A Netpreneur's Views on the New Economy

Malaysia.CNET.com culls the views of a local netpreneur Cheong Yuk Wai who is making waves at home and abroad.

Think outside the box. That's ponytail-toting netpreneur Cheong Yuk Wai's mantra as he strives steadily towards his goal of being a successful player in the Net Economy. His outfit MyBiz has carved out a reputable name for itself, in its almost two years of existence, as a viable e-commerce-enabled exchange between various businesses, linking multiple buyers and sellers within and outside Malaysia. Services offered are akin to what would normally exist in a brick-and-mortar environment -- with partners, customers, suppliers, procurement, accounting -- all major cogs in the system.

And true to this mantra, while others may shy away from small and medium enterprises (SMEs), Cheong sees tremendous opportunities in this sector, generally known to be averse towards the adoption of the Internet as a business tool. The first MyBiz e-community, MyBiz Malaysia, was launched in April 1999, and started with 50 SMEs. Now it is in excess of 300 SMEs with the outfit already a regional player. He must be doing something right! Cheong shares some of his thoughts about netpreneurship in the country with Malaysia.CNET.com recently.

Malaysia.CNET.com: It is generally accepted that netpreneurs are now finding the New Economy environment less friendly than before. What should they do?

Cheong : I think the first thing budding and even relatively experienced netpreneurs need to do, against the backdrop of a tougher business climate in 2001, is to really think through their business ideas and plans. Bear in mind, that this was not always the case in the last two years of the dot-com craze -- things like marketing and business plans were perceived to be more important. Now it's all about making your business viable and to do that, you have to utilize a lot of brain power. This would be my catchphrase for 2001. You have to recognise that you have to add value to the market segment you are targeting.

How about the issue of funding this time around? A tougher climate means netpreneurs will face more hurdles in this respect. What do you think?

Well, I think netpreneurs may have it easier when it come to funding in some respects --at least when it comes to approaching venture capitalists and the money men. Unlike the last two years when the dot-com machine was in overdrive, VCs have more time now to sit down, evaluate and analyse business proposals.

They (the VCs) are willing to listen to you now as there is a significant "reduction of noise." (By noise, Cheong is referring to the pervasive hype surrounding the Net economy in the last two years). In the early days, before you can finish your spiel, VCs would often just make up their minds without really understanding what the netpreneur really wants to do. Now, they want to know the differences and nuances of a business proposal. Yes, it makes it tougher on the netpreneur but the likelihood of creating real value is much higher too. So, that's why netpreneurs need to sit down and think hard!

What do you think netpreneurs need to flourish in Malaysia?

I think what is needed in Malaysia is a network of netpreneurs. Bear in mind, I am not talking about a weekly networking event like First Tuesday, Wireless Wednesday etc. which is generally a chance to meet VCs. What I am talking about is a need to form a common bond among netpreneurs because of who they are. This is akin to the strong business networks formed in Malaysia over a long period of time between families. This by the way, is one of the strongest informal links ever found in Malaysia and in Asia in general. Such links can only be formed over a period of years. Perhaps in the next generation of netpreneurs, such a network will exist here too.

What are the characteristics of a successful netpreneur?

I believe there are a few traits which still hold true now. Netpreneurs must:

  • Have a clear idea of what makes his or her business tick -- This must not be relegated to the chief technology officer, the marketing person, the investor etc. As the person in the driving seat of pushing the viability of his or her business, the netpreneur must know the workings of his enterprise inside and out.

  • Be very passionate -- this force of energy will motivate and inspire people around him or her. One must exude passion.

  • Have confidence and at the same time, humility -- In Asia, this is important as humility is inbuilt in the local culture. A gung ho approach normally will not work, so you have to make humility work for you but at the same time, personify confidence. It is a fine line, but a necessary one.

  • Have good management skills -- netpreneurship involves a lot of people. One needs to motivate, cajole, inspire and take care of them on a daily basis. If you cannot manage, you are doomed. So a fair amount of hands-on operational experience in running a company be it Old Economy or new, is a must.

  • Have a good grasp of technology -- you don't need to be a rocket scientist but what is needed is a good macro-level understanding of how technology can work to enhance your business.