As of late, there has been a lot of doom and gloom in Malaysian media regarding how successful startups from Malaysia are looking to Australia’s ASX to raise capital, or how regional unicorn, Grab, once the pride of Malaysia is now known as a Singapore-headquartered startup.
This led many various founders and industry leaders to share their lamentations regarding the challenges Malaysian SMEs face in attracting investments and the limitations of doing business in the country.
While indeed, there are plenty of issues that startups have to deal with in Malaysia; there were also plenty of top founders in Malaysia that shared an opposing view to the negativity.
Many Malaysian startups such as Fave, EasyParcel, TheLorry, Applecrumby, and more, are not only highly successful, but also have offices all around the world, employing thousands, generating billions in revenue, and attracting many more millions in investments.
Most of these companies concurred that Malaysia is a good place to start a regional if not a global business. Malaysia is multiracial, multilingual, and multicultural. As a result, the market is highly diverse; forcing founders to deal with finding ways to communicate their message to reach key communities. This makes it easier for startups to branch out into more homogenous markets as they would already possess experience with handling diverse communities.
Malaysian demographic incentives such as a strong middle-class and high Internet penetration (73 per cent in 2017 according to the Department of Statistics) make it easy to launch a digital business too.
Other reasons cited include the relative ease of conducting business in Malaysia, especially due to relatively low employment costs but with a highly skilled talent pool. Attracting foreign talent is also not a big issue. In short, many founders view Malaysia as a great place for startups to thrive. In many ways, we see Malaysia as the Asean sandbox. Where founders can build great businesses, expand to Asean and beyond.
If Malaysia’s Budget 2020 is any indication, the government seems to be in agreement. Budget 2020 doubles down on key initiatives to boost digital entrepreneurship and the ecosystem as a whole. Coupled with existing initiatives, it is clear that the government believes that increased support for startups and SMEs is the way to go.
As Malaysia enters the digital age, the country is poised to be home to many great companies in the years to come.