Digerati50: Inspiring entrepreneurship via the airwaves

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].

  • Aims to be catalyst for other entrepreneurs to start their business
  • ‘The intelligence … is actually out there’ with BFM’s guests and audience
Digerati50: Inspiring entrepreneurship via the airwaves

A LOVE for radio – that’s what started it all for Malek Ali and his entrepreneurial experiment with Malaysia’s first and only business news station, BFM Radio.
 
“My love for radio began during my student days,” says the former lawyer and consultant. “During the 1980s, stations like Britain’s Capital FM captivated me, not only with its brand of music but also with its content.”
 
Alas, the founder of BFM Radio did not get a chance to live out his passion until he began the station in September, 2008.
 
So why exactly did he start BFM Radio?
 
“I feel that today’s radio talks down to its audience. Breakfast show topics are reduced to trivial, inconsequential topics. For us at BFM, I believe we’ve found a niche area to work in because we’re positioning ourselves not as an entertainment station as many of our competitors have done, but as a station that’s trying to bring business sense to ordinary Malaysians.”
 
In trying to carve a niche when starting BFM Radio, the Harvard MBA graduate’s desire for his station was to be a catalyst for other entrepreneurs to start their business and create world-beaters, with Malaysia as a base.
 
“If through BFM Radio, I can inspire five entrepreneurs who can take on the world through the inspirational stories we air, and motivate them to go into the unknown and become global companies, then we would have done our job,” he says.
 
It has certainly not been easy for BFM. In its early days, staff and space were scarce and everyone had to chip in. Even Malek had to work in the studio as a presenter himself. The startup struggled to gain recognition initially, and some companies were not exactly sure what its agenda was.
 
But through dogged perseverance, high-quality talk shows, inquisitive questioning on air, plus a very ‘captive market’ courtesy of Malaysians being stuck in traffic jams and having nothing but the radio on, BFM began to gain recognition.
 
Today, the humble startup radio experiment called BFM Radio has passed its sixth anniversary, is cash-flow positive, has about 50 staff, and has expanded to take over the adjacent office lot in BU8 in Petaling Jaya, where the studio is based.
 
Asked what his greatest accomplishment is to date as an entrepreneur who dared to dream and take on other established radio stations, Malek says it is to be an ‘amplifier’ for intelligent and dedicated Malaysians out there.
 
“Everyone says BFM Radio is an intelligent station but I disagree with that. The intelligence is not within us but is actually out there. After all, it’s our guests who make the station what it is.
 
“Just to be able to amplify the people we speak to and be a part of the process of disseminating information, educating, enlightening and entertaining our listeners, with our guests’ dedication and passion, and multiplying that across all our listeners, is gratifying.”
 
Still, as far as BFM Radio has come, Malek acknowledges there are challenges for him as an entrepreneur. For instance, its crossover into the digital print world via BFM’s iPad magazine called BSide isn’t as successful as he would like it to be.
 
“When the notion of an iPad magazine came out, it seemed like a fantastic and logical idea to follow through. But we’re not happy with the number of downloads, and the use of the iPad for magazine-reading has not panned out.”
 
So, any last words for budding entrepreneurs?
 
“Entrepreneurship is about stamina, being able to ride out the financial challenges and sustain yourself. Also, you’ll need to figure out the right time to introduce a product. Sometimes you could be ahead of the curve. But sometimes you have to wait for the dust to settle before doing so.
 
“But better try than to not try, that’s my take.”

 
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