Pro Athlete turned Entrepreneur, Jack Ho says: ‘Building a business is like training for a competition – you got to keep pushing!’

JackTriathloncollage

Today I sit down with an entrepreneur from my local community, Jack Ho. After leaving his job in November 2011, Jack started Yvez Industries – a trading company involved in the sales and purchase of Oil & Gas related equipment and machinery. Yvez Industries are also consultants for contract and procurement inquiries.

Unlike tech industries, the O & G industry isn’t usually a place 20-somethings look at when they think of starting a business. It is highly competitive and usually dominated by well-connected people with a lot of capital. How did this 29 year old with less connection and much less capital get a foot in this industry?

Jack also used to devote most of his time training as a tri-athlete and once competed in a triathlon World Championship in 2009.  He is one of Sarawak’s best athletes of all time. How did someone who spent most of his time polishing apparently unrelated skills build business acumen that allowed him to set up his own company?

Conventional wisdom tells us that with so much less experience, money and a set of seemingly unrelated skills, Jack should have failed in trying to build a business in the Oil & Gas industry. But he didn’t. He managed to build a sustainable business in a highly competitive industry.

How can someone turn from being an athlete to an entrepreneur? How did his discipline as an athlete help him to become the entrepreneur he is today?

In this interview, Jack & I go over:

  • His days hopping between jobs trying to find a career
  • Starting a business in a competitive industry with little capital
  • How he transitioned from being a full-time athlete to an entrepreneur
  • How he applies the principles of an athlete to run a business
  • What are the differences and similarities of being an entrepreneur vs athlete?
  • Why you need to fail many times before you succeed
  • How to keep going after failure
  • Why your best work happens when you leave your comfort zone

Jack’s story is inspiring to me. I love his spirit of never giving up. Jack’s fighting spirit enabled him to break out of his comfort zone and circumstances to build his first business at 29. I hope his story inspires you to take action.

Enter Jack

Jack pic 2Career and education background

I did my highschool in Brunei, St.Michael’s School in Seria, it was an all boys school, I completed in 2003. Then, I moved back to Miri to continue study in Prime College.

Back then I was doing Foundation of Science, as I wanted to pursue Marine Biology desperately, ‘cuz as a swimmer I love water and the marine world.

Upon completion, I didn’t have the finance to further my studies, as I don’t come from a wealthy family. So I started working in the Oil & Gas industry in 2005 along side with my dad’s guidance, who has over 40 years of experience in the O&G sector.

I switched a few jobs in between – I started out as a Sales Executive for a small local company (Sutra Engineering) selling mechanical pipes and valves. Then in 2006, I moved to Petra Resources as a Technical Assistant in the Marine Department doing crewing logistic (it was hell of a job).

Then, the big break came in 2007 when I got a sponsorship from Shell’s expat community – due to my commitment in triathlon which I performed well internationally – to continue my study which I ended in Curtin till 2009.

I graduated with a Diploma in Business, but I didn’t continue my study again due to another financial breakdown as the sponsorship finished.

So I started working back in the O & G sector once again. This time I started off as a Business Development Executive for a small local company, which I didn’t do well because it was a tough time to go through that transition from a student and full-time triathlete to a working class adult.

Then, I also realised I had very little prospect in this firm so I decided to switch job again when I got an offer to join another local medium size company as a Project Executive to run a Mechanical valve service contract with Petronas SKO.

So, that’s all it was before I ventured into my very first own business.

How did you transition to become an entrepreneur? What made you switch from what you were doing previously to starting up your own business?

This is a good question. Throughout the years while I was working for people since I graduated from Curtin, I had a really tough time going through that transition. When I thought I was doing well with those 2 jobs, there were constant challenges coming out of nowhere. It was tough – be it work or personal. I even broke down a few times ‘cuz I just couldn’t get anything right.

But I always pulled myself together to resolve all the problems that I faced, in between there were sacrifices, but it was all worth it ‘cuz it was the experiences and lessons that accounted for in life.

So, again, I was desperate for a job with good prospect or future, long term as I like things to be long term and stable. I applied to lots of company while I was working for others, as I was always on the lookout for the better.

But, you wouldn’t believe it, there wasn’t a single chance to be accepted or offered; it was either I wasn’t good enough or I didn’t have the qualifications to meet the criteria.

At the same time, I was facing some personal problem in the family and relationship which was horrible, so under these circumstances I was made even more desperate and I kept telling myself that I have a whole lot of responsibility in my life which I need to take care of it.

