The essence of innovation
By Renuka Sena November 14, 2016
- The three co-founders came up with two key products — the IntegraXor and SCADA
- Ecava has received a US patent for their product
“IT IS important for imaginative people to have the freedom of innovation. If your imagination is not allowed to flourish, and if you do not have the freedom to create something out of nothing, then you are stifled. When you are stifled you become unhappy, and everything seems negative.” These are the wise words of Ecava Sdn Bhd chief executive officer K. P. Lee.
In fact, KP was so determined to have the freedom to let his creativity flow that he, along with chief financial officer F.Y. Wong and chief technical officer K. H. Wong, decided to branch out on their own.
“FY, KH and I were ex-colleagues. All three of us felt stifled at work and knew that things could be done better if we were given the freedom to try out new ideas. So, we decided to develop our own product by leveraging on web technologies.”
High production, low downtime
In 2005, the KP, FY and KH took the plunge and set up Ecava after they realised they could develop their web-based application as an off-the-shelf package, specifically for the overseas market.
The three co-founders put their heads together and came up with two key products — the IntegraXor and SCADA. The IntegraXor, integrates a web browser with a database and instrumentation while SCADA is a niche engineering software tool.
“SCADA is used for industrial automation,” explains KP. “It helps to control and monitor instrumentation and equipment in order to increase production and decrease downtime. It is something that perhaps only engineers can get excited about!” KP adds, with a laugh.
KP admits that setting up the company was extremely hard. However, he and his partners managed to overcome multiple obstacles including convincing local customers to choose Ecava over rival companies from developed countries.
“This was a big problem because we knew that local markets would be the best base for our new company as it's cheaper to access. It’s also a lot easier to provide technical support within the same time zone and there is no language barrier,” says KP. However, despite these benefits, the trio had let go of local markets because it was far too arduous to persuade customers to adopt their products.
Better than everyone else
“We started to ignore the local market and focus on foreign markets instead,” says KP. This turned out to be a great plan because Ecava soon had notable sales in the US, Canada, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore.
One of the main reasons behind this success was the fact that the co-founders understood that in order to compete, their products had to be much better than everyone else’s — even when there was unfair competition.
“It felt really good to sell our products to developed countries especially the US and European countries. This proved our initial idea that we can do better than products from developed countries.”
However, despite their success, Ecava’s challenges continue. “We still have not managed to penetrate the conventional markets that are – and have been – monopolised by the traditional big brands, like Schneider, General Electric, Siemens, and others,” reveals KP, whose vision is for Ecava to be recognised as a big brand.
In 2016 the company plans to use the China market as a platform to expand market share into the traditional segments.
“Currently, we only have one engineering software tool, but I wish to lead Ecava to become a product-based company for both software and hardware users. The technology involved in creating new products does not need to be rocket science – it can be simple – but the essence of the new product must be innovative,” says KP (pic, right).
Although there are many horizons yet to be conquered, KP, FY and KH have already achieved a win that many other companies can only dream of — being awarded a US patent for their product. This is a feat that is usually unheard of, for a ‘non-big name’ brand and one that is from Malaysia, to boot.
“It was not easy to get that patent, but by a stroke of extremely good fortune, we were awarded it,” says KP with humble pride.
Going for gold
KP cites Swedish business magnate and Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad as an inspiration. “Kamprad managed to grow an ordinary furniture business into an internationally recognised brand name,” says KP, who visited the first Ikea store and museum in Anhult, Sweden.
“Growing from a furniture shop in a small town to a gigantic dispatch centre – and in the process ensuring everyone in the world recognises and is aware of the brand name – is truly incredible. Kamprad had a vision, and he went for it, and he achieved what he set out to do,” adds KP with admiration.
Never stop learning
KP credits the Coach and Grow Programme (CGP) as part of the reason why Ecava became a success story. “By making one significant shift in our business model, we experienced substantial growth. We changed from being a service provider to selling a software product,” reveals KP.
“By doing so, our clients abroad can utilise our product and services without needing an in-house team to code the software. The product practically sells itself!” he says. “This makes everything so much easier – and ensures we are on the right path.”
Another key lesson learned from the CGP — the acute understanding that execution of a product is much more important than an idea, and that it is vital to understand your market.
“As an entrepreneur, you never stop learning, and it is important to always keep an open mind,” he says.
Additionally, KP joined the CGP, where he learned how to position Ecava in an attractive light in the eyes of investors as well as streamline products to improve earnings. He also tapped into stories from more experienced companies through the CGP. This helped open doors for Ecava to access markets, government agencies, and a variety of facilities to achieve their goals.
Best job on earth
KP feels that being an entrepreneur is the best job on earth if you do not mind hard work and putting in the hours.
“My advice to entrepreneurs is this: before you set off on this path, you must be completely sure that this is what you want to do. If you are willing to take on the challenges and obstacles that come with being an entrepreneur, and if you are willing to sacrifice your personal life, then by all means go for it. If your social life is more important, then you would need to rethink your career choice!” says KP, candidly.
“It may not be wonderful to be working on holidays when everyone else is off, but let me tell you, the long term result is far more rewarding than having a day off. There is nothing better than seeing your dream become reality.”