Your 10 questions with Jason Lo


1. Come August, Tune Talk will be two years old. What would you say is its biggest achievement? Nelson, Ipoh

Our biggest achievement is that we're actually still here! This is an incredibly tough market, saturated at over 112% and we have also experienced anti-competitive behaviour from the bigger boys who try to prevent dealers from selling our SIM cards and top-ups by threatening to cut off their dealerships. It's sometimes a dirty game and we have asked Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission to intervene. It's also incredibly difficult to establish a new telecom brand in Malaysia. It doesn't exactly happen overnight and it takes constant communication of our core values and product features as there is so much confusion in this market.

Now that we've made it to our second year, people are slowly starting to understand what we're about. We easily save you 50% off your mobile bills but we also give so much more value in the form of free RM100,000 PA Insurance and our awesome TT Points for AirAsia flights which you accumulate every time you top up ... they never expire and can take you to any destination.

2. What does your plan to “revolutionise roaming” for prepaid subscribers really mean to end-users? Elan, Puchong

Roaming is incredibly complex and subscribers are getting ripped off left, right and centre. Of course, the postpaid business traveller gives so much revenue to the big, giant, multi-billion ringgit telcos who have effectively commoditised every subscriber they can get their hands on and they don't want to lose that. So we have to negotiate carefully and lobby with the powers that be to help grow a new prepaid roamer. I am happy to say that Tune Talk has soft-launched a special roaming rate in Indonesia, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Malaysia where you can receive and make local calls and call back to Malaysia for only 50 sen/minute. This is 90% less than nominal roaming charges in some cases and you don't have to change your SIM or enable any call forwarding. Just dial direct and rely on one number. With our links to AirAsia, we hope to add more countries to the list to create a truly Asean SIM with one number for the entire region. The impact will be a seamless roaming experience for all, relevant to tourists and business travellers. So now, I'd change my statement to “roaming evolution” for prepaid.

3. Rates offered by Tune Talk are super low but people don't seem to be flocking in droves for the services. What more can you do to draw them in and break the “loyalty barrier” from the big boys? Suri Tharin, Penang

When AirAsia was first launched, I didn't fly it for 2 years. I kept hearing stories of what a low cost airline was or wasn't and it took time before I switched. Now, I hardly fly MAS (because the AA cabin crew are very hot and ... Tony's my boss lah). It did take time. Frankly, we don't have much to complain about with over 700,000 Tune Talk subscribers in less than two years on a marketing budget of less than RM10mil. Compare that to Maxis who would easily spend 10 times more and you can see that there is a lot of clutter in the market ... yet we managed to accumulate a sizable subscriber base which makes us the largest mobile virtual network operator in Malaysia, Asean and Asia. It's not easy to rip customers away from the familiarity of service and brand of a telco they've been using for 10 years, but I bet, you never got a free flight anywhere from the big boys eh?

We will just keep going and focus on our values and service. One day you'll give us a chance and realise, as many have, that mobile is NOT expensive.

4. Tune Talk's sister company, AirAsia has been winning awards globally. In your business, does that matter? Peter Tan, Kuantan

An award is nice as it's basically an ad which says we've received recognition from a third party for some service or brand achievement. While we welcome them, our subscribers' experience and happiness are always the most important thing to us. An award is nothing if our subscribers can't get their blackberry service or receive an sms from their girlfriend. So, that is our prime focus. In some ways, awards instil confidence in our endeavors and subscribers like to feel that. Confidence is an incredible asset if grown properly.

5. How does it feel working for Tan Sri Tony Fernandes and what have you learnt from him? S. Arumugam, Sepang

Tony is probably Malaysia's most recognised business personality and his endeavors have impacted the entire Asian region both socially and economically. To touch and change the lives of so many people is very rare and only a handful of people really ever make an impact of that magnitude. To be able to work with and learn, or even startup a business with someone like that is an equally rare experience. The learning curve is thrilling to say the least. Tony is there for support when I need him and he understands that I have a job to do, so he gives me the freedom to express myself. This is important and the knock on effect is we exercise the same culture in Tune Talk. I've learnt plenty from Tony and must say that he is fantastic on the board.

