Digital animation survivor Inspidea gears for rapid growth

  • Established in 2002, digital animation company is at inflection point
  • Various govt initiatives have given lift to creative content sector

Digital animation survivor Inspidea gears for rapid growthDIGITAL animation company Inspidea Sdn Bhd started with four founders, but the two with the initial idea could not stand the pain that all entrepreneurs go through in the early years, and left to rejoin the corporate rat race and the solace of a regular income.
 
C.J. See (pic, left) and Andrew Ooi (right) however stayed the course, even though it was tough going for the first five years, recalls See.
 
“But you just have to believe in what you are doing and work really hard at it,” says the 43-year old bachelor, adding that any new company in the creative content space needs time to get market traction.
 
Fortified by their belief, today they are reaping the benefits of that journey that began 12 years ago in 2002 when See had lost his job in a brokerage firm and Ooi was a rookie urban planner who wanted to do something more fun.
 
They had help from one angel investor, whom See credits with helping them run the company with a financial discipline that today sees Inspidea being “cash-rich” and “looking to invest in other companies if the right opportunity comes along.”
 
While Inspidea (inspiration+idea) did not hit the revenue target of exceeding US$3.10 million (RM10 million) in 2013, it came close, says See, also the sales and marketing director, declining to reveal the actual figure.
 
If the target for 2014 seems ambitious at US$5.27 million (RM17 million), it merely reflects the fact that the 250-strong company is at an inflection point, not just working at capacity but with a number of big projects that, when they materialize, will likely cement Inspidea’s place as one of the top animation companies in the country.
 
See seems particularly excited about one global project that will air next year, whose production work is currently ongoing at Inspidea’s facilities in Kelana Jaya, a suburb.
 
But beyond that, he also credits government support for the creative content industry, specifically through an incentive programme introduced last year – Fimi (Film in Malaysia Incentives) – that gives a 30% rebate to any content, local owned or foreign, that is produced in Malaysia.
 
Foreign production houses need to spend a minimum of RM5 million though, while local players need to spend at least RM2.5 million to qualify for the incentive.
 
While such an incentive is standard practice in many countries serious about encouraging creative content industries, Malaysia has been late to the game, despite the industry lobbying for years for such an incentive.
 
In recent times however, the lobby voice of the industry has been aided by the momentum of such initiatives as the National Key Economic Area (NKEA) on CCI (Communications, Content and Infrastructure), where one of the Entry Point Projects is on nurturing the creative content industry.
 
A more recent push to embed the digital economy into the Malaysian economy comes through the Digital Malaysia initiative led by Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC).
 
Aside from the Digital Malaysia initiative that MDeC is spearheading, See also credits the national ICT custodian as “being instrumental in promoting and driving the growth of the creative content industry.”
 
For instance, back in 2009 Inspidea was working on a project where MDeC extended it an RM4.5-million loan to help execute. The interest rate would have been much higher had Inspidea gone to commercial banks – that is, if it even succeeded in borrowing the money from them.
 
And with intellectual property (IP) financing on the table thanks to the US$61.1-million (RM200-million) IP Financing Scheme managed by Malaysia Debt Ventures (MDV), creative content companies like Inspidea can create IP much more rapidly.
 
As a result of the various incentives, especially Fimi, Malaysia is now beginning to appear on the radar of global content creators as the economics of making content in the country becomes more attractive.
 
And because incentives such as Fimi are always designed to benefit co-production tie-ups, Malaysian content producers are suddenly in a sweet spot, with strong demand from international content producers wanting to partner with them.
 
Digital animation survivor Inspidea gears for rapid growthRejected by RTM, hope in Cannes
 
For Inspidea, the current scenario could not be further away from the beginnings of the company when it tried, unsuccessfully, to sell its first animation Johan the Young Scientist, to national broadcaster RTM. It had taken 18 months to make and cost it RM500,000 .
 
On the advice of a travel agent friend, Inspidea got on a plane to Cannes, France to attend an industry trade show which eventually led to the breakthrough deal for a broadcaster in Dubai to buy the show. Very quickly, the company then found customers in 33 countries.
 
Only then did Media Prima and Astro buy the show too.
 
Looking back now, See can afford to laugh at the experience. “We were so naïve. Firstly, we did not even know that such a trade show existed; and secondly, we had no idea of how competitive the landscape was when we got there.”
 
But survive it did, and is now thriving with See sharing that it had averaged a revenue growth of 67% a year. And it often gets invited to participate in co-creating content with some of the leading content producers in the world, such as Disney and the Cartoon Network.
 
But it all began with the company having the grit and belief in what it was doing.
 
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