Ganesh Bangah: The constant search for the ‘next big thing in tech’

[ By Business Today ]

For Ganesh Kumar Bangah, ideas and inspiration are a daily occurrence that he values, and which he constantly notes down in his mobile ‘to do’ application.

“Ideas are precious, for it could be the start of milestones that shapes one’s life while also creating wealth,” he said in an exclusive interview with Business Today. “Never dismiss ideas, however trivial they may seem, because they spark the creative process while opening blue oceans along the way.”

“Sir Isaac Newton could had just dismissed the apple falling from the tree. Instead, what many people considered as an everyday occurrence resulted in the theory of gravity for mankind to progress.”

Known within the industry as ‘Malaysia’s Bill Gates’, Ganesh sees himself as a ‘serial entrepreneur’, a vocation he realised from a very young age.

He founded his first internet business, MOL AccessPortal, in the year 2000 at the tender age of 20.

Through sheer hard work and determination, he then developed the business to become Southeast Asia’s leading online payment gateway and Southeast Asia’s first internet company to be listed on the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations System (NASDAQ) in 2014. He also founded the investment holding company, MOL Ventures, which made successful private investments in global social media and mobile internet companies such as Facebook, Friendster and Kakao.

“I attribute my achievements as blessings from the above,” said Ganesh, whose typical day starts at 5.00am when he would prepare himself for a half an hour long meditation.

“At that time of the morning, I find my energies at its peak and, through meditation, I aim to align all my various states – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual – into a cohesive one for the ideas and solutions to flow freely,” he shared.

“Throughout the day, there will inevitably be challenges, whether business or otherwise, and it’s very important to be optimistic if one were to be successful. Most times, the ‘answers’ would often be revealed after I perform my morning meditation sessions.”

Ganesh also shared that it’s equally important to always keep an open mind, and to constantly learn from others.

“When I was in my early-20s, I was very much a geek and still very green to the workings of the business world. I learnt much from my first investor, Tan Sri Vincent Tan, who introduced me to the ropes of successful business entrepreneurship, and how to solve business challenges as and when they arise.”

Having come through the ‘school of hard knocks’, Ganesh soon won recognition for the impact he was making within the technology industry.

He was named the Ernst & Young Technology Entrepreneur of the Year Malaysia in 2012 and, at the age of 23, was certified by the Malaysia Book of Records as the youngest Chief Executive Officer of a Malaysian public listed company.

He was also recognised as one of Southeast Asia’s Top 30 Tech Founders by Tech In Asia in 2016 and one of the Most Inspiring Malaysian Technology Entrepreneurs by Top 10 of Malaysia.

The search for the ‘next big thing’

“The beauty about technology is that it’s constantly evolving, and here I am trying to find the ‘next big thing’,” remarked Ganesh.

“Even from my school days, I had this insight that technology would soon become pervasive and encompass both life and business.”

In 1992, when Ganesh was 6 years old, his father bought him his first computer which cost RM6,000 – and there was no turning back.

“I used to run a side-gig buying computer parts in Singapore, only to resell them in Johor Bahru at higher prices,” he recalled.

A turning point came for Ganesh was when Bill Gates visited Singapore and Ganesh was able to watch him on TV.

“I told my boss at the time, who later became my partner, that I aspired to be the Bill Gates of Malaysia. To be successful, entrepreneurs need to constantly ‘think big’ and aspire to be the best.”

Ganesh pursued his tertiary education in Universiti Teknologi Malaysia to study telecommunication engineering.

In his 3rd year of university, he took a 6-month break from university to pursue a business opportunity, intending to return after.

Like Bill Gates at Harvard, Ganesh never returned to continue his tertiary education as his business, MOL, started growing rapidly and required his full attention.

The allure of e-commerce

In 2017, Ganesh founded Commerce.Asia, an All-In-One e-commerce ecosystem that provides businesses with a one-stop solution to enable them to sell online.

Today, Commerce.Asia has a database of 8 million small medium enterprises spread across 7 countries, coupled with 61,000 active merchants who sold more than RM1.5 billion worth of goods in 2019.

“I knew e-commerce was going to take off strongly in Malaysia, and regionally,” said Ganesh.

“However, I didn’t expect it to soar the way it did as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he further said, adding that e-commerce transactions posted in 2020 easily doubled from the previous year as compared to growth of 30-50% for the years before.

Indeed, e-commerce has revolutionised consumer buying patterns with many households now turning to the convenience of shopping online.

Ganesh attributes the strong growth to Malaysians’ embracement of e-commerce for their shopping needs due to a sharp increase in social media consumption and participation.

“Our internal studies show that Malaysians spend some 70% more time on social media platforms Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram these days, compared to pre-MCO,” he said.

At their end, what Commerce.Asia is good at is in multi-channel e-commerce where the group simplify processes for businesses.

For example, one of the largest bedding accessories brands in Malaysia witnessed its sales grow by 20 times within a twelve-month period after engaging Commerce.Asia. The home-goods client had previously performed exceptionally in the retail sector and was aiming to connect with tech-savvy millennials that had grown a liking toward custom-designed home decor. Commerce.Asia had enabled the client to access the across untapped potential within their customer demographic, and to also reach out to various consumers on some of the most popular e-commerce marketplaces.

