Go for Broke - Tales of Malaysian Technopreneurship


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Go for Broke - Tales of Malaysian Technopreneurship

  1. 1. Contents Chapter 7 From Foot Soldier to Leader 51 Wan Mohamed Fusil Wan MahmoodIntroduction i Chapter 8 Cashing In 59Foreword iii Ganesh Kumar BangahA Note From Ashran Ghazi of Asia Stream about MSC Malaysia iv Chapter 9 Playing for Keeps 67A Note From Chris Chan of TMS Asia about MSC Malaysia vi Irman NawawiA Note From The Cradle Investment Program viii Chapter 10 With Guts Comes Glory 75Acknowledgement by TeAM Council 2007~2008 x Leo Ariyanayakam Chapter 11 The Booksmart Businessman 83Chapter 1 New Media Ahoy! 01 Norbik Bashah Idris Ashran Ghazi Chapter 12 Getting to Grips with the Intangible 91Chapter 2 Collaborating His Way to Success 09 David Oh Chris Chan Chapter 13 Look Ma, No Wires! 99Chapter 3 Method Man 19 Rais Hussin Mathavan Chandran Chapter 14 An Alternative Approach 107Chapter 4 Between a Rock and a Hard Place 27 Rajen. M Stephen Chia Chapter 15 Head First 115Chapter 5 Rolling with the Changes 35 Ritakamal Sadiman Wei Chuan Beng Chapter 16 Upwardly Mobile 123Chapter 6 Ingenuity at Work 43 HY Sia William Du
  2. 2. IntroductionChapter 17 Old Dog, New Tricks 131 Harres Tan Technopreneurs—that’s a hefty word to say, isn’t it? Yet, I couldn’t thinkChapter 18 No Limits 139 of a more apt word to describe the 21 people featured in this book. Edwin Tay Whenever the phrase “entrepreneurs in technology” (an even more convoluted phrase), I used to think of the Silicon Valley, of Steve JobsChapter 19 Carpe Diem 147 working in a garage with Steve Wozniak, of coffee-fueled nights and big Teoh Eng Kee ideas drawn on napkin towels.Chapter 20 Not a Stranger in a Strange Land 155 That, however, is just the romantic side of technopreneurship—the Harald Weinbrecht stuff that inspires others to dream. What goes on behind the scenes, as you’ll learn in this book, is something else entirely. If you’re an aspiringChapter 21 The Big Switch 163 technopreneur, this is not appropriate bedtime reading. In here, you’ll David Wong read about sleepless nights, gambles lost, and the inordinate amount of self-belief required to make it to the top.Appendix Technopreneurs Association 172 “We had no money,” is a phrase you’ll come across often reading this book. That says a lot about the perseverance these people have in of Malaysia (TeAM) realizing their vision. Several of them have sacrificed their own savings to keep their dream alive, and more importantly, to keep the dream alive in others. There are so many so-called “entrepreneurs” who’ll cop out at trouble and abandon those under their employ. Thankfully, there’s none of that in here, which restores my faith that nice guys can and do finish first. Though the dotcom bust isn’t a period many of these technopreneurs would like to remember, like it or not, it was key in weeding them out from the quitters. The evolution of the technopreneurial landscape is an i
  3. 3. accelerated Darwinism—happening in the space of a few decades—where only the fittest, bravest, and cock-sure survive. This book is where you’ll Foreword see it in action, and these are the people who have evolved, adapted and Technopreneurs are a lot like pilgrims on a long journey. Sometimes triumphed. So yes, while each of them has gone through their dark times, the journey is smooth, other times it’s bumpy. Most of them give up the all the stories have happy endings. comforts of a secure job and family time to embark on this quest. Along the way, these modern-day pilgrims meet good Samaritans like More importantly, however, these stories are Malaysian. Finally, here’s a angels and venture capitalists who believe in their vision, while others book that says you don’t have to look at the Silicon Valley for inspiration. soldier on alone or with a small band of fellow pilgrims who share the It’s proof that, in a wired world, you don’t have to be in US to strike it big same entrepreneurial dream. as a technopreneur. Far too often, I’ve come across people who say they could’ve become a big shot with their big ideas, if only they were born in All of them have remarkable stories to tell that could fill volumes of MBA the US. Nonsense. This is the book that says: If you have what it takes, do course books. TeAM decided it’s time to compile some of these stories it, right here, right now. into a book. On behalf of MSC Malaysia, Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC) is proud and delighted to support this endeavour. Now get up and start living the dream. Through various MSC Malaysia programs, MDeC is committed to help technopreneurs on this journey. Our Technopreneur Pre-Seed Fund Oon Yeoh Program, for example, addresses the funding gap at pre-seed stage and is April 2008 expected to boost the development of