2015 Hack of a year ahead!


Hack 20152014 has seen a tsunami of epic hacks and identity thefts, including the recent massive cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment. Security experts are predicting more or worse cases of such hackings, including in Malaysia where the awareness of cyber threats and security measures is still very low

Hack_getimageBrace for more cyber attacks

PETALING JAYA: If you think that a cyber attack like what happened to Sony Pictures Entertainment could only happen in Hollywood, think again.

It is a sign of what’s to come globally in 2015, say cyber security experts.

In the attack on Sony on Nov 24, the attackers hacked the company’s network and took terabytes of private data, deleted original copies from the company’s computers and left messages threatening to release the information if Sony did not comply with their demands.

Nigel Tan, director of systems engineering for software security firm Symantec Malaysia said the prominent data leaks of 2014 would keep cyber security in the spotlight in 2015.

“With the interconnected nature of a global Internet and cloud infrastructures, cross-border flow of data is unavoidable and needs to be appropriately addressed.

“Malaysia was affected in the data breaches this year and will continue to be affected next year,” he said.

Tan recalled a hack last month by a site called Insecam, which downloaded and displayed images from unsecured webcams of CCTV and simple IP cameras around the world, including from Babycams.

Symantec expects more mega data breaches next year, especially with the rising use of mobile devices for e-payment and the cloud computing technology for storage of personal and confidential information.

“Mobile devices will become even more attractive targets for cyber attackers in 2015 as mobile carriers and retail stores transition to mobile payments.

“Mobile devices are also used to store troves of personal and confidential information. They are left switched on all the time, making them the perfect targets for attackers,” said Tan.

He said the growing use of smart home automation, like smart televisions, home routers and connected car apps had also increased the potential of cyber attacks as more devices were being connected to the network.

Cyber law expert Dr Sonny Zulhuda agreed that the idea of synchronisation and interlinking of smart home automation (or the Internet of things) would be too tempting for both users and “abusers”.

“Users need to balance the use of these devices and smart technology with the efforts to preserve security, privacy or confidentiality.

“Just imagine how many mobile users are concerned about installing a good malware scanner on their devices. In the mind of the criminals, on the other hand, this will make their work even easier.”

Dr Sonny, who is assistant professor at the law faculty of the International Islamic University Malaysia, said it would come to a point where people would get too tired with the intrusion and abuse of their privacy.

“In Malaysia, for example, more people are being aware about the need to protect personal data thanks, to the enforcement of the PDPA 2010 (Personal Data Protection Act).

“Perhaps it is timely now to consider the development and penetration of cyber insurance as a new product for our insurance industries,” he said.

Imam Hoque, managing director of business analytics software and services company SAS said another reason why more cyber criminals target mobile devices was the increasing number of corporations embracing the “bring your own device” (BYOD) to work policy.

“This coupled with a general trend for business to provide more methods of interaction with consumers using mobile devices opens up further opportunities for hackers.

“The emergence of more mainstream malicious software kits for these mobile devices will accelerate the number of attacks on the mobile channel,” he said.

Hoque said that the continued trend to store data within the cloud, coupled with the high-publicised data losses from corporations such as Sony would encourage more hackers to consider large data loss exploitation.

“This in turn will lead to higher levels of identity theft and the ability of hackers to compromise the relationships between individuals and the institutions with which they interact,” he said.

CyberSecurity Malaysia CEO Dr Amirudin Abdul Wahab said while malware would continue to rise steadily on mobile devices to attack individuals, cyber criminals would also exploit the mobile device for advanced persistent threats (APT) on specific targets, resulting in high impacts on security, prosperity and public safety like critical infrastructure and big corporations.

“We foresee sophisticated APT carried out using a combination of technical sophistication, excellent planning and coordination, and social engineering,” he said, adding that another major cyber threat next year was the increasing influence of social media.

“Social media can be exploited to propagate political and racial radicalism as well as religious extremism that could destabilise our national security and societal harmony which we have taken for granted all these years.”

BY Hariati Azizan The Star/Asia News Network

Common hack job used to attack Sony Pictures 

Hack_SonyThe entrance of Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California is seen December 16, 2014. “Guardians of Peace” hackers invoked the 9/11 attacks in their most chilling threat yet against Sony Pictures, warning the Hollywood studio not to release a film which has angered North Korea. – AFP

PETALING JAYA: The hack on Sony Pictures Entertainment might have been one of the most incredible cyber attacks ever, but it was carried out in one of the most common modus operandi of cyber crime.

