Calvin Kizana and His Failure Story

To begin with, I met with this glasses guy Calvin Kizana a few months ago at (as my memory serves right) “BizConnect”, one of entrepreneurial events in the capital that I can hardly remember thanks to the multitude number. We did exchange business cards but I bet he forgets me and my face already (that’s why I always think we should enclose our recent photo on the business card! Our brain memorizes better with pictures).

To cut the long story short, here I saw him again at INAICTA 2011, the overly-hyped tech event where the government, business folks, academicians, entrepreneur hopefuls, and journalists or bloggers like me. This time Calvin shared his failure story. Yes, neither he nor I typed it wrong. It’s FAILURE, instead of SUCCESS.

But that wasn’t what surprised me after all. I got more impressed by this guy’s creativity when he showcased his presentation slides. Bid farewell to the neatly arranged power point presentation with everywhere-to-find fonts and artclips. He pleaded ‘guilty’ for not preparing a decent presentation and only having a little time to get this all ready but, hey man, you made it! The handwriting of the entrepreneur may not be the best in the world but TO ME, he simply managed to show what creativity means, in every possible way. The presentation embodies it almost perfectly.

As a kickoff of the 15-minute presentation, Calvin extolled his being a graduate of a LOCAL university, Bina Nusantara University. I have no idea why he had to write it in capital but my hunch is he tried to raise proud of being part of Indonesia.

Calvin’s first salary was only Rp. 300.000 (I would kill to know how much his salary is now, not literally please). He started by working as a freelancer. In the first phase of  his career, Calvin had to work as a tech support staff, writer, multimedia developer. He aimed to work for Apple.  The rest is on the picture below.

Why he failed

Calvin founded two startups, yet failed completely owing to poor financial planning. And that prompted a question on my mind, “Did he back then have a female business partner or co-founder or some sort?” I’m not being sexist but I heard once  female entrepreneurs have better skills when it comes to money. They  might be notoriously spending more than males for outfits or stilettos or purses or pans but they can ‘choke you to death’ if you spend more than what you should as stated and agreed on the financial plans. The second reason of the downfall is of course the financial crisis in 1997.And the third is lack of knowledge in setting up a company.

Never take the plunge with head first

Calvin highlighted that in spite of having the most brilliant business ideas on the planet and capital, don’t ever think of getting into a market  before you make sure there are potential customers out there who are in need of the solution that your product or service offers. Most importantly, Calvin added, there needs to be a supportive ecosystem. How so? So your product or service can be sustained in the long run. A point to ponder for the blindly optimistic hopefuls with an I-am-failure-proof attitude.

In 2002, Calvin dealt with a dilemma that every one of us I’m pretty sure can relate to quite easily. He had to choose whether he’d climb a career ladder in someone else’s company or found his own startup. Needless to say, we know the answer. He began bootstrapping from ground ZERO (I typed as it is).  Calvin explained he chose the latter option as he hates being told what to do by bossy bosses (redundant? I don’t think so, because few bosses aren’t bossy).

By bootstrapping, it meant Calvin had to gather capital on his own. Somehow he got IDR 30 million, which seemed to involve him selling a pickup van (correct me if I’m wrong but he drew a picture of one there). In the same year (2002), even though the startup didn’t look impressive just yet, it at the very least moved forward. It got some web-based projects and multimedia/ interactive ones. All of these were outsourcing projects. The story went on and it headed to mobile industry.

Luck Sucks

Yes, it does, particularly when you started something earlier and then others adopted your idea. Later on , you found your idea and business sinking or going nowhere but they keep growing like hell and gain global fame.

I don’t know how it feels but Calvin exactly knows and still feels the fresh pain of it as if he just experienced it a moment ago. He lamented the fact that his user-generated content  site built back then for Nokia users in 2002 didn’t end up being as famous as Youtube, even though the two had a relatively similar concept (showcasing photos and videos generated by users).

In 2006, Calvin’s startup went global as it became a foreign investment company. He stated it’s a collaboration amongst investors from 6 different countries, i.e. Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, and the United States.

Marriage =  Business partnership

God, if I had a dime every time I hear this!  Almost every entrepreneur I’ve seen who talked about business partnership likens it to marriage or courting/ dating. And because Calvin’s startup involves different nations, I suppose he should’ve likened it to an inter-racial, multinational polygamous marriage.

As one enters a phase of partnership, there’re three things Calvin thinks an entrepreneur ought to hold on to:

  • Maintain expectations,
  • Establish open communication, and
  • Have a clear vision and mission.

In 2006-2008, Calvin once again learned the lessons the hard way. The company failed in China market, launching some mobile services and securing some big projects.

Lessons to learn? He warned us not to take too much pride of our skill sets. Also, he advised that we understand the market in detail (underlined as it is).

No education gets wasted  

Unless you’re Michael Dell, Bill Gates or the late Steve Jobs, dropping out is the last decision you have to make these days.  Embrace the fact that people may not consider your majestic academic title highly as they did but still you know what counts most: experience,  knowledge and wisdom.

Calvin still had the urge to earn an MBA in spite of having become a somewhat seasoned entrepreneur in 2006. This time, unlike his undergraduate days which took him 6 years to complete, he said in a proud tone that he managed to end the formal academic pursuit within 2 years. A lesson to learn?  Multitasking is overrated. If you really want to get something done faster the way you want, you have to pour most of your hard work, time and energy into it.

He also pointed out that formal education enabled him to study other disciplines more intensively. They are , for example,  management, finance, accounting, legal, etc (which are extremely required to run a company properly).

From 2009 on, he set new directions: products (Game machi and Menoo!) and services (Ponsel planet, Solid Worx, Digital Agency, and mobile apps development). Hereby he finally declared to have his own products.

To conclude…

You may have learned several above but let me summarize them for you in a few lines:

  • Success doesn’t happen overnight: Even this messy capital Jakarta wasn’t built in a day. What I’m trying to say is that even creating a chaos takes time! So be patient and consistent. Tricky shortcuts never work if your aim is to build a sustainable business.
  • Pursue your dream: Focus shifts distract you from your objectives. Look at a magnifying glass. Be a convex lens that gathers sunrays into a single spot and burns things faster than a concave one.
  • Be sharp in finding opportunities: Exploiting the existing opportunities is easy. Finding existing yet hidden opportunities is hard. And in my opinion,  creating opportunities as well as creating a new market and niche proves to be the most challenging of all. I recalled how the idea of Marty Cooper, the inventor of cell phone, got turned down. No one needed a cordless phone, someone said to him. Phone booths were almost anywhere to find after all! Yet he went on and successfully created and launched the first cell phone. And look at how many business opportunities arise after that. And the market wasn’t there! No one felt like they needed to call on their way home or to call only to ask what groceries you thought your wife wanted you to buy while you were at a supermarket. But once the cell phone appeared  in stores, the demand gradually surged. (I think I’m rambling)
  • Set a clear vision and a business plan: A business plan in hand is always useful, either to potential investors or partners (or customers?).
  • Understand basic finance, legal and accounting: Even we’re not a genius with a set of magnificent talents, still the understanding of non-technical fields is to a certain extent needed. Calvin is a confirmed geek but it had dawned on him that studying things other than computer science is equally important. Learn as many things as we can though they seem irrelevant to our interests. Be open minded. We’ll never know when we need it in the future.

Sorry guys, it turns out  ‘a few lines’ became ’ many lines’.

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