commercially viable ICT projects and kick off a chain reaction in the creation of new local ICT companies. MSC Malaysia’s Start-Up Development Program aims to generate a rich pool of business and innovative technology ideas and boost technopreneurship, thus encouraging entrepreneurial activity in Malaysia. Our partner programs are designed to offer budding technopreneurs with end-to-end facilitation and support by providing strategic and development resources at each phase of the technopreneur and venture development value chain process. This dynamic ICT hub has put Malaysia on the world map as a country committed to creating a knowledge-based economy. Its core initiatives include building up the ICT industry, boosting ICT capabilities and using ICT to spur socio-economic development. Badlisham Ghazali MDeC CEOii iii
  4. 4. A Note From Ashran Ghazi MSC Malaysia trade missions to various countries have opened up partnership possibilities and in the process helped us open our minds to of Asia Stream about MSC Malaysia how foreign companies are doing things. It’s been a great form of informal education. Going with such trade missions is also great because it imparts on us credibility as people abroad are familiar with the MSC Malaysia brand. MSC Malaysia is a great initiative that has been giving much assistance to technopreneurs for more than a decade now. Having MSC Malaysia Status has also assisted us when bidding for some government projects that give preference to MSC Malaysia Status My company, Asia Stream Digital TV, has benefitted tremendously from companies. the various programs MSC Malaysia has on offer to start ups like ours. Lastly, MSC Malaysia’s incentives under its Professional Development Its knowledge sharing sessions have increased my personal understanding for ICT Professionals program has enabled us to empower our key about the industry. They have also helped to expand my business network. staff servicing accounts with PMP (Project Management Professional) This has been very fruitful to my business as we are able to cross-sell our Certification. products and bundle them in various ways for mutual benefit with many other companies. MSC Malaysia’s foreign guest delegation programs have proven to be greatly beneficial to us. Our best experience was during the recent visit by the Ruwad group from the Middle East. In a single meeting, we got them interested in our Internet TV product and services. The fact that we are an MSC Malaysia-Status company definitely helped because they were looking to do business with MSC Malaysia-Status companies. During their one week stay, we immediately negotiated a partnership agreement to promote and our products in the UAE and Syria. This is our first step towards penetrating the Middle East market. Finding a good reliable partner is indeed very crucial to the success.iv v
  5. 5. A Note From Chris Chan TMS alongside companies software companies like XYBASE and PATIMAS is developing an Asia Pacific alliance called Software Asia Alliance. MSC of TMS Asia about MSC Malaysia Malaysia made it possible for us to develop and promote this new alliance to build a global brand presence. With the help of MSC Malaysia we are able to promote local software usage in government today. This includes using TMS products to power Like all start ups with big ambitions, TMS Asia has been benefited some of MSC Malaysia’s online properties. significantly from MSC Malaysia. All start ups need financing in order to grow. We are grateful that MSC Ventures was willing to invest in TMS. We actually got to the stage where we got a formal offer but unfortunately, we did not take it up due to some technical reasons. As a software company, we need to spend a lot of money on research and development. We received an MSC Malaysia Research & Development Grant Scheme (MSG) worth RM2 million which helped us greatly. It allowed us to develop tmsFRAMEWORK, an application development platform that powers all our current Java-based software. The grant allowed TMS to do research and development on tmsFRAMEWORK for two years. I’m delighted to say that tmsFRAMEWORK today powers brands like AirAsia, Harvard Medical School, Khazanah National, Media Prima and many other famous brands. I’ve personally gone on several MSC Malaysia promotional trips, where we were introduced to different potential partners overseas. This is crucial for local start ups hoping to penetrate foreign markets. You can’t do it alone.vi vii
