This article was published on March 14, 2011

Grey Attic founder talks about the Malaysian Start-up scene

Grey Attic founder talks about the Malaysian Start-up scene
Francis Tan
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Francis Tan

Francis Tan is the Asia editor of TNW, who is based in the Philippines. He is particularly interested in Asian Internet startups, social me Francis Tan is the Asia editor of TNW, who is based in the Philippines. He is particularly interested in Asian Internet startups, social media and e-commerce. Get in touch with him via Twitter @francistan or Email [email protected].

Business incubator programs, which have proven to be extremely helpful in getting startups to launch, are booming all over the world.  One of the latest to join the bunch is Grey Attic, a Malaysian-based incubator program that aims to follow the footsteps of startup accelerators such as TechStars, Y Combinator and SeedCamp.

Grey Attic aims to create between 8-10 investment-ready businesses on an annual basis. Startups are matched with commercial opportunities, and teams turn these opportunities into a trading business within three months through a bootstrap experience with intensive mentoring. Grey Attic lets founders focus on doing the fun stuff – creating a great product, being mentored every step of the way, without all the hassles of running a business entity in Malaysia.

TNW Asia is lucky to have been joined by Daniel Cerventus, one of the founders of Grey Attic, in an exclusive interview about their business incubator program, as well as the Malaysian tech scene and culture.

What is the startup scene like in Malaysia?

Malaysia is an interesting market. The population is around 27 Million people with more than 50% broadband penetration rate and over 100% mobile phone penetration rate. We do not have a strong e-commerce culture yet but most people are willing to buy something online if it is a bargain.

As for funding, we used to have more government grants for entrepreneurs in terms of tech startup but currently there is only Cradle, an agency that provides around RM 150K up to RM 500K for the tech sector. However, the rate of approvals seem very slow because of the application load.

Also, as things change online at a rapid rate, most of these grants force you to spend it only after one year to maximize the grant money. If you complete your project faster, you do not get the full amount. This is one of the main reasons why there have been very few interesting startups in Malaysia.

Ideas are not unique and that makes competition who take less than a year to finish, perform better than Malaysian startups. They are able to test out their ideas in the market sooner. By the time the incubated projects are launched, the competition would already be making money or have a huge gap in terms of users.

Tell us more about Grey Attic. What inspired the idea?

Grey Attic is more like an early startup mentorship program for 100 days. We modeled it after various early stage incubators and programs around the world such as TechStars, Ycombinator and TetuanValley. Our goal is to enable talented Malaysian developers to test out their ideas and get their first customer base within 100 days.

We want a lean startup that is agile. These startups should be able to validate their ideas fast and make changes. We are also looking more towards a cash-flow kind of business instead of just companies which only aims for exits.

This would be first initiative of its kind in Malaysia.

In what area would you recommend startups to focus on?

To be successful in Malaysia, stop focusing in Malaysia. I get pitched all the time for “I want to be ebay of Malaysia, facebook for Malaysia and etc.” It takes the same effort to look at a global company than just focus on building something for Malaysia. Things on the internet are hardly confined to a geographical area.

At this point, any sector is good as long as you can find a way to innovate. Do not look at ideas like Facebook or Twitter where you need to gain scale to make money. That is a huge challenge as there are very little series A and beyond funding in Malaysia.

It took Facebook and Twitter hundred of Millions to scale to a point they can make money. If you are not in an area where you can raise hundred of millions, move of to your next idea.

What are some of the promising startups in the country?

There are more B2B focus startups in Malaysia. What I like are Socialwalk, and maybe on the consumer side, Wootfood. I believe there should be more launching by end of the year.

Can you share a few tips to aspiring entrepreneurs and applicants?

Ideas are cheap so learn to pitch it well. Most entrepreneurs in Malaysia are very secretive about their ideas. It is sad because, they are not aware if their ideas are not unique or not good enough. It is even sadder that these entrepreneurs think an idea makes the huge difference and forget implementation is ultimately what will help you to be successful.

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