This space presents my personal insights into creativities, films, musics, apple mac, visual design, photography, travel adventures, people, news, voices on my beloved country 'Malaysia' and abit about my spiritual journey in the inner-spiritual dimension of Islam. No script, No instructions. Just sharing a brief of the world that inspires me, the books on my shelves, where I work and the project I do, my current passion or simply talk about what's on my mind! But this is not a one-way thingie. This is just part of the matrix. Have your say in the "conversation", just say something. View and enjoy my live broadcast showreels, please be patient while the files are loading.

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MacMachine Some edited footages I shot during a New York City trip for Human Rights Watch International Film Festival and the New York Asian Film Festival in June 2005. Nearly mugged wandering around. It's a little tribute to this lovely city and people but NOT to Bush and his administration. It got this wonderful creative aura energy that hard to explain. Anyway, this video here will tell on how I felt being in the "City That Never Sleeps". Edited with the background music of U2 from the album "All that you can't leave behind, New York - 2000 ".

Islamic Sufism BroadcastCurrently I produce or direct people-driven stories and news related to muslims.net in MIDDLE EAST and ASIA PACIFIC for a global broadcaster in HD High Definition. At times I design, direct and produce on-air promotions, show packaging, channel branding, music videos, commercials and corporate videos. Versatile with AVID, Final Cut Studio nonlinear editing suite, Adobe After Effects, ProAnimator, Photoshop and Illustrator. Enjoy the rest of my broadcast list which showcases my past project, travelblog & my own personal spiritual Islamic journey of self-discovery.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009


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Siliconplus's success is largely driven by their founder and director, Sa'at. Despite coming from a humble background, Sa'at followed his passion in design and started his design company straight after his completing his art school in La Salle. He has shown great tenacity and passion in his field of work, coming back from 3 unsuccessful ventures before he started Siliconplus. His vision to move into multimedia areas of design was a wise one and today, he has established a strong company with a team of 15 staff.

Address : Eunos Technolink, Kaki Bukit Road 1, Blk 5 #04-06
Website : www.siliconplus.com.sg
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Interview with Mr Sa’at Ismail
by Leong Wei Jie on 08-Jun-2009. Student can be reached at leongwj@gmail.com

Business Profile:
Siliconplus Communications is an established design communications consultancy with strong expertise in editorial, multimedia and web designs. They also offer web and print design solutions to a broad clientele base. Siliconplus believes in giving the client what they envision and they have strong experience in providing not only brand consultancy but also on improving the whole image of the company. Their in-house design team handles all areas of image improvement, from creating their logos to creating collaterals for their clients.

Interviewer's Comments:
Sa'at was very humble and open as he shared his story. He spoke to me with much warmth and sincerity, just as if I was his brother and part of his family. He is very experienced and visionary and he taught me many things about life. What Sa'at have shared made a lot of sense to me, as sometimes things can be so simple but yet we just don't see it as we are so focused in our daily life.

1. What is the nature of your business?
We are a creative agency. What we do is developing images, be it from a logo or even a brand, through to revamping their image in the form of print work and multimedia. It's a one stop solution whereby we help companies bring their message across, be it to the customer or stakeholder. The majority of our clients are actually from the government sector. A lot of it has got to do with understanding what the organisation's objectives are. It has got to do with the branding and image positioning. In the creative industry, you have design houses and branding consultants. So usually the branding consultants will stop at branding and most of the execution part e.g. the design of communication collaterals are usually done by the design house. Most design houses do not focus on branding. So for us, we don't want to call ourselves a design house or branding consultancy. We are more of a creative agency, where we merge both into one. So we are not mere executors, we study, plan and develop one-stop solutions.

