Digerati50: Making waves below the radar

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].

  • Sold his startup JomSocial to a US company in early 2013
  • Sale allows him to focus on his family and helping other startups
Digerati50: Making waves below the radar

YOU probably may not have heard of Azrul Rahim (pic above), but chances are you’ve already crossed paths with his work.
 
The chief executive officer of Slashes & Dots is also the co-creator of JomSocial, a social networking solution released in 2007 for websites running the Joomla content management system, used by over 160,000 websites around the world.
 
JomSocial was sold to US-based Joomla app development company iJoomla at the start of 2013 for an undisclosed sum, though Azrul shares that the amount was “enough to take care of my family.”
 
Azrul’s entrepreneurial journey began during his university days in London and involved chicken, rice and preparing halal food for the Muslim student community in the wee hours of the morning.
 
But developing software was always a core passion and he still found time to work on his first mobile app.
 
When he returned to Malaysia, he had to serve out his bond with his sponsor Pemodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB), a government-linked fund management company, but didn’t last long with it.
 
“I was itching to get back to my software project, so I tendered my 24-hour notice and along with it, a student loan of over RM400,000 (US$123,000),” he recalls.
 
After breaking free from the corporate world, Azrul and his partner launched their first mobile software business with “nothing but ideas.” Some success was found, with their product becoming the No 1 best-selling app for Palm-powered PDAs (personal digital assistants) at the time.
 
But it was a foray into the open source ecosystem that brought Arul and his partner their more significant break. “We created some simple, yet powerful suites of software that generated tens of millions in sales.”

That, and the team that grew with it, servicing over 170,000 installations worldwide with a reach of almost 100 million users, is something Azrul points to as his proudest achievement to date.
 
“Our company attracted some of the best talents in the industry and working with them has been a high point in my work. It is a great feeling when you visit some random website and you see your software being used,” he says.
 
Since exiting from JomSocial, Azrul has been revelling in the free time that comes with not being focused on building a business.
 
“I’ve worked day and night for over 10 years and it was a real turning point in my life when I had my first daughter last year. A lot of my time is occupied by the little one these days,” he shares.
 
A daughter is not the only ‘project’ Azrul is raising. With some funds thanks to his exit, he has also been spending his time advising and investing in local startups. He has invested in online wedding planning website iKahwin, and joined early- and growth-stage angel funding firm 8Capita as a partner.
 
When it comes to receiving advice, Azrul says he’s gotten tons of advice from all kinds of sources. The good advice becomes part of him. “I somewhat internalise good advice and often forget who said it first.”
 
“I’ve also had quite a fair share of bad advice, and it taught me that the best advice often comes from your own experience,” he adds.
 
On the topic of strengths and weaknesses, Azrul says that for him, they are one and the same.
 
“It is good that a founder of a technical company has good technical knowledge, but it can be too much. The technical team sometimes hates me because I am too critical of every line of their code,” he says.
 
How he overcame this hurdle was simple – he had to learn to back off and let others do their work. “Yes, I still have some problems letting go of technical decisions, but nowadays, I just keep hiring good people and resist the temptation to look at the code,” he adds.


 
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