Thursday, March 18, 2010

TeAM Talk by Mark Chang, CEO of

Live blogging from PappaRich at Telawi area with Mark Chang, CEO of sharing at Technopreneur Association of Malaysia (TeAM) talk.

Mark highlighted that his journey started back in 1995. Mark would like to thank Mr. Siva for starting this initiative back then, and during that time, there would be a small group of 10-12 people who would be gathering and learning from each other, especially on technopreneurship. And along the way, everyone learned and grew in this area.

Now, 11 years later, Mr. Siva is still running the group and Mark really respected his efforts in nurturing entrepreneurship among the young entrepreneurs. Mark hope that in 5-10 years later, some of the people in this audience would be back to share on their entrepreneurship stories.

Mark thanked Chok Kwee Bee from Walden International, who was the initial investor for Mark highlighted that if anyone has anything to learn on getting funding, can definitely learn from her.

Mark commented that in this internet age, people can utilize Facebook or Twitter to connect to each other and know each other.

Mark started by sharing on his background. He was working in Perlis back in 1990, and it was not long after Communist surrendered. Perlis is quite a rural place, and Mark wanted to learn more about people, so he went there. But it is a very quiet place, and by 8:30pm, Kangar is quite dark and not many places are opened. Perhaps only the shopping center was open. So, Mark spent a lot of his time either working or learning on his own. Then when internet started, Mark was dying to tap on the power of internet.

At that time, internet was just starting, and most people just started with emails, and then internet browser started to be used. There was an attempt back in around 1993, where they tried to install sound in browser.

During that time, there was a group of internet enthusiasts in Penang who would meet up once a week. Mark started using internet back in 1992-93, when it was the days of Yahoo! and Netscape.

As there wasn't much to do in Perlis, Mark often worked 16 hours a day, so technically he worked for 10 years, instead of the 5 years that he actually worked. Then, Mark got the blessing of his supervisor to leave and try his hands on starting an internet business. Mark asked whether he could come back and work in the company in the future, just in case his venture didn't work.

Back then, Yahoo! was the popular one, and Mark was trying to build a Yahoo! of Malaysia. Mark remembered that during his students' days abroad, to get the news from Malaysia, it would be from Malaysian Embassy and it was about 1 month late. So, Mark tried to summarize the news in Malaysia and updated in the website.

So, it got very popular with the students abroad. And later on, the newspaper started to have their websites, and wrote to Mark that he cannot lift news from them. Mark also put up musics, like those from P. Ramlee for Malaysians abroad to listen as well.

As it progressed, Mark asked on what else the students abroad would need. At that time, the students need to get jobs, and it was almost impossible for them to know about job opportunities back home, when they were abroad. So, Mark started to get jobs from newspaper and then posted it online. Soon, Mark realized that he cannot continue to lift the jobs from newspaper, so he started to approach the companies. The 1st company that he approached was Intel.

At that time, Intel also wanted to hire Malaysians before they came back home, in the semiconductor boom. Intel put up 5 advertisements then, and after a couple of weeks, Mark checked with them, and there were only a few applicants, and they didn't manage to hire. Mark thought that it would be the end of his venture, but Intel gave him more job advertisements and soon more and more multi-national companies in Penang put up ads through Mark. After all, it was much cheaper compared to newspaper and it was very hard to get talent.

It was a good start. Back in 1995, there was an election in Malaysia too and Mark felt that it would be good to provide the news to the students. Mark had a bandwidth of 9.6 kbps, whereas his modem was 2.4 kbps. Mark would announce the news of the election to the Malaysians abroad, with the help of 2 students. One of the students would go to business center next door and watched the TV and jotted the results and came back to update it.

One of the hottest seats was Lim Kit Siang vs Koh Tsu Koon, and everyone wanted to know the results. By midnight, the modem light kept on blinking and Mark could no longer key in more results, as there was too much load. So, he had to disconnect the line and then keyed in the results and then connected back the line.

