Recently the Acting CEO of a government owned venture fund commented that the biggest challenge faced by Malaysian start ups is the failure of imagination and their ideas are often not worthy of tax payers monies. He claimed that they were a lot of applications but a lot of those applications are mainly from digital based start ups with many `me too' start ups, duplicates or variations of existing start ups.
The said Acting CEO lamented that if this continues, our tech ecosystem risks losing out to our neighbors, Indonesia and Vietnam.
We do agree with the assessment. In ASEAN, we are only bigger than Brunei, Singapore and Laos in terms of population size. With a population of only 30+ million and almost 75% of us living in urban areas and 80+% of the population having a smart phone, we seems to be inundated with more than one ride sharing platforms and food delivery platforms alone.
Most of the ideas we saw are domesticated in nature i.e its ability to be adopted across the region are basically non existent. Even platforms like Mudah and lelong are domesticated in nature. Carousell, a much later wannabe set up from Singapore grew at a much faster rate than Mudah and Lelong that recently it was announced that Carousell will merge with a subsidiary of Norwegian telecoms firm Telenor Group, 701Search, which owns online marketplaces Mudah in Malaysia, Cho Tot in Vietnam, and OneKyat in Myanmar, as part of the equity and cash agreement valuing the combined group at USD850 million.
On the other side of coin, while we agreed with the assessment, we are of the view that the Acting CEO has omitted the role the government `played' in promoting and encouraging the development of entrepreneurship, which is lackadaisical. Yes, a lot of these budding start ups are aware that there are a lot of policies and in fact funding available from the government to promote the development of entrepreneurship. But the efforts all stopped there.
Those manning these efforts does not exhibit or have the ability to connect and make introductions across the board - from manufacturers, design firms, supply chain experts - and exploring go-to-market strategies across geographies with those potential entrepreneurs. Granted that it takes two to clap. If there are great ideas, those manning the efforts would say they will provide such assistance but does it really happens? In short, it goes beyond providing just capital. The idea is to work with these entrepreneurs closely, connect them with the right folks in Malaysia and in other markets, take them on informal roadshows, teach them issues of scale, adoption and unit economics.