Emerging startup hotspot? Look again says BookDoc founder Chevy Beh

  • No Malaysian success stories to shout about, results missing
  • Lack of serious government funding for promising local startups

Emerging startup hotspot? Look again says BookDoc founder Chevy Beh

THE startup ecosystem in Malaysia should be a healthy one, given the many government agencies providing funding and other support and many accelerator programmes to accelerate the success of local startups. However, one entrepreneur believes that the results of these efforts have yet to be seen and refuses to join the bandwagon that hails the Malaysian startup scene as being a robust one.

When asked what he thinks of the startup ecosystem in Malaysia, BookDoc founder and chief executive officer Chevy Beh (pic) didn't mince words. “I think it has sort of vanished or disappeared. For instance, the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC) were good with their celebrated programmes. But after that, the results and outcomes were missing. You want to accelerate people but it takes two to take off.

“Sometimes you blame MaGIC, which is akin to the teacher or professor. But the companies that come on-board are like students. You cannot always blame the teacher, sometimes it’s the students. You need both to exist, to shout about a success story. Yet, so far there’s no success story that you can shout about,” he tells Digital News Asia in a recent interview.

And while local ecosystem players like to remind everyone that Grab and KFit were founded in Malaysia with Malaysian founders and key executives, Beh pours cold water on that.

“Grab is a Singaporean company now. KFit started as Malaysian, now turned Singaporean [Ed: According to a Kfit executive, its regional HQ is in Singapore due to the various international investors it has. Operations and leadership are centred in Malaysia]. Like where are all the Malaysian champions? Nothing. Zero. All the rest are like down there [trying to be successful], there’s nothing. It’s all non-Malaysian companies. So if the government is serious about getting this done, they should at least offer some incentive or get these giants back to promote them in Malaysia to say, ‘hey, here’s a Malaysian company’,” he suggests.

Beh also doubts the government’s digital economy goals are achievable given the lack of support for local companies. He points out that government investment arm Khazanah Nasional Bhd invested in Alibaba and that Kumpulan Wang Persaraan invested in Uber, but not in local companies, adding that neither of them came in when Grab was raising its early stage funding.

“So if you’re serious about helping the government’s economic agenda, then you must shout about success stories locally. Now you’re shouting about success stories making other countries, other companies great, not making Malaysia great again. There are no Malaysian success stories,” he reiterates.

“A lot of people keep talking but I’m just straight to the point. Don’t come up with your nonsense. I see the MaGIC CEO, I see all those people in MaGIC, and I say, ‘I don’t want to listen to your hot air, you’ve done nothing."

To Beh, this "doing something" means supporting promising local startups all the way. He says MaGIC could advice Khazanah to back any promising local startup it is confident of. “Boom,” he says of the large funding support. “Then you can shout. Then you bring in the second company, then the third company, then you can shout about success stories,” he concludes.

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