18 Malaysian startups poised to breakout in 2015
2014 turned out to be quite a mixed bag for Malaysia’s startup community. On one hand, homegrown online payment company MOL Global listed in the US, but hasn’t quite lived up to expectations. Popular taxi hailing app GrabTaxi raised round after round of funding, the latest of which – a US$250 million series D round – was arguablly record-breaking with regards to the size of the amount. Also, Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) and its talented CEO Cheryl Yeoh burst onto the scene earlier this year, and they’ve done much in attempting to “fill the gaps and connect the dots” in recent months.
Additionally, the 2015 budget featured a slew of measures pertaining to entrepreneurship.
On the flipside, however, local authority figures haven’t been entirely supportive of the progress technology has wrought. Both Facebook and YouTube have faced the threat of banishment – though no real action was taken against them – and Uber faced the wrath of the taxi association, which declared it to be illegal.
Where they have lent their support, it is half-hearted. 70 percent of the Axiata Digital Innovation Fund – a joint venture between Malaysia Venture Capital Management (Mavcap) and local telco Axiata – for example, was earmarked for the bumiputera entrepreneurs – those of the Malay race – only. Meanwhile, the aforementioned 2015 budget was not evenly distributed either – 70 percent of the US$153 million set aside by governmental agency TEKUN for entrepreneurship will go to local Malay entrepreneurs as well. MaGIC’s budget was also slashed for the coming year.
Despite taking two steps backward after a step forward, Malaysian startups have shown their resilience and innovation – several have proven themselves to be a step above the rest, and Tech in Asia has taken note of them. Here are 20 of Malaysia’s finest startups that we expect will make it big in 2015.
The team behind the Tinder-like shopping app came together through an interesting series of events that started with a blank cheque. They have so far won a handful of startup competitions, such as AngelHack Kuala Lumpur and the MYDD AT&T Hackathon, and feedback has been “overwhelmingly positive,” according to CEO Kendrick Wong.
With ambitions to become the leader of mobile fashion discovery and shopping in Southeast Asia, they are currently raising a round of funding to achieve just that, and within two weeks of opening the round, they already have a couple of offers from VCs. Wong is hoping to seal the deal soon.
A Malaysia-based service marketplace, Kaodim was founded by not one but two former lawyers. Currently, the marketplace for services in Malaysia is still very much dominated by static directories, listings, and online advertisements, which gives them the first-mover advantage.
In just a month since its official launch, the platform has around 500 vendors on board, with 400 job requests being made and, correspondingly, 1,300 quotations returned, many of which the duo claim have translated into jobs and new clients for these service providers. Now, the founders are looking at raising funds to accelerate Kaodim’s growth. This is what they’ll be focusing on in the coming year, given that they’ve already found product-market fit.
CEO Jazz Tan, whose father passed away ten years ago as a victim of gangsterism and drugs, founded YouthsToday in 2013 with the aim of moving young people off the streets.
An online platform for projects spearheaded by youths, YouthsToday works with several government agencies and multinational corporations who target the younger crowd – such as Maybank, AirAsia, and Sony – to get their support for youth-run projects in areas of entrepreneurship, technology, and creative arts. In return, these clients receive significant brand mileage in related events.
Over the past year – from January till November – the team has managed to secure 14 major clients, bringing their revenue to a grand total of MYR 700,000 (US$208,000), which is close to thrice their revenue in 2013.
Did you know that 94 percent of total retail sales are being generated in brick-and-mortar stores, according to market research firm eMarketer? For this reason alone, Tapway – which CEO Lim Chee How dubs the “Google Analytics for the offline world” – makes a whole lot of sense.
According to Lim, offline stores simply don’t have access to actionable data that they can use to improve the customer experience – and Tapway provides just that. The team deliberately kept a low profile as they ran beta tests in the past few months, but have recently come out with guns blazing, winning the ‘Best Startup in Malaysia’ title in the local leg of the Seedstars World 2014 competition, and recently pitching at Korea’s DreamPlus Day 2014.
Now, they’re looking to raise between MYR500,000 (US$154,000) to MYR800,000 (US$247,000) to capture the Malaysian market and continue to come up with more creative solutions.
