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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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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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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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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Endeavouring to give back to startups – part 8 

Startup’s components of a support system, govt incentives, market access – part 5,6,7

 

Endeavouring to give back to startups – part 8


Magic Logo_SmallSuccessful entrepreneurs join forces to fund and support businesses

Malaysia has seen quite a number of successful entrepreneurs coming into the market over the last two decades or so. They have established strong businesses and built up significant wealth and experience.

While any normal person would likely retire and enjoy the fruits of their labour, entrepreneurs have a knack for staying in their jobs.

Not only do they move on to bigger ventures, they also relish the opportunity to invest in other passionate entrepreneurs who have ambitious visions.

Many of these early entrepreneurs have come full circle.

They recall their early days of struggle to get their ideas off the ground, their first successful rounds of funding and remembering how they persevered to grow their startups to become successful companies.

Most of them understand the importance of giving back to the ecosystem.

Angel investors are valuable to the ecosystem not just because they have capital to back startups, but also other experiences that will help to nurture budding entrepreneurs.

sssssss: Afzal Abdul Rahim, Chief Executive Officer - TIME dotComBerhadSome of these entrepreneurs, including Time dotCom Bhd chief executive officer Afzal Abdul Rahim (left picture), Terato Tech founder Reza Fahmi Razali and JobStreet Corp Bhd founder Mark Chang.

After establishing their businesses, they remain actively involved in investing in other people.

Afzal started his entrepreneurial journey in 2006 after he and his partner successfully raised RM20mil to execute a management buyout of AIMS Group.

In 2008, he took over Time and grew it from a penny stock company to a formidable telco solutions provider.

But Afzal is far from done.

Today, he is an active angel investor and currently leads Endeavour Malaysia, the local affiliate of the global non-profit organisation Endeavour.

Under Endeavour Malaysia, Afzal, along with the other board members and partners, provide funds, mentorship and access to networks to help startups scale up and expand.

“As an entrepreneur, I know how important mentorship can be,” Afzal said at the launch of Endeavour Malaysia.

He added that the mentoring network of Endeavour would provide valuable support to Malaysia’s next generation of high-impact entrepreneurs.

Likewise, UnrealMind Interactive Bhd founder Tan Swee Yong sees much value in providing support to the new wave of up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

“I enjoy a startup environment more than a corporate environment. There are plenty of ideas and talent out there.

“It is all about giving them a helping hand,” Tan had said in an earlier interview.

Tan started UnrealMind, a mobile content company, in 2001 with a personal investment of RM300,000.

The company grew regionally, was listed and subsequently privatised by a British company in 2005.

Not one to sit on his profits, Tan has been actively looking out for other startups to invest in and participated in events such as Echelon Malaysia.

Like other angel investors, Tan believes in investing more than just finances into his investee companies and takes an active role in guiding them as well.

There are many other entrepreneurs who are willing to grow other startups.

And most of them are accessible through various angel investor networks, including Malaysian Business Angels Network (MBAN) and through organisations such as MaGiC.

It takes every party to keep the investment and nurturing cycle going in order to establish a strong startup ecosystem.

And successful entrepreneurs who have come full circle certainly have a lot to offer in terms of guiding new startups to greater heights.

This is the eighth instalment of MetroBiz’s tie-up with Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) to explore startup ecosystems.

By Joy Lee The Star/Asia News Network

Oil enters a new era of low prices: Opec vs US shale, impacts, perils as Petronas cuts capex


Petronas_free fall price

Oil Enters New Era as OPEC Faces Off Against Shale; Who Blinks as Price Slides Toward $70?

OPEC’s decision to cede no ground to rival producers underscored the price war in the crude market and the challenge to U.S. shale drillers.

The 12-nation Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries kept its output target unchanged even after the steepest slump in oil prices since the global recession, prompting speculation it has abandoned its role as a swing producer. Yesterday’s decision in Vienna propelled futures to the lowest since 2010, a level that means some shale projects may lose money.

“We are entering a new era for oil prices, where the market itself will manage supply, no longer Saudi Arabia and OPEC,” said Mike Wittner, the head of oil research at Societe Generale SA in New York. “It’s huge. This is a signal that they’re throwing in the towel. The markets have changed for many years to come.”

The fracking boom has driven U.S. output to the highest in three decades, contributing to a global surplus that Venezuela yesterday estimated at 2 million barrels a day, more than the production of five OPEC members.

Demand for the group’s crude will fall every year until 2017 as U.S. supply expands, eroding its share of the global market to the lowest in more than a quarter century, according to the group’s own estimates.

Photographer: Eddie Seal/Bloomberg.Floor hands on the Orion Perseus drilling rig near Encinal in Webb County, Texas.

