At Vulcan Post, we’ve seen many Malaysians leaving their 9-5 jobs to chase their passion and start a business.
But I wondered, what about those who’ve experienced the opposite? Maybe they left their startups and found it difficult to get hired again. Did they ever want to go back to entrepreneurship?
With this in mind, I interviewed 6 local entrepreneurs from an entrepreneurship Facebook group to find out what their experiences were like.
Some Recurring Experiences And… A Spiritual Calling
Common reasons why entrepreneurs would leave their own companies can range from cash flow issues and misaligned goals between partners to burn out, to name a few.
Azrina was in her 30s when she dissolved her online beauty shop, VivaQueenBee (VQB) just a year after being seed funded. She and her partners had different career goals in mind.
“When they left, I continued on my own for a year, but burnt out from doing everything solo. Business was not picking up exponentially and we were making more loss than profit, so I decided to go back to corporate to build up my personal cash flow again,” she told Vulcan Post.
When Khairul started Muslim Niaga in 2011, internal conflict led the team to call it quits after 4 years. The dropshipping e-commerce platform attracted over 800 agents around Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, and New Zealand at its peak.
However, his team lacked knowledge in handling shareholders, too stubborn to let investors control the direction of their company. Later left unemployed with a newborn in 2015, Khairul returned to the corporate lifestyle for a stable income.
Charles’ modelling agency couldn’t compete with bigger players who had more connections and funding, leading to its closure after 2 years. He tried other ventures but eventually decided to find a steady job for a break.
William developed Uplife, an app that gamified job hunting for college graduates. The startup closed after 8 months as its 9 co-founders lacked the confidence to scale it. As a banking graduate, he felt it made sense to return to his roots for a career.
In 1997, the market wasn’t ready for Vincent’s digital agency, Millennium Multimedia. Furthermore, the Asian Financial Crisis left many pockets dry and Millennium Multimedia in debt.
By the time I ended up paying all the debtors, I was tired and decided that it was better to go back to employment. I had a mentor who outlined the opportunity cost that I would be missing if I did not take the employment route. He said you can always pursue your dreams after you have regained some financial stability.
Vincent Kok, founder of the former Millennium Multimedia.
On the other hand, Allan left his paintball business, Skirmish Paintball Asia, after 2 years for a spiritual reason.
“I left by faith without any plans to land my next job or open my next company. Everyone thought I was crazy, because at that time, it was the height of my career and the paintball industry,” he shared.
The company was sustainable without angel investors or VC funding. Supported by political leaders and royalty, Malaysia was considered the hub of paintball in the region.
3 months after Allan left in August 2013, paintball was declared banned in Malaysia in November. Allan commented, “I guess God had other plans for me as I left before the industry collapsed.”
Despite that, it was still tough for him to let go. This pain of moving on from a company they started was a mutual sentiment shared amongst the other founders.
Life Wasn’t Easier Getting A 9-5
After leaving their startups, the ex-employers were now faced with a new problem: job hunting as an employee.
Due to their entrepreneurial past, jobseekers would find them overqualified or too hard-headed.
Recruiters at web development firms where Khairul applied to were concerned if he could fit in as an employee after being a boss in the past, a situation Allan faced too.
Charles met employers who didn’t like hearing that he still desired to start another business when the time was right.
“A corporate career is not a safety cushion for you when you failed your business,” was what William was told for 1 in every 3 interviews he landed. To boot, he didn’t have prior experience as an employee before starting Uplife.
Vincent’s employer had reservations on whether he had the discipline to clock into the office on time and work under supervision.
But he convinced them otherwise, “On the contrary, the benefits of having been an entrepreneur means we understand profit and loss. We’re familiar with the ropes of making hard business decisions better than those who’ve not trodden that path.”
Azrina’s corporate journey was also complemented by her entrepreneurial background and first-hand skills in building a business. This served her well when applying for jobs in branding, sales, and marketing.
With MNCs sometimes intimidated by these ex-entrepreneurs, some jobseekers like Charles turned to the startup ecosystem instead. But he had to compromise with a lower salary compared to what his peers were earning.
After many rejections, Khairul decided to freelance and offer his web development services to other startups. While doing so, he worked as a Grab and Uber driver for a year. This gave him the chance to network and build connections with passengers.
Allan turned to connections for a 9-5. Tony Fernandes happened to be a client and participant of Skirmish’s tournaments. Seeking job opportunities in AirAsia, he emailed Fernandes and got a job in aviation almost instantly.
Once An Entrepreneur, Always An Entrepreneur?
After working towards financial stability, 4 out of our 6 interviewees left their 9-5s to start their own businesses again, with the exception of Allan and William.
Allan left AirAsia after serving 7 years under it to handle Marketing and PR at EVOS Esports.
On top of his full-time job, William runs a side hustle, TEEL Digital Consultancy advising clients on the sustainability and profitability of their digital products.
While Azrina enjoyed the stability of corporate life, moments of frustration flared when she lacked decision-making powers. So last year, she went solo and launched MySportsHijab, an Instagram business selling Muslim sportswear online.
Khairul went on to launch F&B and blockchain ventures between 2015-2018 with some of his former passengers. He now runs Ofdast Network that develops websites for companies.
Scouted by his former employer, Charles became a co-founder of Venturegrab, an online listing site for business owners to sell their companies and for buyers to invest in them.
As a co-founder, it’s back to running a business on my own. That means 16 hours a day, 7 days a week while multitasking various job scopes with no annual leaves or bonuses unless the company succeeds. But I’m loving it. Main reason is because I’m working at a job that I really love.
Charles Lee, Business Development Director and co-founder of Venturegrab.
Vincent also concluded that passion was the core of entrepreneurship and that it’s never too late to start over. At 46, he did exactly by starting VMO Rocks, an instant booking platform for event venues and services.
“Enterprises may fail, but it doesn’t mean the entrepreneur is a failure. It’s not the end of the road,” he said.
- You can learn about Entrepreneurs and Startups in Malaysia here.
- You can read about more Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: Allan Phang, Azrina Naimuddin, and William Teo