Sunday
Apr232017

The online freelancer

CERTAIN types of work such as editing and copywriting are options that can be done from home but the challenge is the constant need to source for leads, which is hard to do from home. Azlina Abdul Jalil faced that problem when she decided to quit her job as a lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at Universiti Malaysia Sabah.

At first, she tried her hand at running a business involving advertising and publishing. She thought such a business would be suitable as it involves writing. However, she soon discovered that much of her time had to be spent chasing sales rather than writing.

This prompted her to look for writing-based work that could be sourced from the comforts of her home. Azlina talks to Savvy about online freelancing and how she has made it work out well for her as a stay-at-home mother of two.

HOW DID IT ALL START?

I turned online to look for available opportunities out there and that was when I discovered an online freelancing site called Elance (now known as Upwork). I signed up and started getting translation and writing jobs through Elance. That was in 2011. I wrapped up the advertising business about a year later.

DID YOU HAVE ANY DOUBTS WHEN YOU FIRST EMBARKED ON YOUR ONLINE FREELANCE JOURNEY?

I quickly secured some translation and writing jobs from Elance so there was no reason to have doubts. Once I got my first big online job — which paid US$400 (RM1,762) — I was convinced that online freelancing could be a source of regular income for me.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE ONLINE FREELANCING AS OPPOSED TO THE MORE CONVENTIONAL WAY OF SOURCING FOR FREELANCE WORK THROUGH EXISTING CONTACTS?

I chanced upon the online freelancing sites like Elance after searching for “money-making opportunities” online. This approach was ideal for me as I didn’t come from a writing background so I wasn’t well-known and didn’t have many contacts in the industry. With Elance, the clients were already there.

Through online freelancing, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many international clients, something I don’t think I’d be able to do if I were just to look for clients on my own.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN ADVANTAGES OF ONLINE FREELANCING?

The main advantage is that the client and the jobs are already there. Another one is the payment system. It’s very simple and secure. Clients are required to deposit their fund into the escrow system once they engage you for the job. This means that the money is already there and you don’t have to worry about it disappearing or having to chase anyone for payment.

Once you submit your work, the site automatically generates an invoice and bills the client. The client has 14 days to review your work, after which, if they do not take any action, the site will release the payment to you. Payments can be transferred to PayPal or direct to your bank account.

HOW DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH TO CHARGE?

When I first started, I did some online research to get an idea of how other freelancers were charging for their work.

So, I went with the general market rate at the time. There was one instance when a client actually told me I was charging too low for the project and actually suggested a higher fee! But many of the clients I took on were already used to engaging freelancers and they had standard fees for different kinds of work. I’d look at their budget and if it felt right to me, I’d take on the work.

CAN YOU GIVE US EXAMPLES OF WORK YOU HAVE DONE RECENTLY?

I’ve been working on translation of news articles and marketing material for health and beauty products.

There was a job where the client wanted me to adapt and localise their marketing material from US English to Malaysian English.

DO YOU HAVE REGULAR CLIENTS OR IS ALL OF YOUR WORK AD HOC?

I do have some regular clients whom I do work for on a weekly basis. The work is usually small and quick. The payment for such work isn’t big but I’m happy that there’s at least something coming in every week.

WHAT’S THE MOST UNUSUAL WORK YOU’VE DONE?

I once had to do a transcription of terms people used on voice searches. It sounds simple but it’s not so easy making out the words being spoken when so many accents are involved.

Some people spoke too softly, others too fast, some voices were creepy, while some phrases were rather inappropriate. Transcription of voice searches is quite a time-consuming job, as well as taxing. It’s certainly the most unusual work I’ve done so far.

WHAT KIND OF WORK DO YOU ENJOY MOST?

I like doing translation of subtitles for TV shows since it means I get to watch the shows. It kind of feels like being paid to watch TV!

WHAT KIND OF WORK PAYS THE BEST?

Translation and technical writing work pay the best. The best paymasters are companies that are well-established as they provide regular work and are willing to pay good money for work well done.

WHAT’S THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION THAT PEOPLE HAVE ON FREELANCING?

