Digerati50: Syed Ahmad Fuqaha’s drive to make a mark

  • Learning to delegate & implement proper management key lessons learnt
  • Advice is to find good partners – you don’t create successful company alone

Syed Ahmad Fuqaha, right, with a colleague. Syed’s attention is now largely centred on DriveMark, with Katsana being managed by its own CEO and team – a decision he says is one of the biggest and most impactful he has made.

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.

It’s perhaps apt that Syed Ahmad Fuqaha’s business revolves are GPS tracking. The road of life for the cofounder of Katsana seems to always take him in unexpected places, yet Syed is always able to reroute and find himself.

This is most evident in the ways Katsana (a portmanteau of “Dekat” and “Sana”, which is Malay for “near” and “there”) has evolved as an organisation. Starting off as a seller of GPS trackers for personal vehicles, Katsana has since shifted to provide their services to primarily enterprises, with a focus on tracking and rating performances of fleet drivers.

Now, Katsana has routed into the IoT business, where it provides integration of industrial sensors into the Internet, allowing businesses to monitor their storage or silos under one system.

Syed, however, has shifted gears. Spun off from his enterprise drivers’ rating system is DriveMark, a commercial app that essentially allows users to receive a score for their driving. Do well – for instance, to drive under the speed limit and avoid taking sharp, dangerous turns – and you’ll get good scores, which you can in turn use for a number of perks such as discounts for your car insurance.

It may seem like a radical shift, but what Syed is doing is merely adapting. He has been adapting and pivoting most of his life, at any rate. The Kelantan-native actually started studying architecture, where – in a rather unlikely shift – he started learning software development.

Syed is part of an unusually large household – he has 26 siblings, which meant that opportunities needed to be fought for. After his father’s untimely passing, Syed had to fund for his own education. “Luckily, I knew a bit of web development. I learned content management systems and wordpress on my own, and soon I started charging people to create corporate websites,” he recalls of the time in the mid 2000s.

It’s through his part-time work as a web developer that he met Azrul Rahim (a DNA Digerati50 as well), the founder of community software startup JomSocial. Upon graduation, Azrul hired Syed as a customer experience manager. In time, Syed became a project manager.

His stint at JomSocial helped mould Syed into what he is today. “The experience trained me in managing software development, to understand customer needs, how to manage customer experience, and in becoming a bridge between the business and customer,” he says.

JomSocial was sold to a Silicon Valley startup in 2013, and by then boredom has crept into Syed’s life. “I woke up one day and realised that I needed to find a reason to go to the office.”

Soon, he resigned despite not knowing where to head next. During this period, he started dabbling in e-commerce. “Do you remember, back then, that there were many e-commerce shops riding on Facebook selling imported goods from China at ridiculous margins? One of them was me,” he says, laughing heartily.


An idea gets planted

It was, however, another window of opportunity. Syed was already importing GPS trackers to sell when two incidents planted an idea in his head. Both of them involved cars being stolen – one was his friend’s car, the other his brother’s.

“I started to think. GPS trackers are available, but why aren’t people installing it? Why can’t GPS trackers be easier to use. Back then, the solutions to track your cars using GPS was archaic, where you have to rely on a call centre. The trackers can’t alert you when the car is moving without you, either,” he elaborates.

Rounding up the developers he knew in JomSocial, development for a GPS vehicle tracking solution began. In time, however, a problem started arising – their money was running out.

Thankfully, however, Syed had already developed Katsana’s website and managed to improve the Google ranking. Before the product could be launched, they had already received several inquiries – inquiries that Syed used to gauge interest and understand what users truly needed.

An early-bird promotion netted Katsana enough funds to complete development and launch their product in January 2014. While Katsana was initially developed for consumers, they started getting a lot of interest from enterprises, who wanted to use GPS trackers to not only keep an eye on their vehicle fleet, but to understand driver behaviour.

This led Syed to develop DriveMark, their driver scoring algorithm. In 2016, they got to know about the de-tarification of insurance in Malaysia. After speaking to insurers, Syed saw another market opportunity. By using their GPS trackers, users are able to score their driving and use it to get lower insurance premiums.

GPS trackers, however, are difficult to sell to drivers who want more convenient solutions. That’s when Syed pivoted DriveMark into a smartphone app. By 2017, they managed to get insurers Allianz and Etiqa to promote the solution, as well as a partnership with Axiata.

Syed’s attention is now largely centred on DriveMark, with Katsana being managed by its own CEO and team – a decision he says is one of the biggest and most impactful one he has made. Learning how to delegate and to implement proper management is one of the things he has to learn on the job.

And he hasn’t stopped learning. Syed says that he has developed a habit to purchase at least one magazine and one autobiography every month. On a small cabinet in his office is a stack of books about people ranging from Jeff Bezos to Albert Einstein.

“I don’t see them as role models, but exceptions to learn from. People like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs, they’re not nice people. But you can see their determination, and I feel that I admire them – you just need to find a balance. As a founder, I think it’s important that you have access to these books and knowledge” he says. “Though I think I can be seen as an ass sometimes,” he adds, chuckling.

Syed believes that entrepreneurs starting out first need to realise that they need to solve a problem. “Entering a market thinking you have a product and wanting to find a customer is the wrong mentality. It’s about knowing what the problems are, understanding how you can enter the market, and whether or not there is a big-enough market to pay for it,” he says.

“Also, don’t be a stickler to your first idea. You’ll never know what happens in the next few years. Pivot when you see any new opportunities. And find good partners – you don’t create a successful company alone. I know I didn’t.”

Digerati50 2020/2021 is proudly sponsored by Maxis - Powering Malaysia's 5G era.


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