  6. 6. A Note From CIP not only offers funding via its CIP Catalyst fund, but also other business value-add like commercialization support, domain mentors, strategic partnerships, training and competency building, networking, The Cradle Investment Program pitching and media publicity support - to help kick-start the budding ideas of technopreneurs, to commercialization and further growth. Mistakes are extremely costly for budding technopreneurs – and our role First and foremost, I would like to congratulate the Technopreneurs in Cradle, is to ensure that they start on the right footing, with proper Association of Malaysia (TeAM) and Oon Yeoh on the great success of planning, funding and support. coming out with “Go For Broke”, which is an inspiring book on the blood, sweat and tears, relating to technopreneurship in Malaysia. A partnership with CIP does not just begin and end with the funding provided – it is a lasting membership of the Cradle business-building The stories shared by the 21 technopreneurs in this book, should ecosystem for technopreneurs, which has been built to ensure that more serve as an inspiration point and guiding light to current and budding CIP-funded technopreneurs will succeed. technopreneurs, in their search for success. It is the business-building environment that makes up half the The theme running through the stories of these technopreneurs show stimulus for growth and success – and Cradle is there to provide it, that the path to success requires a technopreneur to be determined, for technopreneurs. persistent and to risk it all – to “go for broke” – to savour the fruits of wealth and recognition. Once again, congratulations to TeAM and Oon Yeoh on the launching of “Go For Broke!”. It is a significant landmark – one that will be the catalyst The Cradle Investment Program (“CIP”) (www.cradle.com.my) is proud to growing the number of successful technopreneurs in Malaysia. to be a strong supporter of TeAM’s efforts within the industry and co- sponsor to the first edition of this great book. As is well-known, CIP is a RM100 million grant, (under the auspices of Sincerely, the Ministry of Finance and administered under Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd) which was born out as a brainchild and lobbying efforts of TeAM, to help Nazrin Hassan Chief Executive Officer, seed innovative technology ideas into businesses and to spur technology Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd commercialization, both within the public and private sectors.viii ix
  7. 7. Acknowledgement by TeAM Council 2007-2008 Chapter 1 No project of this nature is possible without the collaboration of many dedicated people behind this project. This includes TeAM advisors Sivapalan Vivekarajah, Wilson Tay and Chris Chan, and the 21 Ashran Ghazi technopreneurs featured. Special thanks goes out to our executive secretary, Eliza Elias, who tirelessly juggled managing the interview schedule as well as coordinating New Media Ahoy! the funding for this project and our executive director, Andrey Abraham, for doing all the tireless logistics works to finalize the production of the book. We are also grateful to MDeC and Cradle for their sponsorship this project, without which this book would not be possible. Lastly, many thanks go out to the GoodBasic Media team for producing this book.x
  8. 8. Go For Broke ~ Tales of Technopreneurship William Du • Ingenuity at Work William Du Ingenuity at Work Financing is an important component of entrepreneurship. Although some start-ups are able to make it without investors’ money, most do need this in order to take their business to the next stage. William Du’s Ingenious Haus helps start-ups get the financing they need and prepares them for investment – be it by venture capitalists, William Du corporate investors or angel investors. Ingenious Haus In many ways, Du seems more like an entrepreneur himself than an investment broker or corporate advisor. “I take a very hands-on approach in building up the value of the companies we assist,” he says. “I don’t mind getting my hands dirty learning the ropes of the businesses those companies are involved in.” For a guy who is so tech-savvy and forward looking, Du has a very traditional finance background, graduating from the University of Hertfordshire with an MBA in 2000. His MBA thesis was entitled: “Acquisition of Midland Bank by HSBC”, about the latter’s acquisition of the UK bank, resulting in the creation of one of the largest financial services firms around. The paper was presented in the World Association for Case Method Research and application (WACRA) Conference in Mannheim, Germany in 2002. Upon graduation, Du worked for a London-based chartered accountancy firm, as a trainee doing auditing. But he learned more than just auditing there.44 45
