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A Tale Of Perseverance

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Joe Flizzow’s journey from a boy who wanted to make good music to a leader 

Havoc! Havoc! Havoc! Havoc! Havoc! Does this chant sound familiar to you? If you are a fan of hip-hop music, then you would have heard of ‘The President’, better known as Joe Flizzow.

Joe (born Johan Ishak) is an influential figure in the hip-hop music scene. For decades, this rapper cum producer and songwriter has helped defined the genre’s sound.

In addition to his legacy in the music industry as the founder and CEO of Kartel Records, Joe has also set up talent agency called Kartel Agency, which has represented a variety of cultural icons including Altimet, SonaOne, Ila Damia, Zamaera, Aisya Hasna and Anis Nabilah.

Beyond the music industry, he has also left his mark as a successful entrepreneur. In 2014, Joe established a barbershop that he named Joe’s 47500 and a restaurant called Joe’s Kitchen in Subang Jaya. More recently, he opened a sneaker consignment, fashion, and skate shop, catering to local and international brands called Goodfellas KL.

WHY ENTREPRENEURSHIP?

For Joe, his journey into entrepreneurship was a matter of survival.

“I never intended to become a full-time rap artist. I wanted to start my own business when I was much younger, but didn’t do so because I didn’t have the time and motivation as well as the right guidance,” he said.

“The main reason I established my own record label was because of ownership. I wanted to own the masterpieces that I have recorded. To this day, I do not own any of the masterpieces that I have previously produced with the company that I signed up with. I want to have full ownership of my work so that my children and grandchildren do not have to ask someone else’s permission if they want to use my songs in the future.”

Establishing Kartel Records was no easy feat as Joe admitted that he lost money in the first four years of running the company. Instead of giving up, he decided to venture into another line of business and he admitted to doing this to keep Kartel Records alive.

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THE BIRTH OF JOE’S BARBERSHOP

Joe said his barbershop was inspired by a famous barbershop in Los Angeles named Frank’s Chop Shop.

“Years ago when I was in LA, I went to this barbershop and my first impression was, ‘Wow, I really need this back home. I need to be able to go to this kind of barbershop back in Malaysia’,” he said while holding on to the idea and waiting for the right opportunity to act.

“One day, I was walking around in SS15 and I saw a ‘To Let’ advertisement at a vacant shoplot. It so happened that the real estate agency that was managing the property was located just above. So I quickly approached them and told them that I would love buy the property although I wasn’t sure what to do with it yet.”

“After discussing with my business partner David, we decided to set up a barbershop there. At that time, I even brought my personal barber to work there. He has since become a famous barber in his own right,” he pointed out.

However, Joe’s barbershop was not doing well in the first two years. Joe was having a hard time managing human resource, therefore, they decided to change their business strategy. Instead of hiring barbers to work at the shop, Joe decided to rent the chairs out to different barbers.

“We changed our game plan. We enabled barbers to start their own business by renting chairs from our shops. It could be on a weekly or monthly basis. This method proved to be a success, so much so that we have been able to open five more outlets throughout Malaysia,” he added.

NECESSARY EVIL

Like any other entrepreneur, Joe faced financial difficulties in the first few years as well. He said, “There were times I did not have enough money to pay my staff. But I knew I had to make it work. One advice from Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ is you have to pay your troops on time. Even when you’re at war, you’re not always at the battlefield. There are times when your troops would want to buy gifts to send home, send money or even entertain themselves. If you want to keep your troops in line, you must pay your troops on time.”

Joe pointed out, “When times are hard, you need to ask yourself as the business owner, is this the right time to buy that Ferrari? You want to live a luxurious lifestyle and you think it’s important, but the truth is you can survive with just any ordinary car. You need to differentiate the things that are important, and things that are merely luxury. If you can afford it, then by all means enjoy the finer things in life.”

Joe chose the location of his shops based on the rent that they could afford. He wanted the barbershops to be in the middle of established communities and complement the businesses around them. He pushed away the idea of being located in malls.

“In London or New York, you leave your house wearing your suit and you want to stop by at the barbershop for a while just to shape up and look good before your interview.

“Here the culture typically for men is to go home, change into shorts, go to the mamak and go for a haircut after that. Then they return home to take a shower. People ask me why I don’t offer hair washing services at my barbershop? I don’t see the need to because when Malaysians go home, they want to shower anyway,” he pointed out.

The success of his business means Joe has had to face several competitors.

“I’m known as the barber guy and we created the template for the barbershop from scratch. However, we have come across competitors who just copy and paste everything we have, even down to my logo.”

As he questioned their intention, Joe also challenged them to set up their own brand and do something different as would all successful people.

PROPERTY VS SNEAKERS INVESTMENT

Joe bought his first property when he was 24 years old. The house is located at Kota Damansara and that was his first property investment.

“However, looking at the current market condition, I think investing in sneakers will give me a better return on my investment compared to property.”

“There’s a pair of sneakers that was priced at RM899 when it was first launched. Now that same pair can fetch RM13,000. Another example is brand new Kanye West’s edition from Adidas, which was initially priced at RM799, is now priced almost RM6,000. I wish my properties would appreciate like that.”

Joe believes that Goodfellas KL is probably the only consignment store in the country right now.

“For people who are not familiar with sneakers, its value does indeed appreciate. I’m also a sneakers guy but it’s difficult for me to explain how this sneakers phenomenon came about. The sneakers that I’m wearing initially sold for RM699, but now it can fetch about RM2,000. Just to be clear, I’m not responsible for the rising prices, it’s a worldwide thing,” he explained.

“Our shop allows sneakers collector to be entrepreneurs. If you come to the shop and you’re lucky enough to buy five pairs of sneakers at RM700 each for a total of RM3,500, those same sneakers can be easily worth RM5,000 over time,” he stated.

Where property investment is concerned it is a different ballgame as Joe is only willing to invest in properties that are developed by established developers.

“You can spot a good deal when you see one, for example, by looking at the price per square feet, the area and its surroundings. It’s important to know what is your goal when purchasing the property. If you want to rent your apartment out, what’s around it? Are there any international schools? Your surroundings will tell you the type of people that live there,” he said.

He added that one might be tempted to buy a property based on the view it offers, but the view might come with a price like traffic congestion.

Joe has a few words of advice for those who aspire to be entrepreneurs themselves.

“Many people say ‘I don’t have money to start a business’. It only costs you RM50 to set up your own website, once its up you can start your own business. It’s all to do with your mindset. There are also many people who run their business solely on Instagram. Does that require a lot of money to start a business? The answer is obviously no, so there’s just no excuse for not trying,” he said.

“Many people have big dreams but they are simply too scared to take their first step. The reason for the fear is because they’re the one feeding themselves with negative thoughts. It takes almost nothing to start a business. You can start with just one item. We were taught in school to follow the herd. That is the wrong advice. Don’t follow the herd and don’t go for the crumbs,” he advised.

He also asked self-starters to surround themselves with successful people, study their habits, listen to what they say and apply them accordingly.

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