2. When and why did you decide to become an entrepreneur / take over your family business? NOTE: If it is not a family business, ask: Do your parents have their own businesses too? Have they inspired you in one way or another? (Select appropriate question according to the entrepreneur being interviewed.)
Well, I come from a very poor background, I struggled very hard. I come from a big family of 8 children. In total, there are 10 of us with my parents of course. So when I was young, I loved watching commercials. I liked the way people sell or promote products. That has always given me the ambition to one day sell something, push something, brand something and run it. Yes, selling ideas! But back then I didn't know what it was. But of course as time went by, I went through schools and after I completed my national service in 1991, I tried to look around and I found what I liked. I actually ended up in Lasalle (LASALLE College of the Arts). The people there were fun and very creative. It was a powerful place which really stirred up the mind. Back then when we were in Telok Kurau, it was really almost like a dumpster. But it's very interesting because people are crazy, people are wild but their minds are really sharp and creative. I met many creative people from all over, mostly Asians from Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, and some of those Chinese friends that I had were mostly from overseas. There is diversity and we learn a lot. So it brought me into a different environment, and I told myself, yes this is what I like. This is what I love actually and it became a passion. So from that very instance, I told myself that I wanted to run my own company. Then a friend asked me to start up a business with them in Indonesia. I helped him run it for about a year, building up the graphic department. And then I realised how do I expose myself and learn more? That's why in the end I came back to Singapore. I worked for an advertising agency and after that I moved on to setting up my own business with friends. Back then there were five of us. We set up a business and we failed, because I think we were too big a group. "Too many cooks spoil the soup" that is what they say. All five of us went our separate ways and we all set up businesses on our own. When I started to run my own business I realised I can't do it alone. So I did it for another year and it failed. Then a friend of mine called me and asked me start a business with her. She had the money, dumped it into the business and I ran the business. I soon realised that setting up a business is not easy when you don't have the same thinking, the same mindset, and your partners do not see the same goal. It was my third venture and failure. But in less than a month, I would move on, looking out for new ideas and starting again. In 1999, I built Silicon Plus and my objective was to do multimedia. I always believed in multimedia because that's the future.

3. What are your reasons for choosing to do business in this particular industry?
Well the thing is how far can we go in terms of print? Maybe 10 years? 15 years? At the end of the day if you look at the situation right now, most publications have gone online or been converted into cd-roms. Especially in this economic crisis, the focus is to cut cost and just go online, no more printing. With print, it is actually double the amount. We are talking about maybe $80,000 to $40,000? With multimedia, it is about half the cost. That's a lot of money. Back then in 1999, I always feel that multimedia is going to be the way to go. We can't run away from it. So that's why we named the company SiliconPlus. Everyone can be very IT savvy. But you need to bring creativity, design, and ideas, hand in hand. That's the plus point, the added value. So that's why we call ourselves, SiliconPlus.

4. How did you put together all the resources needed to start your business? For example: getting the start-up capital, hiring staff, doing sales and marketing, advertising, etc.
I started as a one-man show with my sister as my admin. Then I hired a designer. We were in an 800 square metre rented office in Chinatown. I already had a waiting area and many tables. I had 10 networks running in four computers. We started with only $30,000 capital. I wanted to be sure that when I set up this business, I would be able to pull in big projects. I don't want to just do small projects and run it very slowly. At the start I was already thinking quite big. The worst thing was that soon after we started in October 1999, the January Dot com bust happened. Those were the days when we were struggling. Many Internet and multimedia companies had closed down. So I had to think of another direction. What I did was that since I'm good at branding, image and design, we shifted our focus from multimedia to branding.

5. What are some interesting stories you have about your first few customers/first few years in business?
The first ever project that we won was to produce the whole entire range of brochures for a polytechnic. We tendered for the job and instead of doing just one cover concept, we actually did all the 20 faculty design covers. We sent the mock up as if it was like a real mock up, like how it was supposed to look like, almost ready! And we won the job because of that. We were only a 3 men operation. That was the turnaround for our business because we realise we could tender for government projects. So from then on, we started tendering for government projects. The 2nd project that we won was for MDA. Back then it was the SBA (Singapore Broadcasting Authority). It was for their SBA magazine, which is a quarterly magazine with information about the organisation. We tendered and were shortlisted and they said they would like to come and visit us in the office. By then we were already almost a year old, so we were working on other projects day and night. There were only 2 designers and I had worked the whole night and slept in the office. So at eight o'clock in the morning, the client knocked the door and I opened the door. Then I realised I had a meeting with them! I was in t-shirt, shorts and slippers! So I slammed the door and I thought about it, "This is my client, what am I going to do!?" I opened the door and I told her to sit down and I said "I'm so sorry, I didn't know you were going to be here so early. Don't mind me, I'm going to wash up and I'll be back." While we were talking, I was putting on my socks and shoes. I told myself, "Oh gosh, we are going to lose this job." At the end of the day, they told us that they liked us because of our enthusiasm, the energy and young spirit. So because of that we won the job. Our concept was also good, that was partly why they took the challenge. Not many people would be willing to give us that opportunity.

