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11 Interesting Lessons I Learnt from Starting a Business in Malaysia



Dutch start-up Saleduck recently opened an office in Malaysia and launched their online deal platform in Malaysia and Singapore. Commercial Manager, Rosanne Hortensius shares with The Asian Entrepreneur what she learnt about starting a business in Malaysia.

“We encountered many differences between starting up, and having, a business in the Netherlands and Malaysia. We discovered a lot of small (cultural) dissimilarities, like for example Friday being an important day for Islam people in Malaysia and Malaysian buildings missing a fourth floor as number four is considered the unlucky number. We also came across more important lessons that we will share with you.”

1. Malaysian English

Even though Malaysian English originates from British English, it is really not the same language. Malaysians use different grammer rules when writing and are prone to leave out determiners. Also “he carry” instead of “he carries” would be considered okay. In the beginning we thought we needed to revise English texts that were written by our Malaysian employees so it would be what we considered “correct” English. Now we realise Malaysian English is just its own language and we should leave it as it is.

2. Language allowance

In Europe we are not familiar with the so called language allowance that employees in Malaysia get when they speak a foreign language that is needed for the job. At first we thought the expected salary that people who speak a foreign language ask for was higher than what we had in mind, until we heard it was actually normal to get extra compensation for the fact that you speak a foreign language.

3. Resumes

We received an overwhelming amount of applications for our open job positions. A lot of them seemed really impressive at first. As an online discount portal, working with e-commerce channels sounded really promising to us when we read this in applicants resumes. When interviewing these applicants we found that working with e-commerce channels means quite something else in Europe than it does in Asia. In Europe we mean that you are familiar with for example e-mail marketing, affiliate marketing, social media advertising, retargeting etc, in Malaysia it can also mean that you answer customer queries through different channels, like social media, e-mail and online chat. Having “executive” in your job title could mean you have a really high position in Europe, while in Asia an executive is usually someone who performs operational tasks.

4. Business stamp

As a company in Europe, you can totally do without a company stamp if you don’t have one. In Asia, an stamp is required on most official papers like contracts. Having a document stamped with your company stamp brings more trust.

5. Business cards

While we use business cards in Europe, they are way more important in Malaysia. In the beginning we didn’t always think to bring our business cards to a meeting. Also the way of handing over your business card and how to receive one is quite different than what we were used to. It is really polite in Asia to hand over or accept a business card with both hands. Once you have a business card in your hand, you don’t just put it away like in Europe, but you have a good look at is and put it away carefully to show respect.

6. Many official holiday days

In the Netherlands we have some official holidays, but in Malaysia there are way more.

7. Hard copies

Registering for a company can be done within a day in the Netherlands and you can do most of the process online. We found that not everything can be arranged online in Malaysia and you will need hard copies a lot of times. Funny to us was that even for registrering for internet, the application process involved hard copies and phone calls.  

8. Small talk

We really like the food in Malaysia, and we found we are not the only ones. Malaysians love their food and are not shy talking about it. In Europe small talk is known to be about the weather, in Malaysia you can break the ice talking about Tosai or Nasi Lemak.

9. Online shopping

Online shopping is so common in Europe that most people are not even worried about online payments and delivery. In Malaysia a lot of people are hesitating to buy online as they don’t always trust online payments and they are afraid their package won’t arrive. That is why a lot of webshops in Malaysia offer payment on delivery, which does not really exist in Europe.

10. Traffic

Public transportation is really good in the Netherlands and also a lot of people go to work on their bicycles. We were not familiar with enormous traffic jams like in Kuala Lumpur and the fact that therefore it is really important for employees to have flexible working hours so they can avoid rush hour.

11. Build relationships first

While in The Netherlands it helps to build up a good relationship with someone, it is not alway necessary to do business. In Malaysia it pays off to invest in a relationship first before doing business together.


Women on Top in Tech – Daphne Ng, CEO of JEDTrade



(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Daphne Ng is the CEO of JEDTrade, a blockchain technology company focused on trade, supply chain, and financial inclusion projects in ASEAN. She is also the Scretary-General at ACCESS and Exco. of Singapore Fintech Association

