Digerati50: Ahead of the curve with Ramachandran Muniandy
By Tan Jee Yee December 5, 2021
- Unique technology platform and model for mobility-as-a-service (MaaS)
- Entrepreneur’s first venture is himself. Once that is healthy, then scale to lead others
Digital News Asia (DNA) continues its series that profiles 50 influencers who are helping shape Malaysia’s Digital Economy, from Digerati50 2020-2021 (Vol 4), a special biennial print publication released in July 2020. The digital copy can be downloaded from the sidebar link.
The following in an expanded version of the article which first appeared in print edition in June 2020.
The Malaysian elections of 2018 were momentous for many reasons, but significantly for Ramachandran Muniandy, it also marked a turning point of a different kind.
"We connected after the big nation-defining general election of May 2018 with new ideas," recalled Ramachandran. The “we” in this case being the well respected Premesh Chandran, founder and CEO of Southeast Asia’s pioneer subscription based online newspaper, Malaysiakini – who also happens to be a long-time neighbour. "Prem was intrigued with what I built in a previous startup."
Ramachandran is referring to a system he developed in 2009 to map traffic, using a method similar as popular apps Waze and Google Maps. "My startup successfully prototyped a real-time traffic prediction system that crowdsourced GPS and movement data from user’s smartphones to predict traffic conditions on roads and display it on Google Maps," he said. "Fast forward to 2018, Prem wanted to use technology to improve public transportation in Malaysia."
That germ of an idea was manifested in Asia Mobiliti, with Ramachandran as its CTO.
[Ed: As of Aug 2020 he transitioned to the CEO role.]
They have built a suite of products to enable intelligent transit and mobility for the developing world. Consisting of 3 interconnected technology stacks, (1) IoT & telematics, (2) transit technology and (3) mobility-as-a-service, they are redefining a new vertical in itself. "We are a platform, connecting the transport operators and mobility service providers with the passengers.”
Being transport-mode agnostic, the goal is to on-board as many types of mobility services as available, especially public transport operators. "(They are) the spine of any urban network," he says.
"I think we both convinced each other that we should link arms and build something new," he continued. "We are very much the quintessential cofounder pair, drawing confidence from each other that this is an idea worth pursuing."
The goal is to be a mobility-as-a-service platform (MaaS) platform in principle, though they did not start out with that label or definition, explains Ramachandran. "But, as we built and engineered and figured out the business model, we discovered that we are truly a MaaS platform with some unique characteristics. We then began to double-down on that space."
From planes to buses, via pastoring
As a boy, Ramachandran dreamed of working on another kind of transport. "I grew up wanting to be an aerospace engineer - one part boyhood dream, one part father’s plan," he says, laughing. But the 1998 Asian financial crisis put paid to that ambition, and he decided instead to study IT, gaining credits for a degree from University of Lincoln while studying at KDU College, before heading into a job.
"I was blessed with the opportunity to join a bioinformatics and artificial intelligence startup as an analyst programmer," he said, building his skills as a software developer and systems engineer. "After spending some four years there, I moved on briefly to lead the customer operations team of a global satellite operator before being approached to join the global storage team at Shell IT International."
Then, he got the entrepreneurial bug, getting involved in startups and small businesses – as well as the odd detour along the way. "The immediate two years preceding my founding of Asia Mobiliti was spent serving a global Christian organization as a pastor and Bible school teacher!"
Hi unique experiences, Ramachandran says, “I hold very dearly as important life lessons and serve as input into my composition as an entrepreneur."
It certainly sounds as if he has brought those life lessons across to Asia Mobiliti and its staff of 14. "People management is definitely very important but I don’t particularly struggle with that," he shared. "I suppose being a slightly older founder helps," he says. [They now have 20 staff.]
"An entrepreneur’s first venture is himself or herself. Once that is healthy, then we scale to leading others in the team.”
Not surprisingly, the toughest part has been in securing strategic funding partners and in managing the engineering process, he admits. "(There are) complex problems with literally many moving parts, and delivering them on time with the least debt incurred is a huge challenge!"
Ahead of the curve
In October 2019, Asia Mobiliti succesfully completed the pilot deployment of Orion as an IoT solution on buses owned by KR Travel and Tours Sdn Bhd. Orion was installed on the entire fleet of six Long-Term Car Park (LTCP) shuttle buses at KLIA airport.
Unsurprisingly, the company's plans were interrupted in early 2020. "The Covid19 pandemic has certainly disrupted many industries and is forcing a rethink of some big areas of life, including mobility and public transportation," acknowledges Ramachandran.
Despite this, he is trying to look on the positive side. "What Covid19 has brought upon the public transportation sector is a better appreciation of the need for real-time data and dynamic-responsive features on traditional transport systems," he explains. "This is where a Mobility-as-a-Service platform comes into play, enabling such frictionless travel and allows transport operators alike to monitor and respond in real-time to shifting demands and local conditions."
As uncertain as the future is, Ramachandran is optimistic that they can handle whatever it brings forth. "I expect to continuously learn. In order to do that, one needs to tend to the heart and mind regularly in order to keep it fertile and ready."
"We see ourselves as being ahead of the curve and are very positive of an acceleration of market traction as the economy reopens."
Digerati50 2020/2021 is proudly sponsored by Maxis - Powering Malaysia's 5G era.
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