As reported on Friday, US investigators had evidence that hackers stole “the keys to the entire building” of Sony Pictures by getting the password of a top-level information technology employee in the entertainment company.

Security experts in Malaysia have warned that we are also vulnerable to similar attacks with low level of awareness of cyber threats and security measures.

Cyber criminals exploit “users’ ignorance”, along with the rise of social media and mobile devices, to mount attacks against them,” said CyberSecurity Malaysia CEO Dr Amirudin Abdul Wahab.

He said more cyber criminals were using a combination of technical sophistication and social engineering – a non-technical method of intrusion that relies heavily on human interaction – to trick people into breaking normal security procedures and giving up their personal data.

Nigel Tan, director of systems engineering for Symantec Malaysia, cautioned that user behaviour will continue to be big target points for cyber crime next year.

“Sometimes the weakest link is the person behind the keyboard. If they visit dodgy websites, click on unknown links in fake emails and download apps or malicious software, cyber criminals will take advantage of this to siphon off information like passwords for online banking or e-mails.”

Tan said as most people still tend to use the same password for all their online transactions, services and websites, a stolen password can give the thief access to the victim’s whole life.

“And once they access your email, they can reset all your passwords and take over your identity,” he said.

Imam Hoque, managing director (Fraud and Security Solutions) with business analytics software firm SAS said the growing number of online services has created a goldmine for cyber criminals.

“If you think about how many different services you interact with over web and mobile channels, the numbers are forever growing.

“You need to consider what a hacker would need to know to compromise your accounts and then what damage they could do,” he said, stressing that hackers tend to go for the weakest link and then work their way from there.

Tan highlighted the case of a group of hackers in August who claimed to have stolen 1.2 billion usernames and passwords belonging to more than 500 million e-mail addresses in a hack described as the “largest data breach known to date”.

“They did it by targeting every site their victims visited, instead of focusing on one large company,” he said.

Cyber law expert Dr Sonny Zulhuda said cyber criminals tended to exploit people’s greed to attack them.

“While it is important to equip ourselves with some technical knowledge about the risks and threats to security, we also need to use our common sense when facing possible threats.

“One thing we need to understand with technology is the law of economy – why would people provide you mobile apps for free? Or any online service for that matter, for free?”

“How do they make profit if not from the access to users’ information that they acquire when you install such a free app? If one is keeping this in his mind, then he will be more mindful and careful in using the mobile devices.”

Dr Amirudin warned local computer experts not to be seduced by the seemingly easy but lucrative reward of cyber crime.

“Cyber crime is preferred by criminals due to its profitability, convenience and low risk, and their ‘success’ has boosted the global underground economy. It has even become a money-making profession for some computer experts.

“If this trend affects Malaysians, our own experts could be recruited to join the lucrative international underground economy, while our general public become their potential victims.”

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Honda Malaysia leads the way


Honda Logo

IT has been a good year for Honda Malaysia as its sales figures from January to November has steadily increased to 69,150 units

Honda_cityThis is a 34% increase compared to the brand’s total sales of 51,550 units last year..

In fact, Honda Malaysia claims that it is now the market leader in the non-national passenger car market, taking away the title from UMW Toyota.

According to Akkbar Danial, general manager for Honda Malaysia and also the company’s head of marketing, Honda Malaysia is well on track to hit its 2014 target, which is 76,000 units.

“The tsunami and earthquake in 2011 disrupted our production and parts supply but we restructured our business operation and devised a threeyear plan to achieve a high volume sales in Malaysia,” says Akkbar.

He adds that the main strategy is to offer affordable products that give buyers value for money in order to be competitive in the Malaysian market.

“We achieved this by increasing the localisation of our parts and the result is the current City and Jazz, which both carry competitive prices with added features.”

The other approach was a re-look into its operations and as a result, Honda Malaysia has expanded its production with the new No.2 Line at its Pagoh plant in Malacca.

This has increased its production capacity from 50,000 units to 100,000 units a year.

In the same period, Honda Malaysia also looked into increasing efficiency in its factory and expanded its pre-delivery inspection process and parts warehousing.

