Choong Fui-yu is the co-founder & CEO of Kaodim.com, the leading marketplace for local services – from plumbers, photographers, cleaners, wedding planners and many more. Kaodim was born in Malaysia and has expanded into Singapore and the Philippines, with the rest of South East Asia coming soon.
Before working on Kaodim, Fui spent 6 years as a corporate and commercial litigation lawyer. He’s a builder at heart and works day and night building Kaodim into an impactful business, with the hope of bringing positive change to the services industry and everyone in it. He’s passionate about big ideas and value creation through business and entrepreneurship.
Jeffri Cheong is the co-founder & Managing Director of Kaodim.com. He was a litigation lawyer specializing in intellectual property and commercial arbitration with a leading international law firm prior to starting Kaodim. This is his first business venture in an environment that is completely different from the litigation courtroom. He decided to leave his career as a lawyer behind, leap into the wild, unpredictable world of entrepreneurship, learn everything about building a business from scratch and challenge himself to building a regional tech start-up that can change the lives of millions.
In your own words what is Kaodim?
A bunch of highly committed people collectively working towards a common goal of helping people with things they care about most (whether it’s the plumbing or renovation of their home, or a photography session for their wedding) and to empower businesses with growth, innovation and progress.
Imagine you have a leak in your house, what would you do? You’ll probably ask your friends or family for recommendations for a plumber. Often this plumber may be unavailable, unqualified, and too expensive for the job. Often you end up disappointed, wishing there was a faster, more reliable solution. Kaodim allows you to tell us your specific problem using your mobile phone, computer or any device. Within minutes or hours you’ll get matched with qualified and verified service professionals like plumbers, electricians, cleaners and much more who will provide you with a custom quote to fix your problem. You can compare business profiles, read reviews from customers who’ve used them in the past, communicate with them through our app and pick the service provider who best suits your requirements. Kaodim provides an effective solution to a pain point which millions of people go through every day.
How did you come up with the idea of Kaodim?
For me, at the beginning I really just wanted to build a company – but a company whose business and way of doing business added great value to a big part of society. There was a huge void in local services and we felt that there was so much that could be done to make things better for both the consumer and the service providers.
So we did a lot of research and saw a few business models that worked and others that didn’t work in other places around the world. That’s when we came upon thumbtack.com, which is a local services marketplace in the US from which Kaodim’s initial idea was emulated from.
We felt that the model where we could match both the consumers and service providers through a quick and convenient platform was something that would solve the problems often encountered in service related transactions – for the consumers, the value Kaodim provides comes in the form of a quick and easy way to get connected to and receive price quotations from service providers who understand your specific needs and in addition, read reviews from other consumers who have used those service providers in the past. This way, consumers no longer have to waste precious time searching for the service providers. They also get several quotes to compare prices from. The profiles, ratings and reviews left by other consumers who have used the services of a particular service provider also give them a clear idea of who they’re hiring for the job and what they can expect in terms of quality.
As for the service providers, Kaodim is the fastest and easiest way for them to grow their businesses. Instead of having to spend time and money marketing and reaching out to new customers, Kaodim quickly matches them with people who are looking for their services. In addition, the service providers get to decide who they respond to and whether the job requested for is within their capability and convenience. So it’s a quick, easy and also very sustainable service because they are empowered with choice and flexibility like never before.
As a platform, Kaodim provides a lot of added value in the form of the trust and transparency that we spend a lot of time cultivating. We believe that this trust and transparency promotes better quality all round and ultimately, elevates service levels.
We wanted to bring mobile technology into an industry which has seen very little innovation since the beginning of time. Service providers’ likes photographers, cleaners; plumbers still relied on flyers and referrals to get customers even though they were online on their phones or computers all the time. We wanted to build something that allowed them harness this technology to get clients rapidly, just like how Myteksi has given taxi drivers more customers than they had before.
We also wanted to solve the pain points that millions in Southeast Asia have with respect to hiring service providers that had a sometimes unfounded stigma of being unprofessional, unresponsive and delivered poor quality work. Through Kaodim thousands of businesses have transformed using this technology in a short period of time and the general standards or service quality among professionals in Malaysia has increased through the dynamic ecosystem we have created which encourages them to deliver better service for their customers every day.
Could you walk us through the process of starting up Kaodim?
Jeff and I were both still practicing lawyers when we first started Kaodim. We ideated for a short while and started with a very simple single page website to test the whole model. Everything was done manually and we didn’t build anything or buy anything. We just tested the model and made sure it worked. When we started getting good traction we realised we were on to something big. That there was a real problem worth solving and that our solution was something people needed and loved. That’s when we decided to work on Kaodim full time.
Did you encounter any particular difficulties during startup?
We were lawyers and had no particular expertise outside of that except our wits and judgment. Everything had to be learned from scratch, from digital marketing, operations, tech & product, everything. We overcame it by being really open to everything and importantly, always reminding ourselves that we had a lot to learn. Necessity is the mother of all invention – and that’s very true because we had pretty much nobody to help us. We had to figure it all out ourselves but we put in a lot of hard work and managed.
