Startup iHias hopes to disrupt the Malaysian furniture industry

  • Plans to launch its mobile app over the next two months
  • Hopes to increase smaller furniture players' market visibilty
Startup iHias hopes to disrupt the Malaysian furniture industry
THE next several months be crucial for iKoncept Media Sdn Bhd cofounder Cornie Leong, as the strategies she will be implementing will determine if the company is able to disrupt the local furniture industry.
The company is expected to launch its iHias mobile application over the next two months. iHias is essentially an online market place for the Malaysian furniture players -- whereby furniture shops, especially the smaller-sized companies, can list their inventories on the platform for furniture buyers. 
"There's always demand for furniture. However, most buyers' attention tend to be on the larger furniture players, like Ikea. 
"With iHias, we believe the smaller furniture companies will be able to reach out to a larger group of target audience... There are so many good furniture, with beautiful designs and of good finishing, sold by these smaller players and I really want them to compete better against the big boys," Leong told Digital News Asia in Kuala Lumpur recently. 
Vast potential ahead
For some time, Malaysia has been one of the world's top furniture exporters. According to Malaysia Furniture Council president Chua Chun Chai, Malaysia is one of the top ten furniture exporters in the world and the industry contributes over RM7 billion to the country's total export earnings in 2014. The number is expected to grow by about 3-5% over the next few years. 
Although the Malaysian furniture industry is more export oriented, Leong believes that there is a big potential in terms of the furniture sales domestically. 
Leong believes that there are over RM42 million spent on furniture annually, based on statistics she obtained from Statista.
A check on research data on Statista showed that "Furniture and Appliances" industry (which includes furniture, household goods, household appliances, kitchens) is set to grow from an estimated US$295 million this year, to US$1.14 billion in 2021 -- representing an average growth of 40.2% annually.
"It is still a very big market to address," she said. 
Also, there are more than 2,000 furniture companies in the country -- and many of them are small and medium-sized companies. In order words, it has 2,000 potential clients to get on board to try the iHias market place.
Business model, strategy, initial responses
Leong hopes to be able monetise iHias via a subscription model. This means, getting the furniture companies to pay a monthly or annual subscription fees, and Leong and her team will market and promote the companies' inventories to the end users (customers). 
"Over time, we also hope to incorporate a revenue sharing model," she said. 
So far, Leong claimed that she has approached several furniture players, and their initial response was positive. 
"We are also in talks with Furniture Industry Technology Center (FiTec) on possible collaboration," she added. 
Nevertheless, Leong knows that these will only solve one side of the equation. She also needs iHias to be widely consumed by the masses -- hence, she also need to look at user acquisition.
"Part of our strategy is to incorporate augmented reality (AR) technology on our market place. In time, consumers only need to tab on the furniture, and will be able to better visualise how will the furniture blend with the living room or bedroom," said Leong. 
How it got started?
Leong, 29, is currently working in the digital advertising industry. She plans to work on iHias on a full time basis once the product gains more positive traction.
According to Leong, who was formerly a physiotherapist, she has been a problem solver since young. 
"The idea (for iHias) came from my frustration in the experience of buying furniture. There's lack of choices, quality, preferences, customisation, and it is a very time consuming process when you have to travel from one furniture shop to another just to get the right piece of furniture). 
"I wanted to make this experience a lot more friendly," she said.
She then took part in the Malaysia Day Hackaton organised by the Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Commission, and was able to receive a grant (undisclosed sum) from the Creative Industry Development Fund programme.
She also participated in the ASEAN's Next Great Idea 2016 as the top 20 finalist, and managed to be one of the top 10 teams to present their ideas during GEC recently.
Currently, the company is also in talks with a few potential investors, Leong claimed.

"We are discussing with a few potential investors to connect iHias with a larger audience and strategy to speed to market," she said.

However, Leong is not alone in this property sector. Incumbent has more than 1,700 listings on furnitures. In the startup space, there is Renof -- a company that helps home owners to find suitable renovation experts at the right price. 

In the region, there's Indonesian startup Fabelio -- which raised US$2 million in funding early 2016.

"That's why we need to move fast and be very agile," she said.

Related Stories:

Furniture marketplace Fabelio aims to tap changing consumer behaviour

Renof: Linking homeowners to home experts

Singapore furniture company Teak & Mahogany gets 300% boost from NetSuite


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