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By Poovenraj - January 21, 2021

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Through passion, Hisham Talib found the solutions to an array of challenges. Now through Ra’e Ventures, he seeks to help other business founders to do the same. He shares his tips and quips to BusinessToday.

“I come from a family of entrepreneurs. Each one of my siblings have their own business and this was a trait passed onto us by our parents, who were business owners themselves. I eventually got myself into several jobs early on and it was during one particular job with a German MNC that I managed to see markets outside Malaysia,” Talib tells BusinessToday.

The entrepreneur who has ventured into starting several startups shares his experience with the publication on what it takes to get into different fields and how challenges have evolved over the years.

It was through his travels in between Cambodia, Indonesia, Singapore and eventually a business venture in Myanmar that gave him the ability to see the Malaysian market from the outside looking in. “The network that I had built during my earlier engagements gave me the opportunity to really look for any gaps in the markets especially in Malaysia,” he says.

This foresight led to his first tech-based company, Pasar Tap and being one of the early adopters, Talib had the opportunity to talk to different people from inside and outside the ecosystem.

And because he had built his credentials in building a digital business, it was only natural for interested parties with ideas to sought him out for advice and support. With sufficient knowledge in dealing with investors to market and tech requirements, Talib also saw the opportunities to start businesses with others.

Currently the VP of Business & Investment of Ra’e Ventures, Talib says the challenges in his early days differed to what it looks like today. “Back then, an idea was enough for you to get investments. And there were little to benchmark your business idea with. So, you can get away with having a half-baked business model and yet get people to invest in the business. In a way this is good for entrepreneurs,” he tells BusinessToday.

He goes on to say that if projections were too conservative, it only meant founders were not considered hungry enough and investors shied away.

“In today’s day and age, for young founders, things are different. Investors might not need you to emphasise on your growth projections as much. And they are more interested to look at your ‘path to profitability’,” he says, implying that with ready and available data, benchmarking business ideas is easier.

“So, find the right data sets and match it to your business plans and hopefully they can come up with a more realistic growth projection.”

When it came to founding startups and business through identifying solutions to issues, Talib says businesses must scale to sprout solutions from the problem. And by scale, he means that it affects people or parties in different markets and that it is scalable.

“In my opinion, some entrepreneurs get too close to the problem that they are trying to solve. When you invest a lot of effort in building the business, but you find that the business is not scalable, then it gets harder to grow. And it will be even harder to attract investments,” he tells BusinessToday.

He further highlights that the issues he chooses to find a solution to are those he is passionate about. Coming from an architecture, F&B, supply chain background, Talib’s business ideas resonate with the said themes that usually get his attention more than others.

What is next?

“The differentiator for Ra’e is that our focus is for businesses that gives impact to the Muslim market globally. The Muslim market has been forecasted to be at US$3.2 trillion (by 2024) in Halal economy. We have built a strong network of Muslim businesses and faith leaders globally,” says Talib.

Ra’e is currently working with different companies at different stages of their operations. The latest addition to its roster is Alunan Wellness which requires a complete overhaul of their branding and marketing.

Talib and his team is also working with Qalby App ensuring content from the relevant partners will be conveyed on the mobile app and social media platform seamlessly. Another project Ra’e is involved in is with the Sentuh App, a booking platform for the beauty and wellness industry. Talib’s team was involved in developing the mobile booking platform from the website they were operating from previously.

The Sentuh team will soon be launching their new and improved mobile app by February this year.

Support from all corners

We need to build a solid ecosystem that covers all phases of running a business, Talib says. This ranges from the awareness stage, ideation stage to the market and growth stage as well. He urges for both government agencies and the private sector to take an active involvement in building the ecosystem.

“Personally, I feel that we are great at coming up with programmes and structures. But we do not follow through enough. It would take extraordinary political will from all parties to make sure that we stay the course and execute.

