When it comes to tech innovations, the most popular and widely used products—hardware, software, or digital platforms—are those that are enjoyed largely by the general consumers.
We’ve seen everything from ride hailing apps, to social media networks, to smarter personal devices, but what we are often clueless about are products that exist to improve other businesses.
What transpires in the business-to-business ecosystem, however, is unique and quite revolutionary.
From cloud and aggregator-type marketing platforms, which collate and synthesize sophisticated finance data, to facial analysis systems that extract and curate consumer insights, to social commerce enablers that help sellers unify online transactions in one easy-to-use platform—tech startups catering to the business-to-business (B2B) ecosystem have upped the ante in the recent years.
We spoke to three top B2B-focussed tech startups in Malaysia to see the types of innovation they are spearheading, and how they are faring in the Malaysian digital ecosystem.
How Finology solves roadblocks in the finance sector
What started as a simple idea among the founding team in 2010 derived from the observation that information on banking products were lacking online, the team behind Finology decided to launch Loanstreet.com.my in 2012 as their first product.
At the time, Finology realised that banks needed support to help make the transition to a digital world and to market their services online. Loanstreet.com.my is a solution for Malaysians to compare and apply for housing loans.
This pioneer product is essentially a popular aggregator-type marketing platform for banks and insurers to market products online, and for consumers to discover, compare, apply for, or purchase them.
By 2015, Finology had expanded the parameters of their services with an end-to-end digital onboarding and instant loan approvals system called Loanplus: a cloud platform for property developers and real estate agents to pre-qualify their customers’ loan at the point of booking.
Having partnered with 18 banks, Loanplus provides single point loan eligibility checking among the partner banks in less than 10 minutes, and can even handle tracking of loan application status.
It doesn’t stop there. Under their consulting services, Finology also offers Fintech and Insurtech solutions through XpressCover™, a system that allows insurers to rapidly build, deploy, and widely distribute new insurance products with minimal programming interventions; and XpressLend™, an omni-channel loan originating system with instant approval capabilities for banks and alternate lenders.
“The team at Finology takes time to study the issues and challenges of both consumers and clients and have a strong R&D where they can prototype, test and pilot solutions,” said Jared Lim, founder and CEO of Finology.
Lim explained, “more recently, with increased industry knowledge, the company has been able to spot opportunities and gaps in the market where they can provide transformative solutions and showcase them to prospective partners.”
Currently, Finology has clients in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Middle East.
Sci-fi flicks turned into a groundbreaking startup idea
Steven Spielberg’s 2002 sci-fi thriller Minority Report featured tech in the year 2054 that included a graphic processing unit (GPU) capable of processing and analysing images.
According to folks at Glueck, the Spielberg movie became one of their biggest inspirations for the facial analysis system they developed.
Named after Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck, developers of the “Social Prediction Tables”, Glueck Tech has stayed true to its inspirations with its sophisticated computer vision, artificial intelligence, and deep machine learning algorithms, which help measure people’s interests and responses to stimuli in real-time environments.
They realised early on that the global Out of Home (OOH) advertisement industry lacked a comprehensive “audience measurement tool,” and 60% of customers have not completed an intended purchase caused by poor customer service experience. This translates to an estimated $83 billion in lost sales for retailers.
Their solution is simple: using face demographics and facial recognition with emotion analysis to perform analytics and extract insights for Indoor Out of Home advertisements for media clients, and customer experience analytics for retail chains, malls, service centres, and banks.
“In the current market, the major players sell ‘rate cards’ promoting that their sites generate high amounts of viewership to derive higher revenue,” said Alberrt Alexander, co-founder and CEO of Glueck Tech.
“Our technology provides an accurate audit of people count, dwell time, demographics, and sentiments. By leveraging on our technology, they can derive increased and sustained competitive advantage in OOH advertising, prevent revenues from stagnating, and increase and optimise inventory space, among many others,” he said.
Helping sellers navigate through multiple platforms
A major hurdle faced by many online sellers using social media and chat platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp is that it’s hard to keep track of all transactions transpiring across multiple channels at the same time.
This is especially true for Southeast Asia not only because of SME trends, but also because of buyer behaviour where purchases are often triggered in platforms frequented by potential customers.
To facilitate and make these transactions more seamless for both the buyer and the seller, AVANA has developed a platform for social commerce providing social sellers with an easy-to-use system to help them better manage their orders and inventory.
Essentially, their platform is a social commerce enabler which collates activity and transaction data for social sellers present in multiple social platforms so that they can manage their business in one unified interface.
AVANA is the brainchild of its two co-founders, Luqman Adris who was an aerospace engineer and self-taught programmer, and Soh Yien Yee who started an online community for online blogshops when she was still in university.
The two met while working together in a digital marketing agency, where they built enterprise software and managed social media campaigns for Malaysia’s major shopping malls.
At that time they realised that businesses of all sizes rely on social platforms but do not have enough insights to track ROIs. They also noted the rising number of small sellers using at least one social media channel for sales but who do not have the capital to invest in automation tools used by larger businesses.
“We traded stories and decided to do something about this by developing a cost-efficient platform using our combined experience of software development for e-commerce and social platforms,” said Soh, co-founder and CMO of AVANA.
How are these B2B game-changers able to fair in the Malaysian context?
Malaysia’s vibrant, dynamic economy owes much to its young, growing population. As such, its high rate of technology adoption among citizens vastly help businesses innovate.
For Glueck, starting up in Malaysia is strategic because of the plethora of incentives designed to help grow the digital economy.
“We were a recipient of a government grant in our early stages while MDEC on the other hand helped us gain exposure regionally in Southeast Asia ,” said Alexander.
Glueck—whose business has accommodated customers from as far as Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, India, and Japan—credits Malaysia’s good support through business matching and market expansion programmes such as exhibitions, business trips and accelerator programmes. This has helped connect Glueck to various regional ecosystems.
On the other hand, Finology thinks that the startup ecosystem exists for those who have a steely determination to succeed. Malaysian tech entrepreneurs can get the support and resources that they need from both private and public institutions, but this needs absolute commitment and a rock-solid business model to acquire support and achieve ultimate success.
AVANA’s experience with starting out in Malaysia only differs from Glueck’s and Finology’s in that it is largely defined by the advent of technology from the consumer’s perspective. Since the idea behind their product was derived from social commerce, which is a manifestation of consumer behaviour, they credit much of their success to Malaysia’s adoption of the B2B market.
AVANA’s business operation has expanded to Indonesia and has provided solutions for customers in as far a Hong Kong and Taiwan. They believe Malaysia’s neutral market elements make it easier to scale regionally.
“The Malaysian startup ecosystem is definitely more robust compared to maybe 5 years ago, with more access to assistance, mentors, VCs and also peers from Malaysia and also within the region. It is the perfect place for you to start and experiment with a startup, since it has most of the market elements that you would usually encounter when you start elsewhere in Southeast Asia,” said Soh.
Where to go from here?
Glueck believes that there is still a lack of sufficient financial support for the Malaysian startup ecosystem. Without local support in financing and market expansion help, startups may find it difficult to sustain their businesses.
On the other hand, Finology believes that Malaysian entrepreneurs are more adaptive, with Malaysia having the potential to produce more world beaters — if we can improve our ability to develop and attract talent.
Despite this, all three startups are fairly optimistic. AVANA believes that Malaysia is now reaping the rewards of its efforts to help grow the startup ecosystem, seeing that we have gained a lot of great, innovative startups largely because of those efforts. More importantly, better government support can only mean more quality startups.