That freelancing means you have a lot of free time. Yes, we get to choose the work we do, and it is up to us when and where we want to do the work. But that doesn’t mean that we have lots of free time to lounge around.

I put in a lot of effort and care into the proposals I send to clients. Some of the writing and translation jobs can be very technical and require a lot of research. I think about work so much that sometimes I have dreams where there are words just floating in air bubbles in front of me, non-stop!

WHAT’S THE BEST THING ABOUT FREELANCING?

Flexibility. Since I work from home and can set my own schedule — as long as I meet deadlines — I’m able to send and pick up my children from school and spend quality time with them at home without having to worry about finding daycare.

WHAT’S THE WORST THING?

Not knowing where your next pay cheque will come from. There are times when there’s very little work or when the bulk of the jobs coming in are small ones that don’t pay too much.

This is when you need to tighten your belt and be on the lookout for new jobs.

DO YOU FIND IT DIFFICULT SEPARATING PERSONAL TIME WITH WORKING TIME?

Usually not so as I generally try to finish off as much work as possible in the morning, when the children are in school or late at night when they’ve gone to sleep. With my regular clients,

I know their basic work schedule so they send me the jobs around the same time each week and I’m able to arrange my time based on that.

But, sometimes, there are unexpected requests from regular clients or new jobs posted online that I just can’t resist! Such work does eat into my personal time. But this doesn’t happen often.

WHAT TYPES OF PEOPLE ARE SUITABLE TO BECOME FREELANCERS AND WHAT TYPES ARE NOT?

If you have a specific skill such as writing, programming, design or even accounting skills, and you’re looking for work or additional income, freelancing is a good option.

With online freelancing, there are thousands of jobs available every week, all posted online for you to look through. And you can do all this from the comfort of your own home.

But if you don’t like working alone or prefer to have a fixed 9-to-5 schedule in an office environment or need the security of a steady income every month, then freelancing isn’t for you.

Sunday
Apr162017

Reversing cancer

CANCER is a disease that afflicts all regardless of nationality. Yet, the general sense among Malaysians is that if there is to be a cure for cancer, it will come from the West.

Few people realise that we have an organisation called Cancer Research Malaysia that is doing cutting-edge work on finding a cure for cancer. It’s been around since 2001 and has made some significant progress. It also has many ambitious targets set for this year.

Its founder Dr Teo Soo-Hwang speaks to SAVVY about her research organisation and shares some insight into the different types of cancers that afflict Asians disproportionately.

How did you end up in cancer research?

My parents always encouraged us to excel in whatever we do, with a view towards improving the lives of people around us.

Both my elder brother and younger sister chose to become doctors but I decided on a different path. I got an Asean Scholarship to attend secondary school and junior college in Singapore. Then I secured a Sime Darby Foundation scholarship to study natural sciences at the University of Cambridge.

Upon completion of my PhD in 1996, I wanted to focus on cancer research and chose to work in the laboratory of Professor Stephen Jackson, the youngest ever professor at Cambridge. Together, we identified new genes which were previously not implicated in cancer.

What led you to starting up a research centre in Malaysia?

In 1998, I was approached by Tunku Tan Sri Ahmad Yahaya, then the chief executive of Sime Darby, to consider returning to Malaysia to establish a non-profit cancer research organisation.

He was looking at raising funds in Asia to support research on oral cancer, which affects Asians more than Caucasians, and kills 50 per cent of patients within three years.

Over the next two years, with Toh Puan Dr Aishah Ong, we wrote the concept paper, presented it to funding organisations and successfully obtained RM5 million seed funding from the Tote Board, Petronas, Lim Foundation and Sime Darby to establish Cancer Research Initiatives Foundation (CARIF) in January 2001.

Is it very much a Malaysian-centric organisation?

CARIF (now called Cancer Research Malaysia) is the first independent, non-profit cancer research organisation which is funded by Malaysians, staffed by Malaysians and focused on conducting Malaysian-specific cancer research.

Our mission is to conduct pioneering research on cancers prevalent in the nation, with potentially far-reaching implications for diagnosis and therapy.