“Finally, to accommodate the high volume of sales, we have also expanded our dealer network from 62 dealers in 2012 to 78 dealers this year. This is to ensure that our customers are more satisfied. We plan to have a dealer in all major towns in Malaysia,” explains Akkbar.

Currently, its best selling model is the City, which has sold 32,465 units from January to November this year. Honda has also introduced variants that cater to all budgets.

The Jazz for example, has three variants and prices start at RM72,800 and go up to RM87,800. The City has four variants and its prices start at RM75,800 with the highest variant priced at RM90,800.

Such a wide range of prices offer options to the consumers, which translate to more offerings and higher sales.

Honda Malaysia has 11 models in its list and this includes three hybrid models – the Civic Hybrid (RM185,500), CR-Z (RM183,000) and the Jazz Hybrid (RM89,912). The latter is assembled locally and enjoys the hybrid benefits introduced by the government.

How WhatsApp founder made it big from rags-to-riches?


WhatsApp_Founder Jan Koum

Once a cleaner at a grocery store, Koum’s fortune changed the day he got the idea of an app that would allow people to send text messages via the Internet instead of sending SMS.

WhatsApp users worldwide received surprising news when Jan Koum, the founder of WhatsApp announced that Facebook was buying over WhatsApp for USD19 billion in cash and stock. It is by far the biggest acquisition made by the social networking giant to date. Prior to this, Facebook closed a deal with Instagram for USD1 billion in 2012.

WhatsApp Messenger is a successful cross-platform mobile messaging app that allows users to exchange messages without having to pay SMS bills. All it needs is an internet data plan. In addition to basic messaging WhatsApp users can also create groups, send each other unlimited images, video and audio media messages. WhatsApp currently has 600 million users worldwide.

Jan Koum, now a billionaire from the deal made with Facebook, was born in a small town outside Kiev, Ukraine. He was the only child of a housewife and construction manager and the family led an austere life. At the age of 16, he moved to Mountain View, California with his mother and grandmother. His father stayed behind with plans to follow on later.

To make ends meet every month, Koum worked as a cleaner at a grocery store and his mum worked as a babysitter. He even had to line up to collect food stamps during those tough times. His mother was diagnosed with cancer in 1997 and they lived off her disability allowance. It was in the same year that Koum’s father became ill and passed away. His mother too eventually succumbed to cancer and passed away in year 2000.

At the age of 18, Koum developed an interest toward computers. He taught himself computer programming by purchasing manuals from a used-book store and returning them after he was done. He then enrolled in San Jose State University and moonlighted for Ernst & Young as a security tester. After that he worked for search engine company, Yahoo! Inc.

Koum’s work involves inspecting Yahoo!’s advertising system, which led him to cross paths with Brian Acton (later co-founder of WhatsApp).

Over the next nine years, Koum and Acton were pulled in to help launch Yahoo!’s advertising platform. Koum recalled Acton’s words, “Dealing with ads is depressing. You don’t make anyone’s life better by making advertisements work better,” Koum was not happy with the situation as well.

In September 2007, Koum and Acton decided to resign from Yahoo!. After taking a one year break, Koum and Acton started looking for jobs. Both applied and got rejected by Facebook Inc. It was two years later in 2009 that Koum bought an iPhone and realised that the App Store would unlock future potentials. Koum had the idea of an app that would allow people to send text messages via the internet instead of sending SMSes. He named it WhatsApp that sounds like “What’s Up”.

It became an instant hit among iPhone users after the app was uploaded to the App Store. Koum insisted not to sell ads on the app after his bad experience dealing with ads at Yahoo! for years. WhatsApp was growing big worldwide and the founders decided to charge an annual rate of USD1 to its users. They were surprised to know that users are willing to pay to use the app.

WhatsApp gradually brought in USD5000 in revenue every month by 2010. Acton helped out Koum by investing USD250,000 in WhatsApp. As a result Acton was named co-founder of WhatsApp. By early 2011, the number of users are growing at an immense rate, and it is adding an additional million users everyday.

WhatsApp became one of the top 20 of all apps in the U.S App Store. Two years later, Sequoia invested another USD50 million. This resulted in WhatsApp being valued at USD1.5 billion.

In 2012, Koum received an email from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg was very interested at what Koum built and hinted to Koum at his interest in combining their two firms.

