CEO Series

We Ask 10 M'sian SME Founders "Why Even Venture Into Entrepreneurship?"

With the purpose of assisting SME companies in Malaysia break through to the next phase of growth, the annual Alliance Bank BizSmart Academy SME Innovation Challenge provides the three-pronged help of learning, coaching and funding. The organisers are continuously looking to expand the programme to impact young businesses all over Malaysia.

We’ve covered 10 finalists in part 1 of the series, and here are the other 10 finalists of the 20.

1. Microbs

Oei John-Hans, co-founder of Microbs
Oei John-Hans, co-founder of Microbs

It’s not a glamorous job, but someone’s got to do it—waste management, that is. Microbs’ biodegradable enzyme breaks down organic waste into water, servicing various structures and organisations. The use of the enzyme ensures that the process is eco-friendly and good for the environment, compared to standard waste management practices.

Not everyone would even think of venturing into such an industry, but Oei John-Hans the co-founder believes in giving back to society. “Growing up, my brothers and I were shown so much compassion from the surrounding community that it was only normal to want to share and show that same compassion now. With that, we all wanted to run businesses that make a difference and leave a lasting legacy of change in what we do.”

John-Hans deeply believes in what he does and in the impact of our actions on the future. He said, “There must be some sort of accountability taken on all of our actions today towards the environment. We refuse to accept the status quo of how waste is being managed and the ‘tidak apa’ attitude towards responsible waste management.”

2. RecomN.com

Image Credit: recomN.com
RecomN team (Image Credit: recomN.com)

Imagine a trusted community who can give you the best advice and recommendations; by connecting you to services including plumbing, interior designing and even wedding planning based on community ratings, RecomN does exactly that.

RecomN came about after founder Lua Jes Min had the terrible experience with a videographer—whom she hired off a Google search—losing all her wedding footage. She said, “When hiring a service, there are 2 bits of information you need to have: what the service professional says he can do and what customers know he can do. The second bit of information is often missing and this is the gap that RecomN fills.”

One key to their success so far is this principle they adhere to: that everyone is a leader.  Everyone is expected to make suggestions, analyse problems, craft solutions and influence others to work together towards the shared goal. “We need to feel that we’re doing something important, our contribution is critical for success and we’ve got one shot to get it right,” she said.

 3. CoffeeTALK

Teoh Teik Kheng, founder of CoffeeTALK
Teoh Teik Kheng, founder of CoffeeTALK

Teoh Teik Kheng, known as TK, started his entrepreneurial journey young, selling handphone accessories at various markets. Working in such a saturated field (after all, pasar malams have an abundance of stores selling such merchandise), he trained his eye and mind to spot certain details that people might miss that he could take advantage of.

It’s no wonder he caught the wind of a market gap years later: brick-and-mortar cafés were stuck in one location with a minimum RM500k capital needed. A truck on the other hand would only need one third of the cost and could serve at least 5 different locations.

Launching CoffeeTALK to fill that space, the company now has 6 CoffeeTALK Mobile and Food Trucks. Unlike mobile hawkers that have to do all the washing and disposal of the food waste on the spot, CoffeeTALK trucks are equipped with a disposal system for waste water and have a rubbish collection tank. This waste is properly disposed of when the trucks are returned to the headquarters.

TK said one lesson he holds on to is the importance of organising his team properly. “Everyone should be encouraged to make high quality contribution using all knowledge and work productively together to ensure our team succeeds.”

4. LocalUsher

Local User co-founders
Local Usher co-founders

Hui Lin and Sabrina Cheng co-founded LocalUsher as an online platform to make it easy for users to discover and book things-to-do and places-to-go-to around them. As college buddies, they took to travelling together, and eventually, decided to start this initiative together too. Sabrina shared, “It’s rewarding because we’ve met a lot of things and people that we would not have met if we stayed in the comfort zone of a corporate life.”

They hope to see LocalUsher become the go-to platform whenever people think of plans for the weekend, be it an activity or a getaway. They’ve been steadily growing since their inception and hope to expand their reach further north to places like Kedah and Penang.

They aren’t too fussed with other competitors and take things in their own stride. “There is always competition in the market, but we treat it as a blue ocean so the only one we always have to beat is ourselves. We try to outdo ourselves in our offerings and marketing strategy to keep our users engaged,” said Sabrina.

Their strategy for growth and to stand out hasn’t changed from the start. Sabrina said, “We work with passion and to bring fun to people.”

5. Shapee

Eaugene, co-founder of Shapee
Eaugene, co-founder of Shapee

Set up by a husband-and-wife team, Shapee is a local fashion brand that specialises in women’s slimming and shaping wear. According to Eaugene the co-founder, his wife Fion Tan came up with the idea after researching a slimming solution after giving birth.

She rejected the market options at that time, which included expensive slimming courses, pricey MLM-supplied slimming wear and the potentially harmful slimming pills that offer fast results.

Convinced that there had to be a better alternative, Fion sourced out affordable shapewear instead and was pleased with the instant yet pleasing results. Since it worked so well for her, it made sense that other women would want that product too, and Shapee was born as a result.

