As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Jeremy Foo.
Jeremy Foo is a serial entrepreneur who seeks to impact the world through creativity and innovation. Born dyslexic and struggled in an education system that is not built for people like him, he became a strong supporter for people with learning difficulties. Jeremy left his dream trading job and ventured into entrepreneurship as he believed it is the best way to inspire and leave an impact on others.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was in the trading world for quite a long time, about 7 years, and truly believed trading derivatives was my thing. I was satisfied with my job, but it never felt quite right. Would I want to do this for the rest of my life? That’s how I knew I had to leave my dream job. People don’t remember you for how much money you make, people remember you for how you make them feel. And that was it. I quit my dream job and went into the world of entrepreneurship. Since then, I have founded 3 companies and my latest is called TripCandy.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
At the start, I was basically creating problems to solve. I would tell people they needed this or that product because they have an issue that they aren’t aware of. It is like selling Ice cubes to an Eskimo, if you managed to do it, it was simply because you are good at selling, but in reality, you might not be solving a problem. What I learned is that if you are truly solving a problem you really do not need to convince or educate the customer about the problem, saving you time and resources, but rather they would instantly see the value of your product. So now I look to build a product that I personally find is a problem for myself and build a solution for it.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I met a guy, let’s call him “Franky”, through an online web game that is related to the buying and selling of friends, like stocks. We both climbed to the top few spots in the game, that’s how we came in contact. In order to be at the top few players, you have to be unconventional. One day, out of the blue, he told me that I had an edge in thinking out of the box and that I should use it for something bigger instead of playing just games, or it will be a waste of talent. I quit abruptly soon after and went to figure out what I really wanted to do in life (back then, it was derivative trading).
Interesting fact: those who were the top 20 players in that game are doing really well in life.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
I totally agree with that. One key point I strongly believe is likely to make a business successful is “GRIT.” When the founder has a “purpose-driven business”, you will know when times are tough (which happens a lot in startups) and they are more likely to pull through, compared to a business that is motivated just by money. Because when they are passionate about an idea or purpose they will develop that grit to figure and solve problems in order to make the business work.
This applies to my company, TripCandy. Honestly, we have been through a lot since the start till now. Our vision for Tripcandy is to be the go-to crypto reward program for the travel industry. Where for every booking and accommodation made through TripCandy, Candy tokens will be awarded to our customers, helping them save on their trips and allowing them to maximize their holiday experience.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
One of the most recent things happened about a month ago at Tripcandy, there was a huge dip in crypto asset classes across the board. Our TripCandy token was recently listed and since it was correlated with the overall crypto market, our token price plunged heavily. Our investors and community were demanding we market aggressively in order to get more investors to buy up our token price.
It was a tough period for the team as they were constantly being attacked for not doing enough in terms of marketing. However, after doing some studies we realized this was a very bad time to market, we were fighting against the market trend. So we decided that we should hold back our marketing budget.
The team wanted to know if that was the right call, even though the community was demanding it. And I told them : “Let’s do what we know is right long-term for the company, this will pass, but if we give in and do what the community demands, knowing that is wrong, we might fail, and we might fail forever”.
Being firm and confident as a leader gave them the determination to hang on tight to hold back on our marketing. And we were right. Projects by projects that were marketing aggressively during that period went bust. They ran out of funds and then we started to see the crypto market picking up, and we went in hard on the marketing. Our TripCandy tokens grew significantly (800%), while the tokens where the project ran out of funds remained bust.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Giving up was not something that crossed my mind. I was constantly thinking about how to get the company to where I wanted it to be. I would say I was also motivated to push when I saw my entire team pushing hard. The same goes with my investors, who believed in my team and me even in the most difficult times. I think it is important to have a culture where the people around you want you to do well and constantly push you to be your best, and likewise you should do so for them. It keeps everyone strong during the hard times.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
I would say a leader should have a lot of grit.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Always share the vision of the company with the team, get them to understand why they do what they do and why it is important that we continue even when times are tough. It makes them feel they are valued and their contribution, no matter how small, is important. It gives them a strong reason to stay and fight even when the future feels so uncertain.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
I honestly think that we should always tell them our progress first, the good news, and what we have accomplished so far to let the team, customer or investor know we have made progress before communicating difficult news. It softens the impact and makes things more digestible.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
A leader should already have an objective or vision in mind. The plan is usually formed by working backward from that vision based on the current economy or market. At TripCandy whenever the market dynamic changes, I always ask myself how am I going to get us there and, because my vision has never changed, it doesn’t cloud my objectives and makes it a lot easier to rework a plan based on the current market situation.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Always remember your vision, because it is the reason why you do it. Knowing “why” helps you do the things you do, and gives you a greater purpose that will help you ride through turbulent times.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- They tend not to have multiple contingency plans. It is always wise and never wrong to be over-prepared. It has saved me from the most unexpected situations numerous times. And it also gives confidence to my investors because to them it seems I have covered all possible areas of doubt.
