N2N Connect Berhad’s Andrew Tiang shows what great strategising can achieve
Challenges entrepreneurs face on their road to business posterity ad excellences are legendary. There have been enough books and literatures written to help them chart the way to success. Yet the sharing of war stories and what they did, or didn’t do, in their business struggles are better motivation to their compadres.
This is what the founder of N2N Connect Berhad Founder and Managing Director Andrew Tiang, did when he sat down for an exclusive chat with Business Today recently. He sheds light on the many struggles technopreneurs in this coun try face and what they can do to forge ahead in this fierce business battlefield.
Continually overcoming challenges and wearing his badge of honour proudly in the highly regulated financial services industry (FSI), Tiang shares that the road to success has not always been easy.
“Initially, we faced a lot of resistance as our prospect and clients worry about the handling of data privacy and security. Some think that it is better handled in-house. In reality, most FSI fraud cases are found to be in collusion with insiders.
It is harder to deal with individual as there would be no recourse or indemnity.
“It took them awhile to realise that engaging our services is more beneficial to them,” says Tiang.
In fact, N2N Connect offered FSI companies the economics of scale, since the company constantly invests in the latest technology to prevent obsolescence. With less staff turnover to contend with, FSIs could concentrate on scaling their business and compete on price efficiency using its services.
Finding the Niche
Having been in the industry close to two decades, N2N has always been clear on the direction the company intends to take.
A firm believer on not following the beaten path, Tiang feels that if you do what everyone else is doing, you will always be amongst a crowd of people.
“For us, it’s about standing out. You’d want to be able to be distinguished, you’d want to achieve a new milestone. For us the only way to be successful is when you dare to be different, dare to dream that you want to be in a dominant position. If you are not looking to be in a dominant position then don’t start,” he espouses.
Starting N2N with this clear aim, Tiang and his team steered clear from their comfort zone and decided to go bold – not really sure what they wanted to do; they knew what they didn’t want to do. Despite the business potential in doing body shop or turnkey projects or even distributorship, they understood all too clearly the challenges that came with these types of businesses.
Tiang shares: “We decided not to do something where we can’t decide our own future. The only way we wanted to build a business is to work alongside brick and mortar (part of the business).”
Learning from the ‘dot com’ fiasco, N2N realised early on that they wanted to offer services that is “not entirely in the virtual space.”
He explains: “Brick and mortar companies don’t always have the expertise that they can tap on. Very limited people have the technological know-how in this area. Besides, that’s not the focus of their business. For banks and brokerages, that is their core business – not technology.”
Understanding the challenges of the client in adopting technology for the benefit of the business, N2N demonstrated to customers that it could be the technology partner to these companies – and the FSI space was the choice for N2N to chart its war plan.
Even though stock broking was not N2N first choice segment, the company still plunged into the segment after seeing the potential difference it could make by offering their business model to this heavy transaction-based business.
“Before we started on our online trading system for the FSI, we studied many systems already in the market. From USA to Hong Kong, and other Asian countries, we found that most systems merely automated the manual work of this segment – such as stock price, order entry, and order state reporting. We decided that managing online trading is more important, so we focused our design on the provisioning of new experience and manageability.
“We not only created the convenience of investment portfolio tracking, but also for brokers to provide more value-added services, including online payments, availability on multi-languages, as well as multi-markets. We introduced trading options that weren’t even provided by the exchanges at the time and we ensured that its confidentiality and privacy were not compromised.
“Our niche lies in constantly investing in research and development to keep ourselves ahead of the industry and technology curve,” explains Tiang.
Securing Home Ground and Beyond
Already knowing its game plan, N2N went on to stayed ahead of the competition curve by always coming up with new ideas such as mobile trading, SMS trading (in 2003), and also winning numerous awards including Microsoft Mobile Award and also Asia Pacific ICT ahead in 2004 and again in 2006. It also went on to launch many industry firsts, such as the first to launch PDA trading in 2004.
