#BuroAList: Malaysian entrepreneurs get real with their work performance
This week on #BuroAList, we invited Kendrick Wong, CEO of Omnilytics and Shoppr, and Jeffri Cheong, co-founder and managing director of Kaodim, for a round table on their work performance. As it is that time of the year at work again (for appraisals, we mean), we let them decide for themselves on whether they've done a great job as an employer, grilling them thereafter on their key goals and past projects. Scroll down to find out more on their thoughts on their respective industries and key attributes that make a successful entrepreneur:
At only 26 years old and helming a data mining and marketing analytics company, Kendrick can be termed as a maverick in his field. Having started his first company at the age of 18 and selling it off at 22, he decided to build Shoppr back in 2014 with a vision of enriching the retail world with the power of data, and also because he was hungry for a challenge. Previously dabbling with the fashion industry, he spent the past three years amassing data from brands and retailers in the fashion industry, leading to the launch of Omnilytics today.
Share with us how Omnilytics started out, and what your company can offer to the market.
Back then, we realised there was a gap between reliable data that is provided in the market, online data and accessibility of that data by brands so we decided to connect the dots together. Often times, traditional market intelligence companies are unable to verify the source and the accuracy of the data, but Omnilytics can achieve that with a single click. Everything happens in real time and with 150 million SKUs on our dashboard currently, most of our clients refer us as their secret weapons where we help them in identifying market sizing, market trends, competitor comparison and more. We track every individual products on site — including the exact time of it selling out, when it gets replenished and the number of replenishments over its lifetime.
As South East Asia's first fashion analytics platform, what are some of the challenges when it comes to fronting a market intelligence company at this day and age?
The perception of "stealing data and selling to competitors" is entirely false, and data mining is still highly relevant in the Malaysian market. A lot of education needs to be done, which can lead to difficulties in acquiring clients locally in Malaysia. But what the local clients don't see is that they are missing out on an opportunity to access the world.
We have major retailers such as Net-a-Porter, Farfetch, ASOS, Nastygal, Zalora, Sephora and brands like Gucci, Celine, Aldo, Zara, just to name a few, where trends and strategies can be studied in real-time on our dashboard. As such, we have now shifted our client acquisition efforts to the rest of Southeast Asia, and some major fashion powerhouses have successfully implemented our services into their daily operation.
What are your thoughts on the Malaysian fashion market right now?
It's definitely blooming. The rate of growth in ready-to-wear businesses is absolutely delightful to observe but if we're talking about large-scale growth of the industry, that will only come with the adoption of data. A good example is retailers such as Boohoo or Zara — you'll see how data plays an integral role in the success of a business. It's a mixture of art and science. The rise and fall of local brands happens rapidly and it's sad to see part of the business struggle is not knowing how to manipulate and interpret the vastness of data that they have acquired.
The comparison of competitors is equally as important as studying your own data because it helps you to position yourself better in the industry. Most of the decisions made by local fashion and beauty SMEs are based on gut feelings — which is very dangerous because it helps the business scale in an irregular rate that will eventually reach a stagnant stage where growth is almost deficit.
What are your thoughts on the future of data mining?
The future of data mining is distributed. Data mining is useless unless there's processing behind it which can be turned into a business case, like what Omnilytics does. The future of data mining will be an extensive extension of different channels — that we can harvest data from anywhere in the world. More of our automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence will be implemented onto the process of data mining, and auto scraping from many geographical sites to obtain different types of information on the same subject.
I think there will be a smarter, more extensively distributed, and faster way of data mining. And it will be implemented to not only fashion but every possible industries in the market, e.g. beauty, home & living, business costs, etc. Businesses no longer need to hire an army of customer service and surveyors because a single computer will be able to achieve the same result or a better result in servicing many customers at the same time.
What is one thing that a potential client should know about Omnilytics?
You can now access to the world at your fingertips, from anywhere you are. Monitoring competitors and exploring the potential of a market that a business intends to venture into, understanding pricing to sizes of different markets is all on our dashboard. And for the first time, businesses can get exclusive access to accurate online market sizing — meaning that they can now position their brands better compared to other players who are on the same vertical.
What have you learned about leadership so far?
That communications is key no matter what. No one is less important or too important in an organisation. Keeping the communication lines open is the hardest yet the easiest thing to do, but it is also the most important (and often overlooked) thing to do.
What are some of the top qualities an entrepreneur should have?
Definitely passion but most importantly, perseverance to get through both the good and bad times. Passion without perseverance is like a five-second rah-rah session. When faced with obstacles that are common in any business, the latter is what will get you through.
What advice would you give an aspiring entrepreneur?
Find a mentor and ask plenty of questions like your life depends on it. Also, make sure that you understand the business, find the right team and always be prepared for the bad times and challenges before you reach your peak.
If you weren't a CEO of Omnilytics, what would you be doing right now?
Working to be the CEO of Omnilytics!
Are there any plans on expanding your reach to other markets i.e. outside of fashion retailing?
Definitely. We are already working towards it by raising funds at the moment so we can scale to markets beyond Southeast Asia as we are already in all major SEA markets. Additionally, we are scaling new industries and are aiming to cut 50% of the time and resources that are typically spent on a traditional expansion strategies by utilising our own data to identify brands we can help and work with.
