Today, The Asian Entrepreneur has the pleasure of interviewing and speaking to Malaysian entrepreneur Khye Yuh Hiew who is currently working with his co-founders on innovating the drinking scene in Malaysia!
Khye Yuh Hiew credits the drive for his entrepreneurship journey to the ‘entrepreneurial culture’ he was exposed to back in college when he was a student council president. Back then, Khye Yuh gained the experience of organizing events to raise funds for improving the students’ welfare as well as charity events for non-profit organizations. That was a point in Khye Yuh’s life when he realized how satisfying it felt to be able to be part of an organization that could impact other people in a positive manner.
Fast forward, after 4 years of Chemical Engineering degree in the University of Melbourne and several internships during summer breaks, Khye Yuh applied for a corporate job, like what most Gen-Ys would do. Despite this at that point in time, Khye Yuh still did not know exactly what he wanted to do but realised soon after that he did not want to pursue the chemical engineering path. He also began writing several business plans during his free time but was too afraid to pursue further. So eventually, Khye Yuh went back to his family business to learn the mechanics behind running a business. (He has been managing the business ever since.) Notably, Khye Yuh always had a strong passion for technology and problem solving and had been looking for the right avenue to project his passion.
Then, one day he had an epiphany, “If it’s not now, when? If it’s not me, who?” He saw an opportunity in the alcohol industry in Malaysia, so he went on to pursue the goal with three other co-founders to start “M.V.P” with a sole purpose of bringing innovation and technology to improve this industry.
In your own words what is M.V.P.?
The brand name ‘Drink with MVP’ actually stands for drink with the most valuable prices with the most valuable people. Malaysia is a competitive market for the downstream players of the alcohol industry (i.e the bars, pubs and restaurants). Thus, we would like to create an avenue for the drinking consumers to discover new places to drink with the most valuable prices when they go out for a drink. Also not forgetting that we often affiliate drinking to social or cultural occasions, MVP is designed to connect drinkers to these events. In short, we link consumers to their drinks at a multitude of bars, pubs and restaurants at the most valuable prices.
How did you come up with the idea of M.V.P.?
Online transactions or payments are common methods for consumers to make purchases in Malaysia these days. You can buy a movie ticket to flight tickets or even hail a ride with a few simple taps on your smartphone, so why not a pint of beer?
My partners and I graduated from tertiary education in Australia. Back then, cashless transactions over there were already dominant. Ironically, my partners and I were having casual drinks at a local bar sometime early this year. We then asked ourselves on how convenient it would be if you could actually purchase your drinks online, cut-off the bill waiting time and just purely enjoy the social setting. Furthermore, consuming alcohol does lead to adverse social behaviors. So mitigating the risk of misplacing or losing your cash would be a smart choice. Well, also not forgetting that we do enjoy a drink or two at times. Starting a business that aligns with what you like seems like a great place to start.
How viable do you think M.V.P is currently?
I believe we are currently at an inflection point where every business needs to go online to stay ahead of the game, be it through e-commerce or digital marketing. Our entrance into the drinking industry today is to provide an alternative marketing platform for the bars/restaurants as well as to enhance greater convenience for consumers in making their purchases by way of cashless transactions. With how the current generation is transfixed to doing everything via their smartphones, we thought of making their night out experience more convenient.
Could you walk us through the process of starting up M.V.P.?
Firstly, we have to build a solid team. It is important to have a team with different expertise as well as experience, so as to complement each other and save more time when we execute something. I’m proud to say my co-founders and I come from different backgrounds from IT to Sales and Finance. After building the M.V.P. team, we had to develop the platform (i.e website), get our online payment system working (via working with the banks) and concurrently pitch our ideas to the bars. At the same time, we had to also market ourselves to bring in the customers, so there is no one clear process!
Did you encounter any particular difficulties during startup?
Being a marketplace platform, we are caught in a chicken and egg situation. We needed a large user base to convince our bar partners to come onboard, but we also needed many bar partners to convince a healthy sign up of users. In solving this, we had to tackle both sides simultaneously vis-a-vis continued pitching our platform to the bars, whilst aggressively market ourselves to the users. Another huge wall to climb was during our initial set up phase when we had to seek approval from the banks for our credit card payment gateway. We approached 7 banks and had only received approval from 1 bank, after a period of vigorous due diligence processes. We once spent 3 months in in trying to get approval from a bank (after a lengthy documentation process and multiple meetings) only to get rejected at the end. Being in Malaysia, the banks have high risk tolerance towards sin-related businesses (i.e tobacco, alcohol, gambling) and this is enforced by the current challenging economy environment, where banks have been stricter with their business intakes. We had to consistently present ourselves as a digital lifestyle business, rather than a direct seller of alcohol. Fortunately, after much perseverance, we managed to seek support from a local SME bank and established the credit card payment gateway on our platform for the convenience of our users, which is the core of our business.
How have you been developing M.V.P. since startup?
Since we began operations, we have been constantly trying to improve the MVP platform to make it better not just for the consumers but for the bars as well. In the beginning, the general feedback from the consumers was that they didn’t understand what our platform represented when visiting our website. Initially, our tag line was “Your online destination for a hassle free night out” but we have since changed it to “Buy and park your drinks online” which gave consumers a clearer picture about what they can achieve from our platform. Furthermore, the overall user experience has been one of our core focuses since we began. Before we received approval of our credit card payment gateway, users had to go through 8 steps to purchase a package (via direct bank transfer) and it was indeed not very convenient which is why we did our best to have a credit card payment system on our platform. Now, users can purchase a package with 3 simple steps. As for the bars, we constantly get feedbacks from them on how we can ease their operations. For example, bars can now have a systematic way of recording sales with the comprehensive sales and redemption report that we provide to them. For now, we are constantly trying to improve the layout and design of our website to enhance the user experience making it easier for users to discover bars, purchase and park their drinks and for bars to operate in a more efficient and productive manner.
