Travelling the world lead Darren to his entrepreneurial destiny, a tech business in Asia.
What’s your story?
I was programming from an early age and not terribly academic. At 16 I left a laborious college IT course to get a full time job in web development. These were the days when your job title was “web master” and you did everything from design, marketing, development and keeping the internal NT4 servers backed up to tape drives.
I worked for a number of companies then went freelance from my bedroom in my mid-20’s. There was a fork in the road after a few years – either setup a real business with staff or go backpacking and I decided the latter. After some months of travelling I ended up in Thailand needing some work to continue my travels to Australia. I never got to Australia.
What excites you most about your industry?
The crossover from web to mobile technologies is now becoming promising and recognised. It’s a strategic move we have done at Firecreek to get into this technology early. You can build an app in a web browser and deploy the same code to the browser, iOS and Android stores. This saves a lot of time! We have taken that position instead of native development and it’s working well.
E-commerce is going to the next stage for Thailand in 2016 with purchasing online. The banks in Thailand don’t help so individuals and startups are now helping themselves. There was a startup buzz in the UK years ago but it was very gradual over many years. Over here it’s quick and leapfrogging other countries’ conventions.
We’re primarily a service driven business working with clients but for the 12 months we have been working on our own exciting startup with another company in Bangkok. We’re looking to release early this year with a system for SME’s to manage their service businesses. We are really looking forward to joining the startup scene for ourselves!
What’s your connection to Asia?
Apart from my story of how I ended up here – nothing previously. I’m now married and have an established business in Bangkok with seven full time in-house staff. I hope my connections in Thailand and SEA will keep moving forwards as we prove our company to be something worth talking about.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I’ve had very little time to really explore other cities in Asia. If you’re a freelancer or work for someone else you get vacation time. If you’re setting up your own business then say goodbye to that freedom for a few years. I’ve sacrificed vacation time to build something I am happy with. I hope to travel more soon! Bangkok has a great buzz for the modern IT industry.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about it.”
I heard this a year ago and it stuck with me. It made me reframe my thinking about day-to-day problems. I just Googled the quote to make sure it was worded correctly and embarrassingly the quote is Captain Jack Sparrow – a wise man.
Who inspires you?
The most inspiring people I find are other business owners who are two steps ahead of me. In Bangkok there are some amazing business owners who are really smart, honest and helpful. Many have become good friends.
There are plenty of people in the media who give me inspiration but if you can get inspiration from the group around you then the “how it’s done” isn’t a big mystery.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You can lean on your team a lot more than you think. Delegate, give responsibility and the tiresome “empower your staff.” It’s true and it works. We work with Agile techniques. Morning stand ups and using tech like Jira. Provide the right tools, share your vision clearly then the team around you will do a great job!
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
For the first few years of setting up my business I was too deep in the trenches – coding 10+ hours a day. If I could turn back time I would have spent more time managing and learning how to be a more efficient manager. But maybe that was the right thing to do at the time. I am sure in 12 months time I’ll be looking back at today and saying something similar. I always believe things can be done better.
How do you unwind?
I’d love to say the gym. It’s what every blog, book and parent says to do. But I don’t, it might happen one day – but not tomorrow.
I’ve always found it hard to unwind and relax but over the last few years I’ve done a few things which help. When I first started the business we worked from a townhouse where I also lived. After two years of walking downstairs on a weekend straight back into my office I decided to save my sanity of being at work all the time and move to a proper office in Chidlom.
Every Sunday for six months my wife and I would go into the office to clean the office – this was a waste of my weekend so I finally got a cleaner. Doing this and more helped me find “unwind” time.
I have recently got into electronics. It’s scratching my geek itch as I don’t code much anymore.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I love checking out the new islands in Thailand. I want to find a place where I can retire early! There are only a few left to tick off the list. At the moment I really like Koh Chang. It has some beautiful beaches, it’s not too expensive and it has a good feeling. I can’t say I spend my time relaxing on these islands though. I normally go and get a motorcycle on the first day and find every corner of the island.
Everyone in business should read this book:
I have read a few of these “hipster” business self-help books and found they aren’t all that helpful or accurate. I meet a lot of people in tech and found a lot of people recite passages from books like “The Lean Startup.” On each page turn there are occasionally some nicely strung together words but ultimately just do what common sense tells you. If you struggle with that then you need more experience or just get out of the game entirely and work for someone else.
I’m giving up on these books and sticking to blogs and online communities. Importantly I get a lot more out of user comments to articles and I can personally relate to them a lot more.
Get on reddit, read the business subreddits such as /r/startups, /r/entrepreneur, /r/business and dig into the comments section. There is some rubbish but skim past it. The self posts are generally better than the links to the boastful medium.com articles.
These types of online communities are more valuable than books.
If I pick up a book now it’ll be something practical like “Brilliant Book-keeping” (how boring).
Shameless plug for your business:
We are specialists with web technology from bespoke backend systems to hybrid mobile apps – and all the bits in between to make it work. We act as your product owner with all projects meaning you’ll get consultancy and best practises throughout.
How can people connect with you?
Just drop me an email!
This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:
Callum Laing invests and buys small businesses in a range of industries around Asia. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is the founder & owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 12 countries. He is a Director of, amongst others, Key Person of Influence. A 40 week training program for business owners and executives.
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