NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK
The Peak gets right into the heart of a fresh crop of companies and businesses that look to shape Malaysia’s enterprising future. The new generation leaders all have one thing in common – an insatiable appetite to be at the top of their game.
ThePeak gets right into the heart of a fresh crop of companies and businesses that look to shape Malaysia’s enterprising future. Helmed by a new generation leaders, they all have one thing in common – an insatiable appetite to be at the top of their gamee.
In 2014, society was acclimatising to doing things online, from shopping to booking transport and food delivery, but the same revolution for hiring home services hadn’t begun. My co-founder, Choong Fui-Yu, and I saw a business opportunity, and wanted to be the ones to spearhead this transformation across SouthEast Asia. So, it began with just two people working out of home and I was pitching service providers over the phone to join a then-unknown online platform. In three short years, we’ve successfully expanded our presence into four countries, operating as beres.id in Indonesia, kaodim.sg in Singapore and gawin.ph in the Philippines.
Since Kaodim launched, scores of Malaysians have been able to find and hire local service providers for any task, with access to real customer reviews, competitive pricing, and comparison of customised quotes or booking directly within minutes of using their smart phones. We’ve introduced convenience, transparency and accountability into the ecosystem that did not really exist before.
Through what we’ve built, Kaodim supports the industry’s growth by providing new service providers a chance at growing sustainable businesses, and providing consumers trust and transparency in the process. We don’t overestimate our importance to the ecosystem, but we also don’t disregard that we have power to change, and have already changed, the services industry.
To stay ahead of the game, my team and I have an audacious mission and strong daily habits where we continuously obsess about being better; to push the boundaries of what technology can do for our users and to ensure customers have a great experience on the platform. We’re constantly thinking of better ways to serve our customers, and to make the provision of services faster and more reliable.
Of course, any entrepreneur knows that every day is a challenge. Whether you’re building a new business or growing one that already exists, it’s a battle to hold
WE’VE INTRODUCED CONVENIENCE, TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY INTO THE ECOSYSTEM THAT DID NOT REALLY EXIST BEFORE.
everything together when times get tough. There is so much risk and uncertainty in business, and you can only ever see a few months ahead, but I’ve learned so much from trying times. The obstacles helped me grow, innovate, be adaptable and embrace humility to keep everything afloat. These are values that I hold dear to this very day, because the mission that we have at Kaodim is now greater than just me trying to achieve a dream – it’s a transformative platform that has changed the way businesses obtain customers and, conversely, the services hiring experience.
With our latest funding round of USD7 million closed in November 2017, I’m excited about how Kaodim is evolving to become a platform beyond comparing quotations. We’re introducing new product iterations, adding strong, capable talent to our team and staying ahead of the curve. When we started, we modelled ourselves after similar businesses in the United States, but our product development has now exceeded even our initial inspirational companies. We’re now at a place where we have to innovate the way forward.
I also believe that in the next five years, everyone will be using their smart phones or the Internet to purchase services. To that end, we want to be the go-to solution for this, and provide the most dependable, efficient and high-quality service hiring experience. I want our family of brands at Kaodim to be synonymous with that across SouthEast Asia.
Lapses in efficiency and productivity are a recurring problem, regardless of country. So, my co-founder, Susian Yeap, and I created a solution to solve a global issue of rising costs, where more people were seeking additional income streams to support themselves. What we do at Supahands is creating an opportunity for people to work from home or their own workspace to generate additional income. We take large projects from companies and business across the globe, and break them down through our platform into micro tasks, so that different people can work on them at their own time across South-East Asia.
Supahands was never meant to be a Malaysia-only business. I built it with a global mindset and, to do that, I have a global team to bring different thoughts, processes and experiences to the table. Our clients are also based around the world. While the focus areas are Malaysia, Singapore and Australia, we’re looking to expand to the United States and European market very soon. Besides that, we have about 2,000 talents, or SupaAgents, across South-East Asia. We’ve got people in Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and, soon, Thailand. This creates a multilingual, multicultural platform, where companies and businesses connect as large teams of a particular nationality or skill set.
The technology that we use is something that we’ve developed internally. We spent the last two years building the technology around the algorithm we have to route the work to the right person at the right time. We’re also focusing on automating various aspects of our working procedures as this can help us become a lot more efficient as a business. We do micro pivots on a daily basis to adapt to the changes in technology that’s happening around us. So, when we see things happening in the market, we are able to take opportunities quickly, while maintaining an agile and nimble structure.
