KL hits all the right buttons, says Japanese entrepreneur (Updated)

  • Hajime Hirose, cofounder of BuzzElement, likes overall ‘liveability’ of city
  • MSC-Malaysia status and 10-year tax free incentive another key draw
KL hits all the right buttons, says Japanese entrepreneur (Updated)

[Updated with additional paragraphs on the BuzzElement cofounders]
MOST Malaysians will do a double flip if they talk to Hajime Hirose (pic) and find out that one of the reasons he decided to locate his startup BuzzElement in Kuala Lumpur was because of his first experience with a taxi driver from the airport.
 
“He spoke very good English, and was very friendly. And, I was very impressed, thinking Malaysian cab drivers spoke better English than those in Singapore,” he says.
 
Hirose was actually checking out Singapore at the time when he decided to spontaneously spend a day in Kuala Lumpur (KL). The capital of Malaysia was actually not in his plans as he had initially thought of choosing between Singapore, Seattle or somewhere in Silicon Valley.
 
But he saw enough on that visit, in January of this year, to realise KL gave him the best options of all – for him, his family and his startup.
 
As Digital News Asia (DNA) had reported on Dec 16, BuzzElement had received an undisclosed injection of angel investment, believed to be in the six-figure US dollar range, from Japanese venture capital firm CyberAgent Ventures.
  
BuzzElement is developing a consumer mobile app and platform called Cream that leverages the crowd to determine if a purchase is a good deal. The company is positioning Cream as the “Waze of real-time pricing data.”

Prior to BuzzElement, Hirose was the chief operating officer of a startup in Japan that was building moble apps for the local market, but it failed. This experience opened his eyes to the limitations of building apps just for a local market, even one as wealthy and large as Japan; hence his positioning Cream as a global product.
 
Hirose's global thinking is also shaped by his previous experiences. A seasoned technology entrepreneur, with more than 18 years of mobile and Internet experience spanning Japan, China, the United States and the United Kingdom, Hirose considers himself a global citizen and that is why he is building BuzzElement as a global company.
 
Prior to founding BuzzElement, he was vice president of the Software and Services Group at Pactera and general manager of its Shanghai and London operations. He started his career at Microsoft Corp in Redmond, Washington.
 
With a good engineer with four years experience costing around US$100,000 (RM320,000) a year in Seattle or Silicon Valley, and Singapore being almost as costly a city, it is little surprise that Hirose found those three locations to be too expensive for his startup.
 
He finds the whole package of Kuala Lumpur “to be just perfect for me.” From the flight connectivity to other aspects of the city, including the fact that most Facebook users in Malaysia use English, to the fact that Mandarin is widely spoken, which eases the transition for his China-born wife, Hirose is confident he has made the right decision. The broadband quality is "just fine" too and he feels his experience using Telekom Malaysia's UniFi service is better than that what he experienced in Shanghai.
 
“The MSC-Malaysia status that brings with it easy employability of global talent, plus the 10-year tax free incentive is another huge draw for us,” he says, referring to the Multimedia Super Corridor project.

He considers the easy of hiring global talent as a bigger advantage than the tax incentive as he is able to utilise it right away. "I want to build a global team and don't plan on hiring any more Japanese," he says.

His cofounder and chief technology officer Yosuke Kimoto was a colleague from the startup in Japan that failed. 'He was one of the best engineers from that team and he shared a passion in wanting to build a global product too," says Hirose.

The other core team member was the UX (user experience) designer. Hajime was actually looking for a non-Japanese to be his chief UX officer, as he wanted to build a global product and wanted someone with a global mindset, but his search led him to another Japanese, Yoko Aoyama.

"I wanted somebody who truly understood the elements that go into UX and not just graphic design, and who had global exposure. Fortunately I found all these qualities in Yoko (Aoyama)," he says.

Aoyama had been doing UX and graphic design her entire career, for both big and startup companies. She had grown up in the United States, spent many years in Australia and was living in Thailand when BuzzElement started. The team actually worked remotely for awhile before coming together in KL.

Being based in South-East Asia is another advantage. “South-East Asia is becoming a more important economic region with the balance shifting away from the United States, and I felt I needed to be here,” says Hirose.
 
There is even the local business point. “We are thinking of going ‘hyper-local’ and want to target some of the local malls here with Cream. Once we hit critical mass, we are confident the service can fly as users will be able to respond instantly to queries about pricing from their friends, or just the wider Cream community,” he adds.
 
Beyond that instant feedback, he is already looking ahead to being able to predict pricing once he has collected around two years of historical data.
 
“We also want to profile our users and when they send particular messages, we want to be able to send them targeted messages that they will appreciate,” he says, hinting at a level of data mining.
 
Cognisant of the recently enforced Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), Hajime is nonetheless confident that being in KL will afford his startup and family the best chance for success and enjoying a good quality of life.
 
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Is Malaysia ‘losing out’ to Singapore?
 
Weak VC leadership letting Asean region down: Catcha chief
 
 
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