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].
‘Europe to me is like a big fat old dog that has had the happiest days of its life’
SEA is exciting, and KL the best spot to start a regional business, he says
TIM Marbach may be a newcomer to Malaysia and South-East Asia, but the German national is rapidly making his presence felt as an investor and catalyst for startups seeking to make their mark.
Back home, Marbach was involved in a startup called kaufDa, a promotion search site that helps users look for the best sales and mobile coupons based on their location, which he cofounded in 2008 with Thomas Frieling and Christian Gaiser.
He successfully exited after European media giant Axel Springer acquired a 74.9% equity interest in the business, with TechCrunch reporting the figure to be worth US$40 million.
Marbach stayed with the company another year before leaving in March of 2012, and began thinking about the next chapter in his life.
“I wanted to be in a space where things are moving, actually happening. Europe to me is like a big fat old dog that has had the happiest days of its life and now just wants to enjoy retirement,” he says.
He eventually chose to make Kuala Lumpur (KL) his new home and to set up venture capital firm Asia Venture Group (AVG), believing that he picked the best spot in the region, citing the great weather, business opportunities and environment, along with quality of life.
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“It is also under-penetrated in terms of good entrepreneurs who are seriously looking into the most exciting and untapped opportunities. That was what struck me the most, and I thought ‘I have to come here. I have to build a great regional business in the region’,” he says.
“The cost structure is much better here compared with Singapore, and the value for money one gets as an entrepreneur when it comes to things like talent is just amazing,” he adds.
Marbach’s first commitment in South-East Asia came in the form of AVG’s US$500,000 investment into Malaysian startup iMoney, a financial comparison site with regional ambitions.
His enthusiasm for iMoney’s prospects is obvious, and he says that it is one of the many billion-dollar opportunities in the online space.
“These services for local consumers don’t exist yet. Before, no-one was connecting financial institutions with customers online,” he says.
Marbach points to the product segment of home loans as an example, saying that in South-East Asia alone, the home loans market is worth about US$100 billion.
“Is that a market opportunity or isn’t it? That’s why I’m so bullish on iMoney. The basic pillars of the Internet have not been created yet in this region. Over the next 10 years, there will be quite a lot of smart people making a lot of money in South-East Asia,” he says.
In line with AVG’s philosophy, Marbach also plays a very hands-on role in helping and guiding his investee companies.
He has already made additional investments in the region, including Singapore’s DoctorPage, Thailand’s WearYouWant and KL-headquartered TrustedCompany.
These will not be Marbach’s last bets on growing startups in the region, and he is determined to open up more doors and ease the pathways for a more internationalised startup scene in Malaysia.
“I get the feeling that the general notion is that you want locals to start their companies entirely on their own and have preferential status. It’s not quite how things work in the global arena; I think there is a need to open up to everyone – to encourage successful companies even if the founders are foreign,” he says.
In the meantime, Marbach is enjoying the tropical weather and relishes the opportunity to make a difference in a region where many business opportunities are ripe for cultivating.
“Sometimes I feel like I took a ride in a time machine to get here and I went back 15 years to the point where there is still an opportunity to create these pillars. It’s a chance to remake history,” he muses.