Connect with us

Entrepreneurship

Chang Chew Soon, Founder of Soft Space

Published

on

Chang Chew Soon is the founder and CEO of Soft Space. Having more than 14 years of expertise in the field providing innovative technology for the financial and payment industry, he gained experience in his leadership roles, managing businesses as a Country Manager (Indonesia), CTO and Founder of a technology company, Chilliwire Technologies which was eventually acquired by a larger group. Just before founding Soft Space, he was the Technical Director in one of the largest advertising agencies in Malaysia. A graduate of Staffordshire University, he earned both his Masters Degree in Software engineering and Bachelor of Science in Computing. His passion for technology has been the driving force behind Soft Space Sdn Bhd where the acceptance of card payment can be made using almost any device, anywhere, anytime, securely!

The Asian Entrepreneur is privileged to have Chang Chew Soon for a sit down interview today.

Tell us what do you guys do at Soft Space?

Soft Space is a mobile payment technology company that provides white label solutions to acquirers and banks which is both EMVCo (Europay, MasterCard & Visa) Level 1 and Level 2 certified.

How did Soft Space start?

It all started when I was having dinner one day with my father. My father runs a motorcycle spare parts distribution business which relies heavily on its sales force of 7 people to collect orders and cash payment on daily basis for its operations.

For the longest time, my father hasn’t been able to convince the banks to provide him with mobile EDC (Electronic Data Capture) terminals due to the cost associated and also business model required by the bank which couldn’t be met by most small medium enterprises business owners.

And when one of the salesman fled away with a lot of cash on hand, I decided to incorporate Soft Space and provide a low cost effective technology to address this gap in the market.

124

Who did you guys market to initially?

Initially, Soft Space tried very hard to market the solution the local financial institutions in Malaysia and it wasn’t received well by them. However, it is the merchants who has an immediate need and requirement for such payments channel are the ones who got very excited over it. The merchants then recommended and pushed the banks to look into the mPOS solution.

And how did you guys market it?

We initially approached the banks via various channels, and one of them was through the card schemes such as Visa and MasterCard who are also working closely with us to promote the solution. Since our first launch with Kasikornbank Thailand, the news quickly spread out across Asia hence banks noticed Soft Space and has been enquiring about us ever since. We’ve also been featured in various media such as magazines, appearing in TV talk shows and even participating in award events which also gave us tremendous exposure.

Was funding an issue?

For any startups, the ability to boot strap with limited funding is always key. We’re always struggling to keep our operational costs low, while the payment industry requires a lot of certifications and compliances continues to challenge us where there are heavy costs associated with it.

How did you guys overcome the funding issue?

We decided to venture out to look for an investor. However, we refrained ourselves from dealing with venture capitalists and wanted an angel investor instead whom shares our vision yet at the same time willing to give us the flexibility to operate independently without too much interference.

Tan Sri Vincent Lee saw the potential in us and believed in us, where he then invested USD650,000.00 (RM 2 million) in to Soft Space as the seed funding which gave us the mileage that we need in order for us to achieve our certifications and to secure our very first contract with a bank.

Was security ever an issue for you guys?

Yes, security has been the number one concern for every potential client that we came across. EMV Level 2 certification was the mandatory certification required in order for any financial institutions to adopt Soft Space’s solution, and we obtained our EMV certification back in August 2012, making us the first in Asia Pacific to receive such certification for our kind of solution.

Apart from certification, Soft Space went the extra mile by incorporating additional protection methods to ensure that the banks are comfortable in the security of the solution. Thus our centralized EMV processing is one of the differentiator of our solution.

122

Tell us about the payment market in Asia.

The payment market in Asia is very vibrant, closely regulated and at the same time fragmented as well. Each country has its own policies and guidelines, where policy makers such as Central Banks monitors closely on all upcoming payment technologies to ensure the integrity of the industry is uphold.

In many emerging economies in Asia, the infrastructure are yet to be matured. Therefore the traditional payment methods such as the EDC terminal has not managed to serve the majority of businesses.

Do you find the market here vastly different compared to the West?

Yes very much, especially when it comes to payments. In Asia, most regulatory bodies and policy makers will only issue payment licenses to financial institutions such as banks, where as in the West we could see that the policies are a lot more encouraging to foster third party payment processors/providers. Due to the higher credit card fraud rate in Asia in comparison to the West, financial institutions and consumers place a lot of thought into ensuring payments are secured.

How have you guys dealt with competition?