I don't know what they fed him at Epsom college but his belief in what he does and his vision are quite limitless and at the same time, inclusive. This is a great trait aside from his wisdom and fairness. Just don't play futsal with him because he doesn't exactly go for the ball! Aside from that, I've learnt that people are still people. Tony plays on your level, not from high above. You can argue a point with him freely and he will also give you the benefit of the doubt because that's the kind of culture he has built. I am just as important to Tune Talk as our designer Nas, or our customer care team. It's just that my job entails making sure everyone else has exactly what they need to do their job. In short, you don't really work for Tony, you work with him.

6. How do you divide your time between your passion and your day job? Ronnie Teo, Kuching

With great difficulty. My passion is music. It is always there and I'll never stop loving it. Now I have three kids and they too, are my passion. My friends are also my passion and constantly there for me as I am for them. I guess you just have to do what you can and believe strongly that as creative beings, we should do something artistic or creative each day. It keeps us young and broadens our soul. Yeah, sometimes I do wish there were a few more hours in the day.

7. Coming from a musical background, how did you equip yourself with the required business knowledge, leadership skills and tools of the trade as CEO of a mobile network company? What spurred you to take this 180-degree change in profession? Any self doubts? Chow, Petaling Jaya

Nothing quite prepares you for jumping in at the deep end with Celcom and Tony as your shareholders and on the board. I was already a CEO of my own events and production house, but nobody really puts you on the map for that. When news came out that I was Tune Talk's CEO, some telecom guys called me and asked “Is this a joke?”

It was, of course, not something that happens every day. When Tony asked me to join, I said: “Tony, I don't know anything about telecom.” His response, “That's ok. I didn't know anything about airplanes.”

I had already known Tony from his Warner days and as a sponsor for MyTeam where we worked closely together. I suppose he saw that I could go to the ground and link with the youth. It was a fantastic opportunity to learn something new and I was so tired of begging DiGi and Hotlink to sponsor local music. So now, Tune Talk does it!

As for self doubt, are you kidding me?

Of course. I was very nervous as I was suddenly accountable for all this. Thank God for Wikipedia. And thank God for the best staff we could ever be blessed with. There are tools of the trade when it comes to managing people's expectations. I also did know that if I could survive 10 years in the music industry, which was besieged by falling revenues, piracy and file sharing, (I mean, a real struggling environment), I wondered what I could achieve in an industry flushed with huge revenue streams and constant innovation. We'll find out I guess.

8. Your last album was recorded in 2005, do you have plans to revisit your singing career? Wan Chan, Penang

Yes, of course. I'm about seven songs through my fourth album and just want to write a few heavier tunes, before I roll it out. Also, my board would not be too happy if I were to release an album before we hit our breakeven point.

9. You and Khairy Jamaluddin (with whom you attended high school in Singapore) produced the reality TV show MyTeam some years ago. Any more such plans in the future? Yusof, Johor

I think the future will see us moving into football development. Khairy and I had a lot of fun on the MyTeam series and we really got to challenge the establishment of FAM and elevate rural football to such a level of excitement that the nation was gripped. Imagine, a house-keeping boy called Arun Kumar put us 1-0 up against the national team. It was simply a magical journey and we're very proud that many of the MyTeam boys are playing in the league for the likes of Kelantan and even the national team.

Never say never. We continue to contribute where we can and as football is our national sport, we should focus on youth development. I think that's where we're headed, including creating rural tournaments for talent scouting.

10. Are there goals and targets you have missed in your life or any regrets? Ana, Penang

I've always had three goals 1. Play at Wembley stadium 2. Be the first Malaysian artist on Billboard 3. Make 20 albums before I die.

So, I haven't played at Wembley yet but I did create Rock The World, which is Malaysia's largest annual music event with over 15,000 kids participating each year. As for my second goal, Zee Avi beat me to it but, there's always the Malaysian Top 10 and thirdly, 4 out of 20 so far. Getting there.

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