Benchmark Brent crudefell the most in more than three years after OPEC’s decision, sliding 6.7 percent to close at $72.58 a barrel. Futures for January settlement sank to $70.15 today, the lowest close since May 2010. Prices peaked this year at $115.71 in June.

Market Signals

“We will produce 30 million barrels a day for the next 6 months, and we will watch to see how the market behaves,” OPEC Secretary-General Abdalla El-Badri told reporters in Vienna after the meeting. “We are not sending any signals to anybody, we just try to have a fair price.”

OPEC pumped 30.56 million barrels a day in November and has exceeded its current output ceiling in all but four of the 34 months since it was implemented, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. OPEC’s own analysts estimate production was 30.25 million last month, according to a report Nov. 12. Members will abide by the 30 million barrel-a-day target, El-Badri said yesterday.

“OPEC has chosen to abdicate its role as a swing producer, leaving it to the market to decide what the oil price should be,” Harry Tchilinguirian, head of commodity markets at BNP Paribas SA in London, said yesterday by phone. “It wouldn’t be surprising if Brent starts testing $70.”

Conventional Producers

Conventional oil producers in OPEC can no longer dictate prices, United Arab Emirates Energy Minister Suhail Al-Mazrouei said in an interview in Vienna on Nov. 26. Newcomers to the market who have the highest costs and created the glut should be the ones to determine the price, he said.

“That is what OPEC is hoping for,” Carsten Fritsch, a commodity analyst at Commerzbank AG in Frankfurt, said in an e-mail. “It’s the question of who will blink first.”

OPEC may now be prepared to let prices fall to force some drillers with higher production costs to stop pumping, said Julian Lee, an oil strategist who writes for Bloomberg First Word and has worked in the industry for 25 years. That scenario would mark the start of a fourth oil-market era since the end of the 1970s, he said.

Fourth Era

Since the early 2000s, surging demand growth drove up prices allowing companies to apply new extraction techniques and develop deep-water and other costly oil. That ended an era that pervaded since the mid 1980s, which was characterized by low prices and OPEC regaining the market share that it had previously sacrificed in an attempt to preserve high prices, Lee said.

OPEC will face pressure too, with prices now below the level needed by nine member states to balance their budgets, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“They haven’t taken collective action,” Richard Mallinson, an oil analyst at London-based Energy Aspects Ltd., said by phone. “That doesn’t mean they won’t do it in the next few months if prices stay low.”

U.S. Production

U.S. oil production has risen to 9.077 million barrels a day, the highest level in weekly data from the Energy Information Administration going back to 1983. Output will climb to 9.4 million next year, the most since 1972, it forecasts.

Middle Eastern exporters including Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq can break even on a cost basis at about $30 a barrel, Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. They need more to balance their budgets. Some U.S. producers need more than $80, the consulting firm said in a report last month.

OPEC’s policy will spur a crash in the U.S. shale industry, Leonid Fedun, a vice president and board member at OAO Lukoil, Russia’s second-largest oil producer, said in an interview in London before the group’s decision.

“In 2016, when OPEC completes this objective of cleaning up the American marginal market, the oil price will start growing again,” said Fedun. “The shale boom is on a par with the dot-com boom. The strong players will remain, the weak ones will vanish.”

The share prices of U.S. oil producers including Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. fell by at least 4 percent in New York trading today.

No Cut

Igor Sechin, the chief executive officer of OAO Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil producer, said after a meeting with Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Mexico that his nation wouldn’t need to cut output even if prices fell below $60.

“The question is, what price level will be low enough to slow U.S. production growth?” Torbjoern Kjus, an analyst at DNB ASA, Norway’s biggest bank, said by phone. “What price will get U.S. growth to slow to 500,000 barrels a day from this year’s rate of 1.4 million barrels?”

Only about 4 percent of U.S. shale production needs $80 or more to be profitable, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency. Most production in the Bakken formation, one of the main drivers of shale oil output, remains profitable at or below $42 a barrel, the IEA estimates. The agency expects U.S. supply to rise by almost 1 million barrels a day next year, with increasing flows to international markets.

OPEC has gone “cold turkey” on balancing the oil market, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said in a report yesterday. Prices may have further to fall until there is evidence of U.S. production slowing, according to the bank. It said last month that oil markets were entering a “new oil order,” with OPEC retreating from its role as a swing producer.

“OPEC’s decision means it is over to you America,” Miswin Mahesh, a London-based commodities analyst at Barclays Plc, said in an e-mail. “This opens the window for the U.S. to be the new swing producer.”

Source: Bloomberg


The perils of cheaper oil

COME Dec 1, Malaysia will enter a new era long desired by the advocates of free market.

The pump price of petrol and diesel at the kiosk will be based on a managed float system depending on global oil prices. This will replace the current system where the Government fixes the price at the pump, a process that involves a huge amount of subsidy.

For years, the Government adopted the fixed price mechanism because it brought about an element of stability.

Unlike most other countries where the price at the pump varies from day to day, Malaysians are used to planning their expenditure based on a fixed price.

Right from a typical consumer to large companies, they all depend on oil or some form of energy to carry out their daily lives or operations. The fixed price has helped in their planning.

But the biggest disadvantage of having a fixed price for oil is that it involves a huge amount of subsidy, especially in an environment where oil prices go beyond what is anticipated by the Government.

Malaysia’s tale of subsidy woes is a subject matter that is often spoken about.

The subsidy bill is estimated at about 14% of the Government’s total operating expenditure of RM271.94bil for next year. The bulk of the RM38bil that has been set aside for next year is to ensure that the fuel cost remains stable.

There is a sales tax of 58 sen per litre on petrol sold at the pump. But the mechanism to collect the tax has not kicked in because the subsidy per litre is much higher than the sales tax.

Beginning July this year, the oil and gas dynamics changed with the United States becoming a large producer, thanks to the shale oil and gas.

The implications of the shale oil and gas on the global economy are huge. It has gone beyond the oil and gas industry. Oil-dependent nations such as Iran, Iraq and Venezuela are in trouble because a low oil price means less revenue and less money to fund their development programmes and, more importantly, to pay off their debts.

Venezuela is high on the list of countries that could seek some reprieve from bondholders because it needs oil price to be more than US$160 per barrel to balance its budget.

The Russian rouble has depreciated by more than 45% against the dollar and state-owned Rosneft has seen its profit almost collapse due to the depreciating currency.

Russia’s problems have exacerbated the slowdown in Germany, the strongest economy in Europe and this has in turn affected the entire eurozone recovery.

As for Asia, the best thing that the low oil prices have brought about is an era of low inflation and allowed some governments to carry out their reforms of energy policies. It has allowed governments to dismantle the subsidy system that has for long artificially kept the cost of production low.

Indonesia removed subsidies last week, a move that was cheered by foreign investors, because the system apparently only benefited a handful of powerful businessmen.

For Malaysia, when global oil prices are less than US$80 per barrel, which is the case now, there is no more subsidy for petrol and diesel sold at the pump. What kicks in is the sales tax of 58 sen per litre.

Come April 1 next year, the sales tax will be replaced with a goods and services tax of 6%. What this means is prices at the pump will be substantially lower than what they are today – provided global oil prices remain at less than US$80 per barrel.

Theoretically, this should translate into Malaysia having a lower cost of production due to cheaper energy prices. When oil prices went up over the past years, wages and all other costs followed suit. When the reverse happens, shouldn’t the cost of production come down?

Unfortunately that is not the case. The US is benefiting from the low energy cost era, at the expense of Asia. In fact, Asia as a whole may be losing out as a result of the steep fall in global energy prices.

Since the 1980s, Asian countries have been the destination for foreign manufacturers from the Europe and the US to relocate their operations because of the cheap cost of labour.

But manufacturers increasingly are paying more attention to destinations with low energy cost. Cheaper cost of energy is seen as an adequate substitute for low wages.

European manufacturers have turned to the US, where the cost of natural gas is one-third that of South-East Asia, to relocate their operations.

BASF, the large German chemical company, is planning to build a US$1.4bil plant in the Gulf Coast, apart from increasing its annual capital expenditure of US$20bil into that country.

An Austrian steel company, Voestalpine, is building a US$500mil facility in Texas to export iron for its steel plants. It will use natural gas to blast the furnace instead of coking coal in Europe.

Previously, these companies would make Asia their destination because of its low cost of production.

The flow of new manufacturing investments to the US is also assisted by the low rise in wages there compared with Asia. According to a report, between 2006 and 2011, Asian wages rose by 5.7% compared with only 0.4% in developed countries.

For decades the big gap in the wage rate increases between Europe, the US and countries such as Malaysia determined the flow of foreign investments. But now that is no longer the case.

Malaysia has to raise productivity or it will lose out on attracting new investments. Low wages alone will not do, especially now when prices of oil and gas resources are in a tailspin.

By M.SHANMUGAM The Star/Asia News Network

 

Petronas cuts capex

PETROLIAM Nasional Bhd’s (Petronas) announcement of its third-quarter results comes at a delicate time, considering that it is being watched by all and sundry.

