Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Understanding the mentality of Investor in Malaysia (and about fund-seeking entrepreneurs)

I had applied for 4 government grants before, and entered 1 pitching reality TV show, and I am still out of luck with 1 chance still pending. I might not know a whole lot about success, but I do know about failure, haha.

There is this hype about government grants many years back, with the launching of Cradle, Mosti and MDEC funds. I was still employed then, but I guess it’s the best time to write up some business proposal to see if I can get some FREE MONEY to start my first business.

My first idea 6 years ago is Document Management System (DMS), as I was in software business consulting and companies are paying a few hundred thousand for such system. I thought maybe we can create something simpler and better and sell it for less than one hundred thousand, but then there are many such solutions out there (including open source one).Our proposal is accepted, and we went to the 1st meeting, and it kinda end there with no feedbacks whatsoever (it’s common practice for them to keep silence about the reason for rejection).  I guess we don’t have much of a unique selling point, except that we think we can do it better and cheaper than others (and the market is there). I guess we fail because our idea is not unique, and we probably don’t have track records to show as well. Then again, they are approving “funny” projects like Sang Kancil animation, some sales system, etc.; eventually they stop publishing about the projects they funded. Learn about what they don't fund.

My second idea about 5 years ago was Property Prices and Statistics, where the website will show you the current and historical prices, and you can do a comparison. Our business model is selling report (or premium access) for detailed records. I think it’s pretty cool and useful. But the same thing happens, our proposal is accepted, and we went to the 1st meeting and then it stopped. About 1 year later, one of the grant we applied finally get back to us (there have a 1 year backlog, OMG!) and ask us to do a presentation. One of their panel say the people don’t need such services (there is no need to compare property prices), because he doesn’t need it. Then he say RM 20K is too much money for such project, then he tried to slash it down to less than RM 10K (OMG, just pathetic). At the end, we didn’t get an offer as well. Why did I fail? Perhaps we don’t have track records; is it my failure to persuade them there is such a need, or they don’t have the foresight? For me, how can you ask a bunch of middle management who didn’t start any business before to provide insights into evaluating other businesses? A few years later, I did start Malaysia Property Price as a sub project, to test if it really works. It gotten some eyeballs, but not enough traction (I can’t afford to spend more resources on this idea at the moment, perhaps later). Maybe they are right? But it still sounds like a good idea, shit.

Then I stop to believe in these Grant thingy. If I have so much faith in my own idea and capability, why not use my own money and start it instead? I finally quit my job and started (MMW), where the initial focus is on new property launches. It gains a small traction over one year, but not enough. I left to start a consulting business with a friend, and come a year later to “reboot” MMW. This time we are slightly smarter and better, and we venture into Food & Restaurants (because the other similar sites in Malaysia are just not good enough, and the best stuff actually comes from bloggers). After a small success with Food, we redo Property, launch Event and Map. Event and Map didn’t quite pickup, but Food is great, and Property is doing well. I guess I got complacent for a while, because iProperty is too big for us to challenge (not something can be beaten technologically), and other food players just didn’t keep up. In 2011, I decided to take MMW more seriously (I cut down my freelancing jobs, but sometimes couldn’t resist the temptation of money knocking on my door). I manage to launch MMW Foodie (Android App) and Malaysia Price Checker. I started to think perhaps it would do me some good if I can get some funding, so that I can resist these freelance jobs, and employ someone to speed things up. So I applied for a grant, and saw a chance on a reality pitching show, and go for that as well.

My last proposal is about Travel, continuation from MMW Food. The reality pitching show didn’t turn out good for me, mainly due to 1) Some judges misunderstood my idea (my fault) 2) They feel I shouldn’t do Travel because I have no track records, and I should focus on Food 3) They feel the market is saturated. What can you do when people don’t trust you, and ignore your track records? Market is saturated? It’s like because there is Yahoo (and Altavista), so you don’t need Google; at the other end of the world, another VC just invested USD 4 Million into Gogobot (a travel website), WTF!

My last adventure is a presentation for a grant, and we have the usual doubts 1) We don’t think you can handle Travel, just stick with Food 2) TripAdvisor is so great, so you can’t be better than them 3) MMW is not that great (Ouch!). We are a failure until proven success, so I should ask for Grant for something which I already did (Food); perhaps I should. I did list out our “unique” features which TripAdvisor doesn’t have, but I guess we “speak” but no one actually “listen”; then someone get very “emotional” about our food search cannot sort by popularity (which I later tested to be working, maybe he is using a Mac/Safari, which we didn’t test on because the user base is less than 5%) and start making remarks which make the impressions that we make shitty application; and he love TripAdvisor so much that I have an uphill battle (is he really emotional, or it's a "test", hmm). I am not saying TripAdvisor sucks, but they are the champion because they have the content and reviews, but they are complacent with features and usability (and user experience); actually the same happen to us with MMW Food, thus I want to make things right and better. Is 300,000 monthly visitors an achievement? You can say it is pathetic, or it’s okay, and maybe it’s great. Can you build a website with 300,000 MAU?

Everyone knows Google is great after it is successful. Given that if you have the chance to invest in Google in the early days, are you the one putting in money, or you are the one saying “There is no money in search” How sure are you about the remark and decision you make today, and how much are you willing to bet on it? I guess this are the questions investors (or evaluators) should ask themselves.

As a fund-seeker, there is a lesson to be learned from the Kentucky Guys: fail 3000+ times before finding an investor. Keep trying, haha. Prejudice, everyone have it; both the Investors and Entrepreneurs. Keep trying on a bigger data sets to get the "real" picture.

This post is getting too long; read the next post for How to Kick-ass in VC/Grant Pitching (Malaysia).

PS: Will my "exposures" back fire on my reputations and future chances? Probably, but then again; this is who I am. If you can't accept this, then probably we can't work together.  道不同不相为谋; 千里马要伯乐。

No comments: