Bootstrapping a business in Asia: Why Malaysia
By Jacob Laukaitis December 15, 2014
- Central location, low costs, talented people, perfect balance between East and West
- Multiple cultures, languages, religions, customs and races in one country
EVERYBODY agrees that Asian markets are a great opportunity to build a business, since they are extremely big, relatively underdeveloped, and growing very fast.
So there has been a lot of talk about where a company should be based in order to be able to expand its operations across Asia successfully.
Since I wanted to learn more about the Asian business landscapes, markets and cultures, I have been working and traveling around Asia for the past one-and-a-half years. I visited seven countries multiple times each, met a lot of local entrepreneurs, and researched multiple online industries.
Even though there are numerous cities in Asia I haven’t been to yet, I’m pretty sure Kuala Lumpur (KL) is a wonderful place to bootstrap your company from.
READ ALSO: Digerati50: ‘Internationalising’ the Malaysian startup scene
Whenever companies want to expand to Asia, they don’t usually think about running their business in one particular country (except for China). They usually have a more global view.
So it’s clear you don’t necessarily have to be based where you want to do business. A good example of that is Singapore. A lot of entrepreneurs are based there but hardly anyone wants to do business in Singapore simply because the market is too small.
And even though Malaysian market is relatively small (under 30 million people), its geographic location allows you to fly almost anywhere in Asia within a few hours.
A lot of foreign companies in Asia have a problem hiring employees that are fluent in English, hardworking, reliable and knowledgeable.
My friend Bowei Gai, the founder of the World Startup Report, decided to move to the Philippines and hire a cheap, local team there. After months of screening, interviewing and testing people, he realised it is almost impossible to find people who fit the description, because people weren’t knowledgeable enough and were really laid back.
So you either spend a lot of time and resources educating your employees, or pay Western salaries.
Whereas Malaysia is a different story: People speak very good English, they are generally hardworking, and it’s not as hard to find employees with the right know-how.
What’s more, the salaries for that kind of work force are lower than in Eastern Europe. That’s why we are currently hiring a few English content writers for our US-based online coupons website ChameleonJohn.
Cost of living
If you compare the living expenses in Malaysia with the United States or Western Europe, you’d be amazed: A good condominium apartment is US$400-500 a month; a main dish at an Indian restaurant (they’re the best) will cost you about US$1-4; fuel prices are more than twice cheaper than in Europe; a single metro ticket about US$0.25-1; you can find hostel rooms for US$3 a night (obviously not a five-star one); and employees are reportedly three times cheaper than in Singapore.
And I have to remind you that Kuala Lumpur is the most expensive place in the whole country!
A really important factor for one’s happiness is the people who surround them. I have been very lucky to have met so many fun, smart and wonderful Malaysians, but I think there might be a pattern to it: Malaysia is unique in the sense that a big part of its population consists of various ethnicities beyond the Malay majority.
Around a third of the population is Chinese, and there are quite a large number of Indians, as well as many significant minorities.
Which means that Malaysians are born and raised in a society with multiple cultures, languages, religions, customs and races.
I guess that fact really helps one to become tolerant, respect others’ opinions, and make friends with people despite of their race, religion or customs.
Perfect balance between East and the West
What I realised after spending time in many different places is that Kuala Lumpur is a city with the perfect balance between Asian and Western worlds: One can find great street food places, night markets and real Asian cultures – but at the same time the city is clean, the traffic isn’t very bad, people speak good English, and other ‘Western attributes’ are plenty.
Next stop, KL
As for myself, I still want to see more of Asia – that’s why I’m going to go to about eight more countries in the next few months.
However, after summer, I’m thinking of settling down in Asia (after being on the road for two years) and launching some online projects in India, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Even though there are plenty wonderful places to live and bootstrap your company from, personally, I would go for Kuala Lumpur.
Jacob Laukaitis is a location independent entrepreneur, travelling the world while running his online businesses at the same time. He’s currently a business developer at online coupons website ChameleonJohn.com. You can reach him via Facebook.
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