What kind of market feedback did you get for M.V.P. so far?
The feedback we have gotten for MVP so far has been overwhelming. Drinkers seem very happy that there is innovation happening in the industry to make their night out easier and hassle free, which is why they have also been our strongest critics – giving us a lot of constructive criticism to improve our platform as they want to see us succeed. The bars have also given us a lot of encouragement as this is something new and interesting for them as they understand that we are here to help them promote their business and grow together. MVP is very grateful for all of the feedback and we strive to continue innovating the drinking industry.
Do you face a lot of competition in this industry?
While there are many other companies selling e-vouchers for a range of goods (eg. Groupon), there really isn’t many competitors within our niche that caters specifically to the drinking industry in this part of the world (probably 2 – 3 in Malaysia). We do welcome competition as it helps to drive education to the consumers (i.e paying for their drinks online) and ups our game! In strategizing against them, we remain focused in providing the best service level to our consumers through well-designed user experience, competitive prices for their purchases as well as broadening the number of partnered bars on our platform to have a wider coverage.
Have you developed any industry insights that you could share?
We have learnt from our experience that consumers are becoming more savvy. Today, consumers want to have different choices when they are out to drink. Today, they might want to have a pint of beer but tomorrow they might want to enjoy a bottle of scotch with friends. When we started, MVP only had beers on the platform but we have since recognized the importance of having various choices for the users and now, users can select from a bevy of choices. Furthermore, we have also discovered the crucial role that social media and online marketing plays even in the drinking industry. Today, everybody is constantly on their phone looking at Instagram or Facebook and we now know that these are the digital platforms in which we can have direct engagement with our customers and understand what they are looking for and how MVP can help fill these market demands.
What is the future of this industry?
The future of all industries are moving towards the direction of technology and innovation – the drinking industry is no exception. You can now order your food online and transport online, so my partners and I were thinking why can’t one order their pint of beer online which brought us together to start MVP – a digital platform to improve experience of the drinkers and the bars. We are always thinking of new ideas and features to include into our platform to stay relevant. However, it takes time and it may not always work but we believe that our team has the capabilities to innovate this industry and make it better.
Could you share with us interesting things you’ve learnt about into alcoholic consumption in Malaysia?
With about 29.7 million population in Malaysia, 3.5 million (or 11.8%) are estimated to be consumers of alcohol, of which 76% are categorized as beer drinkers. Along with the fact that only 8.8 litres of alcohol are consumed per capita (equivalent to 60 mln pints/year), such statistics reinforce that Malaysia has one of the lowest alcohol consumption per capital in the world. While this isn’t surprising as Malays (non-alcohol consumers) make up more than 50% of the country’s population, Malaysia has the second highest tax duties on beer in the world after Norway!
On Malaysia’s consumers’ behavior, we tend to notice a growing trend of sophisticated drinkers. Drinkers, especially the younger generation, are more akin to specialty beverages such as craft beers/imported beers and are not afraid to try out new brands. In a survey we did, we also noticed that Malaysians value convenience and experience in the bars (i.e service and environment) greatly as opposed to prices.
Do you think Malaysia is a good place to do a startup?
Although we may lose out to our neighboring country such as Singapore, I think that the startup scene in Malaysia is growing rapidly, particularly tech startups. Compared to merely 5 years ago, there are more initiatives today in supporting startups, be it through funding, education or government endorsed incentives (i.e tax incentives – tech companies do not pay corporate income tax in Malaysia for 10 years!). While I am not well versed in the startup scene in the West, I believe that funding opportunities for startups are greater in Silicon Valley, with more innovative talents coupled with a more tech savvy population. Nonetheless, I believe that South East Asia will eventually catch up to the West. Take Malaysia for example. We have among the highest mobile penetration (1.5x – average Malaysians own more than 1 mobile phone) and broadband penetration rate (70%) in the region. This coupled with the fact that Malaysians are amongst the largest in the region in using Internet tools on a daily basis (Facebook, Twitter). I feel the market is ripe here for startups.
Are there social pressures being an entrepreneur in Malaysia?
There are bound to be social pressures being an entrepreneur in Malaysia especially at such a young age as we are taking on a lot of risk which may or may not work out in the end. However, my partners and I try to take things one step at a time and enjoy the journey, learning and gaining experience along the way, working hard to achieve our goals of innovating the drinking industry.
If you could start over again, what would you do differently?
As much as I would like to say that my past failures and wrong decision makings made me into the person I am today, I know that is just an excuse to convince myself that I wouldn’t change a thing.
The fact is instead of going back to change something that I have said or amend something to make it right, I will rather do something differently, right now. Because right now is the chance of fixing tomorrow, before it becomes history again.
So I keep telling myself to plan, do, learn, restart and evolve.
Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I am always passionate about learning and creating things. Sometimes I see problems in the world that urges me to find a solution to mitigate such problems. Furthermore, my purpose of life is to achieve success, to create a meaning to my organization as well as to give back to the community someday.
In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?
I think it should always start by having a concise plan to work towards your goal. We should never slight our work, no matter what we may see others doing. However, do it only to improve our offerings. Learn from our mistakes and quickly adapt to changes. After all, it is the survival of the fittest for a sustainable business.
Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there from your personal experience?
Everyone has a different definition of success. However, as an aspiring entrepreneur, I think that staying hungry for my definition of success is the fundamental of becoming a great business person. I always believe that hard work beats talent, so be the hardest worker in the room. My final thought will be: get out there, do it and have fun.
Instagram Handle: DrinkWithMVP