Sunday
Jul302017

Renting design staff

There are so many online market places for renting things. AirBnB is an online market place for renting apartments and houses, and if you think about it, the likes of Grab and Uber are online market places for renting a car and driver. But how about renting design staff?

Well, there’s actually one for that called Rtist (www.rtist.com.my) which was co-founded by industrial designer Tony Chua. From its humble beginnings with just a handful of designers, it now has several hundred designers registered under its portal. Its services are used by many advertising and design agencies.

The entrepreneurial Chua speaks to SAVVY about how this idea came about, how he grew his portal and his plans for the future.  

How did you get started in the graphic design business?
I studied industrial design at the Malaysian Institute of Art and when I graduated, I worked in industrial design for four years. After that I tried my hand at selling insurance because I preferred to be self-employed. I did this for a couple of years and was quite successful at it. When my sister, who studied graphic design, decided to start up a design studio, she asked me to join her and I accepted. But my role in the business was sales not design. I had learned how to sell during my insurance years and I put that skill to good use in the new business.

How did Rtist come about?
We’re a mid-range design company with many SME clients. One day, one of our clients asked for us to place a designer at their office because at the time they needed a lot of design work done and wanted someone on hand all the time. This was something we were not equipped for and we couldn’t fulfil his needs in that regard. But it made us realise there could be a demand for graphic designers for rent.

What was your first experience renting out a designer?
As a design agency, we’re always looking for new talent. This wasn’t easy to do as there was no online market place for us to source for them. So, it had to be done the old fashioned way, through referrals and word of mouth. One designer who applied to join us was not suitable for our needs but we felt he could be suitable for one of our clients, who happened to be looking for a graphic designer for a limited engagement. So, we arranged to rent him out to that client on a daily basis for up to one month. It was a success so we decided to continue offering this service.

What was the market response like?
Our clients were happy with this arrangement as we removed a lot of the hassle they’d otherwise have had to go through such as vetting the designer for quality, etc. We do all that for them so they don’t even need to conduct an interview. We have confidence we can supply the right candidate for the job. In the event that we’re wrong, it’s no big deal as these designers are being rented out on a daily basis and you can determine within the span of one day if that person isn’t the right fit.  They usually are though.

Was it easy getting designers to sign up?
At first we had to recruit them one by one and we managed to recruit about 10 designers that way. We started to rent them out to companies and word of mouth spread among clients as well as designers. From there it grew. Today, we have about 300 designers, so there’s a critical mass now.

What are the main benefits for designers joining your portal?
Rtist is a platform for them to gain access to many work opportunities, more so than they could ever get on their own even if they had a big network.

What does a designer have to do to sign up?
We have a briefing session every month that new designers must attend. These days we don’t do one-to-one interviews anymore. Rather, we evaluate them through a very detailed application form that allows us to understand their skill sets, what software they’re familiar with, what their work experience is and so on. Our application form is more detailed than JobStreet’s!

How many clients have you had since starting the business?
I’d say we’ve had at least 100 clients so far. Some rent our designers for just a day; some for a week; some for a month. Design agencies have got their peak seasons and when there’s a huge amount of work, they come to us because we have a good ready supply of suitable designers.

What type of clients do you have?
We have all sorts, from big agencies to niche or boutique agencies. Many of them need designers urgently when some project comes in and they don’t have enough people. Or sometimes one of their designers is sick or away for some reason. If someone is missing at 9am, I can get them a replacement designer by 11am. No one else can offer them this on a consistent and reliable basis.

Do you have non-agency clients?
We do have some SMEs that need designers for short stints. For example, TeaLive hired a designer from us for three weeks while they were preparing to launch.

What’s your income model?
Our portal is free for designers to join. We currently take a commission of between 15 per cent and 20 per cent, depending on the complexity and nature of the assignment. But we’re looking at a radical new business model for the future. We might be able to do away with commissions if the advertising model comes through. It’s hard to say whether this will work. We’ve just got to give it a try.

How do you see your portal evolving or growing?
I want to include a broader range of artistic people. Not just designers but copywriters, photographers, videographers, social media managers, etc. all under one roof. And I want to go beyond the rental concept to also offer full-time and part-time opportunities as well. That’s the dream!

