1. Let’s begin with telling us about yourself. Who are Suwen and Su-Zen?
SuwenA big believer and doer of change for the better and spontaneity, her desire to learn and chase after new experiences has led her to live in four countries and travel to more than 25 countries and over a hundred places before returning to Malaysia to start CultureRun. She was originally trained as a Fine Artist at Central Saint Martins College in London.
She was selected as one of the few Malaysian representatives to attend Microsoft’s first ever Asia-Pacific Innovate For Good conference in Singapore and she was chosen to be a facilitator at the Youth Social Business Summit 2012. She was also a Mentor for Microsoft’s Innovate For Good Malaysia in 2013.
Su-ZenA daydreamer and curious doer, Su-Zen loves discovering new things. She founded CultureRun based on a desire to give learning back to the community, through promoting an engaging and inspiring way to learn.
She is a strong supporter of community development, ideas that move people and has an imagination fueled by a desire to connect with people. She can often be found attending ShareShops, finding adventures or scribbling away in a little book. She holds a BA in Film Studies from Kings College, London and was a TEDxYouth Speaker in 2012.
2. Why did you decide to venture into entrepreneurship?
Suwen The opportunity just fell into my lap! I didn’t think much when I ventured into it, I just sort of jumped in and figured it was better than working for people! I’m a big ideas person and it was the perfect chance to start learning how to execute all the ideas floating around in my head and figure out how I can play a part in making the world a better place.
Su-Zen I like how being an entrepreneur allows you to make a change, or at least work towards a change, rather than wait for the change. I’m not the most patient person in the world…so it works for me 🙂
3. Who do you count as your role model in the entrepreneurship world?
Suwen I regard all entrepreneurs who have worked hard with integrity and pushed forward in faith as my role model. I have great respect now for anyone I know who took a chance to do his or her own thing in order to contribute positively to the world in some way. If I had to pick one, I would say I am inspired by Walt Disney’s story.
Su-Zen My first encounter with an entrepreneur figure was Richard Branson. I chanced upon his book, Business Stripped Bare, when I was wandering through a bookstore shortly before deciding to start CultureRun. I had never really been interested in entrepreneurship or even bought a business book before then but I remember sitting at the corner poring over his book.
Suwen I loved how he saw potential when no one saw anything of value. I love his vision and determination.
Su-Zen I was enchanted by how he portrayed entrepreneurship as a world with no rules. It was all about embracing adventure, challenge and change. I especially liked how people-oriented he is. He writes a lot about how we should not only enjoy our work, but also give opportunities to other people to make a difference and do something great with their lives. I really liked that.
5. How did you start your venture? Did you set out to change something?
Suwen As I said previously, I started it by just jumping on-board by sister’s original idea of a gathering place where people can come to learn anything as I saw potential in it changing the way people interacted with one another. Personally, I wanted to change the mindset of what it takes to be creative – the stigma that only some people can be creative. I wanted to create a place where anyone can learn how to express themselves through various art forms. I guess CultureRun can still be that!
Su-Zen CultureRun came about sort of instinctively. I was back for a few months in KL and I felt this desire for (an open) community which I found was lacking in KL. There wasn’t really a sense of open or interesting communities that you would want to belong to. There are a lot of exclusive communities but not open communities. Nor was it easy to find interesting things to do or to meet people who like the same things I liked. I had a chat with my dad after a singing lesson we went to and it led to a discussion on how awesome it would be to have this meeting place where anyone could come and have something to contribute. Sort of a watering hole to find people with passions, interests and knowledge that you could pick up too.
We work on this great belief that people are interesting and that everyone has a skill, passion and talent worth sharing. I wanted to create this community where it was easy to discover unique and exceptional skills by seemingly ‘ordinary’ people and for it to be made readily available to the public.
6. What were among your three main challenges?
- Learning business and accounting terms and practicalities of starting a business.
- How to work in unity and learning how to work well in a team and how to lead a team successfully.
- Learning when to say no and when to say yes.
- Not quitting.
- Accepting failure.
- Stepping out of my comfort zone.
7. How did you overcome them?
Suwen Time and making lots and lots of mistakes, humbling myself to ask for help when needed and advice and feedback when I think I don’t need any.
Su-Zen Not quitting: It’s easy to start but hard to continue. Perseverance and patience have definitely been two things I’ve learned the most. Unpredictability is very real and you can either fight it or ride it.
