What is next after you have achieved your financial goals? (with Randall Chong, Books Beyond Borders)
In episode #65, we explore what is next after achieving your financial goals. As we embark on this pursuit of financial progress, sometimes wonder, is this all there is to life? I think we all can agree there is more to life than more money, but how many of us dared to drop our familiar cycles to embark on the path less traveled, starting a social enterprise? Today I am bringing on a very Randall, the founder of Books Beyond Borders as we explore:
- Is there more to money in the pursuit of life?
- Does being a social entrepreneur mean that you sacrifice financially?
- Can social enterprises ever be profitable?
- How much is enough and where does one get the strength to pivot their whole life?
Randall: So, all my life, I’m very interested in entrepreneurship, just because I don’t think I’m the smartest person in the room. And the only way you can catch up or make a… I mean, if I were to climb the rat race, I would definitely lose for sure. A hundred percent.
Reggie: Good day guys today! I think we have a legend in the house, okay. I legit think it’s pretty amazing lah, because you know he completed his degree in camp, built his own tech business, moved on to other startups, and worked until he dropped, and went on this hike to Everest. I’m like, “What the hell, right? Like, who does all these?”
And it sounds like this must be some Ang Moh, like the media will frame this amazing success story, but that is not the truth. Reality is he has limited coverage, and I got to know him through a friend, post-production guy, Harry, and we were actually all childhood friends of some sort.
So, I remember seeing him in my friend’s classroom. But I don’t exactly know him. So, I’m very happy to have him on the show today to share with us his experience comparing from life’s different angles, and why does he choose to do what he does today? So, let’s welcome Mr. Randall Chong.
Randall: Thank you so much, it’s my pleasure to be here to tell our story. Always finding ways on how I can better share our story to the public, so I’m happy to be here!
Reggie: Thank you, thank you! So, what made you transit into social enterprise? Like why social enterprise?
Expand Full Transcript
Randall: So, there’s two big transitions.
If you’re talking about why did I transit from the for-profit world, that means you know I spent the last five years working in for-profit companies, into this social impact world; or, transiting from a charity model to a social enterprise model. So, which one are you more interested to know?
Reggie: So, I think it’s a two-step thing, right?
Reggie: That means you probably transit it to a charity first,
Reggie: And then you change it to a social model.
Reggie: So, I’m more interested in why a charity first.
Randall: You know I’ve talked about this on our site and stuff theme. I spent the last five years, just super interested in building companies.
So, all my life, I’m very interested in entrepreneurship, just because I don’t think I’m the smartest person in the room. And the only way you can catch up or make a… I mean, if I were to climb the rat race, I would definitely lose for sure. A hundred percent.
So, I thought the only way I could do something different or potentially become rich – that was my goal last time, it was to dive into entrepreneurship. And so, that was my goal. I spent the last five years in different startups, learning the ropes. And then, eventually got a major burnout, because when you’re in a startup, it’s not like 5 days a week, 9 to 5 stuff, seven days a week, you grind. Then, you get paid little, they always give you shares and stuff.
Reggie: You even call that pay?
Randall: No, it’s not really paying.
Reggie: That’s called allowance, right?
Randall: Yeah, allowance. You know you get allowance, but they expect you to work around the clock and stuff. so, in my last job, I was flying a little bit too much, had a little bit… Just had too much meetings, and calls, and all the responsibilities and stuff. And I think, right after two years, I got a major burnout.
That was the first time I started to get a bit anxious about work. I know that I started to get anxieties, because I hate the Monday blues. It was very bad for me. I hated to go to work, hated to see people. Bad mood, and then that mood goes back to the people I’m close with.
I vent my anger on my parents and stuff like that. So, I decided that I wanted to take a sabbatical leave, to go one-month sabbatical leave. And my only goal back then was to go somewhere far where I won’t get any messages or emails, and escape all the Monday morning meetings.
And also, right about that time, I had a personal challenge to do one thing that scares me the most that year. And that challenge somehow took me solo backpacking to Everest base camp. That was after I realized if you spent two weeks walking in the Himalayas, you get to see Mount Everest. I never thought that was possible.
That’s what I did. And it was during part of the track that I saw things that you don’t really usually see, especially from someone living in Singapore, right? You see things like, why are kids not in school? Why don’t they have access to clean water? Why are girls so young? Why in the farms and stuff like that.
So, a lot of different questions. And then after that, I was later invited to visit like a rural school somewhere in Northeast Nepal. And, I still remember when I got there, there was this grandmother who would walk like two hours uphill. Just because she heard there was a mysterious, Singaporean guy would come in to visit her village. And you know, it’s just all these stories made me think about my purpose. There I was in Singapore, my only goal was trying to maximize shareholder value.