Sunday
Jul232017

Healthy ready meals for diabetics

FOR many people, their careers are pretty straightforward. They go into the profession they trained for. Engineering students will usually go into engineering, medical students become doctors and those who study accountancy become accountants.

But for industrial designer Zas Ishak and his broadcast journalist wife Fiza Hussein, life had an unlikely twist in store for them, career-wise.

Both are self-declared foodies but they never expected to go into the food business. Indeed Zas worked in the design field and Fiza was on TV for some time. Both only seriously got into the food preparation after Fiza’s parents’ diabetes condition got bad.

Initially, their aim was to create diabetes-friendly food. This eventually led them to building a business around it. “To jump into the food and beverage industry is something we never imagined doing,” says Zas. “But we were open to new challenges and this project is very close to our heart. Both of us left our jobs to do this and we’re now focused solely on The Foodster.”

Zas tells Savvy how they went about creating an online diabetes-friendly food service from scratch and what he feels lies ahead for the online food industry in the country.

WHAT WAS THE GENESIS OF THE FOODSTER?

This project began when we decided to document every diabetes-friendly meal that we had prepared for my late parents-in law. Our thinking was to share and inspire others to prepare healthy and tasty meals for their loved ones who had diabetes.

Diabetes is a disease that can’t be cured but can be managed through a healthy diet. This ultimately led to The Foodster Diabetic Meal Plan.

HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE NAME “THE FOODSTER”?

Fiza and I both love food, and we wanted to come up with a name that’s fun, catchy and memorable, as well as something that’s digital savvy. After much brainstorming, we came out with Foodster.

WHAT WERE THE FIRST STEPS YOU TOOK?

At first, we had no clue how to turn our idea into reality. Then we stumbled across an entrepreneurship development programme run by CIMB. From there we were introduced to the MaGIC Accelerator Program, which was very helpful. We underwent four months of intensive mentoring where we learnt about different aspects of running a business — from marketing and sales to production and management.

Such knowledge is crucial to successfully running a business. We didn’t have that knowledge beforehand as neither of us had a business background.

WAS IT TOUGH AT FIRST?

It always is unless you happen to come from a wealthy family. We didn’t have a lot of money to start off with so there was a bit of suffering at first. We had to be very careful about how we spent our money. Shopping and vacations were no longer a priority. We also had to learn to work odd hours. There’s no such thing as a 9-to-5 mentality when you’re an entrepreneur, especially during the early stages of the business.

There were times when we worked until 3 or 4am. You don’t get much rest. You’re always thinking about what your next move will be. So, yes, it was tough but fortunately, we have very supportive friends and family members who encouraged us and kept us motivated.

HOW IMPORTANT IS SOCIAL MEDIA TO YOUR BUSINESS?

We use social media extensively. It gives us a lot of exposure and best of all, the platforms are free. The beauty of social media is the amount of data that you can get from your followers. This data can be analysed for a better understanding of your target market, which is useful for product development.

Right now, we market mainly through social media but we have plans to develop a mobile app too. We’re not a traditional food company in that sense.

IT’S OBVIOUS THAT YOU’VE PUT CONSIDERABLE THOUGHT INTO THE PACKAGING AND DESIGN OF YOUR FOOD CONTAINERS. WHY INVEST SO MUCH EFFORT INTO THIS?

My background is in design, remember? Packaging and design are really important because they are differentiating factors. Take Apple, for example. It is known for its clean, simple and minimalist packaging, which is so elegant. Because people tend to think of healthy food as being plain, boring and bland, we feel that it’s very important to make our products as appealing as possible.

One way to do that is through packaging that looks good. We also purposely make the packaging a part of the eating experience by providing some facts on diabetes and how to manage it. We use our food service as a method for creating awareness of diabetes.

HOW EXTENSIVE IS YOUR MENU?

Currently we have five different types of lunch boxes, which are available through pre-order or weekly/monthly subscriptions. We have also just launched our top-selling Triple Deck Premium Sandwiches and Cold Pressed Juices.

HOW DO PEOPLE PLACE THEIR ORDERS?

