Lessons from SEA Founders #2: CC Puan, Founder of Green Packet

kipleX is a Corporate VC Fund and a subsidiary of Green Packet, one of the publicly-listed tech companies here in Malaysia. So as kipleX employees, we consider ourselves as part of the Green Packet family.

Of all the amazing, smart people I’ve met at Green Packet, by far the one with the most interesting stories is our Managing Director (and Founder), CC Puan. During his fireside chats, he’d tell us stories about his time during the dot-com crash or how he made money by exporting US Halal Beef to Malaysia as a college student in the US. Personally, these are the the kind of stories I enjoy the most, so I sat down with CC & his team to share them with you today!

Q1: Give us a brief bio to introduce yourself to those who don’t know you

Hi, my name is Puan Chan Cheong, but you can call me CC. Back in 2000, I founded Green Packet, an international technology company listed on the Main Market of Bursa Malaysia (KLSE). Over the last two decades, I have served as the company’s Group Managing Director, leading the company and its subsidiaries in their overall progressive growth.

Q2: What was your upbringing like? Did you want to be an entrepreneur when you were young?

I was born and raised on a rubber plantation in Johor — humble beginnings, Ben. I was the youngest of ten children! It takes me back but I remember living without running water and electricity until I was 13. During my childhood, my mother would tell me if I was the number one student in my class, I did not have to come work in the field with my siblings. (Ben: did you get straight As?) Straight As, so no fieldwork. This taught me the value of hard work and money at an early age. However, at heart, I think I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. Even when I was a student at the University of Nebraska Lincoln in my 20s, I was set on starting my own businesses.

Young CC Puan on the right

Q3: You’re one of the most serial entrepreneurs I’ve ever met. What would you consider to be your “first” business? Tell me about that.

My first business? I didn’t wait until I graduated from university to find a job (Ben: I wish I followed this advice). While in Nebraska, I began earning my entrepreneurial stripes by selling U.S. corn-fed halal beef back to Malaysia. Nebraska is quite famous for its corn-fed beef and I secured some initial capital while doing some market research for a few companies. $4,000 USD as an initial investment was quite big at the time and after hustling I was able to secure deals back home, the most notable being the Hard Rock Cafe Hotel. I also worked for a necktie-design company and a furniture-design company, importing products from Southeast Asia to sell in the U.S. This earned me around $4,000 a month (around $7,300 in today’s dollars!). At the time it was considered a lot for a Malaysian fresh graduate, plus it gave me a pretty diverse portfolio to build on.

CC sitting far to the right at the Malaysia-China Partnership Conference in the 90s

Q4: So then you start Green Packet in 2000 at probably the height of the dot-com bubble in Silicon Valley. You were probably at the lowest of lows when the bubble popped. Tell me about that experience.

I would say the first major struggle in business was the dot-com bubble. Investors artificially inflated the value of stocks by buying everything and anything to do with the Internet; it was the 1.7 trillion-dollar lesson. As the dot-com bubble crashed in 2000, so did Green Packet. I was just 32 at the time, watching helplessly as my business partners called it a day, one after the other. Even the chief executive quit!

I pleaded with a handful of investors to stick with the company for just a few more months. I still remember sitting in front my computer late into the night, day-after-day, just surfing the internet in search of hope. I wanted to understand the technology. I needed to know if Green Packet had a future. I decided that the company’s battle for survival will be one worth fighting. So I quickly took over as the chief executive, downsized, and moved the headquarters back home to Malaysia.

I told the investors there was no need to put more money into the company as I’d cover the funding myself.

Q5: Wow. Given how low you must have felt, I’m sure there had to be a lot of dark thoughts in your head. If you remember, can you share how you felt mentally?

One of the worst feelings was having to let go my staff, many of whom were US graduates on working visas supporting their families back in their home countries. It was really tough.

I remember having lunch with one of them. He was so worried about the layoffs because his whole village chipped in to send him to the US. For him, his success meant lifting his whole village out of poverty. His heartbreak stabbed my heart and made me reflect on my family.

It’s one thing to read it from a book or an article, but that conversation truly made me realize that running a business is not just about making money. When you start and run a business, you have the ability to impact lives. If I failed, I would be disappointing so many people I cared about. So even after the dot-com crash almost destroyed Green Packet, I was determined not to fail.

Six years later Green Packet was listed on Kuala Lumpur’s Mesdaq board for young, high-growth outfits.

(Ben: And twenty years later, we’re sitting here talking about it today!)

Q6: What would be some lessons you’d share with Founders starting out today after your three decades of entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurs today should not just learn from the mistakes of others and do things better, but also have a higher sense of purpose fueling them. And the main ingredient to cultivating a successful company is having a dedicated and passionate team who shares the same purpose and values with the organization.