So the salary wasn’t good enough for me, fixed working hours weren’t flexible enough for me, working environment was not healthy enough and nothing just seemed good enough back then. I remember my dad who has always advised me that someday I have to stand on my own and stop working for people, ‘cuz the real money is out there, waiting to be fished and caught.

That’s when I decided to venture into Yvez Industries all by myself, knowing there are a lot more risk and challenges to come but I know I will be able to deal with it ‘cuz I knew I was already prepared from what I have gone through in the past.

It all happened real quickly, I know that, and they were people telling me that I was too young to start up my own business in the O&G sector ‘cuz the whole industry has alotta strong players from older generations.

But that didn’t bother me ‘cuz I knew I have more time than them, and knowing that by investing my time into my own venture is definitely gonna give me more than what I have bargained for in life.

Then, in October 2011, Yvez Industries Sdn Bhd was born. But before that, prior to the start up, I was quite broke as well, financially, with all the problems going through me back then. In order to make Yvez Industries a dream come true, I squeezed in whatever I could from my credit card and borrowed some cash from the people closest to me.

So, I started off with only RM1, 000.00 available as my startup capital. It was a very small amount, but it was just right enough to get a spark. So I resigned from Wehaya in November 2011, when my contract matured. And, it was all on my own onwards. The journey wasn’t gonna be easy for sure.

But within the first 3 months of business, I had 6-digit sales coming in, and Yvez Industries was already getting recognition. With what I’ve made, I quickly settle my debts for the startup cost that I owed and pretty much life was a forever changing game since then.

As of now, Yvez Industries is performing well for a small scale business. Being the 3rd year into the business I have a good 7-digits turnover annually and the growing perspective keeps rising where Yvez Industries is slowly venturing into higher level of the business.

Life as an entrepreneur

Lu Wee: What do you love most about your job now?

Jack: I love the fact that I get to see things from the economical platform to politics globally in different perspective than I used to be, ‘cuz you get to be in the zone to deal with it. And, where I position Yvez Industries now in the industry is definitely gonna grow the business to a higher level in the upcoming years.

So I really enjoy what I do now with the networks of people and client that I have, as it is really about connecting people to the economy through the business of the industry. It can get quite complicated at times, but eventually it gets untangled and things will eventually work out the way you’ve planned.

Then again, I love the flexibility that I have to do my work, though sometimes I stay up late for teleconferences due to the different time zone between Asia and Europe. But, I enjoy every bit of it I must say.

Transition into entrepreneurship

Lu Wee: In your days as an athlete, did you think for once that you would one day be an entrepreneur?

Jack: Nope. Honestly, I have never thought of it. I only thought I would be working for Shell because they were my sponsor but that didn’t turn out right when they had a retrenchment scheme in 2008. So yeah, I have never thought of it back then, surprisingly.

Fitting in an active lifestyle

Lu Wee: You’re a busy entrepreneur now. How have you adapted your training regime to fit what your new life style?

Jack: I try to train as much as I can in order to be fit again, and exercise is the best way to relief stress as well. When I was a full-time triathlete, I trained at least twice a day or sometimes 5 sessions when I was in good condition. But knowing that I wouldn’t be able to exercise like how I used to ‘cuz I got a business to run, so I do exercise at least once a day on a daily basis, twice a day at most.

Let’s say if I go cycling or running in the morning, then later in the evening I might be swimming or hiking in the forest, so I shuffle them in between. It’s good, it keep the body healthy and burn all the calories.

My most recent newly found love of sport is Yacht sailing. I recently got invited to join a local team called Team Ulumulu to race in the Borneo International Yacht Challenge 2014 and it has been a great adventure sailing with this team. They have a great racing yacht, a great passionate team, very professional and skillful, top of the experience.

Being a newbie, I still have lots to learn in this sport so I do foresee myself busy yachting from time to time… good reason to take some time off from work and to relax as well.

How has being an athlete helped you in starting a business?

Lu Wee: How has being a former athlete helped you in your new journey as an entrepreneur?

Jack: It is the principle that counts. I believe in dignity, integrity, faith, passion and perseverance. These are the five elements I have been carrying with me all along from a triathlete to an entrepreneur. I remember when I was still a full-time triathlete, there the good days and the bad days.

The good days were where you feel energetic, revived, and extremely fit which you can do just about anything. Then there were the bad days where you feel lifeless, totally exhausted and mentally drained.