Digitally although at the moment it’s not very sophisticated. They can order through Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp, and they pay either via online bank transfer or cash-on-delivery.

ARE YOUR CUSTOMERS MAINLY INDIVIDUALS OR CORPORATES?

We have a lot of individual customers but we also have corporate clients. Jobstreet, Standard Chartered, Bursa Malaysia, Malaysia Green Tech and Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre are some of the companies that order our food when they have events or team building activities. It’s heartening to see some local companies encouraging a healthy diet among their employees.

DO YOU FEEL MALAYSIANS ARE MORE HEALTH CONSCIOUS THESE DAYS?

People today are more aware of what they consume. They pay attention to labels and packaging on food. On our part, as food providers, we try to be as transparent as possible about the ingredients we use and the method of cooking we employ so that customers know exactly what they’re paying for. We choose our ingredients wisely even though sometimes this costs us much more than it should.

HAVE YOU TRIED ORDERING FROM OTHER ONLINE FOOD COMPANIES?

Yes. There are a lot of companies out there that provide food on delivery — in fact, they’re sprouting like mushrooms — from small-scale home businesses to big corporations. The major problem we find with online food providers is the delivery service, which is sometimes slow. Food needs to be delivered fresh but this can be a challenge, especially in the Klang Valley, where there are traffic jams everywhere. It’s a challenge for us too.

WHAT’S THE MAIN INNOVATION YOU’VE INTRODUCED TO THE FOOD BUSINESS HERE?

You could say that we’re using our food business to tackle a major health issue in this country, which is diabetes. As mentioned earlier, both my in-laws had diabetes so we know firsthand how terrible this disease is. We’re not just selling healthy food but we’re also raising awareness of diabetes.

Prevention is always better than cure. I should add that although our food is branded as diabetes-friendly, it’s healthy food for everyone to enjoy, not just for those who have the illness.

Sunday
Jul162017

To be on or off

WHAT do you do if you love retail and you love the Internet? You get into e-commerce, of course. And that’s exactly what Adrian Oh did after getting a computer science degree from a local university.

He signed up with OYL Manufacturing to undertake a special project set up by the founder of the company that aimed to sell a special air-conditioner online. The air conditioner was affordably priced and designed for customers to instal themselves without having to call up specialists.

“It was a flop,” recalls Oh before adding: “But it was a great experience for me!”

Undaunted, he stuck with his decision to be involved in e-commerce in some manner and went on to found webShaper (webshaper.com.my), an e-commerce platform designed to help brick-and-mortar retailers get online in a no-hassle and super easy way. “I wanted to prove that we can be equally good, if not better, at building software and tech products that can really add value to people’s lives,” he says.

Oh talks to Savvy about the local e-commerce scene and shares his views on what online-only retailers as well as hybrid ones (those with offline and online components) must do to succeed in this scene.

WASN’T IT ALREADY SOMEWHAT CROWDED WHEN YOU ENTERED THIS SPACE?

It was but isn’t that the case with coffee shops too? You don’t avoid going into business just because competitors exist. The fact is, for every software product, there are always alternatives including free ones. In our space, we have both local and international competitors but we believe in competing in a free market. We just have to out-innovate the rest and provide clients with great customer service.

IN THIS SPACE, DOES IT MAKE A DIFFERENCE WHETHER THE SERVICE PROVIDER IS LOCAL OR FOREIGN?

Yes, it matters. Local know-how and support is very crucial. Our strong partnerships with local payment partners, marketplace partners and logistic partners matter a

lot. We allow our customers to build their own branded stores and yet provide them with the functionality to sync their inventories to top online marketplaces like 11street, Lazada, and Lelong, etc. None of the foreign providers are offering this dual capability.

HOW MANY NOTABLE LOCAL COMPETITORS ARE THERE?

There are about five that we compete with at our level but as I said, it’s not about whether competitors exist or not. I’m not obsessed about who my competitors are, I’m obsessed with delivering value for my customers.

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ARE YOUR THREE STRONGEST POINTS AS AN E-COMMERCE PLATFORM PROVIDER?

