Award-winning business coach and author Peter Lam recently interviewed entrepreneur Ganesh Kumar Bangah, who is also Executive Chairman of Commerce.Asia and ASX-listed Netccentric Limited, on the ProfitMAX podcast, regarding the latter’s experiences and success strategies as an entrepreneur.
For a start, Ganesh is widely recognised as ‘Malaysia’s Bill Gates’.
Ganesh’s entrepreneurial streak showed up early in his life. As a secondary school student in Johor, after his PMR exams, he started a small business reselling PC soundcards he had bought in Singapore to his school’s teachers, who wanted to install them within their PCs.
“After my Form 5 (SPM) exams, while waiting for my results, I became a cyber café operator. That’s when I saw there was no software to monitor or manage cyber cafes. When I went to UTM after I got my results, I managed to find some of the other students there to develop a cyber cafe management system for me together with the owner of the cyber café. We used it at the cyber cafe and we sold the software to 30 other cyber cafes,” he added.
In the early 2000s, Ganesh noticed a trend of Internet companies providing ‘free’ services such as Hotmail (email) while gaining their revenues from advertising. “I should do something similar, so I came up with the idea to give the (cyber café) software for free and control the first screen.
Ganesh, along with his business partner who owned the cyber café he operated and another partner, convinced Tan Sri Vincent Tan, founder of the Berjaya Group, to invest 2 million ringgit for 60% in their new company. This was the start of MOL AccessPortal which subsequently turned into the payment platform, Money Online.
“We turned these cybercafés into payment collection points, while Tan Sri Vincent Tan turned his 7-11 outlets into payment collection points; it became a big channel, as people started paying for games in 7-11 for their kids or nephews and nieces. The company grew over the next 10 years – I listed the company first when I was 23 years old, becoming the youngest CEO of a public-listed company in Malaysia, then I listed it again on NASDAQ several years later.”
Since then, Ganesh has also founded Commerce.Asia, which he describes as being inspired by Shopify, a platform that integrates to marketplaces like Amazon and helps businesses create their Web stores.
“If Amazon is the supermarket, Shopify helps you build shop houses for you to set up your own store to sell. I saw the potential for e-commerce enablers from Shopify, and thought I should build a ‘Shopify of Malaysia’, if not Southeast Asia, and so I started investing into e-commerce enablers to build an ecosystem similar to Shopify.”
Ganesh believes that funding is no longer the challenge it was when he started out with MOL, although he faced other challenges with Commerce.Asia that he did not face with MOL.
“Funding is easier, the demand is there, but at the same time, because people are seeing this to be a big industry, competition is stronger. There are so many different types of competition out there; so to succeed today in any digital business, you need to find what’s called a ‘product market fit’ – you must find your own niche, your ideal customer profile, then customise your product to target that ideal customer.”
Helping local merchants and brands grow regionally
With Commerce.Asia, Ganesh’s goal was to help local merchants and brands grow regionally, as well as to grow their online presence.
“I didn’t start this business to make money; in fact, I always believe that making money is just the fruits of your action. If you want to make money, don’t become an entrepreneur; become a banker.
“But if you want to have a positive effect on the world, then you become an entrepreneur. I started Commerce.Asia because I found that merchants and local brands don’t really know how to sell effectively. Local brands do very well selling in retail, but they don’t do well online. They especially face competition when it comes to foreign merchants. Because of that, if our retailers and our local brands don’t step up to the plate, we will be challenged because we then depend on all these foreign manufacturers.”
Ganesh is bullish about Commerce.Asia’s staying power and competitive advantage in the field of online commerce.
“If you don’t have competitors in today’s world, your niche is too small and you’re not chasing a big enough market. The biggest difference we have is that we have an entire ecosystem. We don’t depend on third parties for warehousing, or technology, or software development – we have our own source code and development team.
“Because we have an ecosystem, we can keep costs low; hence, we are more cost-effective, more efficient, and our expertise is in growing our clients. They can rely on our constant innovation and staying up-to-date within the larger technology ecosystem in Malaysia.”
What advice does Ganesh have for aspiring entrepreneurs and SMEs?
“Culture is important, so focus on building the right innovation culture within your organisation. Today is a youngster world; the consumers of tomorrow are youngsters, so we need to have them in the organisation so that we stay relevant.
“After building the right culture, we need to focus on the right niches and segments, and then it’s about how you grow the business from then onwards.”
Ganesh also notes the change in the way people want to work.
“People management is always a challenge. The young today, especially in Malaysia, want to work very differently. When I first started my business in 2000, you could tell your staff what to do. Now, you can’t; if you tell them what to do and get angry and scold them, they may leave you and become a Grab driver to have side income. Instead, you have to convince your staff what to do, so it’s much more collaborative rather than authoritarian.
“Today the young are not only motivated purely by salary; of course, they look at option plans and whatnot but more importantly, you must have a higher purpose and then you’ll be able to attract better talent. Purpose is important now, and it must come from the heart.”
To listen to the podcast, click here.
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