We started with oral cancer but now our research activities include work on breast cancer, the most common cancer in Malaysia; nasopharyngeal cancer, another Asian-centric cancer, and developing new therapies based on natural compounds from Malaysia’s biodiversity.

Research will enable us to reverse cancer. That’s why our logo is a “C” written in reverse — reversing cancer.

Why is your logo a “C” in reverse?

Cancer is often called the big “C” and most people believe that “cancer = death”. At Cancer Research Malaysia, we believe “cancer research = hope”. Research will enable us to reverse cancer. That’s why our logo is a “C” written in reverse — reversing cancer.

Why is there a need for a local cancer research centre?

We are developing ways to prevent and cure cancers which are more common here, like oral and nasopharyngeal cancer. Together these cancers make up 11 per cent of deaths in Southeast Asia but only 4 per cent of deaths in Western countries.

We’re also generating knowledge about how genes affect our risk to cancer and our response to treatment.

Asians make up more than 50 per cent of the world’s population but less than five per cent of research studies. So we hope to change that.

Where does your funding come from?

We are loosely modelled after the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, which has merged with Cancer Research Campaign to form Cancer Research UK. Like Cancer Research UK, we’re reliant on donations to support our work.

In the past 16 years, 66 per cent of our funding has come from core donors like Yayasan Sime Darby, Petronas and Yayasan Al-Bukhary.

These donors ensure that the overhead costs like staff salaries and equipment are covered so that other donations go directly to research programmes. About 20 per cent comes from fundraising events and 13 per cent from grants.

We also apply for international grants. We hope to get more direct donations from the public. It’s worth noting that about 40 per cent of the annual income at Cancer Research UK comes in GBP10 donations and we hope that Malaysians will also support us in this way.

Together, if each of us puts aside a small amount for cancer research, we can keep hope alive that we’ll find a cure for cancer.

What are some notable achievements so far?

We have developed a vaccine for oral and nasopharyngeal cancer and we’re testing whether this can reduce recurrence and also whether it can prevent these cancers from happening.

We have also developed a new method for genetic testing and this has brought down the cost of breast cancer genetic testing from more than RM10,000 to less than RM2,000.

We have conducted the first national study on ovarian cancer and are making sure that all ovarian cancer patients have access to robust genetic counseling.

What are the major plans for this year?

This year is a significant turning point for us. We’re the first Malaysian organisation to win a Collaborative Science Award from the Wellcome Trust and the first to beat 800 other applicants to win a Medical Research Council UK Challenge fund.

We also won four of the 12 Newton Ungku Omar Grants available. This year will be about delivering on the promise.

We would also have completed the first comprehensive analysis of 8,000 breast cancer patients and 8,000 healthy controls, coupled with an analysis of tumour samples.

We would also have completed our initial tests with vaccines for oral and nasopharyngeal cancer and we would have rolled out genetic counselling in 21 centres across the country.

How long do you think it will be before scientists are able to cure cancer?

We’re already able to prolong the survival for many cancers. In 1970, about 50 per cent of patients would die within five years.

Today, on average, the survival rate has doubled. Unfortunately advances in survival rates are not equal across all cancers.

For oral cancer, ovarian cancer and lung cancer, survival has not improved significantly. But I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to beat cancer eventually, one cancer at a time.

What gives you hope that we will one day find a cure?

We may not be able to cure cancer but I believe that we can make it a controllable disease, like diabetes or heart disease. I am optimistic because we’re no longer in the industrial age where production drives the economy.

We now have a knowledge economy driven by innovation, big data and artificial intelligence. I am confident that “disruptors” will find a way to hack cancer. Together, we can do this!

How important is the Internet to your work?

The Internet is everything. The start of any project is a review of what is known in the area and this would not be possible without the Internet.

The interactions with collaborators all take place online and this enables us to find the right people and the right expertise faster and more accurately.

Social media channels help us reach patients, doctors, researchers and many others to engage with the cause.

How do you go about raising awareness about the work Cancer Research Malaysia is doing?

Until recently, we have not done much to raise awareness about the work we do here.

This is because as scientists we’re careful people and we’re all afraid of overpromising. But we know that until we raise awareness about the work being done here, people won’t believe that a Malaysian organisation can truly be impactful in the fight against cancer.