We take great pride in our designs. If you check our e-commerce store templates, which are mobile friendly, I’m confident you’ll find that our designs are absolutely world-class. We also have great localised features such as 1-click shipping for Poslaju and support for local payment gateways such as e-GHL, iPay88, MOLpay and Maybank2uPay.

We’re also the first e-commerce platform in Southeast Asia to invent an iPad Point-of-Sale system that synchronises your online and offline inventory. Basically when you sell one product at your physical store, the product inventory for your online store gets updated too.

WOULD YOU SAY E-COMMERCE HAS BY NOW BEEN COMMONLY ACCEPTED BY LOCAL CONSUMERS?

Yes and no. Yes in terms of buying behaviour which has slowly but surely shifted online. Lots of young people buy things online. But even so, e-commerce sales are estimated to be about five per cent of total retail sales. So, we have a long way to go.

What’s heartening is that even those who don’t buy online will definitely research the products online before going out to buy the items from a physical store. With such people, it’s just a matter of time before they become online buyers.

What holds some people back is still fear of online transactions. They think it’s just not safe. I guess this is normal when something is still relatively new. Think back to the time when ATM machines were first introduced in the early 1980s. It took a while for consumers to overcome the fear of using them. But rest assured, over time more and more consumers will buy products and services online. There won’t be a decline in uptake. You’ll only see faster and accelerated growth in this space.

FOR A VENDOR, WHAT ARE THE MAIN CONSIDERATIONS TO OPEN AN E-STORE?

To be honest, there are not many challenges to going online for physical retailers. There are lots of ready-made e-commerce solutions to choose from. But I do have one piece of advice to succeed online: Designate at least one full-time person to manage the e-commerce site, from updating product descriptions and answering queries to fulfilling orders. If you want to be serious about making e-commerce work, you have to dedicate resources to it. You can’t afford for the e-commerce store to be an afterthought.

WITH MEGA ONLINE MALLS LIKE LAZADA AND LELONG, WILL INDIVIDUAL E-STORES HAVE A CHANCE?

Of course, they can exist alongside the Big Boys. Did you know that one out of three vendors selling on eBay has their own branded webstores? Successful merchants care about building their own brands, owning their own customer database and being in full control of their own site. But at the same time, to help with sales, it makes sense to sell via other online marketplaces like Lazada and Lelong. I think every merchant should adopt an omni-channel strategy.

AS AN INDUSTRY OBSERVER, DO YOU THINK AMAZON WILL EVENTUALLY SET UP A MALAYSIAN VERSION?

Certainly. Some people think Amazon is already too late in the game but for such a behemoth, it’s probably never too late. Amazon Prime video has been available here since last December. And there’s also unverified news that Amazon will be stepping into the Southeast Asian market, starting in Singapore this year although that looks like it’s being delayed for some reason. Eventually they’ll come in. What they have already done is to make more products available to the Singaporean market and to offer free shipping there for purchases above US$125 (RM537). I suspect that’s what they’ll do too for Malaysia in due time.

YOUR SERVICE IS DESIGNED FOR SELLING PHYSICAL PRODUCTS. WHY NOT DIGITAL PRODUCTS LIKE E-BOOKS, MUSIC, VIDEO, ETC?

The market share of such digital products sold by local content publishers is really too small. However, if your services can be packaged into a product such as webShaper, it lets you upload it as “services” thus avoiding the shipping fee calculation. Services like travel packages and classes might work well if all you need is a platform to easily update your offering and take payment from your customers.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN CHALLENGES FOR A PHYSICAL RETAILER WITH AN ONLINE STORE?

1. Cross-selling Getting foot traffic to go online, and getting online traffic offline, that is getting online-only customers to start buying some things at the retail outlet.

2. Pricing Do you price the offline and online products differently or should they be the same? Customers usually expect the online stuff to be cheaper but could you then be cannibalising the offline store if you do that?

3. Cultural and organisational challenges How do you get your brick and mortar team to support your online store?

WHAT ARE THE MAIN CHALLENGES THAT AN ONLINE-ONLY STORE FACE?

1. Traffic How do you drive more targeted traffic to your site and improve the conversion rate, that is, getting visitors to actually buy stuff?

