[Reactor Alumni] Empowering a Corporate Culture Geared Towards Sustainability
This is the third piece of an interview-commentary series, Alumni in Action, profiling Reactor Alumni on their past and future entrepreneurial journey, insights, and anxieties on what entrepreneurship has led them to.
Responses have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
With various academic activities, assignments, readings, and projects, life in the university can be hectic and busy for most students. Despite the interest of some students to venture into startups, they find it complex with their limited knowledge, time, and resources. However, there is a growing number of students who are accepting the challenges of entering the business world just like Johann Wah who co-founded Man’s Best Friend (MBF). He believe that he could learn more by doing so he tried to find ways on how he can apply the things that he learned. That led him to co-found MBF where he hopes to connect more individuals or consumers to companies with sustainable alternatives to their apparel and products.
John: To start things off, could you share something interesting about yourself?
Johann: I think one thing that is interesting about myself is that I started my first company at the age of 16 and completely failed. But it was a great experience and taught me so much, so in hindsight, it didn't really fail in my opinion.
John: What experiences have you had that shaped you to be an entrepreneur?
Johann: I think one thing that has shaped my experience as an entrepreneur is learning how to take feedback from a customer and apply it. It’s really crucial and important to understand your customer’s needs and also to have a desire to meet those needs. But it’s also equally important to understand the constraints you have as a startup and never overpromise. Trust from a customer is hard-won, and extremely easily lost.
John: What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Johann: Begin by focusing on the customer and their pain points rather than the product. The product is obviously very important, but so many younger entrepreneurs, including myself, always start with the product. That’s a huge mistake because we end up wasting time building a product that no one wants to pay for. Start with the customer, work backward to understand their pain points, and then build the product according to those pain points. There’s a much higher chance people will be willing to pay for our product if it solves a certain pain point.
John: What was your key driving force to pursue entrepreneurship?
Johann: I think for me it is to solve a problem and actually make a difference no matter how small. For my team and myself, we are really driven by hoping corporations and individuals in S.E.A will slowly change their habits to be more sustainable. We want to be a part of that journey to help individuals make that switch. Every product we help convert for a corporation saves much more on emissions and wastage.
John: Do you believe there is some sort of formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
Johann: Yes, as I said above: Start with the customer, work backward to understand their pain points, and then build the product according to those pain points. This means you really have to be on the ground and speaking to potential customers or users who may interact with your product. Make sure there is also a sizable amount of individuals. This way, there’s a much higher chance people will be willing to pay for our product if it solves a certain pain point.
John: What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Johann: Be good at picking yourself up after failing, finding good people to work with, and understand how to work with potential customers to understand their pain points
John: What key activities would you recommend entrepreneurs to invest their time in?
Johann: I think all entrepreneurs should make sure to always be reading a lot to learn from the experiences of others and also speaking with individuals who have more experience than you. The best way to learn is to listen to good advice, apply it, iterate, apply and learn again.
John: What motivates you?
Johann: I really think what motivates me is solving problems that matter to me. Since sustainability is a problem that matters to me, it brings me a lot of joy when I can find solutions for anything related to sustainability. Even if they are simple solutions.
John: How do you generate new business/project ideas?
Johann: I generate new ideas by listening to what my customer’s needs are and building solutions around that. There is always something better we can build.
John: What are some struggles, obstacles, or pitfalls you have encountered as an entrepreneur?
Johann: It was probably during the COVID-19 pandemic when MBF’s business really crumbled. We were pretty much out of business. But luckily, some of our customers who loved our products and ideas, wanted us to keep going. So they really helped us along during those tough times to keep the business going and we are glad to still be serving them today.
John: In 1 sentence, how would you describe your entrepreneurial journey?
Johann: You must enjoy failing and working hard to overcome those failures, time and time again.
John: What was your experience like, interning at LeanData?
Johann: My experience interning at LeanData in Silicon Valley was amazing. I loved the hyper-growth culture and everyone’s determination in making the company a success. I loved how I could just speak to the CEO whenever I wanted and also learn from anyone in the company!
John: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In terms of career development and entrepreneurial growth?
Johann: I definitely see myself in the startup or technology space. I think I will be wherever innovation is at.
John: You mentioned that in 5 years, your focus is still on innovation. How do you align your values with your brand?
Johann: MBF is really hands-on in designing and building products that embody our brand concept called Functional Sustainability, where attributes of design and materials encourage a sustainable lifestyle. This concept means we don’t just create products that are sustainably sourced, but we also try to create products with an intent to encourage more sustainable consumer behavior. For example, our trademarked (DualCoat™) nanotech bamboo blend incorporates water and stain-resistant capabilities. Our fabrics are also anti-bacterial, reducing odour which encourages users to save water and electricity by washing less. Thus, embracing the concept of functional sustainability. As we expand, we have many ideas to continue to create more products that align with this in the near future. This is what I mean by innovation.
John: What is sustainable fashion and why should people care about it.
Johann: Practically speaking, people should care about sustainable fashion because fast fashion is the second-largest polluting industry only behind to oil. Socially speaking, people will inevitably care about it because fashion contributes significantly to an individual’s form of self-expression. You can tell a lot about someone based on what they wear. Thus, placing these two practical and social aspects together, it makes sense to try and find the perfect balance between damage to the environment as well as making sure people can continue to wear things that allow them to continue to outwardly express themselves.
John: Why is a sustainable fashion the future? and how is it changing?
Johann: The future of sustainable fashion is currently very focused on improvements in technical aspects such as recycling, finding more efficient ways of reducing textile waste in manufacturing, and utilizing more environmentally friendly textiles in general, etc. While this is all good, I think there will come a time when more people recognize that we need to adopt not just technical improvements in sustainable fashion because of the adverse effects on the world, but also change our habits. I am still of the thought that if we don’t change our habits quickly enough, people will just continue buying lots of clothes (even if they are sustainable) that end up eventually going to waste. So if that happens, I still think the averse affects of fashion, in general, may remain. This is why in addition to improving the technical aspects of sustainable fashion, for MBF innovating inline functional sustainability to simultaneously improve habits makes sense to us.
Johann: For me, the value I identify most closely with is #PeopleFirst. I feel as though it’s really important to create a workplace culture where everyone is comfortable to thrive and feels valued in their role. In that way, I think that people will really enjoy the startup journey. What’s the point of building something cool when I don’t enjoy it or enjoy the people I’m constantly working with?
Interested in running an Entrepreneurship Programme for your School? Contact us now. For student founders, who are interested in building your next startup venture, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by John Carlo
John is the Digital Marketing & Community Executive at Reactor School.
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