For private entities such as ourselves, with limited reach and resources, we do what we can. But it is our hope that this sort of ‘pay-it-forward’ model will gather momentum and create this giant movement of successful entrepreneurs churning out more and younger entrepreneurs almost in auto mode. This creates a more vibrant ecosystem,” he concludes.

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Updated: Dec 1, 2020

The power of “why”, and to help unleash the collective capacity of the people in the business to create the results that they care most about.

We realize early on that a business is as good as the ecosystem it belongs to. We are sharing our expertise and experience to provide the ecosystem support a company needs. Our team supports ventures with what they need, whenever they need it — from operational support to investment capital.

We are looking for entrepreneurs who want to realize their fullest potential, by transforming their business into living and self-renewing entities. Companies that exist with a clear sense of purpose to improve the lives of people and communities they are a part of.

Apart from our business coaching and mentorship modules, we provide technical advice and development as well as digital marketing as part of the modules being offered. We identified these are the 3 critical elements that are often overlooked by entrepreneurs, especially to compete in the global digital economy.

Please follow us to get updates of our next programs. And how you can get yourselves to be part of these programs. Stay tuned!

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Updated: Dec 1, 2020

by Alex Lazarow

October 16, 2020


The world has changed. In the wake of Covid-19, and the global recession it has caused, business leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs, and investors are all girding for a long period of extremely challenging conditions in the global market. How can startups and innovators of all stripes survive in such conditions? Many are not prepared.

The current situation is particularly difficult for Silicon Valley, where the predominant model is to raise unicorns – the colloquial reference to startups worth over a billion dollars. Traditionally, this is done through rapid growth. The problem now, however, is that this growth-at-all-costs methodology, which the Valley’s top players are exceptionally good at, only works in the strongest bull markets, in the most optimal conditions.

But consider what I call the “Frontier”: those business ecosystems outside the Bay Area bubble, where startups have less access to capital or trained startup human capital, and where, especially in many emerging markets, they are more susceptible to severe and unpredictable macroeconomic shocks. Instead of the unicorn, the camel is the more fitting mascot. Camels are able to survive for long periods without sustenance, withstand the scorching desert heat, and adapt to extreme variations in climate. They survive and thrive in some of Earth’s harshest regions.

These startup camels offer businesses in all industries and sectors valuable lessons on how to survive through crisis, and to sustain and grow in adverse conditions, even if the metaphor isn’t as flashy. They do this with three strategies: they execute balanced growth, they take a long-term outlook, and they weave diversification into the business model.

Balance instead of burn.

Camels have no interest in “blitzscaling” — rapidly building-up the enterprise and prioritizing speed over efficiency in pursuit of massive scale. They are as ambitious to grow as any Silicon Valley enterprise, yet they take a more balanced growth path. This balanced approach has three key elements.

Right-pricing from the start. For one, entrepreneurs in developing markets don’t offer free or subsidized products to perpetuate customer growth, resulting in a high “burn rate.” Instead, they charge their customers for the value of their product offerings from the get-go. Camels understand that price shouldn’t be considered a barrier to growth. Instead it is a feature of the product that reflects its market position and its quality.

Cost management through the life cycle. At the same time, camels manage costs through the life cycle of their companies to align with a longer-term growth curve. Matt Glotzbach, CEO of Quizlet, an online education and study aid company, understands this strategy in terms of his cost of acquisition and his key expense: people. “You want to have a business that can survive the ups and the downs,” he explains. “Resiliency for me has two factors: one is the unit economics of the business for user acquisition, and the second is how far do you invest in headcount ahead of the revenue curve to drive that growth? This is where we make calculated decisions and have expectations for the investments where, if we’re right, we grow significantly, and if we’re wrong we won’t suffer significantly.”