The bad days were the tough ones, but the good days were even the tougher ones because they are the only days you got to push harder and further in order to improve and excel in results; while the bad days you just gotta go easy and not to destroy your health.

I always train alone back then because being in Miri I was the only one going full-time time as a career in triathlon. So I needed to be very honest with myself the whole time throughout my trainings, ensuring myself to finish my training as I have planned. Otherwise I would feel really guilty if I didn’t accomplish for what I have set out to do.

One of the toughest training I always have is cycling, ‘cuz I would usually cycle out of town and it’s really far. There were times where the wind is so strong that it would push you to a stop. It felt like you wanna give up and call home to have someone to fetch you. But as training, I persevere and determine to finish it till I reach home all by myself, otherwise it would be meaningless and ineffective.

So these are the same principles that I applied as an entrepreneur. The bad days, you gotta be persevere and keep your head up high to continue what you do. It can be tough, don’t push it too hard, just go easy with patience and eventually it will carry you through the hard times.

Dignity and integrity are always important; people like to be respected and treated honestly, so in order to treat others the way you wanna be treated, you first must master honesty and respect in your own personality and also to your family.

The bad days, you gotta be persevere and keep your head up high to continue what you do. It can be tough, don’t push it too hard, just go easy with patience and eventually it will carry you through the hard times.

No matter how tough things get, there is always faith. I remember when I had to compete with triathletes from other countries for the first time in Singapore in 2006. I was nervous, but eventually I kept faith to myself that I would finish the race no matter win or lose, which I ended up 5th place in my category among 200 competitors. I was stunned.

So, it is the same as it goes as an entrepreneur. I have many clients asking for quotations all the time, and not even one of them can give me a purchase order within a short period of time. But I have faith, and that faith did give me the purchase orders I needed.

Most of the times, we know that probabilities can be quite a nightmare, but certainty can give us confidence – be it negative or positive – but do always have the faith and patience in what you do because what you believe is what gonna get you through in the end.

Differences and similarities

Lu Wee: How is being an entrepreneur similar and how is it different from being a triathlete?

Jack: Of course, being a triathlete, your office is the swimming pool or beautiful beaches, mountains, roads, stadium, park and so on. It’s great to be outdoor. But as an entrepreneur, you’re sitting by the laptop getting your work done and certain times you’re in proper suits while as a triathlete you’re in tri-suits which are skin tight and sexy.

But then again, both share the same principle that I carry, and one of the most common things is challenge. Challenges will always be there, they will be there to bring you down and tear you apart, but they are meant to be defeated. So both entrepreneur and triathlete will always keep fighting for anything challenges that come.

What skills helped the most?

Lu Wee: What has been the most helpful thing in your journey?

Jack: Focusing on the objectives and keeping a positive mind, be precise about them, ‘cuz that’s what your business is for and what good are you gonna make out of it. You know your journey, and if that’s where you wanna go, focus on your path and get to it. The O & G sector is a tough playground, not a playground where you can roll easily.

If you don’t keep your mind sharp about it, you might fall off the cliff. I know alotta people who tend to be blinded by distractions and greed which they eventually don’t follow the objectives of their business. It can be tough to stay focused, but keeping the objectives in mind wouldn’t be that difficult.

As an entrepreneur of a business, what good you can make out of your business is not only for yourself personally but it also for the good of the people in the community, especially younger generations, and also for the economy of the country. So stay focus on the objectives of the business, and not taking it too personal.

Good public relation and communication skills are important in every aspect of the business. Your business is what you are to your client and audience, because you are the representation as you speak or connect to them. The use of language is important.

Be careful with every word because certain people pay detail and definite attention to keywords. I have clients from different nationalities and culture, so I do tend to be extra careful when I speak with them or dining with them.

Networking is as important as knowing how your accounting works, ‘cuz networking is free advertising of your business entity as well. If you do well and you have good networks, eventually through those networks you’re able to reach clients that you have never thought you could score.

It’s a bonus! I have clients from the Malaysian’s Forbes list of top 50 which I have never expected, and it’s been a great pleasure having their support.

But the most important value is to have faith, ‘cuz it’s gonna be the most helpful tool ever. There will be the hard times, tough times and rough times in businesses. But no matter how tough or cruel they get, cling onto that faith and never let go, ‘cuz rainy days will come with stormy days, but they don’t last forever as sunny days will come.

Failure

Lu Wee: How has your failure build you to be where you are today?