Who hasn’t heard of this Malaysian taxi app? GrabTaxi has been grabbing headlines for the better part of 2014, and is indeed the favorite to win the Southeast Asian market.
Here are some numbers that show GrabTaxi’s stunning progress over the last year:
- Number of taxi drivers in the network increased by almost 300 percent to 60,000
- Mobile app users grew by 500 percent to 500,000 users
- Mobile app downloads increased by 400 percent to 2.5 million
- Three taxi bookings made every second, an 800 percent improvement
Ten years ago, zero online supermarkets were available in Malaysia. Today, retail group Presto Grocer has changed that. The way they went about it, according to co-founder Azrin Zuhdi, was unusual – she and her other co-founder Daniel Ruppert decided to open physical grocery stores first, prior to going online. The reason: to establish their brand name.
Now, with four outlets in Klang Valley and a newly revamped website, the team is ready to take over the rest of Southeast Asia. One of the countries they intend to hit is Singapore, where incumbent RedMart is in pole position. Zuhdi believes, however, that the online grocery market is big enough for multiple players. Having managed to raise an undisclosed amount of seed funding, they are looking to raise their series A round to make this a reality.
Other than GrabTaxi, iMoney is the next household name that everyone in Malaysia’s startup ecosystem knows and loves. Similar to the former, CEO Lee Ching Wei has had an outstanding year, having raised US$4 million at a valuation of US$20 million.
Currently, the personal finance platform sees over 1.5 million unique visitors a month, which is several times more than the 100,000 unique visitors that Ching had aimed to reach by the end of 2013. His next goal: to roughly triple the web traffic to five million unique visitors a month by the end of 2015.
Many a successful entrepreneur will point to serendipity as a key factor in their wins. The same undoubtedly goes for the founders of business matchmaking platform Socialwalk, who chanced upon the idea through one of their clients three years after establishing an event registration business.
According to COO Eileen Feng, the platform today has 170,000 members spread across the world, with its top three regions being Asia, Middle East, and Europe. Having raised a grant from Malaysia’s CIP500 seed fund in 2011, as well as MYR1 million (US$309,000) in seed funding from Crystal Horse Investments back in 2012, Feng and CEO Tham Keng Yew are looking to conquer Europe and the US, and are raising a series A round to do just that.
Bill shock: the bane of all travelers, for business or holiday alike. For some reason, telcos tend to charge customers a huge multiple of local costs the moment they stepped out of the country – something that Flexiroam founder and CEO Jefrey Ong found strange.
So he set forth to create a product that would allows users to keep their original number, together with unlimited data and voice calls, all for a per day flat rate. This product, which they called the Buzz Sim, turned out to be their bestseller, and the team has inked partnerships with about 580 telcos around the world so that no matter which country you go to, you will always be able to access the local networks for data and voice calls.
Having established a firm customer base in Malaysia, the team is now looking to move into Singapore first, followed by Indonesia and Thailand. While they have received some VC interest locally, Ong felt that the valuations were too low. The fledgling company is now looking for backers beyond Malaysia’s borders to aid in its expansion to those three new countries.
Is there such a thing as “hassle-free romance?” Apparently so, at least according to Lovesprk co-founder Tanuja Rajah. The dating concierge service was indeed born out of this belief, which claims to take care of all the details, from planning to making reservations, and provides the option for add-ons such as bouquets of flowers, a specially-picked gift, or even a chauffeur-driven limousine for the night.
Lovesprk earns by receiving a commission from each ‘date experience’ purchased. Their concierge service – which couples can choose “to enhance an existing pre-planned date, or to create a bespoke date from scratch with the help of Date Consultants” – comes at an additional cost. Their goal now is to expand this service across Malaysia, and had inked a partnership with Korean dating app Between earlier this year to accelerate this.
Many startups find themselves stifled by the lack of technical talent. Chok Leang Ooi observed this while he was working in New York and Silicon Valley. Seeing the opportunity in the “talent gap”, he decided to found UX design and software development firm Agility to fill it up.