2. Repeat customers How do you get customers to come back and buy more stuff?

3. Staffing Hiring the right people with the knowledge to run your online store is difficult as such talents are in short supply in Malaysia.

Sunday
Jul092017

From lawyer to author

IT’S said that Malaysians are an entrepreneurial bunch. Ask any employee what their secret dream is and many would tell you it’s to start their own business. Anecdotal evidence suggests that becoming a published author ranks pretty high on many people’s secret wish list too.

Unfortunately for most people, starting a business remains just a dream. And so is writing a book. But for Marcus van Geyzel, these dreams have become a reality.

After years of working for law firms, he has set up his own practice. And to top it off, he’s just had his first book published this year.

Van Geyzel talks to Savvy about his evolution from a science student to a lawyer, and to becoming a non-fiction author.

He also offers an insight into the entrepreneurship scene in the country and talks about his plans to try his hand at writing fiction next.

WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE LAW AS A PROFESSION?

Growing up, I was never actually particularly attracted to the legal field. I was a science student all the way up to A-Levels, where I studied subjects like Biology, Chemistry and Additional Mathematics.

When it came to deciding on my career options, nothing really stood out although I was passionate about reading and writing.

I considered signing up for a journalism degree but ended up opting for law following advice from my uncle — a journalist who’s now a prominent figure in the local news industry — who told me that it’d be better for me to read law.

He said that a law degree would give me more options than a journalism degree, and that with a law degree I could still go into journalism if I wanted to.

However, once I started reading law, especially when I was exposed to the British education system, I really enjoyed it.

WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU HAVE DONE IF YOU HADN’T STUDIED LAW?

I probably would have tried my hand at something closer to my passion for writing, which at the time would have probably meant journalism.

My real passion is for fiction-writing but it wasn’t a feasible career option then — and probably still isn’t now. It’s really something to do on top of a regular job.

HOW HAS YOUR LAW CAREER BEEN SO FAR?

I read law in England, and also did the Bar course and got called as a barrister there, before returning to KL to begin my legal career.

I’ve always been in the non-contentious corporate law practice area, meaning I’m not a court-going lawyer, and I spent my first few years of practice at one of the big Malaysian firms.

After a few years, I moved with one of the senior partners when he formed his own medium-sized law firm, and was later admitted as partner of that firm.

In 2013, I started my own boutique corporate law firm with another partner. It’s been an interesting career so far as I’ve had the chance to experience being part of big-, medium- and small-sized law firms.

YOUR FIRST BOOK WAS PUBLISHED THIS YEAR. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT IT?

My long-held passion is for fiction writing but legal writing is what I do a lot of.

As a lawyer, I’ve been actively writing legal articles for both online and print media in this country.

I even co-founded a pretty prominent legal website, TheMalaysianLawyer.com.

My book, Law For Startups: What You Need To Know When Starting A Business was a natural progression of the mentoring and workshops that I’d been running for entrepreneurs.

Many people had suggested that I publish a basic legal guide for entrepreneurs, in a format and language that non-lawyers would want to read. There was nothing like that in the Malaysian market.

By writing this book, the advice which previously would only have been available to those who attended my workshops is now accessible to anyone.

It’s meant for entrepreneurs planning on starting a business as well as for those who already have an early-stage startup with plans to grow their business.

WHAT TOPICS DO YOU COVER IN YOUR BOOK?

The topics were specifically selected for being most relevant to entry-level start-ups, such as the right approach to legal matters; how to choose the best business vehicle; the basics of company law, including the relevant changes to the Companies Act; understanding a typical term sheet and shareholders’ agreement; fundamental employment law; and various common legal issues faced by entrepreneurs.

HOW DID YOU END UP SPECIALISING IN ENTREPRENEURSHIP?

Firstly, I should point out that there aren’t any laws which specifically apply to entrepreneurs.

It’s the same corporate law, employment law, intellectual property law,

contract law etc that applies to all businesses.

I’m a corporate lawyer. But I got actively involved with startups when I was asked by Cheryl Yeoh — when she was the CEO of MaGIC (Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre) — to help out by mentoring a group of Asean entrepreneurs on basic legal matters.

