Founder Spotlight: Nicholas Gan of SparePartsAsia
By Xavier Selman
The forklift industry isn’t one of the first places a hopeful entrepreneur would look into when trying to develop a lucrative new startup, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. We sat down with Nicholas Gan, co-founder of Spare Parts Asia, one of Malaysia’s latest players in the forklift industry, and picked his brain on matters ranging from what it means to be an entrepreneur to the meaning of success, failure, and keeping strong.
Entrepreneurship: Not always about the glamor
Nicholas Gan has been in the entrepreneurship industry since the late 90s, and Spare Parts Asia is only his latest venture in the startup producing lifestyle. It was the brainchild of him and his co-founder, who discovered a goldmine of business in an industry that one normally wouldn’t ever think about. “It’s not easy being in the forklift industry,” Gan tells us, “because it’s not a glamorous place, unlike food, fashion, and other things that common people can relate to. ‘Forklift is boring, forklift is uninteresting,’ most people think, but with good branding, good planning, and good management, I have become the loudest player in this industry, and people are starting to take notice.”
And Gan has proven that he definitely has rocked the boat in domestic waters. With multiple national awards and official recognition in his name for his business, Gan shows he knows more than a thing or two of what it means to run a successful business, and what kind of devotion is necessary to its success.
Success and Failure, and what it means to earn
“Success for me is being able to feed my family, provide for them, and help the community that I am a part of. So if my business is doing well, I can hire more people, provide more families with incomes.” For Nicholas, success is fulfilling an altruistic desire to enrich the lives of those around him, a goal that more people should strive to emulate. While others will sometimes say that it’s about the money, Nicholas Gan turns around and says that while the money is important, it’s also even more important to build character: “Before success, you must build the character. Without the character, the success may kill you.”
Failure to Nicholas, on the other hand, doesn’t mean falling, or messing up, or doing something wrong. These are the situations that help a person, that create learning, because it’s the mistakes that tell us what we need to stop doing, and what we need to do better. “If you keep repeating your mistakes, that’s failure. Total failure is when you make a mistake without learning from it.”
As for Nicholas, with decades of experience in the entrepreneurship game, he’s had more than his own fair share of personal failures. He shares with us one story of how his first tastes of success led him to thinking like a “cowboy”: “I believed I could handle ten different industries at the same time,” he says, only to learn the hard way that it was too much for him. He embraces the fact that his failure didn’t come in terms of money, but in personal realization: “That I am just a human being. Even if I want to do all these ten things, these ten things may not be meant for me.” In the end, Nicholas tells us that the greatest thing we can learn from failure is humility, and the ability to ask for help from those around us, and finally, “I am never as good as I think I am; I can always be better.”
On Motivation, Money, and Management
“Challenges,” Nicholas answers, when asked for his primary motivations. “Let’s put it this way: some people say I always look for pain. Most entrepreneurs look for pain. I like to do the things that other people say cannot be done.” And his second source of motivation? “Freedom. As an entrepreneur, I have unlimited amount of leave days, but at the same time I have no leave: because this is something that is within my own control, and this is the freedom that I love.”
Nicholas also believes in the benefits of listening to God when faced with doubters. “Spiritually, I follow my God. You are a man, you say it cannot be done, that’s fair, that’s your opinion, but all I need to do is be faithful and be obedient and that’s how it’s done.”
To Nicholas, money isn’t the be-all and end-all of being an entrepreneur. Money is the necessary byproduct, rather, the automatic thing that you receive after producing a good product or a good service. An entrepreneur shouldn’t think with money first in mind, but of merit, character, and expansion.
Creating a business to sit on top of your chosen industry isn’t an easy feat, and Nicholas has sacrificed a lot to reach this point. His first year was entirely for work: no holidays, no weekends, working around the clock for his business. Now he is currently working on a three-year expansion plan, in which he hopes to accomplish five to ten years of work in two to three years of real time; and with a drive like Nicholas’, it’s hard to see how he could fail. While he does mention the importance of setting aside time for family and your own personal relaxation, Nicholas stresses with us that a business is a serious endeavor: to find success, a lot of hard work must be done.
Startups: Embrace The Problems
“Books. I always have books: in the car, in the bag, in my iPad. Squeeze in two to three pages of reading everywhere I go, and that makes me happy.” He recommends Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki, reminding us that the art of self-teaching never ends, no matter what age or stage of life you are in.
At conventions and conferences, Nicholas isn’t the oldest—there are people of all ages starting new startups and industries, hoping to break in and establish themselves. Always keep teaching yourself: embrace the problems that will arise, and learn how to fix them.
So how is the startup industry in Malaysia? “We have a very bright future,” he says, and with the new AEC and ASEAN cooperation, Nicholas Gan imagines a future where Malaysian and Philippine joint ventures become a popular endeavor.