We invite Malaysians to join us through our social media channels, support us through our website and attend our outreach events.

What keeps you motivated?

My life has been incredibly blessed — good health, a loving family, opportunities to study at the best universities and to work with so many accomplished individuals. Cancer Research Malaysia is an avenue for me to give back and to pay it forward.

My motivation is simple — to conduct the best possible research with a particular focus on the issues faced by Asians in the battle against cancer.

Sunday
Apr092017

From movies to retail and back

It’s rare enough that someone should make a big change in their career. It’s even rarer for someone to come full circle and return back to their first love. Wan Chun Hung, a successful cinematographer had once left the film industry to go into computer retailing only to return to it when digital technology rekindled his interest in the industry.

Wan had studied filmmaking at the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California. Upon completing his studies, he moved to Thailand to start a film production company with a Thai college mate.

“We also brought in a fellow scriptwriter from Brooks to develop the script,” he recalls. “While trying to get funding and backers for the film we shot TV commercials. However, the 1999 Asian financial crises hit.”


Wan returned home to Malaysia without any idea what he’d do next. A chance encounter with a PC retailer sparked the idea of starting an Apple store business. He speaks to Savvy about his move into retailing and subsequent switch back to filmmaking in the digital age.

The leap from making movies to retailing Mac computers is a big one. Were you hesitant or nervous about it?

Although the businesses are completely different, I had the passion and interest in learning this new trade. More importantly, I was partnering with an experienced and well-established PC retailer. It was quite the perfect partnership as he knew next to nothing about Apple at that time and I had absolutely no foothold in the PC retailing business. So, I taught him about Apple and he taught me about retailing.

What made you decide to leave retail to go back into the cinematography business?

Apple had made big inroads into the professional post production market with their video editing program Final Cut Pro. When Apple released this program, it allowed me to bridge my two interests together, Macs and filmmaking. We started selling video editing systems based around Final Cut Pro to production houses. Towards the latter half of the 2000’s, digital HD cameras started making big progress. HD cameras were extremely expensive like the Sony cameras used by George Lucas for the first Star Wars prequel. But like any digital technology, prices rapidly fell to something that was affordable to many more professionals. Prior to HD cameras, you had to shoot on film to get good quality moving images. And those film cameras, because of their high price and maintenance, could only be rented. So with these affordable good-quality cameras coming out, I decided it was time to get back into making movies.

You studied in the era of film and now everything's digital. Some movie makers still prefer film over digital. Are they just sentimental?
I believe it’s a combination of sentimentality and the desire for the best image possible. On the one hand, many of the movie makers wanting to shoot in film actually grew up with film. Film still gives you that sometimes hard-to-find organic quality missing in the sometimes all-too-pristine digital image. That said, digital cinematography has come a long way. Digital cameras now have better low light sensitivity and are approaching the highlight retention that film is renowned for. At the end of the day, it’s the story that drives the film, and the camera is merely a tool and just one of the many tools available to the film maker. Lenses, production design, the colourist, amongst others are just as important.

How did you build up your cinematography business from scratch?
It’s all about staring small and working your way up. You have to pay your dues for the first couple of years. Being dedicated and having the willingness to learn everything on set helps a great deal. When I got back into the movie industry, much of what I learnt prior was very much foggy and rusty due to lack of practice. It helps to have a director who is willing to give you a chance and believe in your abilities to shoot something substantial that will serve as your demo reel to show to other producers and directors.

As a cinematographer, do you have to be tech-savvy?

I think almost every budding cinematographer gets tangled up in the technology, especially camera technology that’s progressing at such a fast rate nowadays, compared to the film days when film cameras just evolved slowly together with the film stock.

How do you keep up to date with latest developments in your industry?

There are many resources on the net that are available. A number of prominent cinematographers are also very open and contribute to discussions on forums as well as providing masterclasses that you can buy. Podcasts are also one of my main sources of knowledge.