I’m taking it one step at a time because of payment and scaling issues, so we’ve decided to focus on this particular market. If you can look after South-East Asia – which is a very diverse region – you should be able to take care of the world. That being said, business has been growing quite quickly and fairly recently, especially since the technology has become more mature and we’ve been getting funding from different parties.
We’re currently building a client-facing, self-service portal to access our 2,000-strong workforce directly. This will allow them to interact without having to go through layers of back-and-forth discussions, and be able to set up processes and get work done even faster than ever before. We’re also actively looking to expand our reach to more companies overseas and growing our business in Singapore, Australia and the US right now. We also want to continue to grow our remote workforce throughout South-East Asia. The goal is to have SupaAgents from every single ASEAN nation.
Mark Koh was a nominee for the EY Emerging Entrepreneur Of The Year 2017 Malaysia.
WHAT WE DO AT SUPAHANDS IS CREATING AN OPPORTUNITY FOR PEOPLE TO WORK FROM HOME OR THEIR OWN WORKSPACE TO GENERATE ADDITIONAL INCOME.
It all started when my three initial team members and I were working for a company that wasn’t stable at that point in time. Together, we wanted to shift our focus into creating a platform where we could make a difference, and I just had this crazy idea of doing something new. That’s how we got our name: the four of us facing the unknown from the living room of an apartment – four fronts to Forefront. With our collective expertise, we started as a web design company. However, we began noticing communication problems between different aspects of a creative business, and seized the opportunity to expand into a fullfledged creative agency.
This move proved to be a fruitful one as it is one of the company’s key strength – a one-stop centre where we provide creative solutions for social media, websites and traditional print advertisements. We also have a full team along with videographers and photographers, so our communication channels are open and we have clear control on the direction of the campaigns we create.
In advertising, it’s very important to not jump into the digital bandwagon, and neglect traditional forms of advertising such as print and radio. Despite common perceptions, they’re not irrelevant but are vital elements in an integrated, multiplatform solution. With that in mind, we offer clients a mix of traditional and digital media platforms, including emerging technology. For instance, the newest feather in our cap is an augmented reality solution and touchscreen integrated multimedia design system that’s all done in-house.
WE OFFER CLIENTS A MIX OF TRADITIONAL AND DIGITAL MEDIA PLATFORMS, INCLUDING EMERGING TECHNOLOGY.
My working style is rather hands-on. I involve myself in the different stages of a project, to monitor the development and guide my team to create customised solutions. I invest in recruiting and retaining talents by exercising an open-communication policy, where anyone can approach me on anything, anytime.
Currently, the company is focusing on branding ourselves as a full-fledged advertising agency with a highly personalised approach. We have not had a salesperson per se for six years because I believe in building relationships with clients to deliver the best service. We recently launched a public installation of our culture in the form of our café, Foremula, where we can have warm chats amongst the team members, and also with clients over coffee and cake – that’s how we get to provide value for our clients.
It’s actually been amazing to see how this four-man team has blossomed to over 100 talents within 14 years – and what a fantastic journey it’s been! Most of them started off as interns and executives, and they are now heads of their own departments – some even business owners on the side. I get very motivated by seeing the pride my team puts into their work, and the improvements they’ve made not only through their work but also in their personal lives. It has also been a great source of pride for me when the company won not only industry awards for our work, but also for human resource excellence with employee loyalty-based awards. We joined the 4As (Association of Accredited Advertising Agents of Malaysia) a few years ago, and this reinforced my belief that I’m on the right track with our work and our culture. I truly believe that the future of creative advertising lies in talent management.
We actually met at a dumpsite and saw the opportunity to, literally, turn one man’s trash into another man’s treasure. Our backgrounds are in financial, where Matt is an accountant by profession and Levin is a banker with computer science background. While it may seem rather odd for the two of us to venture into the RE (renewable energy) business, we realised there is big potential in RE and that’s when we decided to set up Mattan Engineering.
Both our roles are like a goalkeeper and a striker in a football team. I (Levin) focus on bringing business opportunities to the table, while Matt ensures the company delivers on time in full for all our projects. As an Executive Chairman, I also take on the role of Executive Director for Business Development, hence the striker role. Matt’s role as CEO – the goalkeeper – is equally critical because he would need to ensure that the company has the cash flow to fully leverage on the opportunities that my team and I bring in.