Every day we were thinking about, how can we make the most money? Not necessarily thinking about impact or value we are creating to our customers. We’re always thinking and discussing in a boardroom like, “Okay, how can we squeeze the most money off our customers, whether or not they are getting value?”
And the end goal is so that our investors will be happy and then get them to pump in more money for the company. I’ve been in a lot of different startups. Unfortunately, most of them are the same, right? At one point it’s all about investors; if you take investors’ money, it has always been the case. And there’s very little company that would channel the money into real good for the people at the bottom of the pyramid and stuff like that.
So, I wanted to start an organization that will do just that. And so, I decided to leave my job. And honestly, at that point of time, I had no plans to start a charity. I just wanted to start an organization that would solve that problem to channel the money in the right place.
Reggie: What’s the problem that you’re talking about?
Randall: Like I said, the big problem I feel with most companies out there, is that the main goal is to make the shareholders richer. We get a lot of money. How can we make the most money? And then make the rich people get richer.
Reggie: Okay so, at what point did that thing become a concern? Because my view is a lot of startup people, they joined startups because they think they want to get rich. So, they have no big problems, no big qualms of capitalism.
Randall: Right sure, of course.
Reggie: And what happens is after they joined the circle of startups, they go through all the shiny things, go for events, meet mentors, talk to investors, blah, blah, blah, those kind of stuff.
Reggie: Not exactly productive, very shiny. So, they get led around these things and it’s not every day that I hear people that tell me that, “Okay, I had enough of that.” So, at what point do you think that, “Oh, this is quite bullshit.”
Randall: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think for me personally was seeing the effect of poverty in all these developing countries and thinking, there I was in, where I was working, we were making so much money, but going in the wrong places. And then in these places, if we were to channel the money in the right places, we can actually make a real impact, create real value.
And there was kind of the point I started to think, maybe I’ve been using my business acumen in the wrong places. All I ever knew back then was, one day I want to become rich. But there’s still like a void inside of me that okay, what’s next after I become rich?
What’s the purpose of money, right? So for me, I think that point really came when I was tracking and seeing things that I saw.
Reggie: Okay, wait, you said about the purpose of money?
Reggie: So, you know, we run a financial literacy shop.
Reggie: So, the purpose of money is always the question, right?
Reggie: So, I’m curious, what is your thought of what is the purpose of money in your view?
Randall: In my personal view, I think money is a very powerful tool, but it’s something that can create a lot of change and impact in the world. And the purpose, at least for me, I think money is to be able to use it and create change to solve real global problems in the world.
Reggie: Okay. Where does money sit in your life? Like, what is the purpose of money in your life?
Randall: Right, okay. For me, I think money gives me a sort of freedom to spend on things that I think it’s important in my life, and then not just trying to change the world and stuff. The most important thing, of course, is to make sure that we will never have to be stressed out over financial issues at home.
When somebody falls ill in my family and stuff, I have the capability to make sure that I protect the people that’s closest to me, and then go on to do things that I love. And I think at least for a lot of my friends, when you ask them why they are working and stuff, a lot of them tell you, “I need the money.”
And then, they’ll buy things that they don’t need. But they are not willing to leave their job because you know, they have to buy all these things, and sustain your lifestyle, and stuff like that. And then because of that issue, they hold onto jobs that they don’t enjoy doing just because of the money.
So when you actually have money, then you kind of remove that barrier and really take that out of the equation, and then like what’s after money?
Reggie: Okay, what’s after money. Essentially, that is where you are standing.
Randall: And I think a lot of people has been like, “Okay, first I got to chase the money. I got to chase the money and stuff.”
And then once I got the money, then okay, “Let’s talk about my purpose”, like what do I want to chase? And I’m kind of like, okay, “I’ve looked beyond my… I don’t have all the money in the world right now”, but I look from the final stage and I work backwards. I imagined myself having all the money in the world, and then what I want to do, and ask myself that question. For me, I want to run a foundation that would be able to invest in other nonprofits around the world, doing big changes.
And when I tell people that, they’ll always say, “Okay, but you got to be like Bill Gates first, right? I gotta make, you know, a billion dollars and then you can leave your job, and then start a foundation.” But I think, if I would have to bet on that, chances of becoming a billionaire is very, very low.
I rather just immediately start a foundation and you actually don’t need a lot of money to start one. You can figure out how to generate consistent money, through a business model and stuff. So, I started from my end goal and I worked backward. And so far, it’s been very fulfilling.
Maybe the money’s not as much as when you are working in the for-profit world, but the purpose is pretty strong here.
Reggie: Yeah. So, it’s a common… Let me put it this way. It’s a very common observation that I have when I talk to social entrepreneurs.
Reggie: It’s always this perceived choice between making money and making impact.
It always sounds like there is this dilemma. So, do you think this is a false dilemma? Can we ever reach a point where social entrepreneurs actually make the same? It doesn’t need to feel like a financial discount on your part in your life while churning the impact on society.