Petronas president and CEO Tan Sri Shamsul Azhar Abbas

Amidst a scenario of a free-fall of oil prices and the politically-charged Umno General Assembly, it comes as no surprise that Tan Sri Shamsul Azhar Abbas (pic), the oil major’s president and chief executive, says he has to be “politically correct” in delivering his key message.

At a press conference yesterday, Shamsul also explained that Petronas had waited for the all-important Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) meeting to conclude before addressing the media in Kuala Lumpur.

And rightly so

The 12-member Opec decided on Thursday not to lower its output target, leading to oil prices plunging by a further 8% on Friday, cumulating in an almost 40% dip since mid-June.

The Brent crude oil price is now at US$72.84 per barrel and some forecasters are predicting that oil prices could hit US$60 per barrel.

Petronas itself is now predicting that oil prices could settle at US$70-US$75 next year.

This is a far cry from the US$108 per barrel that Petronas had averaged last year and the US$106 per barrel, which is the average price of the Brent crude for the first nine months of this year.

Shamsul lays out the bare truth on what the falling oil prices would mean for Petronas, the oil and gas (O&G) services industry and the federal government’s coffers:

  • Capital expenditure (capex) on the O&G industry will be cut by between 15% and 20%
  • Petronas’ contribution to Government coffers in the form of dividends, taxes and oil royalty for next year will dive by 37% to RM43bil, assuming the Brent crude settles at US$75 per barrel;
  • Petronas will not proceed with contracts to award new marginal oil fields unless oil settles at levels above US$80 per barrel
  • Projects in Pengerang that have yet to receive the final investment decision (FID) will be affected by the cut-backs. Projects worth US$27bil that have received FID will not be affected, but Petronas does not have 100% equity in all the projects approved.

The capex crunch is expected to send chills down the spine of the already fragile O&G sector, with the stock prices of listed players already haemorrhaging in light of the free-fall of oil prices.Petronas_free fall price

Apart from the 40-odd listed O&G companies, there are close to 4,000 other smaller companies that depend onPetronas for O&G service jobs.“Nearly all depend on Petronas for jobs,” says an official in the O&G industry.

The capex cut by the national oil company is likely to have a negative impact on these companies and runs contrary to what research houses have been projecting.

Global slide

Several research houses have been stating that the Malaysian O&G industry is sheltered from the global slide in crude because Petronas will keep up with its spending of about RM60bil per year.

Taking a jibe at the forecasters, Shamsul says he has been warning of a shake-up in the industry in all his quarterly briefings.

“But nobody wants to listen to me. The worst part is, some of them have been listening to these so-called desk-top analysts who say this cannot happen because Petronas is always there to help them out … dream on.”

Shamsul says it is also reviewing the feasibility of some of its projects and could shelve projects that are no longer viable and for which Petronas has yet to make its FID.

“For the last nine months, we have been telling you guys about the likelihood that oil prices will drop. So the declining oil price is no surprise to us,” says Shamsul.

“But like every international oil company (IOC) out there, declining oil prices will impact us, and as such, we have to review our capex plans for next year onwards, which is also what the IOCs are doing. We have to assess the feasibility of projects,” Shamsul says.

He adds that at current oil price levels, marginal oil fields are no longer feasible for Petronas to get involved in, and warns that companies seeking to get involved in this business are “dreaming”.

When asked what was his message to the service providers seeking to do more work for Petronas, Shamsul said: “I’ve been singing this song for the last nine months, to watch out because things are not going to be that rosy.

“But not many seem to want to listen to me. So, I’ve stopped singing that song. But when they (service providers) get hurt, they will know,” he said.

Clearly, Shamsul is referring to how the sluggish oil price will force it to become more cost-effective in its projects, cancelling some, shelving others and negotiating down the terms of others.

Impact to federal government coffers

Meanwhile, Shamsul also explains that based on the assumption that oil prices average US$75 per barrel for 2015, the state oil firm would be paying the Government about RM43bil in dividends, royalty and taxes.

This would be 37% less than the RM68bil it plans to pay the Government this year.

“The lower dividend and other payout contributions is to ensure Petronas has enough money to replenish the reserves. If we are to maintain the payouts, it will have a significant impact on our growth plans,” says Shamsul.

As such, he says the Government should relook and rebalance its budget planning to adjust to the new level of oil prices.

He also reiterates that Petronas still needs to keep investing in new technology, in overseas projects and increasing its oil reserves in order to maintain its growth, considering that current production levels decline by some 10% every year, naturally.

At present, Petronas produces some two million barrels of oil equivalent per day.

“In five years, if we don’t replenish our production, our production will be down to half of what we have today,” he asserts.

By RISEN JAYASEELAN, NG BEI SHAN The Sunday Starbizweek Nov 29 2014  

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