From the beginning, we wanted to build a multi disciplinary RE company. Instead of focusing on just one source of RE, why can’t we look into it as a whole? We have projects in solar, biogas and hydroelectricity as well. But we always strive to be as efficient as possible with the limited resources that we have. For example, our solar plants are mushroom farms as well. Under the solar panels, we plant mushrooms that are sold to not only generate revenue, but also to reduce heat that actually reduces the efficiency of these panels.
While the company is fairly young – only six years in operation – 2018 will be a big year for us. It’s a year of growth. For one, we are looking to list in the first half of
INSTEAD OF FOCUSING ON JUST ONE SOURCE OF RENEWABLE ENERGY, WHY CAN’T WE LOOK INTO IT AS A WHOLE?
this year, which we hope will be a springboard for us to grow the business further in both the local and international business arenas. We are looking to penetrate the RE markets in Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia and the Middle East. Our midterm ambition is to be a powerhouse in RE within the SouthEast Asia region, and it makes perfect sense as this region is outgrowing the rest of the world and RE is not widely adopted yet.
Educating people on going green is tough as a majority of the market is either ignorant or adamant about sticking to conservative methods and traditional business protocols. And so, we have to step in and advise them on the differences in operating their businesses by using RE, and continuously remind them of the benefits of going green. Even banks need guidance in green projects as these are not standard infrastructure projects with clearly defined protocols. Everyone is getting educated along the way.
That being said, we believe that the interests in RE will only get stronger as evidenced by global trends. Our dream, as a company, is to be a South-East Asian RE powerhouse. Once we have achieved this, the next relevant step would be to grow globally. For that, we need to establish a strong brand and we believe that we are well on our way to achieving this. Despite having only been in the industry for a few years, we have been receiving strong support from our customers, which is further substantiated by our order book that amounts to MYR300 million from 2017 to 2018 alone. This, we believe, is a powerful endorsement of our capabilities and our brand.
Matt Tan and Levin Tan were top nominees for the EY Emerging Entrepreneur Of The Year 2017 Malaysia.
Istarted working in the company at the age of 24 but, after a few years, it was in deep trouble, with MYR1.7 million in debt and looking to shut its doors. However, I was convinced that the business had potential. Though we were in the red, the company had a great track record with our clients in technology training and I believed that technology’s growth was limitless. Going on that gut feeling, I came up with a plan and said: “Hey, why don’t you let me take over the company?” The shareholders took a look and agreed to give me a chance.
So, I started the new Knowledgecom in 2008 and the first task was to stop the bleeding. We had to keep things lean, trying as hard as possible to deliver training programmes and maximise profits. The first eight months were tough, but we eventually secured a few deals and licences. Our first big break was obtaining an international license by SAP (Systems, Applications & Products) as a training partner, and the first in providing online training for SAP. From there, we grew bigger and, once we started making profits, we used them to clean the wound, clear the debts. It took us about three tireless years to break even and, finally, in 2012, we recorded a net profit of MYR1 million. The following year, we were acquired by a listed company and we’ve grown about 500 per cent since.
Knowledgecom provides training in technology, but now we’re now specifying on technologies in Industrial Revolution 4.0 (IR 4.0). This is the future and it will change mankind’s lives. For example, one of the greatest technologies in IR 4.0 is IoT (Internet of Things), and we can soon expect to see microchips in daily objects that communicate with each other, transferring data that are then analysed and used to create predictions. We train companies and services that produce IR 4.0 products and we train the users, people who ask: “Why do I need IR 4.0 in my life?” We teach them how they can use IR 4.0 technology to make their lives and businesses better, faster and more efficient.
We launched IR 4.0 training for the nation last year with 26 Centre of Excellence & Technology (COET) sites across 11 states. These sites are a mix of universities, polytechnic schools and state departments that allow us to train not only the current workforce, but the future one as well. The current workforce would include companies in manufacturing, automobile, production and mining, where it’s mainly the IT personnel who come in to assess how they can integrate IR 4.0 technology into their respective companies. We are looking to expand to 40 COET sites to cover the entire nation this year, ensuring that every single person in the country has access to IR 4.0 training.