Mark said that a lot of things would not be as planned. A lot of things would have to be trial and error. Mark said that a lot of successful entrepreneurs are not super smart, but it was just that they are working very hard and keeping on trying very hard. And it is very important not to give up.

And from there, got more and more popular, and a lot of the users were computer science students, as it was mostly computer-related jobs. And soon, more and more university students started to use . Initially, the ratio of male vs female was 95:5, and soon it became 55:45, and Mark was very happy to see the ratio balanced up, as became more and more accepted by people and became a mass market product.

Gradually, was spreaded to Kuala Lumpur and Johor etc, from its initial base of Penang.

Mark said that he was a technical person. He didn't know about some of the other stuff, like how to comply with the law, without the support and guidance of others. Mark talked about having to line up to pay the electric bill etc. If he didn't do any of the task, it won't be done. Back then, there was only a handful of staff. At that time, anyone with working experience would not join . So, a lot of those who joined were fresh graduates, who might be inexperienced. So, Mark rallied the team to try and made it work. Mark shared about many things that he didn't know, for instance how to pay commission and had to discuss with his staff on that.

In1998-99, Malaysia went through economic downturn. There was a reporter from Far East Economic Review, who wanted to interview Mark. Mark shared his story and the employment market. When the article was published, it ended up becoming an article on , and the reporter put in a very good light. Mark started to receive calls from venture capitalists. At that time, Mark didn't even know what is Venture Capital. He even got contacted by VCs from Japan.

Soon, Mark took up VC money and advice from VC in Singapore - Walden International. Before that, Mark didn't have the ambition of become a big company. It was more of an expectation of a lifestyle business, where Mark could go to coffee shop during office hour and drank coffee with his friends. Mark asked two of his classmates whether they wanted to be partner, by asking them to put RM15,000 each. So, from day 1, Mark only have 1/3 of the company, as each of them had 1/3 of the company. They helped Mark along the way with quite a bit of things.

VCs went through the plan and advised Mark on what to do. got SGD3 Million in 1999 from Walden, and expanded very fast. During that time, Malek Ali joined . When Mark started the company, it was called Malaysia Online, and after that, was spun off, and Mark focused on .

Mark shared that coming up company names would be difficult. Financial center is called Wall Street, so Mark would call job center as JobStreet. By the year of 2000, has already raised some money and Mark, Malek and Kay Yip was invited to Hong Kong to present story and Malek presented at a Merrill Lynch conference to some high net worth people. A gentlemen walked up to Mark and said he was interested in the company. That person was Vincent Tan. at that time was fully invested, and Mark said that Malaysia Online could possibly be available. So, Vincent Tan and talked on MOL back then.

McAfee back then talked to Mark on possibly getting MOL, as McAffe's name was tough to be spelt. Another potential buyer was Microsoft. Mark felt that it would be better to sell off to Vincent Tan, as it would be a Malaysian company. Mark talked to the CEO of MOL at that time too.

The CEO of MOL showed Mark the ideas of MOL, and Mark was asking himself why he didn't think of the ideas. So, Mark bought quite a bit of MOL share at RM7, and eventually it dropped off to RM0.70 . So, Mark pointed out that he did make mistakes along the way.

With the VC money, gradually expanded.

Now, everyone sees Mark as the CEO of a Multi-National Company, but back then, he was a programmer, and the first person he hired was a salesperson. Then, Mark had to become sales manager, and it was tough. Then, Mark had to soon hire an external sales manager. So, it was a tough decision, as he felt that it would be tough to hire from internally, as they might not be ready to do the job as sales manager. Eventually, Mark brought in someone from outside as sales manager.

Mark then became program manager, and slowly moved one level by one level up the organization. Mark had to consistently read up books to learn the new job scope. Mark had no finance background, and he just had to learn from scratch. Back then, everything was done in cash, as Mark didn't know about accounting. So, that was a simple way to move forward back then.

Mark gradually learned to become CEO of a public listed company and then CEO of a multinational company. Mark back in 2000, actually went out to try and hire a new CEO, as part of the agreement with the VC. But eventually the CEO didn't join and Mark became the temporary CEO, and today, he is still the CEO. During that time, he agreed with VC that he would be the Executive Director.