6. What are some of the challenges you faced when you first went into business?
After the dot com crash, there was 9-11. Business was bad because nobody wanted to spend money. We were hit by SARS after that. The government was cutting down on spending. So it was bad. It came to the extent that when we went for a tender briefing, we were competing with 30 over companies! Everyone would be standing in the conference room. The tough part is to stand out from the rest. That is why, when we do things, we go all out, understanding the product, understanding the organisation and understanding the objective and what they want. So when we do, we deliver, we always try to go beyond their expectations.

7. How did you go beyond their expectations? I mean how did you overcome these challenges? Please share some specific examples of the action you took to overcome the challenges.
Research is very important. How we understand the client, be it a long-term client or a new client. The other factor is design. For some design houses, with one look at their work, you will know it comes from the same design house, it comes from the same art director and same creative directors. It's never about SiliconPlus or individuals. I always tell my designers and art directors, "Its never about us, it's never about me, it's always about our clients." We must always stand in their position, with their eye, so that we will be able to produce something that is more practical and something that works. Design can look pretty, nice, clean and beautiful, but if it is not practical, if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. Because we are very flexible, we can work with them and we can do a fast turnaround. I'm a part of the process.

8. How could you manage if there are multiple projects at the same time?
Now that you have mentioned it, I have never thought about how I manage everything. But one thing that I know for sure, I always look at things one at a time. I can have 10 projects in my head, but I will clear one at a time. I would never allow distractions on a project. Sometimes my staff will come and grab me when I'm back for a meeting as they want to sit down with me for a project. And when I give them attention for even 10 minutes or an hour, it is really full attention. Seriously, that's how I work. I keep myself blank and my focus is just on this project. That's how I can solve the problem easily.

9. Can you remember your worst day in business or a time when you felt like giving up? What happened that made you feel that way and how did you triumph over it?
Well, I never ever thought of giving up. The worst day is the day when we were really in debt. Who is not worried and upset when you are $200,000 in debt? That was bad but I had relationships that I had built with the suppliers. They knew I would come back. These are the people that I would still work with. These are the people who have been there for me. I have many clients who we have been working hand in hand with, be it on project basis or on contract basis, for even 5 years, 6 years? It's all due to the support we can give. What they need is a good agency to support them. The thing is that we have good suppliers. They really are our partners.

10. Can you share some of the lessons you learnt from overcoming your own business challenges that you think will help other businesses?
Well, one thing that I know is that, I came into this business not really wanting to be rich or famous. It's always to be happy at what I do everyday. I want to be able to wake up at 70 or even 80, still wanting to go to work and be excited to go to work. I have never thought about regrets because I enjoy doing it. I enjoy this mind exercise. It gives me more challenges. I prefer this kind of lifestyle rather than doing something very boring and monotonous. Just doing it for the sake of earning money or just for the sake of waking up everyday to earn a living, I think that's not what it is. But if you really have passion for something, my advice is that you should go 100% or even 200% for it. I believe that if you give everything, be it how much you fail, there is no way, you can not succeed. How much failure can you go through? You just need to have the stamina, the confidence and determination. What keeps you going is actually the passion. If you love what you are doing, it will never die. It can never die.

11. When was the moment you realised the business would work and support you?
I don't know, in fact I have never thought of it that way. I have always told myself, even when I was in school, that I wanted to run my own business and my own agency. And this is the only thing that can work for me. We have already set up a business in Indonesia. And then the next goal is that we want to go into the UAE market. Business in Indonesia has always been a support office. I think it's been too long that we stayed so comfortable, where we were before. So I always push my staff and train a lot more leaders. In fact those people who have been working with me for over 5 years, or even 3 years, have been trained to take over as managers and have become art directors, coordinators and design managers. An entrepreneur is not made by one. I don't believe that an entrepreneur is all about one person. An entrepreneur is not just a one man show. There is no way one man can build a million or billion dollar business. Who is behind it? Most entrepreneurs have many people who have been working with them for ages or even from the very beginning. That's what make entrepreneurs. It is the support they get from all these people. So we have built this and our next step is to grow a lot faster. It's about time for us to grow bigger and start thinking outside Singapore and not just locally.

