BY MELISSA KONG
He may have won Malaysia’s first nationwide hackathon and runs his own start-up, but why does COR Youth Jun Kaih still yearn to grow closer to God?
There’s a term older folk like to use on the youth of today – “strawberry generation”. It sounds cute but really implies a lack of resilience, as well as resistance to hard work. At the tender age of 22, Wong Jun Kaih could very well have been lumped into the derogatory category, but strawberry he most certainly is not.
In fact, the NTU undergraduate is currently taking a gap year to work with friends on an exciting start-up. Named AgriData, the hyper-local platform connects farmers to retailers like supermarkets and restaurants. “Fundamentally, it serves as an e-commerce marketplace for farmers to sell their produce (and for retailers to buy) and also help both parties keep track of their orders and provide short-term credit,” Jun Kaih explains.
Youth With A Mission
Since arriving in Singapore from Kota Kinabalu in 2014, Jun Kaih has had to embark on a steep learning curve. Balancing academic pursuits with being in a new place largely by himself is not something most 15-year-olds deal with on a daily basis. Not only did he flourish, moving on to SAJC (where he was introduced to COR), he is currently finishing his third year in NTU, as an Electrical and Electronics Engineering major.
Having accepted Christ when he was 15, Jun Kaih didn’t feel very different, save for the fact he found it easier to be generous to others and to be of service to them. His self-proclaimed period of “lostness” came at the age of 17 where he, “abhorred money and contemplated escaping to some unknown mountains to live like a hermit because I thought that would be true Christian living.”
Fortunately, Jun Kaih shelved those thoughts (although he maintains he has “the utmost respect and love for missionaries”) because his pre-believing parents would probably not have understood. In university, however, his interest swung to the other end of the spectrum where he thought a lot about wealth creation and financial freedom.
“I enjoyed reading about the lives of entrepreneurs who envisioned a better way of living and built great products and companies around that vision,” Jun Kaih reveals. “I enjoyed the thought of building something that would serve the needs of others, and also be rewarded financially for my efforts and risk taken.” It was at that point he knew he wanted to run his own business.
If you’ve heard of hackathons (and actually know what they are), you’re either 1) a Korean drama enthusiast who’s watched Start Up, or 2) a computer programmer with a great business idea. Okay, you could also be a venture capitalist on the lookout for that next big business to invest in.
For Jun Kaih and his friends, participating in Malaysia’s first nationwide hackathon last year was a landmark decision. They eventually ended up winning the ‘Marathon’ category and an RM250,000 (approximately S$80,000) grant to build their platform. But it was by no means an easy feat and challenges still abound. At the time of this interview, Jun Kaih revealed his team consists of three people, all based in different countries, meeting online four times a week. Those of us who work from home can certainly empathise with the struggle of constant Zoom conferences, not to mention having them almost every other day.
“Working remotely has definitely been one of the larger challenges for us, amplified by the fact that we are working full-time already (I am currently completing my internship and my friend runs his own farm),” Juin Kaih discloses. “That said, we are gradually reducing our responsibilities and are due to meet in June, where we can truly reach 200 per cent work capacity.”
Another challenge the team has faced relates to the actual product they’re building. Creating a one-size-fits-all platform has not been easy. Jun Kaih tells us, “Retailers and farmers have different needs, depending on their capacity, (and) volume of produce bought/sold, so optimising our services to fit their needs has been a challenge.” To overcome this, the team has no choice but to focus on the shared needs of the majority.
At the end of the day, Jun Kaih feels a lot of community farmers lack the means to market their produce, thus reducing their income greatly. “At our core, we want to give this power back to farmers and, at the same time, bring value to our retailers,” he explains.
While navigating the various obstacles he has faced in this project, Jun Kaih is grateful that he’s not alone on this journey. “My mum has been very supportive of my decision to work on AgriData,” he tells us. “(I’m) truly grateful that she is also able to see the value in this experience and opportunity, and is giving me her blessings.”
A coach, with experience in product building and sales, has been assigned to the team for a year to help them along. In addition, friends and family with start-up backgrounds have also listened to their plans and shared feedback. Jun Kaih himself has looked to business greats like Bill Gates for inspiration. In particular, he cites Grab CEO, Anthony Tan, as an influence in the area of stewardship, what it means to found a company and God’s place in the corporate structure.
Still, Jun Kaih admits he remains mildly conflicted about what God commands us to do with our wealth. He says that, while it is clear to him what the two ends of the spectrum are when it comes to working—one end being lazy and the other being working for money as the key motivation—it is the middle grey area that he finds confusing.
To check himself, Jun Kaih focuses on two passages in the Bible. The first, Matthew 6:24, says: “No one can serve two masters, for wither he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
He also reminds himself of the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30, which speaks of stewardship and accountability to the Master. “I would say I am far from truly comprehending what this means, but for now, my heart is set on servitude, stewardship, and also being productive with my money and time (for material things and relationships,” Jun Kaih elaborates.
The Road Ahead
With the work for AgriData in full swing, what does Jun Kaih hope to gain from this experience? “I’m focused on really building my analytical skills, technical app development and an eye for opportunity and figuring out the best formula for teamwork,” he acknowledges. “If anything, right now I’m convinced I need to find a mentor to share his/her experiences of their faith journey through businesses.”
Spiritually, Jun Kaih yearns to grow closer to God, understanding more about what the Bible says on servitude and stewardship, as well as how to live that out in his life. “This has been a long journey, and at the heart of the issue is a struggle to truly comprehend wealth, passionate pursuits, and God,” he admits.
As young adults find themselves thrust into a world that awaits beyond university gates, it’s tempting to embark on pursuits that promise material wealth. That said, there’s certainly nothing wrong with wealth itself. Rather, it’s the fixation on such material things that may distract us from kingdom purposes.
Through Jun Kaih, there is an amazing opportunity to impact the world of agriculture and marketing for good. After all, the Bible is full of agricultural metaphors like the sowing of seeds, bearing fruit, and the tree planted by streams of water, amongst many others. Perhaps one day, there will even be new meaning to the term “strawberry generation”?
Melissa is a functional extrovert who writes for a living. She loves jogging and swimming, as much as her knees allow, and chilling out with a good Netflix binge.