Its name reflects the agile software development process that the team has mastered working with around 50 startups over the past three years, and Ooi claims that this is their main advantage over other development firms. Of the startups they have helped, some of the bigger names that have gone on to succeed include personal finance site NerdWallet, sustainable fashion site Modavanti, and Boston-based SparkCommerce.
Agility opened an office in Singapore earlier in August with the aim of growing their business across Southeast Asia, and the team is engaged in talks with startups in Thailand and Indonesia as well, with several accounts currently in the pipeline.
Malaysia is probably not the first country that comes to mind when talking about safety. In particular, its capital Kuala Lumpur has become infamous for its rising crime rate. It is for this reason that Ray Teng created safety wearable WaryBee, which comes in the form of a necklace or bracelet, with the triggering device hidden in a tiny pendant on the jewelry.
To mass produce this wearable, Teng took to Singapore telco StarHub’s crowdfunding platform, Crowdtivate, to raise funds. The campaign didn’t do too well, however, only achieving S$3,000 (US$) out of the initial aim of S$50,000 (US$40,260). Teng reveals that he has received feedback that the device is too big to be visually appealing as a piece of jewelry, but is determined to shrink its size by half in the coming year.
Food blogging might seem like a dream – who doesn’t want to eat free food and write about it? But having started out on this path, Benson Chang realized it wasn’t as easy as it seems. Unable to compete with the hordes of Malaysian food bloggers, Chang decided to create an online restaurant booking site called TableApp instead.
To his surprise, the concept proved to be very popular among the local restaurants in Malaysia, and to date, Chang and his team have managed to get 120 restaurants on board, with 50,000 diners using it so far. While the team will continue to focus on Malaysia, Chang reveals that Bangkok is the next city on the list.
By any measure, higher education is a significant investment for parents, which means that research is essential. With information on universities and colleges scattered all over the web, Edwin Tay decided to build a platform – called EasyUni – to facilitate comparisons between institutions.
While the portal started off with 100 institutions spanning five countries – with their audience consisting mainly of Malaysians – today EasyUni has traffic coming in from over 202 countries. In addition, the portal’s listings have also swelled to include 27 countries, making up about 2,000 universities and 70,000 courses. Tay is now looking to raise its series B round of funding.
Amazon has tapped into consumers’ desire to be told what to buy and built a billion dollar business around it. Product recommendation engine Predictry wants to help small businesses do the same. According to CEO Seng Teong Chua, the engine was by far the easiest product he ever had to sell. “I didn’t even need slides. All I needed to ask was, do you want the Amazon trick? I’ll give it to you,” he says.
The team has been receiving a lot of interest from around the world, particularly from Asia. This is fortunate for Chua as he intends to focus on Asia, and in the near future, Europe.
While smartphone penetration in Asia might seem rather low compared to other developed countries, don’t be fooled – the total volume of smartphone owners in Southeast Asia together numbers in the billions. This is what Chang Chew Soon, founder and CEO of mobile card payment solution Soft Space, betted on when he founded the startup – and it paid off in spades.
In Thailand alone, Soft Space has processed over US$1 billion in transactions since the platform was launched in January 2013, and more than 10 banks across Asia Pacific have already signed up. Chang’s secret sauce: a focus on payment behavior in Asia, and getting full EMV – which stands for Europay, MasterCard, and Visa – accreditation when they first started out.
The team is now looking to move into North Asia, and are currently in discussions with banks in Taiwan and Hong Kong. At the same time, Chang reveals that they are looking to take their technology – in the form of ewallets and contactless payment solutions – and security to the next level.
Weddings might appear sweet and lovely on the surface, but only those who organize them understand the wheeling and dealing that goes on beneath. Kelvin Leow, who founded online wedding network Wedding.com.my together with his wife Petrina Goh to combat the dark side of this industry, calls it a “cutthroat business.”
The platform today actively plays a middleman role between vendors and the 300,000 or so soon-to-be-married couples who tie the knot in Malaysia each year. Since the website was revamped in September 2013, it receives about 100,000 visitors per month. Their next goal: to go regional in the third quarter of 2015, starting with Singapore and Indonesia
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