We mainly focus on what we do best, which is the technology itself. Many times, we’ve managed to differentiate ourselves with our competitors by the uniqueness and superiority of our technology when it comes to EMV processing. Also, the second differentiating factor was our business model as well. We aim to be a technology enabler such as banks/acquirers to offer our mPOS solution.

121

How is it like working on Soft Space?

Working in Soft Space has given me a tremendous opportunity to work with various group of people from different backgrounds. It is very challenging to manage a company of 30, especially while we are slowly growing and moving away from the startup environment by putting processes in place, however at the same time we need to maintain a balance of fluidity as well. Often, we are required to make quick decisions and not all of them are fully informed decisions and that keeps us on our toes and the adrenaline rushing.

Anything you’ve been unhappy about so far in the process of starting Soft Space?

While we are the first to launch this in Asia Pacific with Kasikorn Bank in Thailand, I had mixed feelings about it as while I was extremely happy that we launched with the largest acquiring bank in Thailand, but yet at the same time regretted it wasn’t on Malaysian soil with a local Malaysian bank.

What does the future hold for Soft Space?

We have currently secured contracts for deployments with multiple banks within the Asia region until 2014, and Soft Space will continue to cover as much market share as possible in the coming years. Soft Space aims to be the leader in the mobile payments industry by enabling as many financial institutions as we can to our mobile payment platform.

120

Can we expect new products in the pipelines?

We have had many feature requests from our clients, and a few that is key and worthy of mention is the support multiple payments channels such as electronic wallets, online payment gateways.

What are some important lessons you’ve learnt that you could share with our readers?

I’ve learned that humility goes a long way, and it is extremely important that we remain humble and maintain the appetite to always learn from others. There will always be someone who will be better in what you do, and to acknowledge that fact and turn it into a positive drive will go a long way.

Why do you do what you do?

As a geek myself, I get a lot of joy and pleasure being able to work on the forefront of mobile payment technologies. What drives us is that we’re able to see the society benefiting from our technology, using it in their daily lives and helping them grow their business.

119

How can entrepreneurs improve and better their results?

In my personal opinion, to use the word “resourceful” to describe an entrepreneur is an understatement. Being an entrepreneur means that while coping with extreme pressure, we have to keep a positive attitude and project out positive energy to the people working around us. I always actively keep a close eye on the community, and often try to study and learn from my fellow entrepreneurs, exchanging strategies and even collaborate if possible.

What are some principles or values that guide you?

In Soft Space, I place the interest of the company above my own. I often preach about being honest and always uphold our integrity as a human being. We are in the business of payments, and the need to maintain our reputation far exceeds any of form of monetary gain if it means we have to do something that goes against our conscience. Be humble, and have lots of friends. Always remember the people that helped you in the past, and never bite the hand that feeds you.

Any parting words of wisdom for our readers?

I would like to thank the Asian Entrepreneur Magazine for this opportunity, and my thoughts goes out to all the entrepreneurs in the world and no matter what challenges you may face, keep a positive attitude and success will come your way.

118

Connect with Chang Chew Soon and Soft Space today:
Website: http://www.softspace.com.my/
Linkedin: http://www.linkedin.com/company/soft-space
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MySoftSpace

Entrepreneurship

Science is the Next Big Thing in Startups

Published

on

From pharmaceuticals to petrochemical processes: Newcomer companies and investors and investors alike are setting their sights on science. How the start-up scene moves beyond the mobile apps bubble…

For the last two years Silicon Valley analysts and venture capitalists are anticipating the burst of yet another bubble. This time, under the risk are the mobile start-ups which constitute the biggest share of the market. Out of 50 companies listed in Forbes’ “the hottest startup of 2015” (by valuation) only six companies are based on innovations in other-than-mobile area, one company provide cleaning services, while the rest are diverse mobile apps.

Meanwhile many products listed can be barely called innovative. A significant proportion of the listed start-ups are texting apps, apps for people search (starting from business partners to life partners) or delivery services. While those services can definitely facilitate one’s life, in general they differ from their predecessors by only a narrower audience.

Many venture investors expect stagnation if not decrease on the markets, which is why they start to transfer their capitals from start-ups offering customers software to start-ups offering specific solutions for existing businesses. Such companies are expected to demonstrate more stability in the near future.

The Market for Mobile Apps Might be Saturated

Back in 2012 a talented entrepreneur could walk into a venture capitalist’s office, say his startup was a mobile-first solution for pretty much any problem (payments! photos! blogging!), and walk out with a good-size seed investment. “That pitch was enough to get going,” says Roelof Botha, a partner with VC firm Sequoia Capital. “It’s not enough anymore.”