Mark said that in a new business, it would be tough to come up with a business plan, as there was nothing to copy from. Mark said that in budget planning, expenses would usually happen, but revenue may not really happen. So, it was like a water tap, where water may not flow out, even when the tap is opened.

So, Mark and the team bootstrapped along the way. And with the SGD3 million that Walden provided, he didn't know how to spend it, as he never handled that much money. Luckily, the money was not spent, and when dot com bust came, the money saved .

In 2004, got listed in MESDAQ and more and more companies wanted to advertise at and more companies would like to be partner with as well.

When was listed in 2004, it was already 9 years that Mark had worked on it. During the ceremony of IPO listing, Mark really didn't felt anything special. At that time, the price of listing was 0.54, and it quickly went up beyond 1.00 . Mark reflected back that he always told his staff that they had to work very hard, as it was not good enough, but when it was accepted and valued by the public, it meant a lot to Mark, that is good in the eyes of the public.

A lot of staff who had been around with Mark since back then, they had now become quite successful, for instance some have become entrepreneurs or mothers. Mark commented on some of those early staff, for example See Ming, who played a good part in making successful.

Mark got the invitation from the son of Robert Murdoch, who was interested to invest in the company in the year of 2000. So, during Olympics Games in 2000, Mark was invited there with his wife, and they were given business class tickets to go over. Mark stayed at a hotel that everything was paid for, and he was provided with the box seat to watch any games in the Olympics Games. Mark didn't know that there would be separate entrance to the stadium, as well as box office, where food was served and they watched in the comfort.

Mark didn't know anyone there, so he just approached people, and when the people told him their names, Mark would ask them what they were doing. Some of them could be quite famous in Australia, but Mark didn't know of their background.

Mark said that there would be a lot of difficulties along the way. Mark said that he tried to explain to his mother and grandmother about his business, but they never understood. Once Mark's grandmother went to office, and she wanted to see the physical stock of the companies, and Mark didn't have anything to show (as it was internet business), and his grandmother thought that he was running a scam business!

Mark was lucky to have a lot of good partners, like Malek, Suresh, Albert and Greg. Mark focused outside Malaysia, and let them run the business. Mark was focusing on Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and Seek (Australia). Mark moved himself to Singapore for private and business reasons. Being there, Mark can talk more easily to more business analysts.

Today, owned about 10% in Recruit Holdings in Hong Kong, and in the last few years, Recruit made quite a bit of money printing airline magazines in China. And indirectly, owned 10% of those large printing plants. also owned close to 20% of 104 Corporations in Taiwan, and at one point, 104 Corporations made more money in one country than the entire . also owned some stakes at Innity and is one of the largest hotel booking websites in Hong Kong. Each day, they booked more than 2,000 rooms and they had good margin from booking the rooms.

Mark said that as grows, it has become more of a utility company, and some companies even banned their staff from accessing at office, as their staff may leave if they found jobs there. Mark asked those future entrepreneurs to not ban their staff from accessing, as the staff would have ways to do that, if they want.

Mark shared on him meeting Thomas from Brazil, who was helming Catho. Mark talked to Thomas, and Thomas said that Mark could just write a USD40 Million cheque and he would sell the whole company to Mark, and he would work for Mark for 5 years to make sure that everything was fine. However, did not have USD40 Million for it. Mark came back to Malaysia/Singapore to try and raise money, but was not successful.

And a couple of years later, Catho was sold for USD40 Million to Seek for 40% of the stake, and what Mark was offered earlier was 100%.

Mark also said that sometimes time may not be right for things to happen.

In the Q&A session, Mark was asked on what he would do differently for . Mark said that hindsight is 20-20, so it is easy for us to look back and comment, but being in the midst of it, it would be tough.

Mark highlighted that in the early days, he didn't know much about the concept of market share. So, he tried to focus on bringing in revenues, whereas his main competitor tried to build market share by giving some of the advertisements free. And eventually, the main competitor built up quite a bit of market share.

