Echelon 2014: Look out, world, here come the Malaysians!

The first ever Echelon Malaysia has just concluded and what a rockin’ event it was. 

Held in Kuala Lumpur on 24 and 25 November, Echelon Malaysia showcased Malaysia’s growing role in the global technology industry. The event brought together Malaysian startups and the who’s who of the industry, including investors and industry leaders, for one and half days of intensive knowledge sharing and networking.

If there was just one takeaway from this conference, it would probably be: get ready, because Malaysians are going to take the regional – and possibly global – tech scene by storm in the near future. One could sense that the ground is indeed shifting in the Malaysian entrepreneurial landscape. It’s the beginning of a new sense of Malaysian confidence – one that is proudly Malaysian and ready to take on the world.

Throughout the two days there was a great sense of excitement, especially the second day. There was also a sense of anticipation, like a rumble of thunder before a storm unleashed its power. The halls were filled with entrepreneurs with a strong sense of purpose, eager to bring a new and game-changing idea into the world. And they would not let anything get in their way.

Day 1 kicked off with double track workshops in the morning. There was a technical track and a business track happening simultaneously. And boy, was it intensive! By lunchtime, each track had completed four sessions – all in the space of about three hours.

The speakers were some of the biggest names in the tech industry. The technical track saw people like Alan Wong from Paypal, and Bikesh Lakhmichand, the founder of 1337 Ventures, speaking on the technicalities of building a successful startup. Over on the business track, held in an adjacent hall, expert technopreneurs spoke on what it takes to successfully break into other Asian Markets. 

One of the more lively talks was by Danny Oei Wirianto, one of Indonesia’s top technopreneurs controlling 15 companies under him. He shared some valuable insights into the Indonesian market and what a startup needs to know to succeed in that market.

Looking at his success today, not many know that Danny was a school failure and teen rebel before he eventually found his calling in business. (So there’s hope for all you “naughty” boys and girls yet!)

Day 2  was even more power-packed. The morning was peppered with a series of rapid-fire 20-minute talks, delivered by some of the biggest names in Malaysian tech scene. Eleven speakers, representing both investors and entrepreneurs, shared war stories and insights into what it takes to succeed as a startup – all in the space of just over two hours.

This was the day where Malaysian technopreneurs really shone. The hall was buzzing with energy as the delegates listened to Malaysian after Malaysian taking to the stage and sharing their vision of building “the next big thing” right here at home, with home grown talent, and taking it across Malaysian borders into SEA, Asia and the world.

Perhaps the two speakers who made the biggest impact in Day 2 were Anthony Tan, the founder of MyTeksi, and Nic Lim, founder of 8common.

As Anthony spoke about MyTeksi’s beginnings and its success stories, it became clear that he is fiercely proud that it was 100% homegrown. He told of when he was raising funds from investors and they asked him why he couldn’t spell “taxi” right. His reply: that’s how we spell it in Malaysia and we’re proud of it.

Anthony also spoke about the importance of finding a problem and focusing on how to solve it, instead of complaining how bad things are in the world. Words like “Stop complaining! Start fixing shit! Get shit done!” peppered his talk. It electrified the 300-odd people in the hall who were intent on doing just that. Naturally, he got a loud round of applause!

Nic Lim on the other hand was much more subdued in his talk, but no less electrifying. He explained that his business model was not starting a business from the ground up, but acquiring business and taking it to the next level. Then he quietly gave a few examples of Silicon Valley companies that he had bought. The point really hit home – here was a Malaysian who was buying up Western tech companies and taking it to a level the founders couldn’t! That’s the real “Malaysia Boleh” in action, man!

The climax of Echelon 2014 was the Startup Showcase at the end of Day 2. Seven startups were given the chance to sell their ideas to 4 regional Venture Capitalists as well as the audience. Winners were decided by audience voting as well as judges’ choice. 

The seven startups were Recomn, a site like Agoda, but for service providers; Worthy Book, a discount coupon business; Lending Star, a cross-border crowdfunding service;, a site serving the needs of women in their various stages of life; OMG Paradise, a social networking site that also acts as a freelancer matchmaking site; Tide Analytics, an app to track the effectiveness of a marketing campaign’s response rate; and Shoppr, an app that makes mobile shopping so, so easy.

Recomn was the clear crowd pleaser, as the app benefited both buyer and seller, and its social platform allowed customers to review service providers. Tide Analytics was the judges’ choice, probably because it had great potential for massive scalability and monetisation.

Perhaps the most important thing about the Showcase was its effect on the aspiring technopreneurs in the crowd. Seeing how confidently the startups answered the investors’ questions and how interested the investors were in the ideas being presented was an inspiration. It proved that the world was indeed sitting up and taking notice of Malaysian ideas and talent. And they were willing to invest millions into these Malaysian companies.

Mohan Belani, the co-founder and CEO of e27 – the event organisers – summed up the Malaysian startup scene best. In his keynote address on Day 2, Mohan revealed that Malaysian tech companies that were being acquired were among the highest valued in Asia. This proved that there was plenty of great Malaysian ideas and plenty of great talent building on those ideas. 

Another theme that consistently came out during Echelon Malaysia was the idea that Malaysia is in a unique position to penetrate the other markets in South-east Asia. Our multiculturalism, strong entrepreneurial spirit, talent pool and language strength were all factors that were mentioned. These factors were attracting a lot of international investor attention.

“So it’s time to stop giving excuses why Malaysia can’t make it in the world, and it’s time to get down to work,” said Mohan in wrapping up his talk.

And at the end Echelon Malaysia 2014, it looked like that is exactly what delegates intend to do.

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