Over time, I became more and more involved with MaGIC and the wider startup eco-system in this country, providing mentoring, conducting workshops, and meeting and advising many entrepreneurs and investors.

It’s been very interesting and I’ve made many friends as well as learnt a lot about business, hard work and innovation.

HOW FRIENDLY IS MALAYSIAN LAW TO ENTREPRENEURS?

Compared to other countries in the region, Malaysia ranks quite well as a place for entrepreneurs to do business, and this includes the legal ecosystem.

The Companies Act 2016 has come into force this year, and the other relevant laws and regulations have also been sufficiently updated to keep up with most business innovations and trends.

This also applies for bigger businesses, which all startups would aspire to become one day.

As the business grows, the corporate governance and financial controls and infrastructure in Malaysia also make it easier to attract investors.

Most importantly, the regulators are also making a good effort to stay ahead of the curve, so I’d say that Malaysian law — both in theory and in enforcement or practice — is very good for entrepreneurs.

IS IT TRUE MOST LAWYERS ARE NATURALLY GOOD WRITERS?

No, I wouldn’t say so. I can see the thinking behind that notion — lawyers are supposed to have a good command of language and strong persuasive skills, and they also have to read lots and lots of cases and statutes.

But it simply isn’t true that most are good writers. There is an ever-increasing number of law graduates flooding the job market every year, and some of them have only basic language proficiency.

SINCE YOUR DREAM IS TO WRITE FICTION, WILL YOU ATTEMPT IT NEXT?

Yes! I’ve always wanted to write fiction but so far have been so occupied with my legal career that this passion has been set aside for the longest time — as is the case with most of us when it comes to our day jobs vs our passions, which is a shame.

After my Law For Startups book was published, I decided that I had to dust off my fiction-writing passion, and will be giving that a go in the next couple of years.

It’s been quite tough, going from being an expert in the legal field to a novice in the writing field, but I’m determined to put in the hard work and long hours required to learn the craft.

I’ve already managed to get a short story published in a local compilation: Little Basket 2017: New Malaysian Writing and a flash fiction piece published in another compilation called Micro Malaysians.

HOW SERIOUS ARE YOU ABOUT WRITING FICTION?

Work-wise, my focus for the next two years will be to continue growing my legal practice.

As a boutique firm, we’ve already achieved a lot as we’re recommended in international legal directories and have also won several awards.

But I also plan to put aside some time to fulfill my ambitions of becoming a successful fiction writer. I’m not too sure whether I’ll succeed with my writing ambitions.

I’m very much a novice in this area and there’s so much to learn. I know it’s a bit of a long-shot but I’m convinced I should give it a try.

Sunday
Jul022017

Crowdfunding a tennis champion

THE road to becoming a world champion in any sport is a very tough one. It requires plenty of sacrifices, training for many hours a day and giving up many of the leisure activities most kids take for granted. But beyond all that, it also takes a lot of money — to compete internationally and to train at top centres abroad.

Tennis champion Christian Didier Chin, 16, who has been training full-time for the past two years has set his sights on global success. To achieve that, he needs to raise funds and has adopted a rather unusual approach not yet tried by any athlete in Malaysia.

Christian talks to SAVVY about his complete dedication to tennis, the sacrifices he’s made, the dreams he has and his plan to raise money through crowdfunding.

HOW OLD WERE YOU WHEN YOU TOOK UP TENNIS AND WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THAT SPORT?

I was 10 when my dad introduced me to tennis. Before that, I was playing soccer a lot. My dad also loves soccer but he noticed that I’d come home sporting bruises all over my body or at times getting injured, every time I played soccer. He felt tennis would be a better sport for me as it would be less injurious to my body.

AT WHAT AGE DID YOU START PLAYING COMPETITIVE TENNIS?

Actually, having started at 10 was considered quite late. Many top players start at a much younger age. But I took to the sport quite fast and within two years I was producing some good results, winning national medals in the under-12 category. Later, I would do the same for under-14 and under-16 categories.

WHEN DID YOU START COMPETING INTERNATIONALLY?