- They over-rely on gathering data before executing. Spending too much time gathering data before execution can slow you down or might cause you to miss a window of opportunity. Sometimes the data might not even exist, so it is always better to move fast and break things.
- They conform to the investors’ demands even knowing it might be wrong. Investors’ interests are towards the value of their investments. What they want might not be right for the company, because they might want to bail the moment they break even or cash out. Their interests might be different from yours. So always remember that your interest is to do what is right for the company, and the value of the company will rise or come with it eventually.
- Don’t make a decision knowing that it might be your last. They take uncalculated risks, as much as number (2) is important. Remember to always take calculated risks even when it comes to moving fast and breaking things. There are consequences for every action made in the company, if you know the risk is too much maybe it might be better to not rush into it. Or maybe find an alternative.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
I think sometimes it is not just about forging ahead, sometimes it is good to pace yourself as a company and set aside some funds made during the good times. Growth and traction lost during a bad or difficult economy might be inevitable. Although we might not be able to control the economy, we can definitely control how we react and prepare for it.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Know your “why”.
Knowing your “why” actually helps you build your grit, grit helps you get through the toughest of days and that is where most people will see you for who you are. Every great thing turned out successful because someone decided not to give up. And the team will know they can count on you even on the toughest days. Which is why they would follow you through uncertain and turbulent times.
2. You can’t control the situation but you can control how you react.
Everyone appreciates a calm leader, they want to know the leader is calm in making decisions and not making impulsive or rash decisions. They feel they can rely on you even when things go wrong.
3. Always be curious.
Being curious makes you constantly seek the truth and answers, putting your ego aside and allowing facts to come to you. As a leader, one must be very open-minded, allowing you to try new things and gaining knowledge, and therefore, leading to innovation. And it keeps you growing and constantly learning, where others can then keep learning new things from you.
People follow leaders because they can constantly keep learning from them.
People don’t like to follow someone who they know they can’t grow from anymore.
4. Do what’s right even if it is hard.
At different stages of a startup, it requires different people to lead in order to get to the next stage, and sometimes the people who stuck by you, eventually, are unable to take you to the next level for your startup. This is where you need to face the fact that it is time to get someone new in to replace them.
In TripCandy, there were many times where I knew a particular person is no longer effective, especially when the startup slows down or fails to hit its KPIs. The hard part comes when they have been with me since the beginning and, ideally, if we were a bigger company, we could rotate and put them into other roles. Unfortunately, in a startup, we don’t have that kind of luxury. So we have got to do what’s hard and let them go, knowing that will be the right thing to do in order for the company to grow.
5. Always a WE, never an I.
Leaders always do it with the team and lead by example. It helps you connect with the team and let them know that you understand what they do and allow them to know that you understand how they feel. Making them feel that they are not alone. “If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together”.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If today was your last, what would you do?”
It was the very reason why I left my trading job and went into entrepreneurship. I don’t want to go knowing that I wouldn’t be remembered and I believe life is definitely not about going out there and just making money, but rather how you impact other people’s life. So the day you are gone, people are going to remember you for what you make them feel and no one will remember you for how much money you made. So create something that will leave an impact on other people’s lives, and I believe TripCandy will be one of them.
How can our readers further follow your work?
My current project: Tripcandy.io