Digerati50: Therine Goh & Melissa Sim are top of the billboard
By Tan Jee Yee February 27, 2022
- Launched AdEasy in 2017 to make it so easy that anyone can advertise
- Feel men need to learn from women founders on how to be more meticulous
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.
There are moments in which AdEasy co-founders Therine Goh (COO) and Melissa Sim (CEO) appear to be different people from different worlds. Goh, in her fast-talking, excitable exuberance, seems to contrast Sim’s more relaxed demeanour; while Sim’s tattoos, which includes one depicting her dog as Star Wars’ Chewbacca, stands out almost aggressively beside Goh’s straight-laced business appearance.
Even their tech heroes are ideologically contrasting. Goh looks up to Steve Jobs – not so much the part where he’s difficult to work with, but his approach in work. “I admire that kind of discipline and laser-focus on perfectionism,” she says. For Sim, it’s Bill Gates. “I like that he’s trying to solve real-world problems – how he’s hands-on trying to understand and issue, and how to solve it.”
Yet both are like two cogs seamlessly operating alongside and with one another, completing each other’s sentences and supporting one another with additional information without interjecting or interrupting. Their contrasting personalities complement each other – Goh is often prepared, readily talking to us with notes and research, and describes herself as “old-school”. Sim, on the other hand, is said to be adaptable and calm.
It’s like a dance where both lead and flow gracefully.
They’re friends, first and foremost, with marketing being the meeting point. Sim was Goh’s intern before they became pals, and both struck out in the industry following their own path. Goh moved from large marketing companies to smaller outfits, while Sim went out to sell advertising space on billboards, transportation and other media before joining Media Prima Radio selling air time.
The trigger for their reunion as founders
Immersed in the advertising world, the trigger for their startup was when Goh discovered a gap in the industry while struggling to buy media ad space when working in a smaller outfit. Marketing has leapt into the digital world, and purchasing digital ads on platforms like Facebook and Google has become processes you can complete in a few clicks. Why can’t this simplicity exist for offline advertising space?
Goh and Sim got together to discuss this in 2013, and the idea for AdEasy was born. The concept behind is to simplify the offline ad-buying process. “To make sure that anyone can advertise. That the ecosystem is simple,” Goh summarises.
Simplicity is the core of AdEasy. Sim views AirBnB and its philosophy as a startup she admires, and AdEasy certainly carries the same DNA. On AdEasy, advertisers are able to easily view the cost and availability of the media space they need (across 16 different media, ranging from billboards to cars to cinema), and pick the duration they require for the campaign. The language is simplified, devoid of exclusionary advertising jargon.
At the same time, media companies selling ad space are able to sell using a simpler process and reach a wider market, without the need to hire additional sales people. For advertisers that need help in producing content for their ad space, Goh and Sim are able to direct them towards the agencies they’ve worked with. To engage with AdEasy is to also tap into the founders’ extensive network within the marketing industry.
The strength of AdEasy as a concept is apparent when it was first picked as one of the 13 finalists – out of a total of 200 – to participate in the Alliance Bank SME Innovation Challenge in 2013. Back then, the duo didn’t have a prototype, business model or even a company name. But that was the validation the duo needed. Still it took them four more years before they were ready to launch in 2017.
What followed was a string of successful pitches and investments, starting with a successful crowdfunding campaign through the pitchIN platform as well as a seed round funding from the Cradle investment programme.
Cradle later put them on the fast track to participate in the Enter the Tiger’s Lair pitching session as part of the ASEAN Angel Alliance (AAA) Summit in 2018, in which startups get to pitch to a panel of six successful entrepreneurs and funders. AdEasy was the only startup to have received approvals from all six judges. Two of them are now AdEasy angel investors, as well as valued advisors.
Non techies now deeply entrenched in tech
In 2019, AdEasy raised over US$200,000 (RM840,000) from angel investors to bring their total investment to US$455,000. (RM1.91 million)
Not bad, considering that, when the duo started off, they didn’t even know about the different types of funding, nor that their startup is classified as “adtech”. Both admit that tech has been one of their key challenges – they’re both not coders, after all. But they’re now deeply entrenched in tech, with plans to make the platform smarter in the future, like being able to help simulate how an ad campaign will look like for advertisers, and having analytics help with real-time tracking of offline ad engagements.
The 2019 funding goes to that, on top of their plans to expand to other parts of the region.
When asked if they’ve seen any form of gender bias within the tech startup space in Malaysia, both Goh and Sim says that there is an apparent disparity when it comes to representation in space. “But, I think as we go along, we sort of realise that it’s not that there’s a bias. It’s just that women are less confident than men when it comes to speaking out, when it comes to pitching and negotiation.”
Goh believes that men and women founders have a lot to learn from each other. “Men need to learn from women founders on how to be more meticulous, accurate and careful, while women entrepreneurs can learn how to be more confident. For women, don’t doubt yourself, don’t short-change yourself. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t let ego and shyness be a barrier.”
The duo acknowledges that advertising will change, and that there will be further coalescence between the digital and the physical – just like the way they merge offline ad space with digital selling. In preparing for change, Sim, the ever adaptable, says it’s all about reframing one’s mindset.
“When something goes another direction, ask how you can make yourself relevant. Always be open minded. We’re always open to new ideas from our own teams, and open to feedback. It’s because we have so much to learn,” she says.
Digerati50 2020/2021 is proudly sponsored by Maxis - Powering Malaysia's 5G era.
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