“Our expertise are in managing, syncing and integrating clients’ webstores, marketplaces’ and Facebook store’s orders, inventory and listings all under one platform,” said Ganesh.

“From webstore development, to product listing, customer care, and order fulfilment – we have the solutions for all your needs. What’s more, we have enabled clients to scale and to generate demand, thanks to our expertise and technologies within our strong e-commerce ecosystem.”

Opening the Netccentric-Nuffnang chapter

Early last year, Ganesh caught the corporate world by surprise when he purchased a 84% stake in Netccentric Limited which is listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.

Incorporated in 2006, Netccentric had launched its flagship brand Nuffnang in 2007.

Widely regarded as one of Asia’s leading blogging networks, Nuffnang was initially launched in Malaysia and Singapore, expanding into other countries from 2008-2012. Nuffnang connects Netccentric’s clients to more than 13,000 influencers, key opinion leaders, celebrities, and content creators, who collectively reach over 20 million engaged social media followed throughout Southeast Asia, making it the largest social media influencer community in Asia.

Besides Nuffnang, Netccentric had also launched social media agency Sashimi and its video production/creative arm RTV. The group had also expanded into performance marketing through the acquisition of Plata & Punta in 2017, and in 2018, it launched Crunch, Nuffnang’s community-driven content platform and event management arm.

“Netccentric offers end-to-end expertise across its fields of operation, spanning influencer marketing (via Nuffnang), social media marketing (via Sashimi/Dejitaru), performance marketing (via Plata & Punta), video and content creation, and social commerce (via Nuffnang Live),” Ganesh explained.

“We use data and insights to grow diversified revenue streams by empowering communities with innovative digital platforms. Our over 300 clients include various blue-chip brands such as Panasonic, Suzuki, Unilever, and Nestle.”

“The Netccentric Group is poised to capitalise on our first-mover advantage within the region, given that the size of the global influencer platform market is expected to grow to US$22.3 billion by 2024, a CAGR of 32.4% since 2019, with Asia Pacific becoming the world’s largest influencer marketing platform market by that time.”

A brave bet that Ganesh is making is in the area of ‘live commerce’ where ‘the sky’s the limit’ is Nuffnang Live Commerce which was established mid last year.

How it works is basically like this: Nuffnang Live Commerce fuses e-commerce with livestreaming to create a positive ‘network effect’, showcasing influencers who promote products and services, and turning the engagement between influencers and their followers into sales and revenue.

Through the new Nuffnang Live Commerce, Netccentric provides its clients an end-to-end, fully-integrated and seamless live video commerce solution from live video production through to payment and fulfilment.

The potential certainly is there.

“We expect this industry to soar in the years ahead. In 2018 alone, live commerce generated over RMB100 billion (RM60 billion) in transactions on Taobao, Alibaba’s premier C2C ecommerce marketplace in China,” Ganesh said, adding that for Singles Day 2019,  live  commerce  generated RMB20 billion2 (RM12 billion).

Investor in Malaysia’s largest reservation platform

Besides the Commerce.Asia and the Netccentric-Nuffnang Groups, Ganesh is also an investor in the FunNow-TABLEAPP Group.

FunNow, an innovative app known for helping users find last-minute entertainment in various cities throughout Asia, counts the Alibaba Entrepreneur Fund and CSV Venture Fund as its strategic investors.

TABLEAPP, meanwhile, is Malaysia’s leading provider of online restaurant reservations. Since its establishment in 2013, TABLEAPP has seated over 6.3 million diners. The FunNow-TABLEAPP Group is set to become the largest reservation platform in Malaysia and soon other cities in Southeast Asia for urbanites.

Contribution to nation-building through entrepreneurship

Today, Ganesh also serves as chairman of Future Digital, the think tank arm of the National Tech Association of Malaysia (PIKOM), having also served as PIKOM chairman previously. It’s a role Ganesh described as his ‘contribution to nation-building to steer the industry along the right path’.

He is also a board member of the Malaysian Global Innovation& Creativity Centre (MaGIC), and is a Ernst & Young judge for three years running in his quest to help develop entrepreneurs.

He believes that challenges can be solved through entrepreneurship: “My life mission is in doing my part to build the next generation of entrepreneurs. I believe the best way to make the world a better place is to get entrepreneurs to solves the world’s problems.”

“This starts at home, first,” he said, explaining that he is currently focussing on mentoring and grooming the professional managers within the Commerce.Asia and Netccentric Groups so that they, too, would emerge as entrepreneurs in their own right.

“True entrepreneurs are not just motivated by money alone,” he said. “It is all about creating impact to create better societies and a better world.”

That said, Ganesh is also currently in the process of implementing a plan to allocate his personal shares in both Groups to the professional managers.

“In the future, I would like to focus a majority of my resources to develop and mentor entrepreneurs,” he said, adding that he is currently looking at a few initiatives to achieve this with social entrepreneurship and venture capital being a key focus.

“I have been blessed with wonderful colleagues as we navigate our ship through the seas,” he said.

“The journey itself is what makes it all so fulfilling. Most times, people just focus on the destination while forgetting to enjoy the ride. It’s important to always appreciate the people who are with you on the ship, and for everyone to also find fulfilment in the journey itself – that’s what makes it all so special.”

Netccentric Limited