What makes you do what you do?
I was introduced to blockchain technology in 2016 after I left my corporate banking career after 10 years. It was my mentor who first got me interested in this technology, which I then went on to delve further into, on its potential applications in the lending and trade finance space – domains where I came from.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Being in the space for 2 years and actively involved in the ecosystem, I was able to bring on the projects, network and a good degree of thought leadership in this vertical. Early on in the startup journey, our team faced many challenges. And to me, the key to rising above failures are two essential factors – resilience and support. While resilience is innate, I received a lot of help be it in terms of connections or advice. ‘Nobody succeeds without help’ rings very true for me.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
From the start, I focused on my domain expertise in trade finance and the application construct of how blockchain and DLT can be applied to these use cases. Also, my strategy from the start was to build a technology company made up of 80% tech and engineers, which is also our key competitive advantage today. At the end of the day, deliverables are about strategy and execution, which includes building and leading an ‘A’ team.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I have many mentors, which includes our company advisors (all of whom are well-known in this industry) and mostly informal mentors I meet via my connections, and on various occasions and circumstances. Creating opportunities also means putting myself in the right place, at the right time. And in my case, these were mostly organic and genuine friendships formed from the initial connection.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
To me, a match in values is very important. It also takes humility to ask for help and be willing to listen to advice, which is important in order for mentorships to be successful – be it formal or informal.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I love this question! I am passionate about building strong teams and helping my people grow. I abide by the 3Rs when identifying talents: resourcefulness, resilience and right values. And then I invest in the ‘potential’ and this means giving them room to lead, make decisions and take risks.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
My support of diverse talents, skillsets and characters can be seen in the make-up of our core team – all helming specific roles and each bringing their own value to the table. We need the sum of all parts to build a great company.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
Great leaders emerge in times of failures and challenges, never abandoning the team, and always putting the team’s interests before her own. And I consciously live by these mottos every day.

Advice for others?
My advice to other entrepreneurs: be resolute and dare to be different. If you are going to follow others, then you will end up on the same path as them. No right or wrong; but I would rather chart my own path. This June, we are officially launching our blockchain project, Jupiter Chain (, which have garnered much interest in the industry, even before we made it public. We believe this project is the epitome of marrying innovation with practical implementation, and we want to be the first to truly operationalize blockchain for our ecosystem projects in this region.

If you’d like to get in touch with Daphne Ng, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn:

To learn more about JEDTrade, please click here.

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Callum Connects

Jace Koh, Founder of U Ventures



Jace Koh believes cash flow is the lifeblood of your business. Understanding it will enhance your ability to run and manage your business.

What’s your story?
My name is Jace Koh and I am the Founder of U Ventures. I’ve always been inclined towards investment and entrepreneurship. I’ve played a hand in starting businesses across these industries – professional services, cloud integration, software and music. I believe that succeeding in business is tough, but that’s what makes the rewards even sweeter.

What excites you most about your industry?
Everything excites me. These are my beliefs:

  • Why is accounting important?
    The accounting department is the heart. Cash flow is like blood stream, it pumps blood to various parts of the body like cash flow is pumped to various departments and/or functions in a business. It is vital to the life and death of the business.
  • Is accounting boring?
    Accountants are artists too. They paint the numbers the way they want them to be.
  • What makes a good accountant?
    A good accountant can tell you a story about the business by looking at the numbers.
  • Why is budgeting and projection important?
    Accountants are like fortune tellers, they can predict the numbers and if you wish to understand your business and make informed decisions, feel free to speak to our friendly consultants to secure a meeting.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore, and here’s where I want to be.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore is my favourite city. We have great legal systems in place, good security and people with integrity. Most importantly, we have a government that fosters a good environment for doing business. I recently went for a cultural exchange programme in Hong Kong to learn more about their startups. I found out that the Hong Kong government generally only supports local business owners in terms of grants. They’ve recently been more lenient and changed the eligibility to include all businesses that have at least 50% local shareholding. But comparing that to Singapore, the government only requires a 30% local shareholding to obtain government support. In the early days of starting a business, all the support you can get is precious. It’s great that we have a government that understands that.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best time ever to plant a tree was 10 years ago as the tree would have grown so big to provide you with shelter and all. When is the next best time to plant a tree? It is today. Because in 10 years time, the tree would have grown big enough to provide you shelter and all.

Who inspires you?
Jack Ma. His journey to success is one of the most inspiring as it proves that with determination and great foresight, even the poorest can turn their lives around. I personally relate to his story a lot, and this is my favourite quote from him, “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.”

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’ve faced multiple rejections throughout my business journey, and recently came across a fact on Jack Ma about how he was once rejected for 32 different jobs. It resonated very deeply and taught me the importance of tenacity, especially during tough times.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I live a life with no regrets. Everything I do, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, happy or sad, and regardless of outcome, it’s a lesson with something to take away.

How do you unwind?
I love to pamper myself through retail therapy and going for spas. I also make a conscious effort to take time off work to have a break outside to unwind as well as to uncloud my mind. This moment of reflection from time to time helps me see more clearly on how I can improve myself.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Taiwan! Good food with no language barriers and the people are great!

Everyone in business should read this book:
I don’t really read books. Mostly, I learn from my daily life and interactions with hundreds of other business owners. To me, people tell the most interesting stories.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re not just corporate secretaries, we’re “business doctors.”
U Ventures is a Xero certified advisory firm that goes beyond traditional accounting services to provide solutions for your business. You can reach us on our website:

How can people connect with you?
Converse to connect. You can reach me via email at [email protected] or alternatively, on LinkedIn here:

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:
Download free copies of his books here:

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