We encountered many challenges such as educating the market on this new service, figuring how to persuade people to use the product, maintaining the quality of our service providers and capturing the trust of our users. We had to be resourceful, think on our feet, act quickly, work hard and focus on our vision of building a quality product that can give true value to millions of people.
What kind of feedback did you get for Kaodim so far?
Tens of thousands of Malaysians alone have hired service providers on Kaodim and have had excellent experiences. Testaments to this are the high ratings and positive reviews customers have left on all the service providers they’ve hired. Some service providers have made 400 new customers in just a few months from using kaodim. Some of them had hundreds of jobs at the end of a year before using Kaodim, but after 8 months or so of using Kaodim, they had thousands of jobs.
Many people who tried Kaodim to get a cleaner or electrician continue to use Kaodim again to hire professionals for the same service, or other services. This is likely due to the excellent experience they had with the platform and the dedicated customer service team we have to make sure everything goes well from the moment they submit a request until the conclusion of their project.
What is your strategy against your competition?
There will always be competition in anything worth doing. Our strategy against competition is not to look at what our competition is doing, but what we can do better.
Kaodim provides more leads to small businesses for them to get new customers compared to any other platform out there. This is according to our service providers who rely on Kaodim solely for new customers. The general sentiment among our investors and loyal service providers is that Kaodim is the market leader. We focus on continuing to enhance our product to give both our service providers and people looking for services the best experience possible. We focus on making sure that the quality of our service providers is high and we give our customers the opportunity to hire hundreds of different services from roof repair to new-born photography at the best, most competitive prices without compromising on quality.
Have you developed any industry insights that you could share?
The services industry has its own nuances, and there is a general perception in Malaysia (and in the rest of SEA as well) that service quality is low. What we’ve found is that there’s often just a lot of misunderstanding and lack of proper communication and understanding between customers and service providers, rather than a simple lack of quality or low service quality. There isn’t a simple and convenient way for people for looking for services to state specifically what they need and be able to meet qualified service providers who can meet those exact needs. That’s what Kaodim is about and that’s one of the reasons why it has gotten the success that it has. What we’re also happy to see is that by paying close attention to vetting and pre-screening service providers, managing them through reviews, merit and demerit systems, we don’t just get the best providers on the platform but more than that, we create an ecosystem where people are rewarded for giving good service. Eventually, as we have seen quite clearly, this leads to an overall improvement in service quality. We’re really excited in creating this ecosystem across SEA.
What is the future of the industry and how do you plan to stay relevant in this industry?
Like any other business, it’s a question of value. Give value and you will always be relevant.
The services industry is a billion dollar one and it is here to stay for a long time. Kaodim will continue to expand its high value marketplace to match people with thousands of other professional service providers and grow those who provide those services along the way.
What do you think about being an entrepreneur in Asia?
There is tremendous opportunity to build tech focused solutions in Southeast Asia- a 600 million strong market that is dying for innovation and change. There are many challenges about doing business in SEA such as the fragmented economies, markets and cultures of each country. But if you navigate the differences well to build a localized business in every country you’ll be alright. That is why we focus heavily on localization. We are called Kaodim.sg in Singapore, Kaodim.com to appeal to Singaporeans and Malaysians who understand what the word Kaodim represents. But we are called Gawin.ph in the Philippines which means “get it done” in Tagalog to appeal to that market. We also have local teams in each country we operate in so we can really relate to our customers in each market.
What is your opinion on Asian entrepreneurship vs Western entrepreneurship?
I wouldn’t define entrepreneurship as being Asian or Western, except to say generally that the idea of entrepreneurship and the efforts made and taken there are obviously more advanced. But ultimately I think it’s all relative – entrepreneurship is about solving big problems in innovative ways that are a much better than what’s already out there. Whatever problems there are in Asia or the West are problems all the same, so sophistication and methods are not quite as important as understanding the culture and people in the market or country that you are operating in.
What is your definition of success?
Honestly I don’t have one. I want what everyone wants, I just want more. But if I have to put it in words, I’d say that success is not a single tangible thing – it’s a continuous pursuit of happiness, however you define it at any given time of your life.
If you are able to develop good systems and habits for yourself and stick to them on a daily basis you’ll be successful. If you’re able to find peace, contentment while continuously learning and developing yourself that’s already success.
Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I never thought of becoming an entrepreneur. I just wanted to build a company that provided great value and had positive impact to a great number of people.
Entrepreneurship allows me to effectively channel my creativity, enthusiasm, ideologies and values every single day and seeing tangible result from it. I have to live with the anxiety, risks and consequences that come with it but it makes me feel truly alive- able to experience the variety of challenges and adventures that life is able to offer.
In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?
Being curious and always having the drive to learn more, see more, do more. And constantly reinventing yourself to get better and never being satisfied.
Exercising good judgment, listening to people, following advice, working diligently, being industrious and putting your customers ahead of anything else.
Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there from your personal experience?
Give yourself the time to think about what you really want in life. Decide what it is. Then just go for it.
You can’t be a great entrepreneur on your own and you can’t be good at everything. You’ll need to rely on building a team of people who are smarter than you to get you to where you want to be. You will need to invest time in training, mentoring, teaching and making everyone around you feel like they genuinely want to be a part of your journey.