Randall: That’s a really, really good question because I struggled with that for the first two years when I started. I don’t think I have the perfect answer for this, but here’s my view on this. I don’t think just because you work in a social enterprise, a charity, or a non-profit, you should pay peanuts.
In fact, I think the world needs more talent in the social entrepreneurship space. And talents like these have to pay their bills. So we should not discount the fact that running organizations, and going to things like hiring overheads and stuff, including salaries, should ever be discounted.
I think just like any for-profit company, maybe the CEO of a big charity running and doing great work, should have the same kind of salary as a CEO running a fortune 500 company. I think the difference is in the shares when you’re talking about for-profit organizations. Unfortunately, in charities and social entrepreneurship like social enterprises, there is no such thing as how much shares does the founder have and stuff, and if anything, can the company exit or go IPO and stuff? There’s no such thing.
So, you will never be able to cash out billions and millions of dollars, and raise money in the stock exchange and stuff. But, in terms of just like regular paycheck, paying for your skills, for your time, social entrepreneurs should be paid as well, like I said, a CEO from a 500-fortune company.
It’s just you will never be able to sell your charity or your own social company, and flip a billion dollars from that. Yeah, so that’s probably a difference.
Reggie: Okay. So, I’m going to pose you a difficult question.
Reggie: Okay, so I have spent some time in the social enterprise space.
I’ve met a lot of social entrepreneurs and generally speaking, there are two bunch of them. So first, everybody likes to split people in two groups lah, but anyway, generally they’re two bunch. So, one bunch are the really very entrepreneurial people. So, they are business centric.
And then they are looking for a touch of social responsibility. A touch of feeling good.
Reggie: And then there’s this other bunch of people that are like all about good. And they suck at being business. Okay! For a lack of a better way to put it right, I’m sure you’ve met enough of them.
And my concern is that a lot of these entrepreneurs, they’re not very entrepreneurial. Like they don’t understand that we are weaving it into a capitalistic system. That means inevitably that is a price mechanism. There is a market mechanism and some of these models that the social enterprises are doing are bound to fail, because they just cannot make… They don’t make ends meet lah.
Randall: Yeah, exactly.
Reggie: So from that view, do you think what you’re trying to do fits the potential of making it profitable?
Randall: Okay, that’s again a very, very good question. So, I learned it the hard way. So, when I first started Books Beyond Borders, the organization that I run, it was all like, “Okay, I just want to raise as much money as I can.”
Reggie: Feel good, right? Do good things, that kind right? I know. I know.
Randall: Exactly, just do good, screw the business model. I can survive on eating plain bread and you know, biscuits and stuff.
Reggie: Sounds like every… 好可怜 (hǎo kělián) ah, my God.
Randall: Yeah correct. So, the first year went great. Feel-good feelings. Everyone’s like, “Oh, you’re so noble” and stuff. Second year, you start to get a bit tiring, and when you start asking for donations, you start to lose some friends and families.
And then moving on the third year now, this year, everyone’s like, “Okay man, you know you got to start making your own money. We’re not going to give you money every single year.” And then you get tired and if there’s one thing I learned, is that in order to do good, you got to do well.
So, you got to make good money. So back to your question, I think for those entrepreneurs that are just all about doing good, but don’t have the business acumen to run an organization, it’s going to be very difficult to scale, right? And if you look at 9 out of 10 nonprofits/charities in Singapore, they are always small, serving small communities.
And if you put them on the same stage as a for-profit organization, they cannot compete. They don’t have the ability to hire designers, developers, and stuff like that. They just kind of play the guilt game, like “Oh, you know we were serving this, we need donations and stuff.” The problem with that is that it doesn’t scale.
And I think the real organization, the real social enterprise that has the huge potential to become successful, should operate like just another for-profit organization. So, what we learned in the first 1 and a half years was this, that we cannot just focus on raising money, and then put all the money, and then fund projects.
But like how do we pay our bills? How do we hire people and stuff? So starting this year, that was the main reason why we shifted into a social enterprise model. We decided not to ask for donations anymore. That was a big huge step towards moving away from the charity model, and focus on running this second online bookstore.
The difference right now, is we give 100% of our net profits. And that means, we first make sure that we can cover business expenses, get ourselves a salary, invest in whatever that is necessary to grow the business and compete in a for-profit world, and then use our net profit to fund our projects.
So, this will allow us to have the money to invest in things that will allow us to stay competitive in the market. And so, I think we’re on the right track so far. Business has been great, mainly because in CB (Circuit Breaker), everyone’s decluttering their homes. everyone’s starting to read more books, libraries are not really open.
So, business has been great.
Reggie: That’s good. I mean, some of these models, like the ones that are selling – wait, I’m just randomly plucking something I remember – the ones that are selling the bamboo straws, I think those are going to work. The ones that are selling things like the banana leaf packaging or something like that, those things are going to work.
