurs who understand the young.

Older entrepreneurs tend to stick to businesses that they know and understand. Which is fine. Why stress over new stuff that you do not understand? Being computer illiterate, I have never had the need to be Internet savvy. Selling foodstuff and cosmetics was about putting simple management principles into practice. Ensure the 4Ps (product, price, promotion and place) are well executed, get the right people and understand your consumers. Easy money until YouTube and Facebook came along.

Suddenly, the advertising and marketing experts contradict my forecasting methodology. My trusted “licking second finger in the air” prediction is now considered unreliable and outdated by my private equity partners. My gut feel is not considered scientific anymore. Naturally, I felt gutted. My 27 years of experience in building and managing a business counts for nothing. They started calling me “Uncle.” A dinosaur living in denial.

As a seasoned entrepreneur, you can dig in, ignore their taunts and stick to what you have successfully been doing all these years. Or, you acknowledge that the world around you has changed and you embrace the changes. One step at a time please or you will be so stressed out that your old heart won’t be able to take it.

Not knowing what to do after my planned retirement, I decided last year to embrace new technology. I got myself a new smartphone and an iPad. With the occasional help of my kids, I have started discovering new frontiers in the information fast lane. I had no idea that there was a huge video library of old songs and old singers on YouTube! Wrote my first and all articles since, on my iPad. Progress has been slow but noticeable.

Then, I decided to upgrade my “CPU” and “memory chip”. My wife just could not understand why, at my age, I enrolled in a 8-week Advanced Management Program in faraway United States. I thought Advanced meant people of advanced age until I realised that I could potentially be the oldest participant in the programme, which means the rest are all young and tech savvy. This scared the heck out of me.

So, I got my son to download the penultimate software into my iPad and I will get a stylus and pretend that I am writing notes in my iPad. Definitely no old-fashioned writing on note pads for me. After borrowing the used iPhone 4 and Mac Book from my family garage and armed with my trusted Blackberry and iPad, I am now ready to face these so called young tech-kies. And hope that they will be nice enough to teach me how to start and use these darn smart machines.

Then I realised that I will have a dietary problem. There’ll be no nasi lemak, laksa and roti chanai for 2 months! So I googled the place and discovered that for sure, there are no Malaysian restaurants in that area, unlike in London. Rather than pressing the panic button, the seasoned entrepreneur in me will quickly adapt to the harsh living conditions. I told my wife that besides amassing infinite knowledge, I will try to jog, watch my food intake and lose 10 kilos.

No, I am not asking you to further your studies upon retirement. This is only meant for people like me, who has absolutely no idea what to do with life at this point in time. But if you are an entrepreneur on the wrong side of the age scale, just be aware of the vast and fast changing consumer landscape coming your way. To stay relevant, you have to change your mindset or you will end up like me a retired illiterate dinosaur.

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