What exciting projects can we expect from you next?
We are now working towards our ICO in Singapore. We have been implementing blockchain into our technology and leveraging crowd-sourcing to train our artificial intelligence system — which powers our fashion data and is instrumental in our business as we must show provenance of data. It allows us to train our artificial intelligence to serve new markets. We've just expanded into the beauty market and we're planning to delve into home & living, electronics, FMCG, financial markets and more in the future.
Jeffri Cheong | Kaodim
After realising that there was no proper platform for service providers in Malaysia, Jeffri decided to quit his 9 to 5 job as a commercial and intellectual property litigation lawyer, kickstarting Kaodim with co-founder Choong Fui-Yu. As the managing director of the startup, Jeffri now manages a team of 80 people across four countries in Southeast Asia. Last November, Kaodim successfully raised $7 million in a round of funding, with a focus on marketing and expansion this year.
What made you decide to start Kaodim?
I always wanted to live a life of creativity and authenticity, so I thought the best way of doing that was to start a business of my own. At the same time, we were seeing a lot of things that we do everyday being digitally assisted. You can shop online, you can get from one place to another using an app, but no one was trying to tackle the problem of finding a plumber or a contractor. That was a major pain point where we did not see any digital assistance or improvement.
On the service provider's side, a lot of these small businesses are also struggling to get customers and to grow their businesses using their mobile phones. So there was a business opportunity there, and aligning that with my desire to live creatively and authentically, as well as to deliver social impact to millions of people in Southeast Asia, it is my true work and I'm really happy with what I'm doing now.
What is one thing first-time Kaodim users should know?
It's a product that allows you to find almost any type of home service that you need, whether it's a mover, air-con servicing, a contractor or a cleaner. You can get reviews from other customers who have hired them to be assured that the decision you're making is the right one. All the service providers are verified and background-checked by us. We're with you every step of the way to make sure that your experience from start to end is a satisfactory one.
How was the transition like, from being a lawyer to leading your own startup?
Entrepreneurship now is a life of really high rewards and very bad lows — it fluctuates tremendously. There's no consistency, stability or certainty to it. Now I take a lot of risks and sometimes a lot of these decisions don't pan out the way that you want it to. You need to understand that this is the life that you've chosen, this is the path that you'll be taking and you need to be very comfortable with that. There's a lot of anxiety involved and you might go a little bit crazy sometimes, but it can also be very rewarding when you make the right decisions.
Describe some of the challenges that you've faced with your startup from the beginning vs. now.
At the beginning, I was doing everything myself. It was just me and my co-founder working out of the house, so I was doing things like getting all the quotations from the service providers manually, learning the basics of digital marketing — these were all very new to me, so that was quite challenging. But now the business has stabilised a lot so it's all about working with the team to figure out how do we get better and improve. Now that the product has exceeded the original aspirations that we had, how do we take it to the next level?
Back then, you were one of the first home service platforms. But now that there are similar apps out there, how do you distinguish yourself from the rest?
What I hear from our service providers is that we provide them with the most leads compared to anyone else. I think that is very important — that we are giving them a tremendous amount of stability for their businesses to grow. On the customer's side, we are making sure that we are really fast with the responses and that the quality of the service providers is high. We also offer them money-back guarantees, insurance — basically we're focussing on the product and the technology to make sure that the experience on both the vendors and customers' sides is really flawless.
What are the key areas of expansion you're looking to focus on with the recently acquired funding?
We're able to hire a lot of people that we weren't able to hire before along with building up divisions within teams. Money is also going into product development to see how we can improve the product even more, and also to use that technology to automate a lot of things that were previously done manually. We've also moved into a new office recently. Everyone is really happy with the new space, and it's a great sign of things to come.
What has this journey taught you about leadership so far?
I'm still learning and growing as a leader. I think that you need to give your team empowerment, discretion and flexibility to try and achieve things that they thought was not possible. At the same time you need to give them the guidelines and the support in doing that, and set difficult targets for them to hit while also supporting them so they can graduate through those targets. Empathy and compassion are also really important. I think these are the things that have worked pretty well for me so far.
What are some of the top qualities that an entrepreneur should have?
I think you've got to be very creative. You need to have very powerful daily habits and routines that allow you to increase the chances of fortune coming at you. I think that if you're consistent and diligent with your good habits, then success will be more likely. You should also persevere and remain positive all the time.
What advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
You shouldn't get into a business if you're doing it with the sole intention of making a lot of money. You should do it if it's going to make you happy, if it's going to give you a life of authenticity and allow you to feel free and liberated — I think that's the most important thing.
If you weren't the MD of Kaodim, what would you be doing now?
I have tonnes of ideas, a lot of different projects and cool stuff that I have in my head. If I had time to do all of that, I'd definitely try out some of those things. If I could do something that associated with art and music, both of which I love, that would probably be pretty fun.
What exciting projects do you have coming up?
Right now we're fully focussed on growing the business and making Kaodim an even better experience for both vendors and customers. So expect a lot of product improvements and developments in the coming year. There could be some personal art and music projects but I don't think anyone is going to want to see those (laughs).
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