Digerati50: No more hotheaded-ness

Digital News Asia (DNA) continues its weekly series that profiles the top 50 influencers, movers and shakers who are helping shape Malaysia’s Digital Economy, from Digerati50 Vol 2, a special print publication released in February 2016. To download a special e-reader version, see the top of this page. For information on customised reprints of Digerati50, email [email protected].

  • Rollercoaster startup ride helps Faiz al-Shahab channel energy
  • SEA a low-hanging market, other emerging markets to follow
Digerati50: No more hotheaded-ness

WHILE raising venture capital is always great validation, Faiz al-Shahab (pic above), cofounder and managing director of e-books startup Xentral Methods, is more excited about his June 2015 funding from a traditional book publisher, Pelangi Books.
“As I come from a family business, existing players still view you as a competitor and are reluctant to work with you, although e-books is a completely new venture,” says Faiz, who feels his early exposure to the business provided him with the necessary prerequisites to explore opportunities in the digital space.
Hence he sees the investment from Pelangi as validation that an industry peer, more so a competitor, is willing to overcome the competition between them in the traditional physical side of the business, to look at the larger opportunity presented by e-books in the region.
Which is why Faiz is using the funding to actively progress on developing B2C (business-to-consumer) and B2B (business-to-business) e-books in Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.
“For now, we are keeping to South-East Asia. There is potential in other developing countries, but we would like to focus on the low-hanging fruit first,” he says.
What’s interesting about Xentral is that despite being a small player in the e-books vendor market, it stands along giants such as Amazon, Apple and Adobe in having its own proprietary platform.
“It may not be news in Malaysia but it is certainly a big deal for us,” says Faiz.
But it was necessity rather than hubris that led to Faiz’s decision to build his own publishing platform.
“We couldn’t even afford to buy any off-the-shelf solution,” he says. “In fact, we got a shocking quote from the only vendor that was willing to do this as-a-service.”
Xentral’s e-book store is not a website, but rather a whole CMS (content management system) which includes an encryption engine that sits on its proprietary platform.
That proprietary platform, or ecosystem as he calls it, was built in Cyberjaya: Right from the e-Studio e-Book Cloud Authoring Tool (www.e-stud.io) and the copyrights encryption engine, to digital warehousing, server communications management, e-commerce (www.e-sentral.com) CMS, application programming interfaces (APIs), and cross-platform e-reader applications.
It was a major effort that took 14 engineers 26 months, at an estimated cost of RM4.3 million (just above US$1 million).
“Off-the-shelf services do not allow you to have your own server and this was crucial,” says Faiz.
“If you do not have your own server, the moment you decide to change your server service provider or upgrade to a different one, you will lose access to all the content you aggregated from publishers and authors over the years,” he explains.
For the mechanical engineer who actually never planned on coming home to Malaysia, comfortable with his life in the United Kingdom – that is, until his mother managed to convince him – the rollercoaster ride of running a startup has certainly changed him.
“I am hotheaded,” he admits, “but being an entrepreneur in Malaysia requires a lot of patience.”
The journey has also made him calmer, better able to control his temper, and become better at focusing his energy.
Something else changed as well. Schadenfreude, joy in seeing other’s misfortune, is something Faiz says he has witnessed among Malaysian businessman.
“It has changed the way that I think. Today, I promote celebrating the success of others,” he adds.
No doubt, he hopes to be celebrating his own success as well, someday. He has a good base in Malaysia to build on his regional expansion, with seven libraries as customers, including The National Library.

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Digerati50 2020-2021

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