The husband-and-wife team believe that having the right attitude is the key to success. Eaugene said, “An entrepreneur’s attitude will influence how successful your company can be and we must never stop learning no matter where we are now. Also, always stay humble no matter what you’ve achieved.”

6. Supermodel’s Secrets

Michelle Chuah, founder of Supermodel's Secrets
Michelle Chuah, founder of Supermodel’s Secrets

Michelle Chuah describes herself as an accidental online entrepreneur. As a model herself, she was naturally interested in products and ways to look better on camera without having to go under the knife. She tested many products and started gathering the ones she knew worked.

She started her company after having to leave her corporate job because of her right eye going blind. Supermodel’s Secrets was birthed naturally out of her collection of tried-and-tested products that she knew would be able to help women (and even men) to look good instantly or in the shortest time possible.

Drawing from her life experiences, Michelle strongly believes that people should not give up in life just because of the challenges they face, but should continue to be steadfast in pursuing their dreams.

She said, “I stand firm on my belief that as long as I am still passionate in what I do, everything can be taken away from me on the outside but what’s inside of me will lead me on to pick up the pieces, learn from past failures and continue this journey stronger and better than before.”

7. ParkBox

Co-founders of ParkBox
Co-founders of ParkBox

ParkBox was started because co-founders Spert Ah and Ooh Boon Beng had personally  faced issues in purchasing parking tickets or coupons in the city. The machines were often not working, or they had difficulty even finding the right one to pay at. Billing themselves as a hassle-free street parking mobile payment app, they launched in Taiping and Kamunting in Jan 2016.

With the app, drivers can manage and pay for any Taiping or Kamunting city council allocated parking lots. Council officers on the other hand can easily perform verifications on the mobile app. At the moment, ParkBox is only available in two cities but are looking to extend their service to more cities. To do so, they will approach various city councils to explore opportunities, manage expectations and work out solutions to allow their app to be integrated into the existing systems.

They hope to absorb as much as they can from the experienced mentors and coaches in the SME Innovation Challenge. Spert said, “We want to practice what we’ve learnt based on the principles of responsibility, transparency, integrity and commitment.”

8. BuildEasy

Image Credit: BuildEasy
The BuildEasy team (Image Credit: BuildEasy)

After noticing the issues in renovation and design industry, Tan Yong Meng wanted to bring in his own brand of convenience, transparency and affordability to transform it for the better.

He founded BuildEasy, a startup that provides an online solution to home design and renovation by offering free design templates that home owners can pick and customise. From there, their panel of contractors will then carry out the project.

As a relatively young startup (they’re barely six months old!), Yong Meng shared that they were initially hesitant about joining the SME Innovation Challenge. “However, we figured that the main reason we would join the challenge was not for any media exposure or potential prize money; instead, we wanted the invaluable business coaching, guidance and networking with fellow peers,” he said.

He’s also learnt that leadership is characterised by two main points: personal humility and professional will. He added, “It’s crucial for leaders and the team to be proactive in order to focus energy on matters which you can influence with your actions instead of worrying and despairing.”

9. MyBump

The MyBump team (Image Credit: MyBump)
The MyBump team (Image Credit: MyBump)

By using car stickers to turn vehicles into advertising portals, MyBump helps drivers earn extra income. At the same time, they provide value to brand advertising by more giving more exposure and recruiting ordinary people to be brand ambassadors.

Dhanish Athif, co-founder of MyBump shared, “Our startup was inspired by a simple irony: getting stuck in traffic.” Staring at the backs of the cars all in front of them inspired them to do something about the frustration they were feeling and turn it around into something productive.

Not only that, drivers who allow their cars to be used for MyBump’s advertising clients also earn a tidy sum. It’s a win-win situation all round.

Despite how good an idea sounds, challenges are inevitable. After all, they’re championing a relatively new advertising concept. “We help our drivers be open to personal branding. On the part of advertisers, the challenge is building the trust and support for MyBump and getting bigger brands on board our platform. We are not an off-the-shelf solution and we need to build awareness about the solution we provide to advertisers.”

10. Ju Xiang

Jackson, co-founder of Ju Xiang
Jackson, managing director of Ju Xiang

Ju Xiang is a traditional Chinese meat jerky company that rebranded 3 years ago to grow to one of the largest manufacturers and retailers of their kind in Sabah.

Jackson Tang, the managing director, candidly admitted that the process of rebranding was not an easy one.  His biggest detractor? His very own mother.

As the founder of the company, her conservative mindset led her to believe that a business like theirs must “always be conducted in a traditional way”.

Jackson has always thought that his company’s products had potential. He added, “I believed that we have a solid product, and all we need is good marketing and branding. We also have both the thinnest and thickest meat jerky in Malaysia, which are highly popular among younger generation.”

As part of their rebranding, Ju Xiang has ramped up their social media marketing. One of their commercials became one of the highest watched YouTube ads in Malaysia for the first half of 2016.

Jackson hopes to continue to diversify their products and expand their reach beyond their home state. He also has ambitious plans of starting a sister company to market halal products to reach even more people.

This is the second of a 2-part series highlighting the 20 finalists of the Alliance Bank BizSmart Academy SME Innovation Challenge 2016.You can read part 1 here.

For more information on the Alliance Bank BizSmart Academy SME Innovation Challenge 2016, please click here.