After two years, Koum and Acton signed and sealed the deal with Zuckerberg on the door of the welfare office where Koum used to collect food stamps.

Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19 billion in cash and stock in February 2014. Its by far the most lucrative engagement in tech history.

This deal seals Koum as tech’s new billionaire, pocketing USD6.8 billion after taxes. The agreement also appoints Koum as Facebook’s new board member – a rags-to-riches story that should inspire all nerds out there.

Source: JobStreet.com, the No.1 job site in Malaysia, thesundaily.com

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Startups sharing ideas and seeking validation from others to progress and gain benefits – final part 10


Startup_build relationships

Start building relationships with investors

ENTREPRENEURS are naturally protective of their ideas. Understandably, they keep their ideas to themselves to avoid having them stolen.

Startupup-Don't keep itDon’t keep it to yourself Tell your idea to as many people as possible and seek their opinions. Talk with people you trust and whose opinion you value.

While it is important to protect proprietary information from being copied, entrepreneurs can also gain valuable insight and perspective from feedback before investing heavily in a product that only looks good conceptually.

A startup’s journey is very much akin to running a series of experiments before it finds a path to sustainable growth. A product or an idea should be subjected to validation before it can be tweaked and scaled up to form a viable company.

And what better way to get some form of early validation than to share your ideas with like-minded people for constructive input.

While entrepreneurs are more willing to share and discuss their ideas these days, this culture of sharing is still new in the local scene.

Seasoned entrepreneurs have found bouncing ideas off other people to be more helpful than harmful. Apart from getting feedback on their ideas, they note that more often than not, sharing connects them with other people who can help fill the gaps and turn ideas into reality.

Additionally, sharing ideas and resources could also help accelerate innovation in a field.

For example, American electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors recently announced that it will be making its patents available to other companies that want to use them.

Tesla chief executive officer Elon Musk explained that the move would help advance electric vehicle technology.

Startup_Elon Musk Tesla car

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, unveils the dual engine chassis of the new Tesla ‘D’ model at the Hawthorne Airport October 09, 2014 in Hawthorne, California.

“Our true competition is not the small trickle of non-Tesla electric cars being produced, but rather the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day,” Musk had said.

By allowing the use of its patents, industry observers note that Tesla will be clearing the way for more collaboration with other electric car makers to develop new technologies and would enable the company to take a leadership role in developing standards for the industry and its value chain.

Entrepreneurs are increasingly being encouraged to share and collaborate to innovate and build better products.

And a beauty about being in the present time is that there are more ways than ever to tap into a support network that can provide startups with a platform to share and build on ideas and resources.

Some of these platforms include spaces such as incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces. Apart from being just a shared working station, incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces have evolved into collaborative work spaces that provide entrepreneurs with the opportunity to meet and collaborate on ideas with a host of other people to innovate better solutions.

Additionally, there are various forums as well as startup events and programmes that provide a conducive environment for entrepreneurs to network, share ideas and work together. There are also a number of agencies that are targeted at guiding entrepreneurs with developing their ideas.

Most entrepreneurs still worry about letting on too much on their ideas. But if they can overcome that fear, entrepreneurs stand to gain much from collaborating with one another.

Take advantage of the entrepreneurial community brought together by such platforms to innovate and rather than develop your ideas in silos.

■ This is the final article in a 10-part tie-up between Metrobiz and the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creative Centre (MaGIC) to explore startup ecosystems.

By Joy Lee The Star/Asia News Network

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Startups rising from failure – part 9


Startup_failure by design “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again- this time more intelligently.” — Henry Ford

Startups can learn much when they do not succeed

Success stories have always been a source of great encouragement for struggling entrepreneurs. It seems easy enough to romanticise accomplishments.

After all, there seems to be no shortage of stories on budding entrepreneurs who worked hard to develop great products that were later acquired for hefty price tags.

Perseverance pays: Grove says he learnt the value of persistence when the bursting of the dotcom bubble drastically altered the company’s fortunes in 1999.

In reality, the path of entrepreneurship involves plenty of speed bumps, potholes and dead ends.

Entrepreneurs who have made it often recount how they lacked time for anything other than work, how they had to fumble through everything on their own and how some of their ventures failed before they became successful.

Additionally, entrepreneurs are making a big bet by putting their money into something that has no promise of returns on top of not having a secure income for what can be extended periods.

