Family man, triathlete, businessman; these are some of the hats Azran Osman-Rani wear on a day-to-day basis. In case the name doesn’t ring a bell, Azran is CEO of iflix Malaysia with a strong and powerful zest for purposeful living. His first love was for Ultimate Frisbee during his Stanford University days when his team was ranked number one amongst the west coast states.
Azran’s idea of success is one we don’t usually hear. He isn’t caught up with the ‘musts’ and the ‘hows’ of getting it right; instead, it’s the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ that’s more important. His high achieving personality triggered many lightbulb moments to be the best in whatever he sets out to do. We had the privilege to sit down with the ‘geek athlete’ as he shares on what motivates him to go the extra mile.
How did you get into endurance sports?
Before that, there was a little bit of drama [laughs]. Being a management consultant back then, work really preoccupied me. In a blink of an eye, after the national championship moment, I was a completely different person physically; I was overweight and looked much older than I do now. Sixteen kilos heavier, a round face, and a receding hairline of which I was in denial back then - just really bad! I joined AirAsia after that and in 2008, AirAsia sponsored the first inaugural Borneo Marathon. I signed up for the 10km and I thought the idea of huffing and puffing all the way to the finish line was just insane. Once I got there, I saw grandmothers and grandfathers completing a 42km marathon! I signed up for another 15km race and I passed out right at the end. I woke up to St. John’s ambulance trying to revive me. Interestingly after three years into it, there was hardly any physical change. I think the body takes a long time to undo all the bad habits you’ve accumulated. It wasn’t until I decided that I need a coach to understand specifically what I needed to do if I wanted to run properly.
How does living purposefully apply to you?
For me, it isn’t just about going out to run. In fact, the very first lesson I got from my first coach was to work and adapt my body. For example, in the first few months I’d have to run a lot slower and allow my body to get used to certain things. After a while, I started to pick up and was able to go a lot faster, but after completing thirteen marathons, doing a fourteenth isn’t exactly inspiring. Then someone suggested competing in triathlons but the thing is, I don’t know how to swim. However, I was still quite intrigued and a light bulb moment came in. Forty years of avoiding how to swim and living with this fear of water, I really wanted to tackle and overcome it. I signed up for my first swim class and it was filled with five year old girls. First lesson; put head in water and blow bubbles. After six months, I still couldn’t swim a lap but I signed up for my first sprint distance triathlon anyways. Less than thirty metres into the water, I freaked out and started hyperventilating where I had to be rescued out. I got another coach and he tried to figure out ways to get me over my fear of the open water. Again, after a few months I thought I was ready and signed myself up for a race in Singapore. But again, I was overcome with fear and had to be rescued. This time I was really pissed off because I genuinely thought I was ready but my mind got the better of me. Then I got another coach who is a former national swimmer. We started lessons on January 1st 2013 and I immediately signed myself up for Ironman because once you have a stake in the ground, you know you can’t quit. In the first three months, we did five sessions a week, 6AM start in the water. He got me out there in open water and I remembered thinking ‘I’ve survived!’. With regards to time, triathlons and Ironman competitions require an immense amount of preparation and that means you have to be extremely systematic. You’ve got to know that every single hour you dedicate to training has to have a purpose. It’s making sure to be in bed by nine and up and about by five so that means no more late nights or anything else that would get in the way of that.
How do you translate that to being specific with your work hours like how you manage your team and leading a business where everyone else works alongside you?
Firstly, it’s having a powerful and inspirational goal; work isn’t just work, it has to have meaning and purpose behind it. You’ve got to articulate that clearly no matter how insane the goal is. It may be scary to tackle it alone, but imagine how cool it would be to make it as a team - our lives change and we’re changing people’s lives. Secondly, it’s being very focused, very short-termed and action oriented. We don’t believe in having three or five year plans and we even laugh at doing twelve month budgets because as everyone knows, your budget assumptions are all out the window by the third month. I’m a big believer in two time horizons - thirty days and thirty years. Thirty years being the ultimate place you want to be at and thirty days in being super focused about what you’d like to execute for the day while adapting and pivoting along the way. That’s as simple knowing the three or five things you have to nail down for the next week or the next thirty days. It’s all about doing a few things, but doing them exceptionally well so that you’re not overwhelmed by everything else. Lastly, it’s about creating a sense of ‘teamness’ like the kind we experience in triathlons where you have the support of the community around you. That’s the same experience we should create in the workplace where the rule is there is no problem that’s someone else’s problem. We have collective ownership and responsibility over every issue.
How do you manage time management and unexpected pop-ups on a day-to-day basis?
Here’s my little secret: Step one, hire really great people - those who are smarter than me, motivated and energetic and step two is to get out of their way. If you’ve succeeded in pumping someone up with the goal you have in mind, getting out of their way is a much better philosophy than trying to micromanage and get them to report back to you on everyday stuff. I’d rather be accessible when needed, but it’s entirely their call. When something goes wrong, for the most of it they feel that they have the authority to handle it on their own. Unless of course it’s something major, then I’m just a call away.
What are the key challenges you've faced growing iflix from scratch?
The challenge of starting a business like this is the different pieces of components that you have to bring together. Initially when all you have is an idea, it’s incredibly hard to get your business partners onboard. iFlix needs content but if you go to the Hollywood studios, their first thought is ‘what kind of fly-by-night type operator are you?’. There are doubts about our legitimacy and the resources that we have because they won’t have that assurance at first. And if you want investors to put in money, they ask if we have content agreements and a technology platform. With the technology partners, they’ll ask if we have both money and content. The biggest challenge is convincing everyone but ultimately the biggest person you’ve got to convince is the consumer. iFlix was an unknown brand built from scratch and you can’t just pay your way to create a brand because it takes time to gain that traction and word of mouth. What really keeps us going at that point in time is a sense of faith that somehow everything will fall into place.
Complete this sentence: I go the extra mile by…
Envisioning myself in a state where it might seem uncomfortable or almost impossible to achieve, but relying on that power of imagination makes everything suddenly real and approachable, simply by believing.
Speaking to Azran gave us a whole new perspective of how we manage ourselves and to question the reasons behind what we do. It’s uplifting to hear it from someone who’s got a crazier schedule than either of us combined. It’s not simply about trying to be the best, but to smart when going about it - something that people tend to overlook. Azran’s determination to overcome his fear of deep water is a perfect metaphor for us to exemplify. If you fail, take a deep breath and try again.