12. How would you say that a good spouse or partner would contribute to an entrepreneur?
Well the advice for entrepreneurs would be to choose your partners carefully. It doesn't mean that if they are your good friend or your best friend, you can work as business partners. Your partner has to be someone that can take every little thing from you, be it the good, the bad or the ugly. They have to be able to take it, and not keep it in their heart and then one day they burst, that's how partnerships break. Partners have the same common goal but must understand who the leader is. If I have another partner who can lead better than me, I will step down. Because that is what it is. You need to support people, if you think you can't do it then you tell them, "Yes, this is how I want to lead and how I want to go." A real partner will be there for you, they will be there for you all the way. Business is nothing personal, because once it becomes personal, it's hard. That's why you should choose your partners carefully, and make sure that you really know your partner and your partner really knows you very well. Because if they don't know you and you don't know them, it's going to be very hard. And with regards to Michele being my partner and wife, there is always a saying, "Behind a powerful man, there is always a woman." Yes! It's true actually. She is somewhat my equilibrium, she is my balance. If I am going astray, if I am going too far, I'm pushing too hard and if I'm going off the path, she is the one who can help steer me back onto the right track. And that I must say is what you need, especially a person like me, full of energy and creativity. You need to be practical at the same time and reality checks are also very important. To put it in an easy way, she will always be the one to bring me back to the ground when it gets too much.

13. What are some of your proudest business achievements to date? And why are they so important and meaningful to you?
Well my proudest moment in terms of business achievement is when our company receives a good grade as a government supplier. For many people, once they grow big and the bosses grow older, the business just slows down. Some of the companies just disappear. I have always wanted to keep the business growing and maintain the standards. At the end of the day, the younger people can run it and take over the business. We have always believed in a family environment. I have always treated them like one of us, like family. We see who has given a lot, and who has really showed a lot of interest in the company. We need to see people and that's how we build leaders. That's how I see it, I want to be able to see that even when I am old, it will be a sustaining business and not just for my family or my kids. A sustaining business managed by people, by strangers.

14. I understand that there are many design houses, or even international design houses. How do you differentiate your business from your competitors? Please provide specific examples.
Well, a lot of companies specialise in different things. There are a few big ones and some small and medium ones. Design agencies are usually a one stop solution agency for environmental design to branding to multimedia and print. That's what we want to be. But many of them have different focuses and some of them are strictly focused on consumer goods, FMCG, whereas for others, they are more focused on multi-national companies like P&G, Unilever. We are focusing more on the government sector. Even if we were to go overseas, my focus would still be on the government sector. How do we help the government build their image? This is our focus and this is how we differentiate ourselves from the rest of them. There is a saying, "Which is the way you want to go? Do you want to fight in the red sea or the blue sea?" Because the red sea, everyone is there, and the blue sea, there are only a few. So we choose to go where there are only few people. Not many people like working with the government, because they have many requirements, tight turnarounds and red-tape. Whereas for us, I think, because of our experience working with them for 10 years, I think we have become immune.

15. What are some business ideas you have implemented that created great results in your business?
What I implemented is the focus on how we want to win jobs. It used to be out of 10 tenders, we win one. Nowadays, it is not that way, we just do one, we focus on winning one. It is not really one at a time, it's the way we focus on the project. Meaning, we give everything, like we have an art director, a designer and marketing people just working on one project and churning out whatever it is that we need. Design is different, when we develop something, it has to last at least three to five years. That's why when it lasted even longer, especially when you do a logo or brand, then you look back and you say, "This is still modern, it can still adapt to the current situation, current market trend and all." It is a challenge actually and I think everyone in our company all share the same vision. That's why we always have that inculcated into our approach towards our projects.

16. What do you see for your business in the next 5 years, and does it include any plans for expansion?
I think I should be in the UAE, I have better be! I need to have another business somewhere else, be it in UAE or in China, developing image and branding.

17. When you expand your business overseas, you need your staff as you said that they are very important. So when you are diversifying, you are going to separate the team, so how do you think you can still manage them and they still have the heart and soul of your principles?
We are always a family, the way we run our business is the same, nothing is personal. Our goal and objective is very simple, and it is always the same, it is always what the client wants. And that is about all. Sometimes some people can be a bit egoistic and they want it their way. We can try to accept that and we can try to see what we can do but other than that, all of them know that we have one goal, it is always about the client, and if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. We agree that if it is working and not broken, do not fix it. Concentrate on other things. The culture and values that we built from day one are an equal thinking approach, family friendly environment and at the same time, respect for one another and being open and daring to say what you want to say. To me, a leader is not made and it's not when anyone gives you the position and says, "Ok, now you are the manager". No, it is you who made yourself the manager. If you really think you can do it? Do it! If you are really good at it, people will follow.

18. What does entrepreneurship mean to you?
Well entrepreneurship is passion and drive. That's what I believe. If you don't have these two, you can't even succeed. They are what keep me going.