Reggie: Because the underlying costs for sustainability, that’s one of the social goods. That’s going to work. And they can run the traditional model. So, they’ll charge a premium for the social good, but it’s proven and it’s probably working better.
Reggie: And then there are many other guys in a game that are just more voo-voo lah. It’s just not going to work as well. But that’s that. I think what our audience will be very interested to understand is that, from what I gather from what you just said, is that you don’t actually take a full salary yet in your startup at this point in time.
Given that, how do you then live your life in that sense? Do you practice the whole frugality thing, how does that work for you?
Randall: Okay for me, I’m extremely frugal. I’m extremely frugal. It’s not because I’m running a social enterprise.
I would think that even if I’m running a for-profit startup, a tech startup, anywhere in the world, I would behave the same. I wouldn’t take a full salary until the company is more stabilized. So, when I was working in a few different startups I was before, I was taking kind of like the same benchmark salary as a founder.
Reggie: Can you just give us some idea, like can we get a ballpark number?
Randall: Sure. Right now I’m taking about $800.
Randall: Yeah, 800 per month. For the first two years I have never taken a cent off of the organization. So this was the first year after starting an online bookstore, I started taking $800, and so far given the lifestyle that I’m leading right now, I can live with that.
So what is it that you want to know? You want to know how I spend it or…
Reggie: Yeah sure.
Reggie: $800 in Singapore, yo!
Randall: Yeah right. You can actually do a lot. I’ll show you how much you can do. So, $200 goes to my insurance plans, and we’ll have to cover my medical stuff.
So, in case anything goes wrong.
$200 goes to my mom. Yeah.
Reggie: Okay, $800 you still can contribute $200 to family. That’s respectable.
Randall: That’s non-negotiable because I don’t want it to look like I’m trying to go out and save the world, and I’m not bringing any money home.
Reggie: So that’s a personal commitment.
Randall: Exactly, right.
Reggie: Okay, that’s cool.
Randall: So, I’m left with $400. And there are things that I think are necessary to cut down, I cut down. For example, transport. Early on, when I started Books Beyond Borders, I bought a bicycle. So, I basically ride everywhere I go. And there are a few things that I spend on, for example, on nutrition.
I eat the same thing almost every single day.
Reggie: How does that look like? Honestly, not many people tell me nutrition lah. I don’t hear the word ‘nutrition’. I only hear ‘food’, like I spend $200 on food. Nutrition, tell me how does that work?
Randall: I’m quite big on making sure my nutrition is good enough for me so that I don’t fall sick.
So, I pretty much eat the same thing every morning, every afternoon, every night. I’m very, very lucky that my mom cooks at night every day. So, I don’t have to pay for buying buyouts. So, every morning I eat the same thing it’s been years.
Reggie: Which is?
Randall: I blend my breakfast.
Reggie: Okay, tell us.
Randall: I have organic meal, whey protein, I have almond milk, so that’s my drink every morning.
Reggie: Is that the only thing?
Randall: And then I eat just eggs and homegrown lettuce.
Reggie: You grow lettuce at home? Okay guys, you know where you can get food ah!
Randall: And a little bit of tomatoes and organic wrap. Like burrito wraps.
Reggie: Oh, I heard rat.
I was like…
Randall: No, no, no.
Reggie: Okay rat. Who eats rat?! Okay okay, wrap!
Randall: Yeah, made from kale and spinach.
Reggie: That’s actually a lot of very high quality…
Randall: Yeah! So I’m quite big on making sure I get whole food in. So I try to avoid processed food and stuff. Then in the afternoon, it’s just like either chicken or salmon, broccolis, eggs, and just brown rice.
Reggie: How much do you spend on nutrition?
Randall: Probably about like $200 plus a month.
Reggie: You can spend $200 plus and eat all that?
Reggie: Okay, okay. That’s cool. That’s cool. Sheng Siong, is it?
Randall: Yeah, Sheng Siong. But for my organic veg, I usually go to NTUC Finest or little farms.
And in the afternoon, like around 3:00 PM, 4:00 PM. I have a smoothie blend. So, I drink like kale, berries, and kiwi, and just like a veg/fruity, yeah.
Reggie: Okay, that’s really inspiring, like over $200, you can eat like that. You sound like you’re in Cali, you know like the whole health thing, right?
Randall: I think people spend money on food is because they go out, and then they buy that little cheesecake, and that little doughnut and stuff. But if you’re really buy in bulk, and all these nutrition, food and stuff, and then you literally don’t go out and buy all the cheesecakes and all the little cute muffins that cost $10, $20,
Then honestly man, you can last, yeah. You just got to make sure that you are very disciplined in your food intake and that’s for me, it’s very, very disciplined on that.