Do you study the techniques of some great cinematographers?
Nowadays, you can get in-depth, behind-the-scenes breakdowns from podcasts and online courses available on the net like the ones from Shane Hurlbut. But I should say that many of the great cinematographers’ techniques may not be applicable to the shooting realities of the local production scene because we simply don’t have the budget or array of equipment available elsewhere.

What genre do you like best and why?

I love the dark, thriller type stories. Because anytime anything is dark, you can get creative with the lighting which plays a big part of setting the mood.

What is a fulfilling shoot is like for you?

When the chemistry of the crew gels, the production design is great, and the story is interesting. It’s great working with a director who is in sync and is a truly collaborative process, rather than being a one way street. And if the food catering is great, that’s icing on the cake.

When will the great Malaysian movie emerge?
If you are talking about a blockbuster-type action movie genre, I would say the chances are extremely slim for the foreseeable future. The budgets available are just not there. However, for small movies, there have already been a number of fairly successful ones making the international film festival circuit.

Besides the technology you use for work, what kind of technology do you use for life?
You could say I’m still an Apple guy at heart. My household is almost exclusively full of Apple products. I use the iPhone, which doubles up as my stills camera. I used to use a DSLR but replaced that with a mirrorless camera, but in the end I sold that too and now my iPhone serves as my go-to stills camera. I use a MacBook Pro for work and personal things. The Apple TV plays a big part at home too as that’s where most movies and TV shows are played from.

What movies do you look forward to watching in 2017?
Alien Covenant
Bladerunner 2049
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Sunday
Apr022017

The crowdfunder

By Oon Yeoh

Crowdfunding is not a new concept but in Malaysia it’s still at its infancy stage. Still, there are already six crowdfunding companies operating here. One of them was co-founded by Elain Lockman, an Actuarial Science graduate with a Masters in Operational Research who was one of the early employees at MDeC.

She also had stints at iPerintis (now called Petronas ICT) and Malaysia Debt Ventures before venturing on her own as a consultant for tech clients like DiGi Telecommunications, Packet One Networks, Green Science and MSC Management Services. Last year she helped found Ata Plus with two other business partners. Elain talks to Savvy about what crowdfunding is all about and its prospects in Malaysia. 

What gave you the idea to get into equity crowdfunding?
The original idea dates back to 2010 when we wanted to create a shariah-compliant microfinance crowdfunding platform to finance disenfranchised micro-entrepreneurs. We actually secured a Cradle Fund grant to develop a prototype for this. There was interest from Bank Negara and some financial institutions but we were a bit too early in the game as many people were unfamiliar with the concept of crowdfunding then.

Who are your partners in this business and what do they do?
I have two co-founders. Kyri Andreou, who has two decades of experience in strategic planning, marketing and branding, looks at product innovation, education, branding, marketing and communications. Aimi Aizal Nasharuddin, an accountant with over 25 years of experience in business re-engineering, financial restructuring, corporate finance and operations, is responsible for investor management, legal, regulatory and compliance.

And what do you do in the company?
My role is to look into strategic partnerships, operations, deal flow and screening, risk management and entrepreneurship management.

Is crowdfunding something very new?
The concept of crowdfunding is actually not new. Before the invention of the Internet, mobile technology and social media crowdfunding had already existed but it operated within a closed network, limited by personal relationships, proximity and geography. With the Internet we are able to reach beyond borders to people whom we don’t even know, who may have an interest in contributing to some business ideas or particular causes.

There are different types of crowdfunding. What areas is Ata Plus into?
There are basically four types of crowdfunding: Donation Crowdfunding enables the public to provide financial contributions for a certain cause, with no tangible returns other than the feel-good factor. Reward Crowdfunding enables the public to provide financial contributions to an idea, project or business; in exchange for a reward, in the form of product or service. The popular international sites for this are Kickstarter.com and indiegogo.com.

Equity Crowdfunding enables the “crowd” to provide financial contributions in a company, usually a private limited entity in most financial jurisdictions. In exchange, the “crowd” will get an equity stake or a certain percentage of shares, in the company. In Malaysia, Equity Crowdfunding is regulated by the Securities Commission, since it is a form of investment, and the funds are solicited from the public. Debt Crowdfunding or P2P financing, allows the public to lend directly to individuals or businesses in return for a predetermined yield. In Malaysia, P2P financing is regulated by the Securities Commission and is only available for business financing. Ata Plus is a licenced Equity Crowdfunding Operator.

