Wilson Ng has 3 passions in life: business management, learning/writing, and computer technology. He started early in entrepreneurship, helping with the family business at the age of 9. His companies employ almost 200 hundred IT professionals and he is the only Filipino CEO I know that blogs. Wilson Ng shares with us his insights on business, open source software and product development.
Greg Moreno: What is your reason for becoming an entrepreneur?
Wilson Ng: I guess most of it was inculcated early in the family. As far as I can remember, I have been helping in the family business since I was 8 or 9. We had a small gas station, and I remember spending a lot of time actually filling up people’s cars, and also delivering and receiving goods. On Saturdays, I was tasked by the family to go around some of the customers office with a car and driver to collect the receivables.
My father stressed to me early in life that you can have much more control of your life, and have financial independence if you own your business, however small, than getting a job.
GM: How hard (or easy) is it to start and run a business?
WN: Running a business is just like any endeavor like learning music or writing a book. There are a set of things you have to analyze, plan and excel in execution. The difference is that a lot more of your success depends not only in how you plan and manage yourself, but also in how you manage others. So the bigger extent (especially when the business has grown big) is developing managing skills, so you not only get things done by yourself, but learning how to get things done through others.
GM: What is the most exciting aspect in running a business?
WN: I know a lot of people who believe that they don’t have control of their lives, or control on what they want to do. Actually, many entrepreneurs ended up doing the same thing. A software consultant might feel that he really wants to write software, and therefore goes into software development business, because he feels he could not write the software he wants when being employed by some other. I think to the surprise of many who take the entrepreneurial route, they will find that they don’t have a lot of time to do what they want to do , either. When you own the business, and especially if you invest a lot of money you cannot afford to lose, then you will find out very soon that the business really owns you, and I know many entrepreneurs who ended up doing a lot of things ( like dealing in receivables, looking for an office, hiring people, dealing with accountants) that they were not equipped or did not like to handle.
GM: Some people say you should “plan to fail” while others believe “failure is not an option”. Which do you think applies to business? to you?
WN: Failure is not an option is really just a phrase probably you hear in the movies. In everything you do, there is always a possibility of failure, even if you think you have covered all bases. More so in business, because there are so many variables you cannot foresee or factor in. What you can do though is to plan and execute well so that the chances of failing are less, but then again, the probability will always be there that it will be not as you expect it to be. Of course, on the other hand, you may also get more success than you expect, though this is relatively rare since most of us are really optimists when it comes to business.
GM: What projects are your companies working on right now? Do you have a new product coming out this year?
WN: We are always evolving and trying to look for new opportunities, though on the other hand, we do our best to make sure we don’t neglect the things that make us win in the marketplace. There is always a delicate balance between how you expand your business, which is a must nowadays, because they say that business is so fast that if you are standing still, you are really going backwards. On the other hand, there is always the danger that you defocus, and thereby lose your competitive advantage that make you win in the first place.
(Wilson Ng receives the Small Business Entrepreneur Of The Year award from Her Excellency Renee Veyret, Ambassador of France to the Philippines)
GM: Your products are based on Microsoft technologies. How does open source software, notably Linux, affect your business strategy?
WN: It does pose a competition, but I think the argument should be based not on whether it is Microsoft or Linux, but rather the bigger argument on whether you can build a viable business based on the commercial software model, which is that you take time to develop a solution that is really going to help the business, and whether it is viable because the customer expects to pay good money for really good software. The Linux or Open Source is based on another concept that software should be shared and free.
GM: Let’s talk about developing software and usability. I’ve read in Fast Company that ease-of-use is the new competitive advantage and the website of e*Sprint mentions “flexible yet powerful software packages that are easy to use with their user-friendly features”. How do you incorporate “user-friendliness” in your software development process.
WN: The most important part of user friendliness is that the software works as people expect it to be, and that its use is intuitive, and very ‘predictable’. People have certain expectations on how things are designed that they would be able to make a good guess on what to expect even without reading the manual or being taught, and I really think sometimes ( just like how Apple designed the iPod so simply yet so elegant) really great design helps gives you that competitive edge because customers really like your product, and feels good using it.
GM: How and when do you involve customers in your product designs? Do you believe that the customer is always right?
WN: The customer will give him your feedback, but many customers have also expectations that are not shared by other customers. So we tend to study the feedback very closely, and while we promise them that we will look into it, some of the suggestions may or may not get implemented. Actually, I think the paying customer is always right — even if I say so tongue in cheek. If a customer feels something should be included or done, and if it is not part of your regular features, is willing to pay extra money to implement or do it, then why not. The issue is that many customers want many things, but they don’t want to pay for it. Of course, realistically, there is a limit on how much a business can do for its customer without getting paid.
GM: I am evangelizing ease-of-use in software and websites in the Philippines. I have talked to several e-commerce websites but they are not interested in “user-friendliness”. Why do you think so? Can you give me some tips on how to convince them.
WN: I think sometimes, people in technology have to take a few steps back, and think that many people don’t necessarily share their passion on technology, and just want something simple and practical to improve their lives. I remember a friend relating to me that she went to the restaurant and asked whether they have Wi-Fi, and the waiter said that it was not in the menu. She could not believe that there are some people who don’t know what Wi-Fi is, but I would be willing to bet that at least half of the people you meet still don’t know what it means.
So we have to try our best to understand that customers may choose just something they can use ( and thus user friendly), and not as eager as us to tinker and look underneath the hood. In short, while some car owners would spend endless hours trying to clean and tinker with their cars, the majority of them just want something that will start when you put in the key, and get them to where they want to go in comfort without necessarily having to understand how it all works.
GM: In your weblog, you share a lot of stories. Which one is your most favorite?
WN: I have many favorites, and many stories actually are best understood when they are told in the context of what you are trying to say. Some of my favorites I have put on the side of my blog so people can always go there, and easily choose.
GM: What can we expect from Mr. Wilson Ng this year?
WN: Well, this year, I have been asked by the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and industry to head the Cebu Business Month. This is a series of almost 15 activities to help and organize events that will help bring investments and economic activity in Cebu. I expect that I will be spending a lot of time on this. Some of the activities we are doing ( like sports competitions, entrepreneurship seminars, Tourism and ICT convention, etc) can be found on www.ngkhai.net/cbm2006
End of interview.