19. What are some entrepreneurship qualities that you have which has helped you come this far?
Yes, apart from luck. Without a doubt an entrepreneur sometimes bases it on luck and business thinking, in the sense of quick thinking and quick decision making. Those are very important. If you fail to make the right and quick decision on certain things; that is going to take you down. Apart from the earlier two qualities, decision making is very important. I admire most entrepreneurs like Tony Fernandes of Air Asia. They are dealing with millions and billions of dollars, so the decision to decide whether to buy a plane or not or even to close a store, it's a lot of money and it's not easy to make that kind of decision. That is why I would like to retract what I have said about entrepreneurship being only about passion and drive. The last quality is actually decision making. You make a wrong decision, it's a failure. Of course then, you are back to passion and drive again. That is why most of the successful entrepreneurs, they make good decisions all the time, wise and quick decisions. If you think for too long, opportunities will be gone. I had a friend who told me, "Opportunities knock on the door only once." So if you don't answer, it will pass you by. It will come again of course, but you had already lost one. That is why when there is an invite, think properly and carefully.

20. Who or what motivates and inspires you?
There is only one man actually. MM Lee, Minister Mentor, Lee Kuan Yew. I love his books and I love his stories. Call me his biggest fan; he has always been like my mentor. I read about what he thinks, how he solves problems and how he projects himself. He was trying to look into the future. He doesn't just see five or 10 years down the road, he even sees 20, 30 or even 50 years down the road. I always admired how he sees it and I always wanted to be like him. I can never be him of course but I always think and project, like him. Frankly speaking, where I am right now, 15 years down the road, is what I was thinking of when I was in Lasalle.

21. Its a pity because it is actually a story that can motivate people and I'm inspired by you.
Actually another goal that I've always wanted to achieve is to inspire students. I want to give a talk one day. I want to talk to kids. I would love to inspire them. Because I realised that no one talked to me like an adult when I was young. I liked to be treated like I know everything even when I was that young. That's why whenever I meet anyone, when I see that they have that kind of spirit, I will talk to them in that manner, questioning them about their future and asking them to project themselves. I think every kid, every teenage right now deserves all this because everyone needs a mentor. Everyone needs to be told that, "You need to wake up." It's nice to see the gleaming hopes in people because I can see myself too.

22. What are some of your business values and what would you like to pass down to others, particularly the younger generation?
First, honesty is a very important thing. I always believe in honesty. Being ethical is another thing. You want to look back one day and tell yourself that you have built this business based on integrity, and you won't have a guilty conscience. Lastly, it is about professionalism. We will never short-change and that is professionalism. So, that is how you build your business. People will respect that and they will come back. A bad workman always blames the tools. But never blame the tools. Just work, just do your best and that's all you can do.

23. What advice would you give young people who want to start their own business or who have a dream that they want to fulfil?
If they have a dream, it is good. It is always good to have dreams. But like I said, passion is always the key to making an entrepreneur. If your passion is building a business, then build it. Don't just build a business to make money unless your passion is money. You must clearly define the thing that you like the most.

24. What about those young people who do not know what they really like and don't have a passion for something but they are still hardworking people who haven't found what they want? Do you have any advice for people like these, especially that there are many of them among young people today?
It is never easy to build a business. Many business minds are often nurtured and developed from young. What you go through from young make you what you are. So, if you can't build a business, then you need to either go to a business school and understand what business is all about or get a partner with a business mind. But, you also need to have the product. Doing business is all about having a product besides having a business mind. Through trial and error, they realise that this is something that they know how to do well and make it better so it can sell. Look deep inside you, and find what have you always loved and liked about things or life or food or anything. There is no way a person does not have anything that they like the most. There ought to be something. From that you can develop it further because you know it so well. Sometimes, they have a product but they refuse to get a partner who can run a business and they fail. If you can't run a business, you can't run a business. When you do not have a business mind, it just simply means you do not have it. Businessmen are being nurtured and developed. Expose yourself, meet people and mix around. Don't be shy. At the end of the day, you will never know. You're bound to meet friends who may become your partner in business. It is all up to you. I know doing business is not easy especially if you do not have capital, exposure and connections. People need to decide whether this is really what they want. Some people give up halfway because it taking up too much of their time, and they don't have time for family and friends. So, are you willing to sacrifice all these?


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“ Better to be a Pirate than to join the Navy ”

Steve Jobs - Referring to the pirate flag that flew over Apple’s headquaters in 1983. I believe that quote was one of three keyphrases for a large Apple meeting/conference, and the Pirate flag was attached to the Macintosh building after that meeting. So the flag was actually a reaction to that.