Speed is also important in today’s world. Make decisions fast, as it gives you time to make adjustments if things are not working out.

Q7: Well, if you were just starting out as a 20-something year old again and could choose to start something, what would you start? Any industry you favor?

I would tell myself to drop everything and invest in Bitcoin and Ethereum. *laughs* But on a serious note, I wouldn’t want to change much. I would choose to do what I’m doing today because my personal mission would still be the same: deliver life-improving digital innovations for everyone.

Q8: No specific sector or anything like that?

Technology really is the future. Technology has the power to do many things, and changing the world is one of them. I wouldn’t be able to fulfill my mission if not for it.

Q9: One of your big initiatives was wanting to create kipleX with Andrew Tan (kipleX CEO). How did the idea come about? What’s the origin story there?

As start-ups play a very important role in economic growth, the idea for kipleX came with the goal of helping the next generation of start-ups. We believe Green Packet can support a cohesive ecosystem through strategic partnerships and co-creation. kipleX plays a key role in Green Packet’s massive transformative purpose in not just Malaysia, but throughout Southeast Asia.

After sitting down with Andrew, we came up with an initial concept of creating a platform for investing in start-ups that are tapping into new behaviors and frontier technologies. We were very fortunate to have Andrew join us.

Q10: I think I heard you still make angel investments for your family office, let’s talk about that. How do you decide which companies to invest in?

Yes, that’s right. I am constantly investing in companies and ideas that are tapping into new behaviors and trends to revolutionize industries through the use of frontier technologies. Ultimately those which I see resonating with my passion and purpose of ensuring every human thrives with life-improving digital innovations.

Q11: What are some of the traits you’re looking from Founders as a part of your investment thesis?

I think when it comes to traits; the one thing I look for is desire and hunger, because the belief skillset can come later in the process. What is important is the drive to accomplish your goals and that only comes if you love what you are doing.

As we look to solidify our massive transformative purpose, we are looking to find people that are passionate about technology and are also visionaries who are not afraid to dream! (CC also mentioned Green Packet is hiring, link below!)

Q12: What are some big ideas you have in your mind nowadays?

As the pandemic progresses, I’m convinced that digital adoption will accelerate faster than ever before. Therefore, I am fully invested in the integration and deployment of exponential technologies in terms of ABCDEFG, A for AI, B for Blockchain, C for Cloud Computing, D for Big Data, E for Internet for Everything, and FG for Five-G.

We are currently working on quite a few projects right now, one of these which has already taken off is the creation of Malaysia and Southeast Asia’s first AI City. Besides that, in August last year, Green Packet signed an exclusive strategic collaboration agreement with Tencent Cloud to deploy its services to Malaysia and this will enable an acceleration of the deployment ABCDEFG offerings. There are so many great things ahead for us.

CC with Y.B Khairy Jamaluddin, the Malaysian Minister of Science, Technology, and Innovation

Q13: Okay before we wrap up, I have to ask. You once told us you spent 100 days in the Himalayas. Tell me about that. What made you want to go, what was it like, what were some lessons you walked away with?

For the majority of my life, I had only focused on the physical matter, so I decided it was high time to invest in looking within, the consciousness, and “soul” if you will. The Himalayas are well known as a place for people to explore their inner peace, tranquillity, and calmness. In the valleys of the Himalayas, the sages describe a feeling of peace there as if you have found enlightenment (nirvana) in the mortal world. Meditation also helps us get rid of our ego. To the ego, the present moment hardly exists — only past and future are considered important. Also, I got to spend a good amount of time away from my family. *winks and laughs*

Additionally, everyday business interactions can take a toll and the stress induced can be burdensome. When we meditate, the effects start to show in our interactions with various people in the workplace. This helps reduce the chaos and anger which are the result of disagreement. I am also a strong believer in meditation enhancing performance and productivity.

I learned a lot during my time in the Himalayas and these are lessons I try to reflect on in times of difficulty and confusion. One key takeaway for me was that the present moment is all we ever have, we need to make “The Now” the primary focus of our lives.

CC during his Himalayan retreat

Q14: And lastly, have you thought about the legacy you want to leave behind? What would it be?

Yes, I think about my legacy all the time. I want to be remembered for my beliefs in innovation and constant growth for whatever I do. I feel it is necessary to continuously evolve and never stop learning, keep creating new ideas and never say die. My mission is, and always will be, to ensure every human can thrive with life-improving digital innovations.

Special thanks to CC and his team (especially Arvindh Naidu) for making this interview happen during such a busy schedule! If you want to learn more about Green Packet and our initiatives, visit their website. For open career positions, you can view them here.