What’s Next 2016: From a small town, the entrepreneur-turned-investor

  • Leslie Loh sold his listed company to US-based SunGard for US$89m in 2006
  • Runs Red Dot Ventures, an early stage seed fund with almost 40 investments
What’s Next 2016: From a small town, the entrepreneur-turned-investor

IT would be safe to say that very few in Malaysia – except perhaps for IT industry veterans – would have heard of Leslie Loh (pic above) and his enterprise software company, Systems Access Pte Ltd.
Born in the rural Malaysian state of Kedah of fishermen parents, he left for Canada to pursue his tertiary education, promising his parents that he would take care of his six siblings.
He lived up to this promise, and more.
Failing to find a job in Canada after graduating, he returned to Kedah and got a job at the first Apple retailer there before leaving four months later for Singapore, where he had got a job which he then lost after seven months as the company went bust.
But the young Loh had already spotted an opportunity immediately after as the PC entered the mainstream market. Up till then, the industry had been dominated by mainframes and minicomputers that only large companies could afford, running customised applications software.
Small businesses were limited to standard accounting and wordprocessing software, but Loh believed the PC would make it affordable for small businesses to acquire customised software for their needs.
“I believed it was the opportunity of a lifetime and I took the risk and started Systems Access,” he says.
He built the company, which he started in Singapore, from a one man-show to a 500-person outfit that listed on the Stock Exchange of Singapore, and then sold it to SunGard, a US company, for S$120 million (US$89 million at today’s rates) in 2006.
In 2012 he got back into the tech scene by launching Red Dot Ventures, a Singapore-based seed stage venture fund which today has made close to 40 investments, with one exit via a trade sale.
Digital News Asia (DNA) is proud to welcome Loh to What’s Next: The Business Impact of Disruptive Technology, where he joins Yasmin Mahmood, chief executive officer of Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC); and Azrul Rahim, founder of MaidEasy Sdn Bhd.
The three will be part of panel session titled What’s The Secret Sauce? which will discuss some of the key ingredients that separate successful entrepreneurs from those who fail to get traction.
In the following Q&A, Loh shares some insights on how he built Systems Access to compete in no less than the US market.
DNA: What were your three biggest challenges in growing the business?
Loh: Our biggest challenge was that we picked an extremely high value market [the United States] where only the largest and strongest in the world compete. Our direct competitors included global giants like Oracle, SAP, Infosys, TCS, etc.
It was always difficult to compete, with every battle feeling like a David vs Goliath fight.
The next biggest challenge was how I, as a leader, would be able to continue to reinvent myself to lead the company through the various phases of growth, from startup to larger enterprise.
I started my business almost immediately after I had graduated from university. It takes continuous learning to scale as a leader.
DNA: When the offer came from SunGard to buy you out, what was your yearly revenue and why did you decide to sell?
What’s Next 2016: From a small town, the entrepreneur-turned-investorLoh: Our revenue was S$32 million when the offer came to buy us out. We were bought out by SunGard for S$120 million in 2006.
I decided to sell for two reasons. Firstly, the buyer decided to triple our valuation to S$120 million from the approximately S$40 million market valuation before the offer. Secondly, I felt that we had taken it as far as we could, and a larger MNC (multinational corporation) with a global brand and distribution network would be in better position to take it further.
DNA: While you grew your business in a different era in South-East Asia, do you find that the lessons you have learnt have been useful to the startups that you now advise and invest in?
Loh: I believe so. The experience gained from building a one-man startup to a growing enterprise with a 500 headcount and 10 offices worldwide has provided me with the skills and insights to guide a startup today through its journey.
What’s Next
You can hear more from Loh and other speakers at What’s Next: The Business Impact of Disruptive Technology on July 28 at the Sime Darby Convention Centre in Kuala Lumpur.
Register directly at http://digitalnewsasia.com/whats-next-2016 or call Suraini Sarip at 6013 295-3498 for details.
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