Reggie: Okay, that’s real cool. And I hope you guys are inspired. $200 hor, can afford nutrition. Thanks for sharing.
We will take a break and after the break, we’ll come back to maybe just have you share with us your journey from camp all the way to now. Okay, so we’ll come back with you guys shortly after. See ya!
So, for all you guys who didn’t know, we are actually kind of like childhood friends, but we don’t know each other back then that lah ah. So, from what I know, like this crazy guy, he actually finished university while in camp. Yeah, while he was in NS, I was rotting around lah, right?
Like every one of you right, I know. And then this guy finished his Uni(versity) in camp. Could you just share with us how does that work? Are you like in a rush or some sort?
Randall: So the funny story was… So, I actually always wanted to be an officer. While I was in BMT (Basic Military Training), I was one of the few guys that…
Reggie: 我要 (Wǒ yào)! 我要 (Wǒ yào)! Volunteer, volunteer. Those volunteer, wayang guys.
Randall: Yeah, correct. The super wayang guys that want to… So, I always want to be an officer and stuff. Right after BMT, when I got my posting, I don’t know if it was luck or misfortune, they posted me to the Air Force to be a driver. And I was so depressed. I felt like I wasn’t good enough. And I was just so ashamed with all my friends that were not as fit as me.
They were like at least a Sergeant and I became a driver in the air force. And the good news, I mean the flip side, was that I realized that I get to book out every single day. So, very different from a lot of people. And I thought, “Okay, now I got to make good use of that right? I might spend 9 to 5 in doing something I hate, but I still got the after-hours to catch up.”
So, I thought, you know, might as well take this time to take my Bachelor’s, and then when I complete it, I get to start doing the things that I want to do. Whereas most people, after they ORD, they then wait for their Uni to start, and then spend the next three to four years in school and stuff.
So, I’m a little bit quicker.
Reggie: Okay. So, it sounds like you were in a rush. Did you felt like you were in a rush or were you just trying to make your time useful?
Randall: So, I’m a very competitive person in nature. I mean, if you’re my friend, you probably know that, I was always thinking like, “Okay, how can I be quicker?”
“How can I complete faster?” And that was again, why I decided to become an entrepreneur because I knew that I would try to compete with all the JC (Junior College) students and all the…
Reggie: You can see the eye rolling… JC students.
Randall: And all the NUS, SMU and stuff. I would not be able to compete with them.
So, that’s the main reason why I chose entrepreneurship. And that was also the main reason why I wanted to be a little bit quicker than everyone else. So, it was not so much about getting the degree. I just wanted to make sure that I got it out of the way. And then continue to pursue entrepreneurship.
Reggie: So from there, you went on to do your own tech company, right?
Randall: Yeah, correct.
Reggie: And that was also your way of being faster and more competitive in that sense.
Reggie: So how was that experience?
Randall: So, while I was in the army and taking my Bachelor’s, I actually started my first company selling software services.
And what we did was we would go to different companies and we would help them build softwares and mobile applications and websites. And we charged them a fee. Well, I think I would call myself a good salesman. Like, we managed, I managed to make quite a bit of money, convincing people to take up services with us, because we have a full development team in Singapore, but actually all our developers are in developing countries like India, in Vietnam, and stuff like that.
So, I was trying to do that for two years and while the money was great. I also learned a few things about myself, so I didn’t enjoy as much as I thought I would becoming an entrepreneur, because every single day I had to deal with angry customers, same thing.
Reggie: I know, I know.
Randall: You know what I mean? Because my approach was very different, right?
It was always like, “How can I try to squeeze the most money out of you, selling things that you actually don’t need? Just so that I can make the most profit?” So yeah, the money was great, but again, I hated going to work. I hated meeting my customers. It wasn’t something I enjoy. I will convince people to take up all services, even though they don’t really need it.
And you know, I guess that was also the first spark noticing, I may not be that interested in… Like money wasn’t the biggest motivator for me. I made quite a bit of money back then, but I just wasn’t happy. So, I decided to join different startups to see how other founders are building the organization, because that was my very first startup company.
And, while there were a lot of great lessons, I just felt that I needed to know how other organizations are building theirs. Yeah, and then that’s why after that, I decided to join I think about 2 to 3 more startups.
Reggie: Okay, and during that 2 to 3 startups, so you went from working for yourself trying to win this capital game essentially, you just chiong lah. And then you do what you need to do, and you build a company that is easily successful. You were making money, you were like riding, but you’re uncomfortable. So, then you decided to work with others to see how life is.
Reggie: How did that feel? Because I think a lot of people are trying to decide where, I want to do my own business, I don’t want to work for someone.
Randall: Right, right.
Reggie: It’s not always that you have people that have actually done their own business and also worked for other people.
So what are your thoughts on that?