Jack: To me, failure has always been the golden key to success. It is the key that you need to unlock the gate to your next level, your next big step. And, it is definitely not easy going through failures – not unless you’re prepared for it, which I always do as part of a contingency.

Failures have given me what I need to know – the weaknesses, the dangers and the invisible circumstances. From there, I work on present to strengthen my future.

Having said that, the way I handle my failures in businesses is actually similar to what I have done in my triathlon career. There were times where I lost in some competitions but I didn’t hate myself for losing. I took pride in it instead ‘cuz I know I did my best and for whatever the consequences were it was my own responsibility to be accounted for.

I would always take some time off to reflect on my mistakes which led to the failure to win, and analyze them from there. I was able to figure out what were the core and key point mistakes I made, what sort of preparations or trainings I have missed out, what kinda foods intake that affected my performance and so on. So I went into every detail I could gather to improve my next step.

With such practice that I have always done previously as a triathlete, I applied the same method as well in my businesses. There is certainly no shame in failures, they do give you the biggest lessons you could have never study in Uni, it’s something that the books don’t tell you.

I take pride in my failures, ‘cuz they are the reflections of my strength, and they are also my guidance to be better…and better.

How to keep going after failing (also, how to get out of your comfort zone)

Lu Wee: What do you tell yourself when you fail? What keeps you going?

Jack: That’s the biggest challenge actually. It can be emotionally challenging at times, especially when anger kicks in. I would tell myself to take a step or two back, calm down, take some time off to relax a little… the brain needs a break. I go have some wine and fine food, and when I know I am ready to stand up again… let’s work on the problem and enhance what the necessaries are in a constructive way.

But one thing for sure – the harder you fall, the stronger you’re gonna be when you get up; and it doesn’t matter how many times it takes ‘cuz there is no victory without defeat. And, as life goes by when we age, we will always keep walking forward and towards the future as we age.

The only thing that keeps me going is the will to be better. I always tell myself that there will always be something better than better – today is gonna be better than yesterday and tomorrow is gonna be better than today. God knows it all.

Not that I am not satisfied with what I have or have achieved, I just don’t find myself useful or meaningful when I am in my comfort zone. Sometimes in life you gotta get out of that comfort zone to experience the better.

Go suffer some losses, some pain, some terror, some struggle. Climb a hill, walk a marathon, be in the heat and rain, swim across the ocean, hit the wall. ‘Cuz at the end of these obstacles and challenges, you will never know what you’re gonna discover and it could well change your life.

There is no winning without losing, and you will only know you wanna win when you have lost.

Only then, you will grow to be a better person life. There is no winning without losing, and you will only know you wanna win when you have lost. The same goes in investment and businesses – there is no profit without losses – and even if there is, it would be too good to be true.

You won’t learn anything in a comfort zone, ‘cuz you don’t work things out with your bare hands. I gotta admit that it’s tough to be me after all that I have been through, but it is all worth it for today.

I have never regretted them. It’s also about living life to the fullest – encounter the unknown, surviving the toughest… it can be devastating at times, but in life you gotta fight for your life and that’s what it takes to keep going. ‘Cuz the ocean is gonna be rough, the winds will be merciless, and the heat is unforgiving. You can either suffer it or fight your way out of it.

## That’s it for my interview with Jack ## Please leave any questions for Jack in the comments below.

After Notes

I want you to think for a minute. What’s stopping you from being the best you can?

Is it your beliefs? Do you believe that you need a lot of ‘experience’ before you can do something on your own? Do you believe you need some form of qualification before you can step into a new role?

Jack’s journey of starting a business in a competitive industry with much less experience, capital, qualifications and technical skills compared with a lot of his peers tells us that these beliefs are untrue. They are merely barriers which stop you from taking action.

Tear down those cement barriers

Today, I want to challenge you to tear down those cement barriers which trap you into mediocrity. I am not going to rah-rah you into an emotional high. I think you have enough of that.

Write down all the reasons that you think you cannot do something.

I am too old.

I am too inexperienced.

I am too young.

I don’t have the right skin color or name.

I don’t have a degree in the right field.

One by one, test them out. You will find that most of them are untrue. You aren’t too old, too inexperienced, too young, too different or not qualified enough.

 

I interview young Malaysian entrepreneurs every couple of weeks. Read more interviews with Young Malaysian Entrepreneurs.

Lu Wee is the Founder of The Entrepreneur Campfire. The Entrepreneur Campfire (TEC) is where smart entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia gather. You can find practical articles on how to grow, market and scale your business on TEC.



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