My first international competition was at 13, when I started taking part in the Asian Tennis Federation (ATF) tournaments. By 14, I became the first Malaysian in the under-14 category to be No. 1 in the ATF rankings. At 15, I started competing in International Tennis Federation (ITF) tournaments. My current ITF ranking is 111, which is the highest any Malaysian player has ever reached but of course I’m not satisfied with that.

YOU ARE CURRENTLY TRAINING FULL-TIME. DOES THIS MEAN YOU DON’T GO TO SCHOOL?

Yes, that’s correct. I attended primary school in Kota Kinabalu and then at 13, when I got accepted at the Malaysian National Tennis Academy, I moved to Kuala Lumpur and studied at a school in Sri Hartamas. However, to really focus on my tennis, my dad and I decided it would be best for me to take a break from school for a couple of years. I will probably take the American SATs so I can attend college in the US. There are a few colleges with strong tennis programmes that have expressed interest in me but I will hold off college for the time being.

THAT’S QUITE A RISK YOU ARE TAKING, DON’T YOU THINK?

To achieve anything great you have to be willing to take risks. Taking a break from school was something my dad and I discussed at length and in the end he gave me his full support on this matter. I think 99 per cent of the parents out there would have said “focus on education” but my dad understood that in order for me to do well in tennis, I will need to train full time.

HOW LONG DO YOU TRAIN EVERY DAY?

On a typical day, I would train six to eight hours. So, you can say the court is my second home. I’m there all the time!

WAS IT TOUGH TRAINING FULL-TIME AT SUCH A YOUNG AGE?

Yes it was, at first. I trained with many seniors and got bullied in the beginning. I endured it and I think I’m stronger because of that.

DO YOU HAVE A SOCIAL LIFE?

I do have some friends who don’t play tennis but I don’t have a lot of time to spend with them. You could say I’m missing out on a lot of things kids my age are doing but to achieve success you need to make sacrifices. I must say that although at times it can feel a bit lonely, the sense of accomplishment and the authority I feel on court make it all worthwhile.

YOU ARE CURRENTLY RANKED 111TH. WHAT ARE YOUR TARGETS FOR THE COMING YEAR?

I hope to be in the Top 50 by year’s end and by end-2018, I hope to crack the Top 10.

WHAT DO YOU FEEL ARE YOUR CHANCES FOR THE UPCOMING KUALA LUMPUR SEA GAMES?

I’m confident. On a good day, and assuming I’m not injured, I think I can beat anyone in Southeast Asia. At the KL Open last year, I was the youngest player there but I managed to make it to the finals where I narrowly lost to Thailand’s Nuttanon Kadchapanan who is a lot older than I am. That’s nearly a year ago. I’ve improved a lot since then. I’m excited about the SEA Games.

ARE YOU ABLE TO GET THE RIGHT TYPE OF TRAINING IN MALAYSIA?

Unfortunately no. We don’t have the right kind of facilities and training opportunities here for tennis. It’s not like in the case of badminton where we have world-class training centres and top players. I need to train on different court surfaces like hard courts, indoor courts, clay courts and grass courts.

In Malaysia, we have hard courts at the academy and grass courts in Penang but that’s all. I also don’t have the right training partners to spar with. To really excel I’d need to train at one of the top centres in the US, France or Spain.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO TRAIN AND COMPETE AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL?

I’d need to compete in at least 24 tournaments a year and to train at one of the top centres abroad. I figure the total amount would range between RM300,000 and RM350,000 per year.

YOU PLAN TO RAISE FUNDS THROUGH CROWDFUNDING. HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT?

It was suggested to me by the Lawn Tennis Association of Malaysia. The folks at Ata Plus, a local online crowdfunding platform, is helping me out with this. Normally, they do this for entrepreneurs but the concept can be applied to sports too, so we are giving it a try.

WHAT IS YOUR MESSAGE FOR POTENTIAL DONORS?

I will make you proud one day when I become the first Malaysian tennis player to compete and win at the World ATP Grand Slam tournaments.

With your support and sponsorship, I am confident I can achieve this within the next 10 years. Thank you for helping to make it possible for me to pursue my dreams.

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