But serial entrepreneurs persevere through their failures.

Patrick Grove, co-founder and chief executive officer of Catcha Group, understands the importance of picking up the pieces and persisting after a failed attempt.

Grove established Catcha Group, which holds a portfolio of online assets, in 1999 and had plans to list the group on the Singapore Exchange the following year.

But shortly before the exercise, the Nasdaq crashed and brought the end of the dotcom bubble.

Subsequently, Grove and his partners were saddled with debts of US$1.5mil (RM5.2mil).

Teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, he slashed his headcount, diversified the business and persisted.

Grove refers to that period as “the school of hard knocks.”

But in the end, Catcha got its groove back and Grove went on to list four online companies.

“I learnt the value of persistence… because we were humbled early on, we don’t forget that,” Grove said in an interview with an Australian publication, adding that it is alright if entrepreneurs fumble.

MyTeksi technical head Aaron Gill is likewise no stranger to failure. Before joining the Malaysian startup that has grown regionally, Gill had three failed ventures under his belt.

His ventures had started off with ideas good enough to obtain government pre-seed funding from the Multimedia Development Corp and Cradle Fund. But the companies did not survive.

However, Gill says that his failed attempts taught him a lot about running a company and managing a team.

Additionally, he learnt the importance of being focused when running a business and the need for structure in the face of expansion.

Grove and Gill are only two of many more entrepreneurs who have encountered hardships before finding that one successful startup. The road taken by entrepreneurs is often long, winding and certainly stressful.

But fear of failure shouldn’t stop entrepreneurs from taking risks. There are rewards to be reaped from thinking outside the box and pushing boundaries.

The lessons learned from failures can be brutal. But taken the right way, these lessons can bring you one step closer to success.

Entrepreneurs describe themselves as people who hop from one failed business to another until they hit a jackpot. To them, failure is a part of their experiences.

■ This is the ninth article in a 10-part tie-up between Metrobiz and the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creative Centre (MaGIC) to explore startup ecosystems.

By Joy Lee The Star/Asia News Network

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Many Malaysians are too obsessed with politics & race instead of expanding economic cake


Malaysian Ringgit

Sharing the same destiny

“Reading political blogs and getting into frenzy over race issues in social media seem to be the preoccupation of many Malaysians, when we all should be working together to achieve our economic growth target”.

 “There’s no point talking about how the economic cake should be cut when it is getting a smaller and needs to be expanded”.

I AM worried about the economy of Malaysia as we head towards 2015, and I am sure many Malaysians also share my concerns over the uncertainties in the coming months.

All the assurances and figures given by our leaders, we are sorry to say, are no longer convincing as they don’t seem to connect with market sentiments and the realities on the ground.

If we only listen to all the glowing official reports, everything is supposed to be all hunky dory. In short, there’s nothing to worry about as the economy is on course and Malaysia is doing everything right.

Rhetoric by politicians and certain individuals, which smacks of racism and political bullying, are not going to help the economy. It can only worsen race relations in Malaysia and make investors think twice about us.

And if you listen to the palaver of some politicians, it sounds as if there are more pressing issues than the state of our economy to worry about.

The impression given seems to be that the mundane issues of the economy should be left to the economists, businessmen and academics.

These are the delegates who see threats and ghosts from fellow Malaysians when there are none, but they are not able to see the huge economic challenges staring them in their faces.

Even if they are not business owners or part of Corporate Malaysia, they should be concerned about how these challenges will affect the ordinary people, including their livelihood.

This is the time when companies have to worry about paying the salaries of their staff, meeting targets, ensuring a clean sheet for the quarterly reports and planning for the next year.

The weak market sentiments and growing inflationary rates, coupled with the already tight wallets of many consumers, are hitting the lives of ordinary people hard. And even politicians too.

When companies don’t do so well, they have to cut down on operating expenses, reduce bonuses – possibly even increments – and do away with certain perks and privileges.

According to CIMB Research, the third-quarter results fell below consensus estimates, which was another reason for the weak overall stock market performance.

Based on the 117 listed companies the research house tracks, the percentage of stocks that missed expectations increased from 30% as at end August 2014 to 36% in the latest quarter.

Kenanga Research, meanwhile, said that during the third quarter, it “saw the highest number of companies under our coverage delivering below expectations results, or 40% of the stocks.”