“I think investors are bored with investing in another messaging app. And our idea is crazy enough that it might just work. ”, has declared in 2014 Nadir Bagaveyev a founder of a start-up using 3-D printers to make rocket engines. By 2016 the company attracted investors funding sufficient to launch its first rocket.

Pharma and Biotech Start-Ups in High Demand

Currently the most successful science-based start-ups are the companies offering innovative solutions in the field of pharmaceuticals and biotechnologies. It’s noteworthy that despite the previous revelations and even judicial proceedings the list of the most expensive start-ups still includes Theranos, blood analyzing laboratory, whose story did not descend from the main pages of the global leading media from 2014.

It first amazed the audience with its fantastic take-off and then with its collapse. One of the crucial parts of the success story of this start-up is its fundamental difference from the majority of the services produced in the Silicon Valley. Unlike the others, it was not a story of yet another beautiful gadget for communication or mobile app, but the story of the scientific idea which intended to conquer the world.

The great success stories in other scientific areas are now happening on occasional basis. However certain facts allow to predict that the situation is to change soon. One of such factors is growing interest among the big corporations to attract innovative solutions from outside to develop their businesses.

Given the accelerating pace of scientific and technological development of the world, the activities of internal R & D departments are often turn to be insufficient to ensure stable development of innovative business. Outsourcing of the R&D may become the efficient mechanism to stimulate the growth of the company. And high-tech start-up can certainly benefit from it.

Start-Up Technology for the Petro-Business

In December, 2016 world leading companies in the field of gas processing, petrochemicals and chemicals announced their intentions to enforce their R&D capacities by attracting start-ups. 3M, AkzoNobel, BASF, The Dow Chemical Company, DuPont, Henkel, Honeywell UOP, LG Chem, Linde, Sibur, Solvay and Technip together created a global stage for startups and investors.

“The petrochemicals industry can and must rely on the potential of open innovations to facilitate further inventions and implementation of new solutions in all major application areas, from construction and medicine to packaging and 3D printing. Thanks to the participation of international partners, IQ-CHem is now the largest global project within the industry which attracts innovative solutions and provides for their implementation into practice,” said Vasily Nomokonov, Executive Director of Sibur, a company which coordinates the project.

Positive Experience in Chemicals and Beyond

Some of the listed companies have already gained positive experience in working with start-ups which may have driven them to elaborate a systemic approach to attract innovative companies.

At the beginning of 2016, SIBUR and RRT Global start-up reached an agreement to build a pilot plant for isomerization based on RRT Global technologies in Sibur’s Industrial Park SIBUR “Tolyattisintez”. According to Oleg Giyazov, co-founder and CEO of RRT Global cooperation with a large corporation bring significant advantages to his company.

“By cooperation with Sibur we get a huge industrial experience that enables us to develop technologies and solutions better fitted to the market demand. This advantage is often not given due attention, but we, on the contrary, see significant opportunities in it. Currently, RRT Global cooperates with several companies around the world” he said.

Another petrochemical leader BASF enjoys successful cooperation with Genomatica start-up. In 2013 BASF started the production of 1,4-butanediol based on renewable feedstock (renewable BDO) using Genomatica’s patented process and in 2015 the license was expanded to the Asian market.

Unlike traditional forms of cooperation between a start-up and a venture capitalist, a cooperation between start-up and a relevant corporation allows to minimize the risks associated with investing in a potentially promising idea where the key word is “potential” (but not “guaranteed”). While delivering services in the same field as the start-up the corporation gets an opportunity to more effectively and accurately estimate the market value of an innovative idea and to support its implementation.

Structural Changes Ahead: Outlines of A Coming Market

In the short term prospective, possibly in 2017, the global start-up market will face structural changes – both in terms of start-ups professional orientation and of funding mechanism. In the future science-based start-ups will dominate the market and will change our lives at a deeper level than the way of sending a text message or searching the restaurant for an evening meal. To be more concise this is already happening in the pharmaceutical industry, and the other scientific areas are to follow.

_________________________________________________

About the Author

This article was written by Dominik Stephan of Process Worldwide. See more.

Continue Reading

Callum Connects

Norman Tien, Founder of Neuromath and Early Math Matters

Published

on

From a young age, Norman Tien, found his passion helping students as a math tutor and went on to translate that into a successful business.

What’s your story?
From the age of 14, I knew I would be in business for myself and started designing my company logo.

Growing up in a poor family, I worked part time while I was in school. That’s when I started tutoring and realised I had a gift to help students “see” mathematics. I delivered good results, and my students started to love math as well.

