Barracuda Campus Sdn Bhd (formerly known as Techsense Web Sdn Bhd) founder and chief executive officer Alim Ling Woh Soon, 45, talks to LIM WING HOOI about how he diversified from weather monitoring systems to developing their own cloud-based campus management system, with clients from the education community.
Tell us how you started your company.
I worked as a system integrator (SI) for a local company for over eight years, majoring in airport systems integration. Naturally, I wanted to be my own boss and be able to decide my own development path. As I saw many opportunities at that time, apart from just waiting for tenders from airports, I started the company Techsense Web Sdn Bhd in 2003, to develop weather systems for meteorology departments.
With a rented office in Desa Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur and just seven staff, we provided our services to the local government, and other countries such as Myanmar, Indonesia and Bangladesh.
In time, we realised the business was too niche and directly competing with established American and European companies. With the network and market reputation of our competitors ahead of us, we knew it was going to be very tough for us. So we started looking around for a new turf.
The Malaysian Information and Communications Technology (ICT) economy has always been driven largely by the Government, government-linked companies (GLCs) or financial institutions (ICT). Most of the people in the industry, from contractors to clients, usually do their procurement depending on foreign ideas or products.
For example, when a renown international networking system company introduces a new product, its Malaysian partner will start approaching the prospects and selling the idea. The customers will then allocate a budget to purchase.
When the tender is opened, the market will be very excited and SI companies will try their luck, spending sleepless nights preparing their proposals before submitting them and waiting for results. Whether they win or lose the tender, the same cycle starts all over again for the next product or project.
This business environment leaves very few entrepreneurs who are willing to invest in building business applications for both Malaysia and the world market. Instead of focusing on acquiring strong domain knowledge, the “wait for tender” mentality has also discouraged entrepreneurs to think long-term as well.
Domain knowledge is essential for product development. Most IT expertise “solve” problems, but lack the skill to “identify” potential problems. We saw a growing need for the education market, and we renamed our earlier company to Barracuda Campus Sdn Bhd to focus on IT solutions for education institutions instead.
My sales staff performed a basic survey of 100 institutions in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, and found that at least 80% of them don’t have a fully integrated back-end operation and management system to help them run their education institutions. These institutions are profitable, and the demand for education continues to rise exponentially.
As a new player, we used a cloud-based model to reduce the cost for clients. After all, we only charge our customers based on their active students, and these students are already paying fees to the institutions.
In 2011, we added another five staff members to develop the cloud-based Campus Management System (CMS), developing five basic modules on a monthly subscription model and began marketing to our clients that same year.
Today, we have 17 modules with about 50 monthly paying customers. We have also expanded to 20 staff, operating in Cyberjaya.
Was it difficult raising funds for your business?
We talked to some banks and government institutions for grants or loans, but we are a new software company and they were not keen. We know we have to be prudent and rely on our own savings. And we know it is going to be a long journey...
What is your business model?
The CMS helps to track students’ progress, from registration, syllabus, co-curricular activities, examination to the day they graduate. Clients pay monthly, based on the modules they subscribe to and multiply that with the number of active students. We support all users directly via email and commit to an hour-long response time.
Tell us your motto or philosophy.
Life’s a journey, not a destination. Enjoy every bit with utmost sincerity and honesty.
Tell us more about your hobbies.
I like to read. Especially on the subjects of economy and technology.