Randall: So for me, I knew very, very early that I will want to work for myself. So that shift, after I shut down my first company to work for someone else, was that I had a rule that I will leave within two years. Actually, I told all the companies that I’m joining, I will leave. 2 years is the maximum for me.
I’m here to learn, and then I’m going to start my company. I made it super clear to all the startups that I joined. So, my approach, when I went into all these companies was like, yeah you know, I don’t really care so much about salary. I just want to learn. And then if I’m not learning, I’m going to leave.
I made it very, very clear. So, yeah, I always knew that I wanted to do something on my own. It’s just a matter of time and what kind of business I want to launch and stuff. So, I don’t know if I can fully answer that question on behalf of so many people who want to move from one area to another, one industry to another industry, like from entrepreneurship to just working for someone else, because I know for sure, for me, it’s always going to be some sort of entrepreneurship. Yeah.
Reggie: Because from what I know with entrepreneurs, generally, people fall in two camps. Two camps again.
Reggie: Two camps again lah, aiya always two camps lah. But anyway, so there’ll be a bunch of them that are very big on entrepreneurship, like you will promote, “You must do it, you must be an entrepreneur, test it out, live your life, blah, blah, blah, all those kinds of stuff.”
And then there’s the other camp that will be like, “Don’t, don’t do entrepreneurship. Go and do your job, do what you need to do. And so, where do you stand on this? Like, what is your take?”
Randall: Well, I’m kind of like in the middle. So, I don’t think entrepreneurship is for everyone. I know there are friends that are just not made for it, right? And I think…
Reggie: What is made for it? Like what are some characteristics that you think, if you have this, try to be an entrepreneur.
Randall: Yeah, so you definitely got to be… You got to have grit and like discipline. I think what a lot of people don’t understand about this…
Reggie: Like eating the same food every day ah, very disciplined ah. Every day the same thing, right? Okay.
Randall: Yeah, it boils down to almost everything, not just discipline to work, but discipline to spend time taking care of yourself, just discipline in general in person, right? And of course, it boils down to little things like your financials.
So, I think at least how I see it is, someone just… To me, the biggest factor of anyone wanting to consider going to entrepreneurship, is just like, do you have the grit, right? It’s not something that you can come in and then like, “Oh, okay just want to test the water, and then like leave in a few months and stuff.” Because things don’t work and things rarely work in one or two years.
I know people that are in the game for like five, six, seven, eight years and just barely making it. So, whether or not you want to make those kinds of sacrifice? Or you want to kind of, and it’s nothing wrong with just working for someone else, right? If you enjoy the job, if you’re happy and if you feel purposeful going to work every single day, then why change things?
It’s only if you’re unhappy with your current situation. Then maybe, try to go another round.
Reggie: Fair, fair. And actually I came from this camp for quite a while, in a sense that I’m like, maybe you should just work your job, right? Because being an entrepreneur, you know, the kind of challenges that will come, and the uncertainty and, all these little, little things that you thought you knew, but once you’re there, it was like, “Oh! Wrong ah!”
Randall: Yup, yup.
Reggie: So, there’s a lot of discovery in this process. I get the whole idea about grit, discipline, blah, blah, blah. But at this point in time, I’m a bit different at this point in time. I come from like you said, “Don’t test the water.”
But I think you should test the water.
So, you come in, test the water for a few months. What you need to know is you need to be cognizant about whether you fit the environment.
And not join the environment, thinking that you don’t fit. So, come in, test it out. And yes, that’s a shout out. If you want to be an entrepreneur, I actually support you.
I think you should come in, test it out, see if it works for you. And if it doesn’t work for you, you can take your leave, right? The 5 to 6 years guy, no shit happening, then dude, just pivot somewhere that works.
Reggie: So, don’t be blinded by it. And also don’t be blinded by the shiny things. I think there’s a lot of shiny things in the startup scene today, right?
Randall: All the PR and all that stuff.
Reggie: Oh my God, this hackathon, that thing. Hello dude, wake up lah! Just go and spend time, do your business, get to know your customer, build your product, right? Stop going for all these kind of rubbish. So… okay I’m not saying that they’re bad, I think it’s good. You go and expose yourself, see new things, I don’t know what’s going on, but don’t spend day in, day out, one hackathon after another, one event after another. Go for one or two, just get some exposure, and do what you need to do.
Randall: Right, exactly.
Reggie: So, is that the same for the whole social enterprise scene? Like a lot of shiny things, you know?
Randall: Yeah, I think there’s been a blur of lines between social enterprise, non-profit, and for-profit, like I said, from the start, I think they’re all the same. Whether or not you start a social enterprise, a charity, or non-profit, or for-profit, it’s not for everyone. But I do think that if you have the skills, the knowledge, and the passion to run an organization, you can run in both sectors.
