An advocate for the road less travelled, Ashleigh Kivilaakso loves nothing more than hunting down adventure in small towns, discovering the secrets of the great outdoors and unearthing long-buried histories of Malaysia Not that many years ago, an expat was seen as a high-level executive in an international bank or MNC who lived in an Ampang bungalow or an uptown apartment. Some still fit this mould, but increasingly expats are found not only in big fir ms but in SMES; and they even live in PJ! This new breed is also more likely to create star tups in their host countries, and as a by-product of globalisation, the path leading here is diverse and their businesses even more so. From facilitating dinner par ties in a stranger’s home as Plateculture does, to motor racing event management, business incubators and co-working spaces, they are radically changing the way business done and creating communities as well.
What is it that draws them here, how has their experience been, and what impact has this had on Malaysians?
Stefan Pertz came here 14 years ago via Hong Kong and Australia. Part of a German team outfitting the new HK air por t he was attracted by Asia’s vibrancy. Initially helping SME European firms establish a presence in the region he later ventured on his own. His first business was to offer efficient outsourced marketing and branding services to local firms anxious to manage costs. Later he set up a South East Asian trade magazine as a vehicle for large MNC automotive firms to reach out to the region’ s expanding haulage sector.
Early arrival Anthony learnt his tr ade in Silicon Valley. With two local partners, his startup sought to develop a Malaysianmanufactured smartphone with the cost efficiencies of being based in Asia. With features that were advanced for the time, such as a camera before the iphone had one, it failed to draw enough investors, local investment culture being risk averse especially in the then budding IT sector. His second recycling star tup did better thanks to grants from the Prime Minister’s Office and is a self- sustaining success. But entrepreneurs are often restless and he is now looking at new possibilities.
What do they say about setting up a business? Hong Kong and Singapore are the clear leaders in Asia in terms of location, efficiency and integrity of the business sector. China is, of course, the greatest market and source of talent especially in IT but the quality of life is not as good as South East Asia. Location and ease of living is impor tant for entrepreneurs and their key staff which is why Thailand also does well. The Philippines is increasingly attractive due to English being the second language, its natural attractions and a culture of service prompting servicebased companies to recruit there.
Malaysia is also well placed primarily due to the widespread use of English, a common law system, ease of living and accessibility to the rest of the region. For some the downside was the archaic rule requiring local partners. Having local equity doesn’t necessarily offer that many advantages and is no guarantee that ethical behaviour will be adhered to.
The presence of this new breed of business has been of great assistance to budding local entrepreneurs. Digital and physical communities have been created enabling local aspirants to learn by osmosis of new values and immersion in entrepreneurial ecosystems which weren’t readily available before. Local initiatives like MAGIC (Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre) also supplement business growth. One thing is clear - there will be an increasing expat presence which should be welcomed. The previous belief that an expat took a Malaysian’s job no longer holds, if it ever did. The reality today is that expat startups create jobs of which Malaysians take up the bulk of. EL
“Startups radically change the way we do business and create communities as well”