  9. 9. Go For Broke ~ Tales of Technopreneurship Wan Mohamed Fusil Wan Mahmood • From Foot Soldier to Leader Wan Mohamed Fusil Wan Mahmood From Foot Soldier to Leader If you ask people to name the most established, well-entrenched local IT company, there’s a good chance Mesiniaga would crop up. In terms of brand recognition, revenue and profitability, there are not many local IT companies that even come close. But it was started by a band of unlikely entrepreneurs. “All of us were good soldiers, good administrators at IBM,” says Wan Wan Mohamed Fusil Mohamed Fusil Wan Mahmood. “Not entrepreneurs.” Wan Mahmood Mesiniaga In the late ‘70s, the government came out with a firm directive that companies doing business with the government must be locally incorporated. IBM led by the late Ismail Sulaiman, formerly general manager of IBM Malaysia, responded with a proposal to form a new bumiputra- controlled company that would handle roughly 30% of IBM’s business and provide more effective skills transfer to locals. Fusil was amongst the five founders who got together to execute this plan with the full blessing and support of IBM. In late 1982, Mesiniaga was born. “I was 32 at the time and a 10-year veteran at IBM,” says Fusil. “I was excited and worried at the same time.” To facilitate the execution of this plan and to give the new start-up viability, IBM decided that they would close down an entire Information52 53
  10. 10. Go For Broke ~ Tales of Technopreneurship Ganesh Kumar Bangah • Cashing In Ganesh Kumar Bangah Cashing In Starting young and dropping out of college to found your own company is a common story in the American tech landscape but is rare in this part of the world. That probably has to do with cultural factors. Over here, education is prized and paper qualifications are considered an important safety net in case your entrepreneurial ventures fizzle out. Not that any of these factors stopped Ganesh Kumar Bangah from getting into the “go-for broke” entrepreneurial spirit so typified by American technopreneurs. He demonstrated his entrepreneurial zeal early on. While still in secondary school in Johor Bahru, he would travel over to Singapore to buy computer parts and accessories to sell to his schoolmates. “I’d buy a soundcard for S$30 and bring it back to JB to sell for RM200,” he recalls. “I did brisk business. I even assembled PCs and sold them to teachers.” After his Form Five exams in 1996, he worked for and later became a partner in Cyberfield, a small but successful software company that had the Johor State Government as one of its key clients. He continued working part-time in Cyberfield while in university. Ganesh Kumar Bangah He studied engineering at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia in Skudai but MOL AccessPortal dropped out in his third year to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams. He did, however, get technical certifications — he has a Certificate in Computers Studies from the National Center for Information Technology60 61
  11. 11. Go For Broke ~ Tales of Technopreneurship Rajen. M • An Alternative Approach Rajen. M An Alternative Approach There’s nothing like first-hand experience to convince you that something works. And that’s what got Rajen. M into the holistic medicine business. A trained pharmacist, the first time Rajen encountered holistic medicine was when he had difficulty getting rid of a rash on his back. He tried all kinds of pharmaceutical medication but to no avail. “Nothing worked,” he recalls. “I went to see all kinds of doctors too. One gave me a drug that worked 20%. I realized that if I were to take more of the drug it would end up killing me.” Rajen’s mother insisted that he see a traditional medicine man. “The homeopath was not a doctor in the Western sense of the word, so I was not confident about his abilities to cure me,” he says. The medicine man gave him sugar tablets that looked liked lizard eggs. It cured Rajen’s rashes. “That made me think, maybe I don’t know so much about medicine after all,” he says. “This spurred me to do more research on alternative medicine.” But it took a bad experience at work to make Rajen decide to come out start his own business. He had joined Ciba Pharma, a Fortune 500 company, as product manager in 1990. A self-described workaholic, he worked up to 18 hours Rajen. M a day. He even took up an MBA from the University of Strathclyde to Holista Biotech enhance his career prospects. Not surprisingly, he quickly rose through the ranks to become marketing manager within a few short years.108 109