A turning point was when I was down with dengue fever and I realised I had to grow my business to the next level. I started a learning centre and that was the beginning of Neuromath. The initial years were tough as costs went up while my personal income took a dive. I almost gave up, but I pushed through.

Today, we have 3 specialty math enrichment centres managed and delivered by my dedicated team of teachers.

What excites you most about your industry?
“How to win” has always influenced how I position myself in the industry. I researched the psychology of learning, why some students are so naturally good at math, while others struggled. I managed to find the connection, and have always sought out niches to position myself so I can win.

In the beginning, I fused academic delivery with psychology to differentiate my services. Now I have a good team of teachers fully equipped with a psychological skillset.

In the next evolution of our business, we will incorporate technology into education in order to customise each student’s learning experience based on his or her needs.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and educated in Singapore. One key driver why I started a business was, as a youth, I witnessed how my dad struggled daily as a taxi driver trying to make ends meet.

That said, I am very blessed to be in Singapore and to be given the right education. I see this as a very important factor to my success today.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore – well, for one, most of my businesses are here. Singapore is convenient for business and is very well governed. There are rules and systems that make the entire entrepreneurial journey more secure here. One big plus is the location: Singapore is a hub that allows us to connect to the world.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
船到桥头自然直 –
There is a Chinese saying that when a boat goes near the pier, it will automatically align itself (with the current). It means we don’t have to worry too much, that things will take care of themselves.

A mentor once challenged me: “But who can guarantee you can even reach the pier?”

It is such a highly competitive world we are in, who can guarantee success? This is the ONE question that has been etched in my mind for decades. The Chinese saying always comes to mind when I am positioning, designing and strategizing for my business.

Who inspires you?
Mr. Lee Kuan Yew – The fact that he started ruling the country just like a startup. With limited resources, he was able to find a strong positioning to differentiate his country from the rest of the of Asia. With hardwork and proper planning, he transformed Singapore from a fishing village to a prominent financial hub in Asia.

Because Mr. Lee Kuan Yew positioned Singapore so well, government owned companies, such as Singapore Airlines, have emerged as the best in the world.

His story inspires me, spurs me to understand that success is not by chance but by design – every little step, all the strategies are all planned out. Not at all by chance.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
My business coach, Marshall Thurber, shared with me the power of the “Trim Tab” – a small part of the rudder system in a ship. This Trim Tab, despite its small size, is able to influence the entire ship’s direction by turning it.

This metaphor helped me see that a man can influence the entire world if the right effort is applied. We are now living in an entirely new world, the way we commute with an app on the phone – that’s the power of the Trim Tab at work.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would embark on the same journey but I would seek a mentor at a very early age.

I have been through many hard knocks along the way, and I definitely could have shortened the learning curve if I had a mentor to advise me on the many aspects of entrepreneurship.

How do you unwind?
Driving down long highways helps me unwind, that’s when I let my mind relax and wander.

I love long distance driving and riding. My wife gave me a Harley Davidson Tourer for my 50th birthday and we intend to embark on riding holidays together in Asia.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Hong Kong – I love the fast pace and the vibrance of the city. I love the cars there and it’s a very unique and exciting experience for me. And of course, I love the food there too!

Everyone in business should read this book:
One Minute Millionaire – this book highlights the mindset of an individual that is the key determinant for success in whatever we embark on. As long as we know we have a very strong reason why we need to do it, we can do it!

Shameless plug for your business:
I am the CEO and Founder of 2 Math enrichment brands:
Neuromath is a Specialist Math Learning Centre that helps students from Primary 1 to Junior College, empowering them with strategies, skills and a strong desire to learn and problem solve. We use technology to train students to avoid careless mistakes reclaiming 30 marks or more in Math exams and achieve their full potential in math.
www.neuromath.com.sg

Early Math Matters is a premier Mathematics and Cognitive Development enrichment centre for preschool children aged 3-6 years old. Through purposeful play and our renowned EMM approach, we help learners build a strong foundation for problem solving at an early age, and instil in them a passion & love for math that will stay with them for life.
www.earlymathmatters.com

We are actively seeking passionate teachers, entrepreneurs and investors who are keen to grow the education business with us.

How can people connect with you?
I speak regularly at workshops for schools, parents and platforms demonstrating the use of technology for peak performance in education.

Do contact me at
www.NormanTien.com

Alternatively, you can connect with me:
www.NormanTien.com/facebook
www.NormanTien.com/linkedin

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

Continue Reading

Trending