Any plans to get into the other forms of crowdfunding?
Yes, we will be launching our Reward and Donation Crowdfunding platforms this year.

How is crowdfunding different here compared to the US other than the fact that it’s very new here?
The crowdfunding scene in the US is the largest in the world but when it comes to Equity Crowdfunding, the US is actually a laggard. This is because regulations in the US on equity crowdfunding only allows investments from accredited investors — high-net-worth individuals. This turns equity crowdfunding sites into online VCs. We feel the regulation in Malaysia allows for true crowdfunding as it allows everyone to invest, be it retail or sophisticated investors.

What are the advantages of crowdfunding over other traditional and more established forms of financing?
There are three key advantage of crowdfunding. Firstly, if a business is funded this way, it would attract lots of media and social media attention. That’s good publicity for the company. Secondly, crowdfunding lets you share your idea to a wider audience which could be a potential not only for investments but also for partnerships, feedback, new customer acquisition and market validation. Lastly, members of the public who invest will naturally become brand advocates for the companies they invested in – again, good publicity for the companies.

What’s your business model?
We charge a processing and administrative fee for application screening – currently at RM3000. For successful campaigns we charge a 7.5% success fee.

How has the past year been?
I’d be lying if I didn’t say it has been a proverbial roller coaster. We are a start-up ourselves with our own funding challenges. So, careful consideration is given on how to optimize the allocation of scarce resources to achieve maximum results.  Also, being a very new concept with minimal public awareness and understanding, it has been a challenge to both attracting investor interest and gaining entrepreneur confidence. However, as success stories reverberate, both those concerns have been slowly eroded.

It’s still early days but what’s been your best success so far?
I would say the successful fundraising campaign for Skolafund.com. They became the first social enterprise in Malaysia to successfully raise funds via crowdfunding. It’s a big challenge for social enterprises to raise capital in Malaysia because of the perception that social enterprises don’t make money.

Do you favour any particular niche areas to invest in?
Well, I should point out that Ata Plus does not fund the companies. It’s “the crowd” that decided which companies it wants to invest in. That said, as a company we are very supportive of social enterprises or companies that create positive impact. Since such companies are usually under-served by traditional investment institutions, we like to go that extra mile for them. For example, we co-hosted the Social Enterprise Awards late last year with Mercy Mission.

How long do you see yourself doing this?
As long as it still keeps my adrenaline flowing and gives me personal satisfaction, I will continue doing this. I think it will be a while before I move on to something else. 

Sunday
Mar262017

What's right about Wong

From not knowing what he wanted to do, C.K. Wong is riding high in the e-commerce arena, writes Oon Yeoh.

C.K. WONG didn’t really know what he wanted to do. He studied Mathematics at university because it was his favourite subject in school.

Upon graduation, he joined a software company.

“You can become a good programmer if you’re good at Mathematics because the core of programming is Mathematics,” he rationalised.

Wong ended up spending eight years working in software development. As part of his job, he was required to travel to many countries in Asia including Japan, South Korea and China.

It was during that time abroad that he noticed that e-commerce was starting to take off. It was also during those trips that he began reading about it. Fascinated, he started blogging about it in 2008.

It was just a matter of time before he would make the leap. In 2010, he started his own online store selling a wide range of products including fashion items, children products, baby products and kitchenware.

“It was fairly successful,” he says, noting that at one point he was receiving around 50 online orders a day.

However, selling products to consumers wasn’t his cup of tea. He was more interested in other businesses. Two years later, in 2012, he joined Japan’s leading e-commerce platform, Rakuten, when it set up shop in Malaysia. He eventually started his own e-commerce enabler, Silvermouse.

Wong talks to Savvy about why he decided to start his own e-commerce-enabling business. He also shares his views on the e-commerce industry in Malaysia.

What made you decide to quit Rakuten?

Working in a big corporation helped widen my perspective in terms of knowledge, process and network but my personality isn’t really suited for a corporate job. I like entrepreneurship and even though I was doing well there, I was constantly thinking about how I could start my own business.