Mark highlighted that he was competing with a competitor who had sold a company to Li Ka-Shing, which eventually became a huge conglomerate in Hong Kong.

However, Mark said that ignorance could be a blessing sometimes, as they would just keep on fighting hard against the competition, without really knowing that they were huge giants and ended up giving up.

On the issue of job seekers vs employers, Mark said that "job seeker is king". Mark believed that if job seekers' needs are taken care of, they would be using the portal to apply for jobs, and with that, it would served the needs of employers.

Mark talked about quite a number of companies thought that online job board would be a good business to go in, and many had tried to start a job site. However, many of them failed. Mark said that it is a tough business, and if he was to start again, he won't do another job site.

Mark highlighted that he has about 60 programmers now building tools to serve the employers and job seekers. For instance, there is interview scheduler, which helped companies to arrange for interviews, and job seekers would be reminded of the interview and they can respond to it, informing employers about their attending of the interview. In terms of codes, there are millions of lines too.

So, to start from scratch, it would be tough. Moreover, currently, has close to 1.5 Million job seekrs in Malaysia. For companies, if they were to consider spending a couple of hundred Ringgit more advertising at versus lesser known job sites which is slightly cheaper, they would rather spend the money advertising at, to get more quality candidates, as if they did not, their competitors may get to hire the better talent, and eventually, it would cost them a lot more.

When asked about the % that gave to the Venture Capitalist which invested in the company, he said that it was around 20%-30% for SGD 3 Million.

Mark said that while he would love to be angel investors, sometimes, he is not prepared to invest in a business, where it might take another 10-15 years to succeed. He might not be ready to put in money and then shared the sufferings through many years. Mark also wanted the companies that he invest in, to have open minds, so that advice and opinion can be heard constructively. The chemistry between the investor and the entrepreneur needs to be there too.

Mark asked those who had business plans to share with Dr. Siva, Malek or Kwee Bee, and if they thought that it is good, they could help to contact Mark.

Mark also shared on his experience of visiting Silicon Valley back in 2000. His friend brought him to visit 2 brothers in the warehouse, where they were selling old games software. His friend was investing in it, and he asked whether Mark wanted to invest. Mark felt that the business was interesting, so he invested for some money. Since then, he occasionally kept in touch with them, and they assured Mark that the business is fine. Soon, dot com bust happens, and Mark thought that the business might get affected as well. So, Mark didn't follow up with them.

Then in 2007, they wrote to Mark to ask Mark to sign for them to sell the company for USD100 Million. It was the best investment that Mark had made. They were the one that created Guitar Hero, which was a top selling item in Christmas. A public listed company bought it over. Mark said that the two brothers worked very hard, and made it work.

Malek Ali, who was with Mark in the early days of, shared that Mark is also an investor in BFM 89.9. Malek is the founder and CEO of BFM 89.9 . Malek shared that sometimes path might diverged, but eventually it might meet again. Malek shared that when he started BFM, he looked for his ex-colleagues in to be his investor, and 3 of the founders/top management invested in BFM. Kwee Bee played an instrumental role too. So, Malek advised on building network and friendship, and one can tap into trusted people.

Malek shared that BFM was for a different agenda and it often promoted for social cause, eg it promoted Jimmy's games.

Mark said that Malek's passion of radio was there, even in his days.

Mark said that without the money from VC, would not have money and know-how to expand abroad. He mentioned that things like how to sign lease in India was something different and one had to learn to do it. India is a different world.

Mark shared that he had always wanted to be here with TeAM members, but sometimes time was tough to be arranged.


Above was live blogging during Mark's talk. I strived to capture as correct as possible based on what I could type when Mark spoke. If there is any typo or misinformation, do kindly let me know.

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Anonymous said...

This is story of a real hero who believes in improving people's lives. Not many people who succeed are as humble and true as Mark. Hats off to Mark.

Chen Chow - You have done a very good job of writing in such details. thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your information with the rest of the netizens.Reading the excerpt from his story has certainly given me a peek into how materialised and I am truly inspired by his courage to take the leap forward.