These samplings provide a fair picture of the general performance of most companies listed on our stock exchange.

And it is, of course, not just the public companies but the private ones too that have to deal with these economic challenges.

In short, ordinary Malaysians have to brace themselves for a tougher year. Other economies like China and Singapore have also predicted lower single-digit growth for next year.

When the going gets tough, we will realise that many of us are living beyond our means, and the accumulated household debt will become problematic.

These are the substantial matters that we should all be talking about, not just at political meetings but also together as a nation.

We should all focus on expanding the economic pie and giving good suggestions on how to overcome these challenges.

It’s absurd to still talk about vernacular schools or sulk over the voting patterns of the Chinese voters in the last two general elections.

We are at a crucial juncture where the price of oil is sliding downwards and the ringgit is getting weaker. These are two factors that will have an impact on our Budget, which may even need to be revised.

The falling oil prices, which shows Malaysia’s exposure to external factors, pushed the ringgit to its lowest level since February 2010 against the US dollar on Thursday.

These grassroots-level politicians should be worried about the price of commodities, especially palm oil, as it would have a deep impact on the rural smallholders whom they claim to champion.

They should be asking our leaders if these would affect our vision to become a high-income developed nation by 2020, which is only just five years from now!

One does not need a degree in economics to know that our heavy reliance on the export of oil, palm oil and rubber for the country’s revenue means the decline in global prices for these commodities will hit us hard.

We are talking about the effects on our half-a-million rubber tappers and smallholders who are already struggling with the daily cost of living, as media reports predict over a 60% drop in earnings since early this year.

Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd reported its first quarterly loss of RM12mil for the quarter ending September, with its stock price taking a beating after the announcement.

Worse, the company only achieved 53% of the market consensus full year profit.

Just over the last one month, foreign investors have reportedly taken out over US$3bil (RM10.4bil) from the country.

Among us Malaysians, there seems to be an extreme obsession with politics, and there seems to be no real concern with business and economics.

Reading political blogs and getting into a frenzy over race issues in social media seem to be the preoccupation of many, when we all should be working together to achieve our growth target.

There’s no point talking about how the economic cake should be cut when it is getting smaller and needs to be expanded.

Some of us are remarkably arrogant and think that we are better than our neighbours because they are the ones who supply us with maids and construction workers.

This kind of thinking will be our downfall as these countries, with their bigger markets, quickly put their act together.

The depreciation of the ringgit, while making our exports more attractive in price, will also mean costlier food bills as we are a net importer of food.

All this may sound gloomy and even seem out of place as the year comes to a close and when most of us have to clear our leave and spend time with our families during the holiday season.

But the point to politicians who still live in a world of their own is that they should worry about the economy and how ordinary people live. After all, the reason they are in politics is to seek power and helm the government, which has to be responsible for many of these issues.

American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr once said: “We may have all come on different ships but we are in the same boat now.”

Some of us may still want to argue over this saying but make no mistake about it – as Malaysians, we share the same destiny.

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own

On The Beat by Wong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group’s managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.

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SoftBank invests $250M (RM860mil) in GrabTaxi, an Internet company founded in Malaysia


GraTaxi

SoftBank Invests $250M In GrabTaxi, Uber’s Archrival In Southeast Asia

Not content with leading a $627 million mega-round for Snapdeal and a $210 million raise for Ola as part of a $10 billion commitment to startups in India, Japanese telecom giant SoftBank has now turned its attention to Southeast Asia and sunk $250 million into GrabTaxi, Uber’s major rival in the region.

Neither party has confirmed what the deal values GrabTaxi at, but the company’s valuation is likely to exceed the $1 billion mark. The duo did confirm that SoftBank has become GrabTaxi’s largest investor.

The round is the highest raise for a startup in Southeast Asia to date — Rocket Internet companies aside — and it is GrabTaxi’s fourth funding activity this calendar year, taking it past $320 million in capital from investors. GrabTaxi’s previous $65 million round closed in October and was led by Tiger Global — which also invested in Uber rival Ola — while GGV Capital led a $15 million raise in May. Its $10 million-plus Series A was announced in April.

GrabTaxi was founded in Malaysia in 2012, has over 500 staff and is live in 17 cities across six countries in Southeast Asia: Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia. Its core offering is a service that connects registered taxis with would-be passengers via its app — thus working with the existing industry rather than against it — but it also offers an Uber-like private car service and is trialling motorbike taxis in Vietnam.