  12. 12. Go For Broke ~ Tales of Technopreneurship Harald Weinbrecht • Not a Stranger in a Strange Land Harald Weinbrecht Not a Stranger in a Strange Land Doing business in Malaysia as a foreigner has its good and bad points. It’s actually a positive when you deal with other foreigners. However, when you deal with locals, especially those from mid-sized companies, it can be a negative in more ways than one. Harald Weinbrecht ISS Consulting Firstly, they might get intimidated and assume that your costs would naturally be very high. Secondly, they might think you don’t understand their business. Harald Weinbrecht has been through all that. “It’s a perception thing,” he says. “‘What do you know, you’re just a kwailo’ – I used to get that at first but I’ve lived here for many years now, so it’s not such a problem anymore.” That’s an understatement. Harald has actually done very well for himself. His company, ISS Consulting, has the distinction of being the only company listed on Mesdaq that’s owned by a foreigner. He also has offices in Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia, as well as operations in Dubai. Not bad for a self-described kampung-boy. “I was born in a small village of about 1000 people,” says the German-born Weinbrecht. “My primary school and secondary school was just a few kilometers from my house.” He began his career in banking where he did an apprenticeship. It was during that time that he first discovered the wonders of IT.156 157
  13. 13. Technopreneurs Association Yet, success was elusive and soon all parties discovered that Silicon Valley could not be built in a just a few short years. The government realised that of Malaysia (TeAM) policies without stakeholder input was not effective and technopreneurs found that there was no avenue for them to voice out their concerns, needs and interests. Thus TeAM was born out of the need to further the interests of The Internet boom of the late 1990s and the setting up of the Multimedia technopreneurs and to assist in the development of the knowledge Super Corridor in 1996 brought forth a new agenda for Malaysia; to economy in Malaysia. reposition the nation from an industrial economy to an innovation- and technology-led economy. TeAM has three key initiatives and objectives: This new direction triggered an influx of economic and business 1) To act as a think tank and as a voice for technopreneurs. Much has activity creating a new class of entrepreneurs in Malaysia – technology been accomplished in the six years since our formation. The first entrepreneurs or Technopreneurs. initiative was the completion of a White Paper entitled “Fostering A Sustainable Environment for Technopreneurship in Malaysia”. Technopreneurs were mostly young, highly-educated and technology- This document received widespread acclaim in media, industry savvy entrepreneurs who wanted to live this new dream of creating the and government circles for outlining the major issues and challenges next new billion dollar global technology company. facing small- and medium-sized technology companies in a way that encompasses the views of the industry’s grassroots. It served to share Armed with support from the Multimedia Development Corporation the views of the community of technopreneurs with government (MDeC) and the government, they set forth building their companies and led to better execution of the government’s plans for the MSC. from scratch, not knowing where the Internet was heading but wanting to We continue to act through many discussions with key policy makers be in the slipstream of this exciting new era. and help guide Government policy to have the greatest impact and benefit for industry. The government too was as enthusiastic as these technopreneurs and spurred the growth of technology initiatives and policies from growth 2) The second and equally important objective is for the professional corridors to telecommunications infrastructure to venture capital development of members and the industry in general. TeAM has funding. initiated many events to share information and knowledge that help to develop the skills, knowledge and abilities of technopreneurs including forums, seminars, workshops and dialogues. These172 173
  14. 14. initiatives are ongoing and we continue to provide innovative and invaluable programs to further the development of members and industry. 3) The third objective is to provide community education and to bridge the digital divide. This has included technopreneurship programs offered to more than 25 public and private universities in the country where we promote technopreneurship as an alternative career path. There is still a long way to go. The nation is also promoting the growth of a biotechnology industry and TeAM supports this initiative. We now include this new industry within its objectives. While TeAM has been successful in achieving many of its objectives and is now a highly recognised industry organisation, the principal aspiration of making Malaysia globally-renowned and Malaysian firms globally- successful remains to be achieved. Hence TeAM will continue to work closely with the government and the different agencies promoting the ICT and biotech industries to strive towards creating more successful technopreneurs who can compete with the best in the region and globally. That is our goal and in championing the interests of our members and stakeholders, TeAM will continue to do its best to improve the ecosystem for technopreneurs and technopreneurship in Malaysia.174