Because they pretty much operate the same way. Yeah so, I would encourage anyone, everyone to give a try on both, maybe for profit entrepreneurship, doesn’t work for you. Then, instead of going back to work for someone else, “Hey, why don’t you try the social enterprise thing?”
Reggie: Promoting ah, promoting. Right, pulling all the talent. Be a social entrepreneur! Join the band!
Randall: We just need more talents in this space.
If we’ve got all the talent, I’m very optimistic about the future.
Reggie: Do you feel that talent is one of the things that you’re lacking?
Randall: Of course. I mean the whole world is lacking talent, right?
Reggie: Specifically, I mean, for the social enterprise?
Randall: For sure. A hundred percent. I think the number one thing is because people think that if I were to join a social space, I would always remain poor.
I think that’s the idea around it, but that’s just simply not true. If you look at some of the biggest, best, most successful charities and non-profit organizations around the world, their leaders are being paid very, very, fairly. And that’s because the company wants to retain all these talents. But if you were to pay people peanuts, you will always get peanuts, right?
Reggie: Yes. Okay so, recently I thought about this thing, because if you think about it, ‘poor’ is a relative concept, right? ‘Rich’ is also a relative concept, depending on how you define what is ‘rich’, what is ‘poor’, but the thing about the startup space is, the startup space is a bit like a TOTO, right?
Reggie: If you kena ah, then this is “Woah! This is a home run!” You know this thing?
Randall: Yeah, right.
Reggie: And the social enterprise space, or I would even consider, honestly, I consider a lot of social enterprise entrepreneurs are very much just working. There isn’t that upside excitement for that, in that sense.
Because there’s no equity involved. There are no huge paychecks. The reality is what you just said, it was fair. Acceptable.
Reggie: It’s not like, it’s not good. It’s not exciting. So, do you feel that that is one of the fundamental issues?
Because we live in a capital world. 不可以骗自己啊 (Bù kěyǐ piàn zìjǐ a). So, because there’s no upside excitement, then you guys are always struggling to recruit people lah.
Randall: Just so I get your question right, do you mean in the social space, people don’t get excited about money? Or like what was the question?
Reggie: Like, you know, everybody has their own excitement. What things drive them?
So, for you at this point, that’s very purposeful, right? A lot more on the spiritual, more soft side of things. Not as concrete, not in a bad way, but it’s like, money’s very concrete lah, 赚钱就是赚钱 (zhuànqián jiùshì zhuànqián). So, if the social enterprise sector cannot provide that upside excitement of wealth, then you will forever struggle with getting a big bunch of people.
Which is why all the big banks have all the big talent, right? But all these guys, they’re not doing any productive thing in the market in society.
Reggie: They’re just speculating and making money in that sense.
Randall: Well, I think there are a lot of talents out there, that have kind of moved past the stage where money drives them.
And these are exactly the talent I think the social space needs. And so I think it’s a phase in life, right? There will be a stage where you make a lot of… And I know a lot of investment bankers and people who have made a lot of money moving into social space right now. And, and that’s actually a good thing
So sure, if we want to target attracting and hiring all these people that are still in the phase of “money is the most important, I got to build my personal wealth at this stage”, then we’re not going to get them at this stage. We’re going to go after the ones that are probably more purpose driven, that maybe purpose first and then the second, building financial wealth, or those that already accumulated a bit of wealth.
Not a lot, but comfortable enough to say, “Hey, now maybe it’s time for me to use my skills, to help build something that can make an impact in the world.” So those kinds of people are, unfortunately there’s not much, not many out there, and that’s why there’s a whole shortage of all these talents in the social space right now.
Reggie: Do you happen to fall into the camp that already made some money,
Randall: No! I wish.
Reggie: 我已经有一点钱啊 (wǒ yǐjīng yǒu yīdiǎn qián a). I’ve already made some money and I can dedicate my life to…
Randall: No, no…
Reggie: So, it doesn’t concern you?
Randall: It does! I mean, a lot of people look at me and like, “Wow, you are so noble. You don’t care about money and stuff.” I do care about money a lot. But I care about money because I still want to make money. Not because I want to buy myself a big house, drive fast cars and stuff, but because I want to make sure that I can continue doing what I love and I can be able to bring my family on vacations.
We don’t have any worries about stuff, not just go to Thailand and shop for a few days. I want to bring my family to have a good lifestyle, enjoy themselves in expensive places. And so that’s something I still want to do. And I think I can do that while running a social enterprise.
And whether or not the money comes from the organization, reaching a stage where I get to pay myself a fair paycheck for my skills, my effort and stuff, or doing side projects. I’m currently doing a few consulting side projects, getting a bit of money. I’m a freelance. I’m also doing freelance right now.
And hopefully, you know, if I get better at speaking, after doing a few podcasts like that, I get some speaking engagements. All these I get to have different ways where I can earn money. So, it doesn’t mean that I’m in the social enterprise space, I will only have to depend on my money from the organization itself.