Changing the trajectory. Managing burn throughout the life cycle of a company prepares startups to weather tough conditions over a sustained period. The typical Silicon Valley startup has a cash trajectory with a deep “valley of death” — the graph line reflecting steep losses before profitability is achieved. The line for Frontier startups looks different. Of course camels don’t avoid growth or venture capital funding, but their scaling trajectory and associated burn rates will be less extreme. In some cases, as with Grubhub, they’ll grow in controlled spurts, choosing only to put their foot on the gas and invest (often by raising venture capital) when required by the opportunity at hand. After such a spurt, sustainability (and often profitability) is within reach again if necessary. The difference here is that camels maintain the option to adapt their growth trajectory and return to a sustainable business.

Camels are built for the long haul.

Founders at the Frontier understand that building a company is not a short-term endeavor. For many, breakthroughs don’t come immediately, but rather occur later in the company timeline. Survival is often the primary strategy. This allows time to build the business model, find a product that resonates with the market, and develop an operation that can scale. Competition will exist. But the race is about who will survive the longest, not about who goes to market first.

Quizlet just raised a $30 million Series C round, which valued the company at $1 billion in May of this year. The company did not take any funding until 2015, when it raised a Series A for just $12 million after 10 years in business. It took its time getting there, operating on a slow-but-steady philosophy toward growth. Glotzbach told me that Quizlet’s pace saved it from destruction. “I actually believe that had Quizlet raised a large amount of money earlier in its life cycle it may not have made it,” he said. “The risk of getting overextended with high expectations and the infusion of capital earlier on might not have been able to accelerate the business fast enough to meet those expectations. Like so many startups we would have over-promised and under-delivered.” Taking the long-term outlook is critical to manage the risk-return trade-off.

Breadth and depth for resilience.

Entrepreneurs operating at the Frontier face unique constraints which can often become strengths during times of adversity. Because entrepreneurs often are building startups in smaller markets by necessity — which markets are not sufficient on their own to grow and sustain the enterprise — they are forced to be born global, targeting many markets from the get-go. Frontier Car Group, a popular used-car platform, for example, launched originally in five markets, each serving as a regional hub. In some countries, the product caught on, but in others it did not, and the company learned valuable lessons along the way, shuttering those markets where it didn’t see a fit. But had the company put all of its resources into the wrong country to begin with, it might not be around today.

Similarly, because a rich tapestry of enabling infrastructure or ecosystem of adjacent products and services doesn’t exist in Frontier markets, entrepreneurs often need to go deep and build the full stack of supporting structures. This means that they have multiple business lines and products, and provide an ecosystem of services from day one. When one slows, the others pick up the slack. Take the case of Guiabolso, a “Personal Finance Manager” software platform that helps customers in Brazil understand their financial situation so they can manage it better (similar to in the U.S.). Unlike their peers in more developed ecosystems, Guiabolso had to build their own bank interconnection layer where none existed, give insight into credit worthiness without a robust national credit scoring infrastructure, and kick-start its product marketplace to allow its customers to make the most of their newfound financial insights.

Of course, entrepreneurs cannot and should not take this broad and deep portfolio strategy too far. Building a startup is exceedingly difficult, and overstretching across multiple fronts is a recipe for mediocrity on all. Instead, successful camels only expend resources on activities that are self-reinforcing (where lessons from successes or failures support the business as a whole) and self-balancing (when one piece of the business naturally hedges another).

By prioritizing balanced growth, building for the long-term, as well as deepening and diversifying for resilience, camels can not only survive market shocks, but can also grow and thrive in good times and bad. In short, they turn adversity into an advantage. As we prepare for the tough challenges ahead, the answers won’t be found within Silicon Valley’s insular bubble, but by learning from camels at the Frontier, who have had the solution all along.

Alex Lazarow is a global venture capitalist and the author of Out-Innovate: How Global Entrepreneurs—from Delhi to Detroit—Are Rewriting the Rules of Silicon Valley. He works with Cathay Innovation, is a Kauffman Fellow, and teaches entrepreneurship at the Middlebury Institute.

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