Uber is present in each of GrabTaxi’s markets, offering its standard Uber Black service in all and its cheaper UberX service in most. Hailo is present in Singapore, while Rocket Internet-backed Easy Taxi is a minority player in a handful of countries in Southeast Asia.

Uber doesn’t break out user numbers, but GrabTaxi — which says it is leading the taxi app space in Southeast Asia — claims 500,000 monthly active users from 2.5 million app downloads. It says there are 60,000 drivers on its network, and that three bookings are made per second on average across its platform — which is an 800 percent increase over the past year.

Back in May, GrabTaxi claimed 1.2 million downloads and 250,000 monthly users.

Collecting War Chests

This Series D round comes at a fascinating time. Uber raised $1.2 billion earlier this year and is tipped to be closing in on another billion-dollar round again soon at a rumored $40 billion valuation. GrabTaxi, it seems, is building its own war chest, and bringing on a formidable ally in SoftBank, at just the right moment.

anthony tan grabtaxiGrabTaxi didn’t explicitly reveal how it will invest the money from SoftBank, but CEO and co-founder Anthony Tan told TechCrunch in an interview that it will go towards fortifying its efforts in existing markets and continuing its expansion across Southeast Asia.

There are no plans to move outside of the region, which has a cumulative population of around 600 million, he said.

“We’re going to be staying regional. [We want to] grow very fast and focus on expanding in this region, whilst staying very very focused,” Tan commented, speaking after the Bloomberg ASEAN Business Summit in Bangkok, Thailand.

“We’ll also be hiring. We want the right kind of people, people who love people and believe in our mission,” he added.

Related to that, Tan said GrabTaxi is open to potential acquisitions, but he stressed that in any possible deal, the focus would be on finding the right cultural blend.

GrabTaxi has been focused on providing a pure-play transportation service to date. Uber, however, has experimented with a range of alternative services across the world. While he didn’t explicitly advocate that GrabTaxi will follow suit, Tan did admit that the company’s new funding intake gives it “the resources” to potentially explore new areas of business in the future.

Price Battles

Harvard graduate Tan admitted that the price battles between rival services in Southeast Asia necessitate significant funding just to compete, although he said GrabTaxi still maintains the “heart of a startup” — such as working hard, traveling via economy class and low-cost carriers where possible — and generally being thrifty.

While Uber has raised boat loads of money for its operations, the company is engaged in every continent on the planet. That’s something that could mean GrabTaxi is actually better capitalized, which Cheryl Goh, GrabTaxi’s VP of marketing, hinted.

“Our strong focus in this region means that each of [the] six GrabTaxi markets stands to receive a significant portion of funding compared to larger players that have to stretch their funding much further,” Goh said in a statement without explicitly mentioning the ‘U’ word.

While SoftBank provided the entire round for GrabTaxi, TechCrunch understands that the startup had multiple alternative offers on the table. That certainly bodes well for the future, since GrabTaxi’s track record and the ongoing battle will almost certainly require further rounds of funding in the not-too-distant future.

Uber, GrabTaxi and others have come under pressure from the governments of Vietnam and Thailand this past week, and numerous other regulators in the past. Tan didn’t provide specific comment on either of those incidents, but he did reveal that GrabTaxi has set up a dedicated government liaison team that works directly with authorities across Southeast Asia to help smooth out issues and communications.

Southeast Asia’s startup scene continues to heat up. Just last week Carousell raised $6 million and PocketMath bagged $10 million. But this investment from SoftBank is sure to put the region on the map, particularly coming right after Rocket Internet’s Amazon rival Lazada raised $250 million led by Singapore’s Temasek Holdings.

SONY DSC

Making a Difference

When I put it to Tan that many founders will want to know how he’s been so successful in Southeast Asia, he points to his faith in God and his company’s mission to make a difference.

“There are a lot of well-run startups in Southeast Asia. We hope that the values we’ve been pushing for — helping drivers make more money, women feel safer and more — and changing the current ecosystem and how we treat each other makes a difference,” he explained.

