Before 2020, countless startup ecosystem players said Malaysia would see a unicorn soon, yet to no success year after year. Then seemingly out of nowhere in 2021, Malaysia identified three of them.
Carsome was named Malaysia’s first homegrown unicorn in July 2021 after acquiring iCar Asia. Shortly after, telco infrastructure services company, edotco silently joined the club, with most only finding out about the news when AirAsia Digital was named the third Malaysian unicorn in October 2021.
Now that it’s been a year since these local companies gained unicorn status, we wondered, what’s changed for them?
We reached out to all three unicorn companies to get their responses, however, Carsome and AirAsia Digital declined this interview, leaving us with a solo feature on edotco.
So, who is edotco?
While much of the public may not know its name, edotco is actually a huge player behind our telco services in Malaysia and SEA. Established in 2012, edotco Group Sdn Bhd is the infrastructure arm of Axiata Group Bhd and is ranked in the top 10 global tower companies.
Headquartered in KL, edotco has a regional portfolio of over 50,000 towers across Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Philippines, Myanmar, and Laos.
Axiata owns 63% of edotco, followed by Innovation Network Corp of Japan (21%), Khazanah Nasional Bhd (10%), and Kumpulan Wang Persaraan (Diperbadankan) (5%).
In 2020, Reuters quoted the valuation of edotco to be at US$2 billion to US$2.2 billion (RM8-9 billion).
Seeing that the criteria to be crowned a unicorn includes being valued at US$1 billion, perhaps edotco gaining unicorn status in 2021 may have been overdue?
Higher focus on increasing revenue
Some are of the opinion that unicorns tend to just chase and burn through investor money, and that a “proper” startup is one that should be grown through blood, sweat, and tears.
As a unicorn, edotco believes that it’s all about revenue generation quality and has implemented certain changes to its operations to fit the bill.
For one, edotco is making its business more efficient and productive by using something it calls a “zero-touch” operation. Through it, more technology is used to maintain its towers to reduce the number of people visiting the sites, which is one of the company’s highest costs.
In addition, edotco built a Network and Planning Analytic (NaPA) tool, which provides visibility into the coverage, capacity gap, and speed of certain mobile network operators (MNOs) in each cluster.
It enables the company to engage in proactive marketing rather than being very passive as in the past, according to Adlan Tajudin, edotco’s Director and Group CEO.
More pressure to IPO
Fame is undoubtedly one of the advantages of being recognised as a rare, high-valued, privately-held startup.
Adlan pointed out that another added benefit to being a unicorn is the opportunity to serve as a role model for local startups.
Being a unicorn can also attract the attention of more domestic and foreign investors to the country, along with funding from the government.
When a startup becomes a unicorn, it signals the potential of the industry, prompting the government to pay closer attention to it and increase investor ambition.
To add, edotco also shared that it’s been seeing an increased recommendation to consider Initial Public Offering (IPO) as part of its funding exercise.
Adlan addressed that while IPO is one of the funding options available at the moment, there are still various funding alternatives to consider. Each one will be assessed carefully before the company decides whether it will be the monetisation avenue for its shareholders’ consideration.
Hence, the team is being selective about funding opportunities.
More pressure to live up to the status
edotco shared that on a larger scale, the attainment of unicorn status sets off a series of chain reactions that impact and contribute to the national economy.
“Being one of the few unicorns in Malaysia, the pressure to constantly surpass the benchmark can creep up to us and can get overwhelming at times,” Adlan shared.
“We have come up with proactive solutions to manage expectations and handle the pressure whilst not compromising on quality.”
Being adaptable, resourceful, and current is important to maintain the status of a successful unicorn, Adlan said. In doing so, it can help the economy of the country flourish.
This is because when there are more unicorn companies within a country, it becomes more attractive to new entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to take on such opportunities themselves.
In turn, the country establishes itself as a rising hub for new professional opportunities, further attracting top tier talent from around the world.
What it means to have unicorn status
All in all, the “unicorn status” title immediately adds credibility to any company, as it suggests that the startup has a globally viable and scalable model.
“This, in turn, creates momentum and improves the sense of focus across the company’s teams,” stated Adlan.
The billion-dollar valuation also raises awareness among consumers, target audiences, and external stakeholders internationally.
While building a brand’s profile on home turf may be easier, reaching consumers on a global scale is often a completely different ballgame. Achieving unicorn status has not only put Malaysia on the map but given us an actual chance at creating more ambition within the pool of investors.Adlan Tajudin, edotco’s Director and Group CEO
As the market grows, investments will only continue to increase as more investors look to capitalise on new opportunities within a market.
This, in turn, plays a key role in improving the socio-economic status of the country.
Featured Image Credit: edotco’s team