How did you source for business when you first started your company?

Even before I’d left Rakuten, I was already blogging about e-commerce (www.ecommercemilo.com) with a friend.

The exposure and branding that I got from my blogging endeavours allowed me to secure some clients even before I founded Silvermouse. So I actually didn’t have to rely on angel investors or venture capitalists to fund my start-up because I had clients from Day 1.

What does Silvermouse do exactly?

While we have positioned ourselves as an e-commerce enabler from the beginning, these days we’re now more and more like a digital marketing agency.

An e-commerce enabler deals with many facets of e-commerce such as setting up the system, operations, fulfilment, etc.

These days, our focus is on digital marketing via platforms such as Google Adwords, Facebook, Instagram LINE marketing and so on. We also do microsite development and even animation video production for marketing purposes.

How do you distinguish yourself from other e-commerce enablers or digital marketing agencies out there?

It’s true there are many digital agencies in the market but we won a prestigious recognition from Google Partners in 2015. It’s notable because we were the only solely Malaysia-based company to have won that recognition that year. We’re also one of the first agencies in Malaysia to be listed in the official Facebook agency directory.

Who are some of your famous e-commerce clients?

For retail, I would include AEON, Senheng and Caring Pharmacy. For e-commerce, it’s Hermo, Shoppu, IPmart, MDeC and eGHL. Other famous brands include Sony, Stabilo and GSK.

What do you make of the blogshop phenomenon which pre-dated most online store initiatives?

At one time blogshops were hot. They were easy to set up and cost nothing. But these days, that’s not the main way people shop online now. There are so many ways to sell online now. There are so many marketplaces and platforms. You don’t need to set up a blogshop for those purposes.

What would you recommend if an individual or a small company wants to do some basic e-commerce?

I’d say you can first try selling at online marketplaces like Lazada, 11street or Lelong. Get your feet wet on e-commerce using these popular platforms before starting your own online store.

It’s easier to start selling via online marketplaces compared to your own store, as they already have a lot of customers for you to tap. Starting and growing your own store require a bigger investment in terms of time and money.

Lazada seems to be the 800-Pound-Gorilla here. What do you think will happen if Amazon decides to come here?

Yeah, Lazada is the big player here. As for Amazon, I really think it’s too late for it to come into Malaysia now.

There are obviously many key success factors but if you had to list the top three things that are necessary for e-commerce to succeed, what would they be and why?

Firstly, know your products well. Product-wise, it helps to focus on niche or certain vertical markets when starting up.

Secondly, be prepared to work very hard. Online retail has some advantages over offline retail but it is not any easier to do.

Thirdly, become web-savvy. It’s always an advantage if you understand the Internet better, whether it’s digital marketing or the latest web technology.

Do you feel e-commerce is a way for companies to future-proof themselves?

Absolutely. Companies that do not adopt e-commerce may face challenges to remain competitive.

Indeed, e-commerce has the potential to improve productivity over traditional companies that focus only on brick-and-mortar businesses. It also allows companies to vastly expand their market.

Malaysia has 16 million digital customers but the Asean region has 87 million. Firms that can reach out beyond Asean will gain access to more than a billion digital customers around the world.

Where does Malaysia stand currently when it comes to e-commerce?

I’d say Malaysia is at an inflection point. When we trace how other countries — including South Korea and the USA — have matured over the years in terms of e-commerce adoption currently, we can see that they underwent an extended period of accelerated growth. (See diagram, bottom left)

We see similar e-commerce growth trajectories currently in some economies such as China, Taiwan, and Singapore, which are witnessing a rapid increase in e-commerce adoption in their respective countries.

Malaysia is in a prime position to accelerate from its current nascent growth stage to an accelerated growth path for e-commerce.

Do you personally shop online a lot?

Yes I do but it’s not just me. All my team members at Silvermouse are frequent online shoppers. There are parcels coming into our office every day. For local sites, I like shopping at Lazada and Lelong. For niche items, I look abroad to Taobao or AliExpress.

Typical growth rate in respective phases