“Malaysia’s Bill Gates” on turning Netccentric into digital growth ecosystem

[ By Disruptive.Asia ]

Ganesh Kumar Bangah admits to being obsessed with serial entrepreneurship.

Called ‘Malaysia’s Bill Gates’ by many in the country’s IT industry, serial entrepreneur and investor Ganesh Kumar Bangah has now set his sights on building Asia’s digital ecosystem via digital media firm Netccentric.

In this deep dive interview, Disruptive.Asia asked Ganesh for a quick profile of his rise from the tender age of 23, when he emerged as Malaysia’s youngest CEO of a public listed company with the listing of MOL.com on the local stock exchange, which was noted by the Malaysia Book of Records. MOL subsequently emerged as Southeast Asia’s leading online payment gateway.

Sensing that ‘the world was his oyster’, he then listed MOL Global on the Nasdaq market of the United States in 2014, two years after EY had recognised him as the country’s ‘Technology Entrepreneur of the Year”.

Malaysia’s industry has sought him out to take on ‘national service’ leadership roles. He assumed the chairmanship of the National Tech Association of Malaysia (PIKOM) for two terms from year 2017 to 2019. Today, he is still with PIKOM, serving as Chairman of PIKOM’s think-tank arm, Future Digital, together with his position of Board Member of MaGIC, the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre.

Seek and ye shall find

“Even before Covid-19 hit, I already foresaw that e-commerce was going to be huge more than two decades ago – and that it would be going mainstream,” Ganesh tells us. “That’s why I devoted my time and energy over the past few years towards building the Commerce.Asia ecosystem.”

He describes Commerce.Asia as “an ‘all-in-one’ eCommerce ecosystem that integrates best of breed technology solutions, talent development programs and big data insights for local and Southeast Asian businesses to succeed online.”

Commerce.Asia develops these solutions by integrating and making strategic investments in technology enablers such as its omnichannel eCommerce platform, SiteGiant; agent management platform, Bizapp; one-stop delivery solution, Shippop; automated dropship platform, Kumoten; on demand fulfilment solution, LetMeStore; print-on-demand merchandising platform, Famsy; and business operations suites platform, Salesminded.

“Today, the Commerce.Asia group has a database of 8 million small medium enterprises spread across seven countries, coupled with 61,000 active merchants who sold more than RM1.5 billion worth of goods in 2019,” he replied, when we pressed him for numbers.

“That said, something caught my eye three years ago that was more than just ‘plain vanilla’ eCommerce: I saw the emergence of the trend which industry terms as ‘social commerce’, or essentially the convergence of social media with eCommerce across all levels of society,” said Ganesh.

“When I thought through further, I realise that my next big thing was to generate value for communities and growth for businesses by empowering them with digital platforms and social media innovation.”

Seek and ye shall find: “The opportunity presented itself when I came across Netccentric Limited late last year, and I seized the opportunity by buying out a majority stake in the company.”

Business model transformation

Earlier this year, Ganesh had bought an 84% stake in Netccentric, which is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange. Incorporated in Singapore in 2006, Netccentric is a digital media company with key markets being Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan.

“Social commerce is about social networks playing a part – or dare I say it, influencing – eCommerce transactions,” said Ganesh.

It was a timely move, as the COVID-19 pandemic had yet to hit, and a month before Malaysia and the rest of Southeast Asia restricted movement of citizens.

The purchase also caught investors by surprise, and from a low of AUD0.005, Netccentric’s share price began progressively climbing and hitting a 52-week high of AUD0.062, before settling at AUD0.050 currently, a ten-fold increase from its 52-week lows.

“The financial performance also saw a stark turnaround. In financial year 2019, the Netccentric group posted a pre-tax loss of SGD145,615 on the back of SGD7.3 million in revenue. For its half year ended June 2020, Netccentric returned to the black by posting a slight profit before income tax of SGD7,094 as opposed to a loss of SGD$0.32 million for the previous corresponding period. Its core influencer marketing business in Malaysia, Nuffnang which contributed 43% of its business, grew 34% for the first half of the year.”

“Besides our focus on operational efficiencies, we focused on increasing our margins by continuously creating more value for stakeholders through product development and innovation,” said Ganesh, adding that he has been spearheading the transformation of the group’s business model.

“The objective here is to develop a platform-based strategy that is able to capitalise on the growth of the global social influencer and social commerce industry,” said Ganesh.

“With this platform strategy, we aim to connect multiple groups – including merchants, influencers and consumers – to create positive network effects,” he added.

In late July, Netccentric told the securities exchange that it had entered into a joint venture agreement with Commerce DotAsia Ventures and Docono Holdings (DHSB) to operate a live streaming e-commerce business platform.

This development marked the birth of Nuffnang Live Commerce to spearhead the Netccentric group’s expansion into ‘live commerce’. This would be done through a platform developed by DHSB, while leveraging on Commerce.Asia’s e-commerce enabling ecosystem as well as NCL’s brand and influencer reach.

‘Live Commerce’

The name Nuffnang stems from NCL’s wholly-owned subsidiary Nuffnang, an established influencer and content marketing company with one of the largest influencer community reach in Malaysia by revenue. Nuffnang also has one of the most comprehensive networks of some 13,000 celebrities, personalities and content creators across all levels of society and diversity with a collective reach to more than 20 million consumers in Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan.

“The beauty about this joint venture is that Nuffnang Live Commerce is set to bring forth strongly the strengths of all three shareholders into a single entity set to capitalize on the fast-growing trend that is social e-commerce.”

Ganesh believes that there will be tremendous growth in the years ahead for ‘live commerce’.

“Live commerce represents the fusion of e-commerce and livestreaming which centers around influencers showcasing and promoting products and services to viewers,” described Ganesh. “We expect this industry to soar in the years ahead.”

“Integrating our influencer, content and e-commerce know-how, we will be providing end-to-end live video commerce solutions from live video production to payment and product fulfilment. Our technologies, combined with our largest influencer platform and onboarding training, would then empower companies to be independent and self-sustaining as they propel and scale in this fast-growing field of live commerce,” said Ganesh.

Besides its live commerce aspirations, Netccentric also boasts an arsenal of other digitally related service providers.

As mentioned earlier, there is Nuffnang and its consumer community called the “Crunch Community” and its creative think tank and video marketing arm called RTV. Then there are also performance marketing company Plata and Punta and social media specialist firm Sashimi Asia.

“Plata and Punta was founded by digital marketers who believe in the science of performance management, in addition to building and enhancing marketing strategies in line with the times,” said Ganesh, adding that the company services some household names which he could not reveal due to client confidentiality.

Sashimi Asia, on the other hand, has the ‘secret sauce’ of bringing global ‘best practices’ for the benefit of local clients.

“I am truly lucky, as Sashimi comprise a team of local talents who have gained experience with leading international creative agency networks. Within the local digital marketing community, there tend to be two groups: international companies that drive thought-leadership based on best practices from the region, and local companies who are more agile and rooted in local culture.”

“What Sashimi Asia has achieved thus far stems from our ability to get the best of both these worlds,” said Ganesh, adding that the company is currently exporting services to neighbouring countries Singapore and Indonesia.

Ganesh described the “sum of all parts and the various companies in its stable – Nuffnang, Crunch, RTV, Plata and Punta, Sashimi Asia and Nuffnang Live Commerce – that make Netccentric the unique digital entity it is.”

“It is about synergy and strengths, and them all coming together to make Netccentric ‘Asia’s pioneering digital growth ecosystem’.”