ABAF had good intentions, but did not achieve its objectives
Organizers did a bang-up job, but the returns were poor
THERE is no doubt that Malaysia is a nation in a hurry. It wants to do things fast and wants to show the world that it is doing things. In an era when nations are competing aggressively against each other for capital, talent and mindshare, it is natural to do so.
But you should only market yourself when you have something good to sell. In this sense, I get the feeling that hosting last week’s Asian Business Angels Forum (ABAF) did not accomplish its objectives from the viewpoint of creating awareness among high- and mid-net worth Malaysians on the options of investing in technology-related start-ups.
As Professor Richard Harrison, an expert on business angels and early stage venture finance noted at the panel session I moderated, “Malaysia today is where the UK was in 1985 when it started promoting angel investment as an alternative to the prevailing habit of investing in property.”
But what he said that really caught my attention was this: “A lot of time was invested to educate potential investors on what angel investing was all about so that they went in with eyes wide open and realistic expectations.”
This movement eventually expanded when the early group of angel investors started sharing their experiences. There is nothing like hearing things from the horse’s mouth.
But do you think that will ever happen here? And before we get there, will we start seeing similar education sessions held for Malaysians with disposable income to consider investing in technology start-ups? Having the inaugural session at ABAF would have been great.
Now, the people at Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd worked their tails off to organize ABAF so this is not a criticism of them in any way. Some lost weight, all lost sleep and at least one that I know, Nazrin Hassan, CEO of Cradle, even lost his health.
Nazrin was hospitalized for pneumonia, as posted on his Facebook page. He was actually having it during the event itself! He was clearly running on pure adrenalin!
That aside, you spend money and invest so much sweat and time into organizing an event that just did not come off as a home run.
Compounding matters was the obvious poor attendance for the two days of the conference proper. You sit in a ballroom prepped for 400 people and it is half full, and you cannot help but get the impression that it must not be that exciting an event if so many people did not come.
As one Cradle executive told me, “This has been held in Shanghai and Singapore already. We have to show them we have something going on here too.” Should that be the basis for us bringing events to Kuala Lumpur? I think not.
But one key sponsor of ABAF disagrees with me. He feels that if Malaysia is serious, “we must start somewhere and show both investors and entrepreneurs that we are willing to put our money where our mouth is.”
What do you think?
Karamjit Singh, the former technology editor at Malaysia's premier business magazine The Edge, is now founder and chief executive officer of Digital News Asia. And no, he doesn't get any special treatment from the rest of us :)
Counterpoint: ABAF adding value to the ecosystem