With SoftBank and its renowned founder Masayoshi Son on his side, Tan’s company is closing out the year in a very different position to how it began 2014. Then it was an outsider that was full of ambition and plans but lacking resources. Now it has gathered steam in multiple markets and pulled in the financial muscle to potentially battle Uber, one of the world’s most talked-about companies, blow for blow.

Certainly, 2015 is gearing up to host a fascinating battle between these two, particularly now that SoftBank has stepped into the ring.

Source: techcrunch.com by Jon Russell

Japanese group invests RM860mil in Internet company founded in Malaysia

GrabTaxi_myteksi

KUALA LUMPUR: GrabTaxi Holdings Pte Ltd, whose roots can be traced back to Malaysia, received a major boost in its challenge to keep up with the market share fight in the taxi booking mobile application market with a US$250mil (RM864mil) investment from Japan’s Softbank Corp.

The investment, which was made through SoftBank Internet and Media, Inc (SIMI), is the largest for GrabTaxi, which is known as MyTeksi in Malaysia.

It is also among the largest, if not the largest, Internet company in South-East Asia.

The company that provides the mobile taxi booking application was founded by Anthony Tan and Hooi Ling Tan, both Harvard Business School graduates, in 2011, according to a statement from the company.

Anthony is the grandson of Tan Sri Tan Yuet Foh, the co-founder of the Tan Chong group of companies.

MyTeksi currently serves 17 cities across six countries in South-East Asia, including Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Through the strategic investment and partnership with MyTeksi, the SoftBank group aims to further build its presence in South-East Asia and maximise synergies with its network of Internet companies around the world.

Nikesh Arora, the vice-chairman of SoftBank Corp and chief executive officer of SIMI, said in a statement that in two years MyTeksi had become the dominant player in South-East Asia’s taxi booking mobile app industry, which is a testament to Anthony’s outstanding leadership.

“We look forward to working with his team and supporting MyTeksi’s further expansion in the region,” he said.

SIMI will become the largest investor in GrabTaxi, Anthony told Bloomberg in an interview in Bangkok yesterday, without providing stake details.

GrabTaxi has raised about US$340mil (RM1.18bil) in the last 14 months, it said in a statement. GrabTaxi’s funding comes as rival Uber is said to be close to raising a round of financing that would give it a valuation of as much as US$40bil (RM138bil).

Ride-hailing apps on smartphones are gaining popularity across the world by providing transportation alternatives, with the investment by SoftBank adding to the 1,300 made by the Tokyo-based technology company.

“We will do whatever it takes to ensure that we maintain our leadership in an ethical and moral way,” Anthony was quoted by Bloomberg. “It’s a fight for market share. We’re many, many times bigger than our closest competitors and we intend to grow that fast.”

GrabTaxi counts Singapore’s Temasek Holdings Pte Ltd and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd backer GGV Capital among its investors.

There were now 500,000 active users who used the app at least once a month, up six-fold from a year earlier, GrabTaxi said. It received about three taxi bookings every second across the region, the company said.

SoftBank, founded by Masayoshi Son in 1981, controls wireless carriers in Japan and the United States, as well as owning the largest stake in Alibaba Group Holding.

In October, the unit of SoftBank said it would lead an investment of US$210mil (RM726mil) in ANI Technologies Pvt, which offers a taxi booking service called Ola Cabs in India.

Uber has been attempting to gain a foothold in the region despite multiple regulatory tangles and already fierce competition.

Within South-East Asia, Uber is said to operate in the same six markets as GrabTaxi, after entering Singapore last year. It does not release operational statistics.

Malaysian and Indonesian authorities have said Uber services that utilise private vehicles are illegal, while Thai authorities last week indicated that they are also banning the service.

Other major taxi apps in South-East Asia include Indonesia’s Blue Bird, regional player EasyTaxi, backed by German start-up incubator Rocket Internet, as well as London-based Hailo, which operates in Singapore.

Taxi-hailing apps have become popular in South-East Asia, especially Singapore, one of the most expensive places in the world to own a private car.

Finding a cab during peak hours and during frequent tropical downpours can be difficult in the city-state, which last month said it planned to start regulating third-party taxi booking services for the first time.

Heavy traffic in cities such as Manila and Jakarta also makes finding taxis tough.

Those troubles are benefiting apps such as GrabTaxi. The apps are seen as revolutionising the taxi industry, which has long been plagued by inefficient cartels and price-gouging drivers.

Source: The Star/Asia News Network

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