There’s a lot of places where I can use my skills, my experience from learning in the social spaces, and then be my wealth from there.
Reggie: That’s cool. That’s cool. So, for everyone that wants to explore this idea of social enterprise, definitely come on and be open about it.
Just go around and just ask around. I think a lot of the social entrepreneurs are a lot more prominent. You could see them around. They’re on the bus sticker. You see them ah, it’s like they’re everywhere, right? It is a good thing. I fundamentally think we need more talent in this space.
Reggie: But I also come from the camp that we need to revisit the incentive structures. We need to see how to incentivize talent to come into the space, which is why I asked a lot of these questions. So, thanks for sharing with us. Yeah, so to wrap up, I just want to give you some time to share with us, where can we contact you? Where can we support you? And what are some other coming projects from your organization?
Randall: So, the best way to just reach out to us is go directly to our website. It’s at http://www.booksbeyondborders.org We collect and sell quality donated books. So if you have any books that you want to give, let us know, we can schedule a pickup from you, or if you are looking for a new read, feel free to check us out.
We’ve got some great quality selection of books on our site. We’re also on Facebook and Instagram. If you search Books Beyond Borders, you get to see our page popping up. Pretty sure it’s the first one. And we are doing some great projects in the next few months, so Covid-19 has changed a lot of things, not just for us in Singapore, but also for the communities that we are supporting in Nepal.
We are still raising money using all our net profits to fund projects, like something we fund in the last two months. So, one project we funded was… So now that the schools are shut in Nepal, and the students don’t have the privilege of using things like ZOOM and the internet and stuff.
So, we co-funded a radio program where the teachers record their lessons over radio, and then partner with radio stations, blasting them out, to reach all these students living in isolated communities. That’s one project we co-funded, we are looking at it and tracking the progress. We just funded last month about 2,000 workbooks.
It’s all created by local teachers. And then it’s actually right now, it’s on the way to deliver to some of the villages. So, if you check out our Instagram or Facebook page, you get to see some pictures and videos of how we put all our profits to work.
Reggie: That is so cute. It was so cool. After this, we’re going to talk about it.
Reggie: Let’s see if our community can work with you guys. So, thanks for tuning in. We’ll see you guys next week. Thank you.
Randall: Thanks so much.
Hey, I hope you learned something useful today and truly appreciate that you took time off to better your life with The Financial Coconut. Knowledge is more powerful when shared, debated, and discussed. I hope you share what you gained with people you love. And I want to hear from you. Give me some questions and help me along with building our community of financially savvy coconuts.
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Stay till next week. And always remember personal finance can be chill, clear and sustainable for all.
Okay, wow. Hope you guys enjoy your time with Randall. It was really nice, never knew my secondary school friend would turn out to be so cool. And yeah, he’s been through a lot and I’m sure he shared a lot with all of us, and I hope you pick up some things here and there. You know, it’s the idea of a long interview, right?
It’s all these kinds of content. Sometimes, it’s a bit hard to chop also. So, also let us know if you are enjoying these things. If you enjoy it, definitely reach out to us on telegram group and just let us know. Of course, I also check out http://www.booksbeyondborders.org to get some cool books here and there.
I think by the time you’re listening to this, we have already really cemented our partnership. So yeah, it’s going to be nice. They have a lot of good books, a lot of good non-fiction books. So every week, they’re going to publish one recommendation on our newsletter. So, if you’re not on our newsletter yet, and you want to be in the ecosystem of seeing what Books Beyond Borders are recommending you to read this week, definitely had over.
And of course, do know that they only have one or two books each right? Every time they publish something, they only have one book, two books, because it is very much based on donation. So, every time you see the book and you want it, go get it. $5, $10, $15. It’s a really cheap, secondhand book. And you support a cause that they are pushing for.
So yeah, I hope you enjoy it. I hope you can continue to support them and support things that are interesting and make the world a better place. Okay, and next week, so recently a lot of people have been asking about gold, gold, gold, right? Because all over online, people are talking about gold.
And am I investing in gold? I do invest a little bit of my money in gold, something like 10% to 20%. All right, so I am going to share with you why I do it, and some of the realities when you’re looking at gold. Some hard truths, some things ah, I don’t even know how to elaborate, because this is what it is. Gold is like that.
So, I had some fun recording next week’s episode, and I’m sure you’re going to learn some interesting things about gold and realize that there are different, different investment strategies. Because Buffet doesn’t really buy gold. Okay, next week we’ll talk about it. A lot of people are raving, Buffet buys goals!
But nope, nope, nope, it’s a bit different. And Dalio believes in gold and the whole asset allocation strategy. Different people have different strategies. There’s no one way to do it. So next week, we’re going to talk about gold realities, I hope to give you more insights. And, meanwhile, take care.
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