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].
Working to change Malaysian startup mind-set
Ai Ching and cofounder husband Andrea walking the talk
MALAYSIA is famous for some unique idioms such as jaguh kampung (village champion) or tidak apa (don’t care) attitude.
Some believe that these attitudes are so ingrained in our culture that many tend to believe that we are a country whose people are not driven enough to be able to succeed on the world stage, or even believe that they can, in the first place.
But should the young people in the country embrace such an attitude, especially technology entrepreneurs?
“NO!” was the emphatic answer from Goh Ai Ching, chief executive officer of Penang-based Piktochart, a startup born in 2011.
Piktochart is a web application that allows people to create infographics and posters for marketing, reporting and educational purposes. Though only two years old, the company surpassed RM1 million (US$311,000) in revenue in August 2013, and claims to have over 350,000 users worldwide, 60% of whom are from the United States.
[UPDATE] Having been founded in December 2011, Piktochart is now about 2.5 years old. It also reports that its one millionth user signed up in April 2014, and it currently has 1.2 million users.
The 27-year-old Ai Ching, who cofounded the company with her husband Andrea Zaggia, feels that this defeatist attitude is what’s holding back the local tech entrepreneur scene.
“Malaysians in general are not as hungry or as lean as compared with some foreign talents we’ve seen abroad,” she says. “They aren’t able to think outside of the box and seem to have a ‘tak boleh’ (defeatist) attitude.”
“I want to see Malaysian entrepreneurs get out of this mentality – to get them out of this ‘no-we-cannot-do-it-because-Penang-isn’t-as-cool-as-San-Francisco’ attitude,” she says.
Along with this deep desire, Ai Ching says she wishes to see more startups that are not in it just because it’s cool or because they can make a quick buck, but which want to build long-term sustainable businesses that will exist here for a long time.
“My hope for the ecosystem here is for it to continue maturing so that we can see more startups grow and spread their wings and do great things. I also want to see more startups retain smart talent from all over the world, and they will change lives so that Malaysians would get a better life,” she says.
To put her money where her mouth is, Ai Ching and Andrea walk the talk and frequently mentor and help other startups and entrepreneurs, and also regularly speak at events.
Still, it has not been all plain sailing for Piktochart. The company has doubled its user growth while tripling revenue this year, but it recently had trouble with one of its marketing channels, she shares.
“I personally went through a weekend of self-blame for not having monitored the channel and seeking help at an earlier stage,” says Ai Ching. “This has been a major roadblock in terms of hitting our goals.”
So what would she do if she could turn back time and do it all over again?
“I would change our method of hiring people. We have made some mistakes in the past and it was only recently that we’ve managed to learn what our DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is and how to detect it within the people we hire.”
When asked what she thinks of the infographics market and its future, Ai Ching says, “Infographics is related to big data and surely there is a huge room for growth. We believe that everyone has the power to visually tell a great story from whatever information they have. This is Piktochart’s core vision.”