Our goal is to equip the country with IR 4.0 so that every Malaysian is able to use it in every single aspect of their lives. This will also eliminate Malaysia’s dependency on low-skilled foreign labour as labour-intensive tasks become automated. Local workers will benefit as they are upgraded to mid-level skilled positions, thus increasing employment for Malaysians. At the end of the day, we want to create a fully IR 4.0-savvy nation.
ST Rubaneswaran was the EY Emerging Entrepreneur Of The Year 2016 Malaysia.
“WE TEACH PEOPLE HOW TO USE IR 4.0 TECHNOLOGY TO MAKE THEIR LIVES AND BUSINESSES BETTER, FASTER AND MORE EFFICIENT.
Devan Linus, CEO & Chief Investment Officer: Our origin story can be traced
back to Malayan Traders & Co, a stockbroking firm in the 1960s that was owned by my late grandfather, Kok Ah Too. He practiced something he called value investing. Early on, he realised the most reliable method of growing wealth was to invest in blue chip companies that you could hold on to for the long term. I applied his investing principles to overseas stocks of my own to great success, and it’s the same principle we use in MTC Asset Management. I’ve always wanted to start a hedge fund and the initial discussion came about in 2011 between me and Aaron Yew, who was my university mate, and, soon, with Donovan Ng who was my colleague in Melbourne at the time.
Aaron Yew, Co-Founder: I’ve also always wanted to start a fund of my own, but didn’t know exactly what kind I wanted to do. When Devan pitched the idea of value investing in blue chip stocks with returns of 10 to 15 per cent, this seemed like a wise approach and he already had a concrete strategy that he wanted to implement.
Donovan Ng, Deputy CEO: I joined them a bit later in 2015, but was always involved, playing an advisory role since they started in 2012. Keeping in touch with them over the years, it was evident that they had a very clear strategy, a solid blueprint for the business and armed with a team of very smart individuals.
Devan Linus: I said if you want to start a hedge fund, you need to do it Malaysia. In Malaysia, it’s all about the banks. Not to knock them, but the bank is always thinking of its own agenda – getting everyone to bank with them.
Aaron Yew: A bank’s major source of revenue is giving out loans from the deposits they get. They will invariably sell products just to get people to invest, but it may not be the best product for absolute return, whereas a boutique hedge fund can look at the market and assess which areas to invest right now. Boutique hedge funds also generally tend to be owner-managed, so we’re investing our own money and have as much to lose as our clients.
Donovan Ng: We established MTC Asset Management to be a pioneer in the alternative hedge fund industry. In fact, we are one of the first new boutiques in the last 10 years to obtain a licence in Malaysia. When we started in 2012, we were only in our late 20s and people were asking: “How can I give you my money in the millions when you’re not even 30?” It was challenging, but not impossible. We were the solution, our products and in creating awareness of how we can add value for our clients. It’s a personalised service as we work closely with clients to understand their objectives in investing and what they want to achieve.
Aaron Yew: When you start a fund, it’s the same as starting a new business – you will have your ups and downs, and there’s never a year with no lows. The cycle is a natural part of the journey, but we’ve certainly has a good start by doing this when we’re young. We’ve been able to adapt a lot faster, willing to take the necessary risks and quickly learning from mistakes. Our age is a doubleedged sword – some may feel more comfortable with an older private banker but, on the flipside, we’re able to hustle a lot more. In a sense, we have nothing to lose, so we can go all out to really make an impact.
Donovan Ng: Consistency naturally brings a following in the market and people are starting to realise that we can deliver and are here to stay. We’ve had great traction in January with an influx of new clients, while existing clients are increasing investments with us after a guaranteed 10 per cent in returns. We’re aiming for 15 and even 20 per cent in returns, depending on timing and luck.
Devan Linus: Since we began in 2012, we’ve managed a return of 170 per cent and it’s vital that we maintain this track record for the coming years. On the investing side, we’re doing our research and keeping a close eye on stocks in the market. On the business side, Aaron is now focusing on growing our clientele in ASEAN by starting in Singapore. It looks to be a solid year for us but, of course, no form of investment is a guarantee. Hence, we always go back to my grandfather’s philosophy of value investing. Whether the market is up or down, you should never stop investing.
WE ESTABLISHED MTC ASSET MANAGEMENT TO BE A PIONEER IN THE ALTERNATIVE HEDGE FUND INDUSTRY.
ST Rubaneswaran CEO of Knowledgecom
Darien Mah Co-Founder & CEO of Forefront International
Mark Koh Co-Founder & CEO of Supahands Dotcom