Week in Review: 10 point missive to accelerate Malaysia's VC ecosystem

  • Quick action by ministers, Gobind Singh Deo and Lim Guan Eng will dramatically help startups
  • Corporate CEOs can learn a lot from Tony Fernandes’ real interest in pushing a digital agenda


IT has become one of the most popular articles that DNA has run so far this year and yet, Dr V Sivapalan’s article on the state of venture capital in Malaysia, did not say anything really new. Perhaps reader interest was because he laid out all the weaknesses in one article and in the next offered suggestions on what can be done to dramatically improve the situation.

Bookmarking both articles is a great “cheat sheet” for anyone who wants to pass off as a well informed person on what ails and what can cure the weak VC ecosystem in Malaysia. But I know Sivapalan will take no joy from this.

Having been involved in Malaysia’s startup ecosystem since 1999 at least, Siva, who has a doctorate in venture capital from University of Edinburgh and has written a book on innovation, is as steeped and informed about Malaysia’s venture capital sector as few others. His views should be taken seriously and I hope the minister of Communications and Multimedia, Gobind Singh Deo and the finance minister, Lim Guan Eng, read the articles and especially Siva’s recommendations before they make any lasting decisions around Malaysia’s venture capital sector.

The recommendation, actually it is more like an urgent reminder, I found particularly interesting just revolved around expediting decision making on two key policy decisions that were introduced in Budget 2017 and that could quickly unlock over US$240 million (RM1 billion) into the venture capital market. (Recommendation No3 in his second article) Another matching fund suggestion could unlock a further US$80 million (RM333 million). (Recommendation No5).

Let’s hope the urgency that Sivapalan and other ecosystem leaders feel around these suggestions strikes a chord with Gobind and Lim and we see some quick action taken that ultimately benefits the startup ecosystem.

Switching tack now from the funding picture of the Malaysian startup ecosystem to probably the most clued-in Brick & Mortar leader about the potential impact of digital, Tony Fernandes is hoping to be up to his eyeballs in digital come 2020. He has partnered with Google to tap its Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning expertise in his drive to turn AirAsia into the next great travel tech company.

He is hoping that AI and machine learning can help unlock the value of his customer data to allow him to sell them more than just flight seats. Of course, Tony did declare as far back as in 2015 at DNA’s What’s Next conference that AirAsia was an internet company already. He may have jumped the gun then, but there is no doubting that not just the airline but the entire AirAsia group is on its way to becoming a digital company and fulfilling Tony’s declaration made in 2015.

I think what other corporate leaders can learn from Tony is that he is not caught up in the hype around  digital and buzz words like AI and big data analytics etc. To him, all these are just tools that will help unlock additional revenue for him while helping him run a tighter, leaner ship. Now which CEO doesn’t want this? So, learn from Tony, folks.

And finally, taking a leaf from Tony’s low cost playbook, Malaysian based tech entrepreneur, Jeffri Shahul Hamid, has launched an Email Service Provider product, Enginemailer, that he hopes will be able to take on the global players such as MailChimp. It is not bravado talking or even a large funding round (though he will no doubt welcome that) but just confidence in the product that he has built which comes with modules that his global competitors don’t have and at prices the market will love.

And I love it when established entrepreneurs from Southeast Asia talk about taking on the global players. For instance, Jeffri has already been delivering email services to enterprises for over 10 years. He just made the decision to move the business model to a cloud based SaaS (Software as a service) model. So, there has to be confidence in the product, one’s business model and in the team. And speaking of team, Jeffri is actually looking for a CEO to run Enginemailer for him while he takes care of the established business. So, if you know anyone capable and keen, send a note to Jeffri!

With that, I hope you had a restful weekend and have a productive week ahead.

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