Monday, 26 March 2012

What it takes to be an entrepreneur by a Malaysian digital research?

Healthy pulse in data research

Bob Chua, who started a Malaysian digital research company in 2005 that went global and became a public-listed company in London within 33 months, talks about what it takes to be an entrepreneur

BOB Chua, a third generation Tiger in a family of entrepreneurs, said he had always wanted to run his own business for a living. “It’s in my blood,” he said.



“My impression of a person born in the Year of the Tiger is of bravery and risk-taking. I am not superstitious and think of it more as a good laugh,” the Pulse Group chief executive officer said.

It is a fact, however, that his family consists of entrepreneurs who are involved in various industries, from shipping to property, and growing up surrounded by such people inspired him to start his own business.

Of his company’s name, Chua said the name “Pulse” signified exactly who and what they were.

“Our main endeavour is creating insight out of data. Research does not have much life to it as it is just a lot of boring data and numbers. It is how you interpret the data that gives the work life, like a pulse. Hence, our tagline ‘Does your research have a pulse?’” he explained.

Chua, who studied in a business school and has a passion for technology, said it was a natural progression for him to start a company that specialises in digital research as he had always been in the industry, having worked for TNS and Nielson, two of the largest market research specialists in the world.



“How the Internet is changing our lives, the way we interact, research and buy stuff is interesting. It is even changing the way we collect data and I see a big opportunity in it,” he said.

Chua describes Pulse as being in the right place at the right time to capture the first-mover advantage.

“Entrepreneurship is all about timing and identifying opportunity and, at that point, we were the only ones in Asia to do it. When Pulse started in 2005, Facebook was getting big and Internet adoption was huge,” Chua said, adding that they remain the biggest company in Asia to do this.

Even then, Chua had thought of social networks as a game-changer and the situation has remained the same today.

“We are only just scratching the surface. Consumers are spending more time online and they talk about brands and their experiences. If we can compile all that data, we can create more accurate prediction models about how people are going to purchase things, access information about brands and who influences them to buy,” he said.

As an entrepreneur, Chua always believed his company was going to be successful and innovative when he started back in 2005 with its headquarters in Malaysia.

Entrepreneurs have to have strong self confidence and have a never-say-no attitude. We never believe we are going to fail and even if that happens, we must pick ourselves up. I wanted to create a leading brand and fortunately, seven years down the road we are now where we are,” he said, adding that he is proud to be able to call Pulse a Malaysian company that has gone global.

Chua had always wanted the company to go global from day one, which was why he opened the Sydney office simultaneously with the Malaysian one.

“Australia had a more mature market and was a bit more sophisticated for online research with its bigger Internet penetration at 60% so it was a logical starting point. Within 12 months, we had opened up our London office and within 33 months of starting Pulse, we became a public-listed company in London on the PLUS Stock Exchange,” he said.

Recently Chua gave a talk at the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur to potential investors and painted a hopeful picture for Asian companies seeking opportunities in Britain and vice-versa.

“There are a lot of people there sitting on money right now, but they are no longer spending as freely as they used to. When you say Asia, their eyes light up as this is the only area for growth and countries like Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia are still enjoying a 5% to 6% growth. The only thing is proving that you have a strong business product,” he said.

However, the UK remains one of the largest economies in the world and there are several reasons to look into opportunities there as well, according to Chua.

“If we compare listing costs, it could be two or three times higher because of the British pound but in terms of how much you can raise there, it is also two or three times higher. It is the relativity people need to look at and not just dollar value. Also, the pound is relatively weak now, so going in now is a good idea,” he said.

However, making it big like Pulse requires a lot of work and Chua recalls averaging 55 trips a year within two years of starting the company.

“I used to spend 75% of my time leading the jet-setting lifestyle and it was not fun. To be honest, there was not much balance in terms of my working and personal life then, but that is what you have to put in to grow quickly,” he said, adding that Pulse grew at a rate of 430% from its first to third year.

Chua believes the company is still in the right place at the right time as Europe continues to look for growth in Asia which is the geography Pulse specialises in.

“We are a much bigger company now and have professional managers all over the place with people running specific things. I travel less and family is my priority. Where I can, I mix business and leisure with my travels, which I still spend about 150 days of a year doing, but at least life is more balanced now,” he said.

One tip he offers those with an eye on the UK is to hire “self-starters”.

“They are going to be far away from the mothership here so you need good people on the ground, but that is not really an issue as it is easy to find good talent there. You also need to understand the relative cost and immediately build your market. We got our first client before even starting up there and that helped,” Chua said.

He also said that a business in the UK can have a back-end support locally who works on European time.

By CHOONG MEK ZHIN mekzhin@thestar.com.my

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