Accepting failure: Understanding that there will be times where you will fall and fall hard. I used to be the sort of person that would rather not try than fail. Being in business allowed me to recognise that sometimes it is not about overcoming problems but learning how to persevere through them.
Stepping out of my comfort zone and being vulnerable: I’m an introvert by nature and never saw myself as a natural born leader. I’m still not but I push myself because I see meaning in what I’m doing which supersedes initial discomfort.
8. Who do you turn to when you run into problems?
Suwen Honestly? God first. Then family, then friends, then Google.
Su-Zen I used to never go to people with my problems (laughs). I’m a huge internaliser but business is so humbling, and because you are vulnerable so much of the time, it pushes you to lean on others – God, family and a circle of close friends.
9. How did Cradle Fund help you on your journey?
Suwen It helped us gain respect for what we were doing as there is a lot of ‘prestige’ that surrounds a Cradle grant. When people heard we received the CIP 150, they immediately pay more attention to us. And personally, it helped us to validate that CultureRun could potentially be bigger than we imagined. Besides the funding that massively helped us out, it also gave us an awesome mentor!
Su-Zen Cradle gave us really great exposure, introduced us to a helpful mentor and helped validate us to people who otherwise, probably wouldn’t have taken us seriously.
10. When you were younger, did you ever dream of being in business or was that the last thing on your mind?
Suwen YES! I always wanted to open my own themed restaurant and I always had ideas on ways to improve things. I wanted to open my own art gallery or art consultancy business and thought it’d be fun to have a retail shop as well.
Su-Zen I never thought I did but a few weeks ago I came across an old journal entry I wrote years ago on the top 10 things I wanted to do before turning 30. Right up there, near the top, was to start my own business. So there you go! Apparently I did! (laughs).
11. Are you enjoying your entrepreneurship journey so far?
Suwen On the good days, yes, I enjoy it tremendously. On the bad days, I can still appreciate the benefits but it can be hard to get motivated to continue. That’s when you need to dig deep to address the question again of “Why am I doing this?”. But I think as long as I keep having ideas, I’ll always enjoy the journey.
Su-Zen It’s paradoxical. I liken entrepreneurship to being in a dysfunctional relationship. It’s like falling madly, deeply in love with someone. Knowing the uncertainty and helplessness he will bring. Knowing you will have to lose yourself in him but deciding he is worth the pursuit, worth the time, worth loving.
12. How does your idea make the world a better place?
Suwen It brings people together in a positive social environment. It encourages the broadening of mindsets and skill sets and helps people to understand one another better as they explore the different things that other people are involved in or are passionate about. It encourages the sharing of knowledge and discourages pride and selfishness.
Su-Zen CultureRun runs on this very simple philosophy that everyone has a skill, passion or talent worth sharing. That knowledge isn’t and shouldn’t be limited to a select few but opened up to be enjoyed by everyone who wants it. That’s why I love the Internet and the accessibility it gives to knowledge. But I especially love what we are doing in CultureRun because we are putting a face and human relatability to that knowledge or skill. We are working to break boundaries and push this idea that you can learn from anyone. For example, a Burmese refugee woman can teach you something as much as a CEO of a company can.
13. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Suwen No idea! I don’t plan that far as you never know what’s going to happen. And I like that every tomorrow is an unexpected adventure.
Su-Zen I’m not sure but whatever I do, I always want to be running the good race.
14. We know running a business can be stressful. What do you do to relax?
Suwen So many things! I catch up with good friends, spend time in prayer and meditation, cook, watch movies, read books, do some artwork and play my guitar! I used to garden and cycle as well but the weather has been very unpredictable lately.
Su-Zen Read! I’m big on books. I also like to play the ukulele or go on short trips. We grew up next to a forest so I always find greenery very calming and just staring at nature calms me immensely.
15. If you weren’t running a business, what would you be doing instead?
Suwen Probably living overseas going to Bible school or pursuing a career as an artist or a travel writer or working for National Geographic or Discovery Channel.
Su-Zen I would probably be in film, TV or journalism or I would probably like to work in another start-up. I like the energy, somewhat haphazardness, uncertainty and creativity that comes from being in a start-up environment. I would love to write a children’s book as well (laughs).