RM20m invested thus far, more needed for regional push
Immediate goal to ensure model works in Malaysia first
IF you are one of those who think there is no space for any more telcos in Malaysia, then you have not met Loke Yee Siong, founder and chief executive officer of Enabling Asia, and his band of believers who feel that there is still a big market opportunity in the country.
Such is their belief in the market opportunity that they have ponied up RM20 million (US$6.5 million) of their own money into the venture, with the likelihood of more funding needed, especially when they act on the company’s regional expansion.
But it’s Malaysia first, and making sure Buzz Me, Enabling Asia’s own MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) brand, flies.
As Digital News Asia (DNA) has reported previously, Enabling Asia is playing the unique role of a ‘Mobile Virtual Network Aggregator’ (MVNA) and is possibly the first such player in Asia. It has partnered with French-based Mobile Virtual Network Enabler (MVNE) Sisteer to provide it with technical expertise.
In a nutshell, Enabling Asia will help others to become telcos via the MVNO model. (Tune Talk, MerchantTrade and Clickster are examples of MVNOs in Malaysia).
The obvious question to ask is, if none of them needed an MVNA to become telcos, what value can Enabling Asia bring to the game?
“But who needs the headache of managing all the nitty-gritty details that go into running a telco, even a stripped down version like an MVNO which has no network of its own?” says Loke.
“There is still a lot of telco expertise needed at the MVNO level,” he adds – which is where Enabling Asia comes in, by providing all the technical, billing, critical customer service and product features a brand needs to become an MVNO.
“Our customers just focus on their core business, be it selling electrical and electronics goods, F&B (food and beverage) or running a supermarket. They just need to market the MVNO and we do the rest,” says Loke, as he delves into the heart of what Enabling Asia is doing.
“All our customers need is to have an existing customer base they have a relationship with, and to then have the desire to deepen their relationship with their customers.
“And since everyone uses a phone for communications, by becoming MVNOs themselves, our customers – which can be any brand – can reward their own customers with loyalty points, free minutes and data in exchange for shopping with them,” he adds.
For example, an established F&B chain may want to become an MVNO to give its customers another reason to eat its outlets them instead of at a nearby competitor’s. Eating at its F&B outlet gives customers discounts they can use towards the MVNO service the F&B chain operates.
So, for an existing brand, becoming an MVNO is simply a customer retention strategy but with the possibility that it may even make some money from the MVNO service.
Providing it gets all the right advice from Enabling Asia and Loke’s team.
Which is why, this is one startup heavy on industry experience. Combined, the senior management team at Enabling Asia has over 100 years of domain expertise, though not all necessarily in telecommunications.
Which is also probably why, Jaffa Sany, the chief executive officer of UMobile, EA’s exclusive network partner, says “The future is very bright for Enabling Asia. I would bet on them winning some races.”
With UMobile having a cut in every customer Enabling Asia signs up, either directly through the latter’s own Buzz Me brand or via a new MVNO which it enables, it is clear why Jaffa sees value in the relationship.
He also talks about a particular segment in the market that Enabling Asia is “better suited to target than us,” but declines to say what it is, describing this as a “trade secret” and not wanting to tip competitors.
Partnering also allows UMobile to focus its resources on segments it is more effective at targeting.
At the same time, Jaffa acknowledges that there will be some inevitable market overlaps, especially with EA itself targeting the youth segment. “But we are not out to kill each other. The relationship will be symbiotic and it will work,” he says.
For Loke, the MVNA model will work because it is all about rewarding the consumer, especially the pre-paid category which makes up more than 80% of the market. “Ask the question, ‘What does the customer want?’ and give them that,” he says.
While other telcos also have reward programmes for their pre-paid segments, Chee Pok Jin, new business development director at Enabling Asia, likes to highlight that the incentives Buzz Me has created is the “first structured pre-paid programme in Malaysia.”
“For example, as soon as you spend RM10, you get an automatic RM2 rebate which you can then use in the marketplace to redeem gifts. This type of reward keeps the customer happy,” he says.
Existing telcos tend to only reward a customer when they are at the end of their credit, and even this is dependant on a customer service representative making a direct intervention.
Meanwhile, nothing will keep Loke happier than if Enabling Asia hits its target of launching four more MVNOs by the end of its first full year in operations. That will help validate his belief that the market for MVNOs is still strong in Malaysia.
With market talk abuzz of a major retailer becoming its first MVNO customer, the guessing game begins.
Enabling Asia takes on Msian telcos with unique MVNA model
A perfect match for MVNOs
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