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Entrepreneur Mohd Atasha talks about the importance of shifting mindsets when running a business during a pandemic

Mohd Atasha is a successful entrepreneur who has a clinical understanding of leadership and company management. He is the CEO of Foxymojo & Co, a consulting firm that helps organisations accelerate their growth and an exponential rate.

Atasha is routinely engaged for his expertise in leadership, strategy, business modelling, and business operation. He was kind enough to take some time to answer our questions about his thoughts on entrepreneurship, as well as shifting leadership demands during a pandemic like COVID-19.

Hi Atasha, what’s your background and proudest achievements in the world of business?

Hi! First of all, thanks for having me. I became an entrepreneur by chance. When I was 13 years old, I spent my daily meal allowance in cyber cafes. I was so fascinated and curious about the internet. I started with website development, web hosting, and digital marketing. Honestly, at the time didn’t know where this obsession would lead me. The perception of school kids hanging out at the cyber cafe was negative during my time in 1999. The lucky part is that my parents, in general, are quite relaxed and have been supportive for me to explore the internet at cyber cafes. When the local community in Segamat found out about my capabilities, they came and asked for my services. That’s how it all started. I feel providing web solutions was suited to my aptitude.

When I completed a degree in International Business at UiTM, that also marked the 10th year of my roller coaster ride as an entrepreneur. I took that opportunity to join corporate, and then a government agency that specialised in Digital Economy so I could learn how things work in larger organisations. This experience helped to develop my expertise, especially in leadership, management, business processes, and forming diplomatic relationships.

Today I’m back as an entrepreneur for the second time to help business leaders accelerate growth, adopt digital technology, build a better team, invest in strategic business plans, and develop better operations.

My proudest achievements are when businesses that I helped are making significant progress and produce better leaders. For example, when corporate leaders are taking positive steps in adopting digital solutions, tech startup founders raised millions of dollars or survived the valley of death, when an unmotivated team became the most hardworking people, and when a business makes a deal that created thousands of jobs.

What kind of mindset makes a successful entrepreneur and a good business leader?

I believe that a great entrepreneur or business leader has a learning and growth mindset. A great leader makes a conscious effort not to carry wounds with them from their past, affecting their leadership. They don’t easily assume things based on what they know in the past but stay curious about current trends that help in making sound judgment with regards to daily decisions. As the saying goes, what takes you here won’t take you there. It’s great that you have proud achievements in the past, but they are not necessarily relevant today and in the future. Having a learning and growth mindset helps a leader to push their limits and deliver the best performance they can.

How can someone unlock their potential as an entrepreneur and take the first step into business?

In general, an entrepreneur is someone who thinks differently, a change-maker if you like. While people are complaining about things, an entrepreneur would listen and find ways to solve it.

Put aside fancy information and jargon about being an entrepreneur – let’s go back to the basics.

The first step is to listen to stories or gossip of a community you truly care about. Take your time to genuinely understand their stories, especially pain points, and root causes. How many people are impacted locally as well as nationwide? How much are they willing to pay if you help to solve their problems?

These are just a sample of the necessary pieces of information you need. The more validated information you obtain may help you make a better judgment and develop a solution to start your first business.

How does a mindset need to shift to keep running a business through a pandemic period?

Consider the famous “Kodak moment”. The culprit wasn’t lack of insight into fundamental market shifts or access to the needed technology—rather the inability to act. Partially due to an overreliance on a mindset firmly anchored in past success, aka “yesterday’s logic.”

Let me give you an example: Servis Hero, a popular marketplace for home services. During the pandemic, they saw an opportunity to address the surge in demand for disinfection services and immediately act on it. Beyond the Asia Pacific region, now they are in the Middle East and South Africa, parts of the world where they would never have imagined.

CapBay and TheLorry are collaborating to offer inclusive financing for SME Lorry drivers. Aerodyne is working with PwC to build a cutting-edge drone visual asset management system for Associated British Ports (ABP). Dropee paves the way for digitalisation, enables wholesalers and distributors to save up to 30% of their operational costs.

As an entrepreneur, we should regularly assess and quickly respond to potential leadership and market blind spots. Also, I feel, we should not stop taking risks because not taking risks is also risk by itself.

Is leadership a more important trait during a pandemic?

Yes, today, leadership is more critical to encourage people around us to continue to support each other to succeed.

During the pandemic, people experience loss on a regular basis. The loss of people they love, project, client, job, house, car, and many others. We are constantly dealing with change. Change may have benefits, but it can be painful. If we focus on pain, it means more stress. As a leader, we should provide a safe space for people to express their fears, vent their feelings of disappointment, and we should encourage them to focus on benefits rather than pain. I always believe, with every hardship, comes ease.

What are the biggest challenges to entrepreneurs in a pandemic period?

Firstly, self-doubt.

During the pandemic period, unfamiliar situations may trigger self-doubt about whether a business will sustain, grow, or die. When we are thinking with self-doubt, we may tend to believe that we have no options, we would play not to lose rather than play to win.

I remember this movie, Bridge of Spies, an excellent film based on a true story.

During the cold war 1950s, a Soviet KGB spy, Rudolf Abel was arrested in New York. James Donovan, an attorney, was tasked to defend Abel. A tough job as this is the first time for Donovan to defend an accused spy.

Americans clearly hated Abel; if possible, most would like to get rid of him without proper trials quickly. Also, the Soviet Union doesn’t like him, they might think Abel would have compromised secret information to the Americans. It is a very tough situation for Abel. He is doomed!

James Donovan:  Aren’t you worried?

Rudolf Abel:  Would that help?

Even in this complicated situation, Abel could still put himself together and stay calm while waiting for the outcome.

Our brains naturally pay attention or react to those things that scare us. That would escalate worries and impact our daily judgment and decision making. During this time, likely our brain would prompt to resist change or avoid risk to protect ourselves.

Secondly, liquidity trap, as we are in a long, slow, bumpy recovery period. Where the point at which people would instead hold the money than spend or invest.

Is it better to wait for the pandemic to pass before starting a new business venture?

Let’s face it – in reality, there are always risks involved in any business. Either you start during good times or crisis periods. Like Juris Technologies based in Kuala Lumpur, a successful company started when Malaysia has hit badly by the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.

Even during good times, about 90% of startups failed within the first 3 years.

The more important question is, how much do you know about your potential customers, and how are they responding to your solution?

Has COVID significantly impact any of your businesses? If so, how did you overcome these challenges, and how do you stay positive?

Not significant, but it does impact us, to a certain degree. We always feel that change is a normal process in life. We are taking this challenge as an opportunity to enhance our offerings, operation and collaboration to bring a more significant impact.

One of my favourite quotes that sum up how we think in this situation is by Vivian Greene – Life isn’t about waiting for a storm to pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the rain.

Thank you Atasha for your time!
You can follow up with Mohd Atasha at
http://mohdatasha.com

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