Tuesday, July 16

Malaysia: An Asean tech hub?


Listen up Malaysians: If you find yourself hankering for the latest Apple gadget, it turns out you don’t have to look far for a good deal.

Malaysia not only has the best prices in Asia for Apple products, but also better than those in the US and Europe.

The observation, brought to light in a price list published by hongkiat.com, overlaps with Malaysians’ propensity for leading the shift towards mobile and adaptation of new media.

There are 127 phone subscriptions for every 100 people in Malaysia, according to the International Telecommuncation Union, making Malaysians the third most mobile connected in Asean just behind Singapore and Vietnam.

Malaysia’s low import tariffs on electronics and multicultural society fond of sharing in various languages (and thus across an exponential amount of websites and platforms) has clearly made the market one of the most tech savvy and connected in the region.

As of end-2012, nearly half of Malaysians had a Facebook profile. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, along with opposition leaders, have become avid Twitter users.

According to Burson-Marsteller, a public relation (PR) and communications firm based in Singapore, 42.2 per cent of Malaysian internet users are on blogspot.com.

This wave of digital acceptance has in turn spurred innovation across the tech realm.

Nuffnang, Southeast Asia’s largest blogger community, was able to rapidly boost regional expansion by tapping the rising tide of Asian social media users, who increasingly turn to mobile devices as their tool of choice for sharing content.

Facebook and Twitter, according to Nuffnang chief executive officer Timothy Tiah, act as light-hearted mediums to share content, while devout writers and online influencers remain on blogging platforms, offering options suitable to varying lifestyles and personalities.

Besides selling gadgets cheaper than China, which ironically manufactures many Apple products, Malaysia has also done its fair share to promote innovative tech start-ups.

One such bold example is Penang-based Piktochart, an online infographic design tool that nearly doubled its users to 300,000 over the first five months of 2013.

While co-founder Ai Ching Goh reluctantly laughs over the inevitable need to acquire an FFF loan; that is, a friends, family and fool loan, she also explained that the government has been equally as supportive as her immediate network.

“The Malaysian government, through its ‘Craddle’ programme, gave us a US$150,000 grant to push out a bit of inbound and outbound marketing techniques,” Goh told Inside Investor in June.

Thanks to the booster pedestal made possible by ‘Craddle,’ Piktochart now has an envious horizon, having reached the ear of prospective venture capitalists.

“We are hoping to conduct another round of investment to raise US$1 to US$2 million by the end of this year from investors that we have already been speaking to,” Goh added.

The easy acquisition of new and improving technology is doubtless a key ingredient in what could be a new era of integration and innovation in Malaysia.

The thought alone is an affront to stereotypes that pin down Asians has having limited skill in the innovative space.

But with access and exposure comes experience. Malaysia appears to be at the front of the queue to gear up to something greater.