iGene founder Mathavan A. Chandran believes it’s important to pursue achievements and not just financial rewards. Your achievements will eventually reward you, he tells LIM WING HOOI.
LAUNCHING a startup often requires a leap of faith. But for iGene Sdn Bhd founder and chief executive officer Mathavan A. Chandran, 47 – or Matt, for short – it was nothing more than an extension of his fascination with how digital technology could transform the way people do things.
Matt started his company, which specialises in making digital autopsy facilities (DAF), in 2005.
With his machines, autopsies could be done digitally via comprehensive 3D scanning of bodies. It’s quick and efficient, and no scapels or saws are required.
Now 10 years on, and he is working on deploying a network of 18 DAFs in the United Kingdom.
Tell us about your school days and its influence on your outlook.
I was born and raised in Ulu Tiram, Johor Bahru, a small remote village surrounded by rubber plantations. My father was a plantation worker and my mother was a housewife. We were raised in poverty and educated in public schools throughout. My parents, just like most then, saw education as the only insurance that could provide their children hope for a brighter future.
Apart from very basic food, education was the only cost that our family was willing (to spend on) and could afford.
Have you always been a keen science student?
Yes, I have always been interested in science and have always obtained the best grades in science subjects. I have always enjoyed the process of observation and deduction. It teaches you how things around us works and why. The process of discovery takes my mind deep into a space that excites me mentally.
Sometimes you feel that you have found an answer to a phenomenon that exists, and it makes you truly happy, although it might not be the truth. (It is the) journey in my mind (which) continues to another depth or dimension that excites me.
Tell us about your working life, before incorporating iGene in 2005.
I worked in three large companies, Metacorp Bhd, Peregrine International and UCB Chemicals. The most important thing about all three companies were the bosses that I worked with. They have been the biggest influence on me.
Although I was a small village boy who lacked confidence, exposure and experience, these bosses made me believe in myself by giving me the opportunity to participate in various activities, produce results and surpass expectations.
They showed me how I could make things happen at all levels, both locally or internationally. I was able to benchmark my ability against the best in the field or world, and was pleasantly surprised, that I could produce equal, if not better, results. I was taught to pursue achievements and not just financial rewards.
I learnt that achievement will eventually give you the desired financial rewards, and is only a matter of how fast and how much (it would be).
As an entrepreneur now, I could accept delayed gratification as I enjoy the achievement more than the financial reward.
What spurred you to start yourfirst company at the age of 33?
Nothing spurred me, it was a moment of me walking away from my employment due to a disagreement with my superior. This left me with the task of looking for the next “job”. While looking for my dream job, I told myself that I would try to do something on my own. One thing led to another, and here I am, an entrepreneur.
What were your early challenges? Was it funding?
The biggest challenge was the missing ecosystem. I was so used to working in a global multinational company (MNC) environment where every little thing is in place.
When I started doing things in my own world, I was frustrated that I just didn’t have the support necessary to drive things the way I wanted it. So I was frustrated and demotivated as I felt that everything was impossible.
Like most, I then came to the point of acceptance that I was not going to have what I wanted. Hence I started doing things on a smaller scale. I learnt to build things rather than drive things using what was made available. I took the mentality of the builder rather than just a performance driver.
The good thing is that, while building, I didn’t lose my craving for performance. I have always craved to build a company that could perform globally.
You managed to get equity investment by Malaysia Venture Capital Management Bhd (MavCap) of RM7.5mil and Malaysian Innovation Agency (AIM) investment of RM70mil. How did you convince them?
I have always said, there is only one market, and that is the global market. The basics of human needs and wants are the same regardless of race or religion.
We wanted to build and make available goods or services that are meaningful, simply because I wanted the satisfaction of having made some meaningful contribution and, at the same time, make money.
My definition of social enterprise is a socially responsible enterprise, which means the enterprise has to do good things and also make money so it can sustain itself rather than become a burden to others, (and) seeking donation. There is pleasure in spending and making money.
What were the initial challenges you faced in building up your company?
The biggest challenge has been in convincing our fellow Malaysians that we can contribute globally and make a name for our country. Short-sightedness and lack of understanding on how one builds a new age company is a major challenge.
What are the main differences between the corporate world and an entrepreneur’s life?
A corporate life comes with resources and it seek to drive performance. An entrepreneurial life is a “start from zero” situation which requires you to be a builder.
It is even more difficult if you dream of building a new tomorrow, which others cannot visualise.
What is your motto in life, and why?
I have no motto, I believe in myself doing good by doing what I want to do with a clear conscience.
What do you do to unwind?
I read a lot.
Who do you look up to in life?
All those who have built and made the world a more enjoyable place to live. I hate armchair critics who do nothing but pick on everything. I would rather do and make mistakes, then do nothing and appear to be right.
What motivates you when you wake up every morning?
That I can make something good by working.
What’s your philosophy in life?
Wisdom never changes, but your decision is very much dependent on the moment in time. No one is programmed by the nature to live forever, so you have to make a decision today that makes tomorrow a better place and keep on snowballing it to be bigger and better.