Digerati50: Crazy idea, huge opportunity

Digital News Asia (DNA) continues a weekly series that profiles the top 50 influencers, movers and shakers who are helping shape Malaysia’s Digital Economy. These articles are from Digerati50, a special print publication released in January 2014. For information on customised reprints of Digerati50, email [email protected].

  • Wanted to build something interesting, inspiring and innovative
  • Entrepreneurship is like running, working for large company like riding a bike
Digerati50: Crazy idea, huge opportunity

“HALFWAY through the interview, I had a flash,” recalls Hakim Karim, cofounder of GridMarkets. “I knew exactly what my life was going to be like for the next five years if I got the job, and frankly, it was not a particularly inspiring picture.”
 
This was in 2011 and Hakim, then aged 42, knew that having just another job was not for him anymore. “I wanted to build something of my own … something that was interesting, inspiring and innovative.”
 
He had already proven himself in the corporate world by then, with his last position being a regional strategic business development director at Thomson Reuters. He had built the business up from a US$10-million revenue unit to US$30 million – in three years.
 
But Hakim, a naturalised UK citizen, did not have a definite idea or market opportunity that he wanted to exploit. He just knew it had to be something disruptive and that took him back to his technical roots.
 
Otherwise, it would not be worth his time or effort and he might as well take the new role his employer, Thomson Reuters, was offering him after his job had been made redundant due to a reorganisation.
 
So he took the golden handshake, and with the financial buffer that gave him, started looking around.
 
As fate would have it, in early 2011 he was introduced by mutual friends to Mark Ross, who was running a cloud consultancy called CloudGarage.
 
Ross had a crazy idea in response to solving a customer’s pain point: Why not ask companies which had excess computational power to rent it to those who needed it?
 
Ross enlisted Hakim’s help to figure this out. “I became intrigued with what I felt was a crazy idea, but a huge idea too,” says Hakim, who joined CloudGarage while the two figured out how to solve the problem.
 
In doing some research, Hakim came up with market numbers that he felt “were astronomical.” For instance, research by the Uptime Institute which studied 11,000 servers, noted that 54% of the servers were only utilised 0.6% of the time, while 24% of the servers were used only 6% of the time.
 
But the challenges were immense too, as this concept was totally untried in the enterprise space and involved not just technical, but commercial and legal challenges too.
 
Still, excited by the potential, Hakim took the plunge and two years later has no regrets. “There is no better way to do an executive MBA than to run your own startup.”
 
GridMarkets, which went live in November 2013, earned US$5,000 in revenue by end-December 2013, despite the slow year-end period. “It is not as bad as we feared, but not as good as we hoped,” says Hakim.
 
Managing costs are critical to any startup and Hakim took the decision to relocate from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur in November 2012, partly attracted by the strong communications infrastructure in the country, its talent pool and the strong government push to make Malaysia a data centre hub.
 
He is already contributing back to the ecosystem here, having joined Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd’s Coach & Grow Programme as a mentor in December, 2013.
 
For Hakim, being an entrepreneur is like running, while working for a large company is like riding a bicycle.
 
“When you are running, you have to put one foot in front of the other continuously to move forward. On a bicycle, you can cover more ground with the same effort as running because you can leverage.
 
“But it is harder to cross difficult terrain and you will have to carry your bike. On a bicycle, you can coast; whereas on your feet, you cannot,” he says.
 
“It is especially hard the first few years when you have to do so many things yourself. But even here, the effort put in is no different than if you were a senior executive in a large company,” he says.
 
The rewards have been a lot more satisfying and the experience so much richer for him.

 
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