“In 2010, we started a new initiative to completely replace the entire exchange trading terminal and the success resulted in the exchange deciding to phase out its trading platform offered to brokers since 1992,” shares Tiang of the company’s continued success.
It was also unwavering in its focus on R&D. “We constantly interact with the marketplace and gain their feedback. Talking to them, understanding the pain and coming out with new products to mitigate that, is what sets us apart.
“When we talk to brokers, they ask if we worked in broking house before, because we sound like we have over 20 years of experience – but we don’t. The fact that we could nail down specific issues, make them feel like we understand them, puts us in a better position to help solve their problem,” says Tiang.
As Internet technology become more mature and widespread, more banks and brokers have adopted online, mobile trading and banking services to provide convenience and mobility and N2N are the enabler of such initiatives since 2003.
“Naturally, our strategies paid off and today, we are the largest Asian-based platform provider in the region covering 10 countries and exchanges,” he claims proudly.
Such a mean feat for a company that only started in the year 2000. Today, N2N is effectively the largest Asian-based Platform and Service provider to Asian FSI companies covering Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macau and growing, serving more than two million corporate and retail users.
“Our non-Malaysia revenue now account for more than 66% of our business and we expect that to grow to 80% in the coming years,” says Tiang, who sees competition in many market segment, believes what sets the company apart is that it is a comprehensive one stop service provider. “That is our core strength and that barrier is high (for most competitors to come in).”
With its sight set for regional and global dominance in the field of FSI, N2N faced numerous challenges to grow into the number one spot it now enjoys.
“In our industry, trust is everything. We deal with online real-time investments where a lot of money is at stake. Earning trust and credentials are very important,” shares Tiang, but once that obstacle is through, the next lies in making sure the systems incorporate most, if not all, variances in order to minimise client learning curve. This is the more expensive and difficult hurdle, but N2N is forging ahead.
GAIN-ing Good Ground
Being a homegrown champion is a relatively easy matter when compared to going regional and N2N can definitely tell you that.
Having seen many trying and failing at this bid, meant N2N had to exercise perseverance and patience in its plans. “Persevere with adequate financing means and you will see the effort paid off one day. But you have to sustain till that day to see the fruits of your labour. Most failed badly either due to insufficient financial means to sustain, or commitment to pay attention to each country behaviour and expectation,” says Tiang.
He believes that constantly upgrading one’s knowledge and commitment to keep up with new technology in the industry are key in staying ahead and growing the markets.
“We have to constantly try out different methods of doing the same thing and then adopt the most efficient and affordable one. In fact, we are fortunate to have been handpicked by MDEC (Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation) into the GAIN programme, where it was very helpful in organising information sharing events and seminars, so that we can tap those knowledge and be aware of the market trend,” he explains further.
Under the GAIN (Global Acceleration and Innovation Network) programme, MDEC has been committed to helping companies such as N2N to help build a regional brand and spread their successes.
The programme was incepted to catalyse the expansion of local technology SMEs that have the potential to become global players through market access, leadership and capability development, brand visibility and scale-up capital. GAIN also provides customised assistance based on each GAIN company’s needs and goals; whether it is elevating brand visibility, facilitating market access, upskilling capabilities, match-making for merger and/or acquisition or accessing funding ecosystem.
For N2N, the company have made significant inroads under the programme. “A year ago, 80% of our revenue are derived from Malaysia. Today, 66% of our revenue are derived from overseas,” shares Tiang.
In fact, he claims that many aren’t aware of the MSC status and assistance they can gain from MDEC. “MSC status is useful for start-ups to gain some prestige in branding. Most companies are willing to give MSC-status companies a try because they at least have a proper business plan that is validated, endorsed and have the mean to access funding when needed to give them a shot to success. Without MDEC’s MSC initiatives, fewer companies would have made it today,” opines Tiang.
Moving forward, Tiang believes on strategising the company’s move even further and attempt what others have not.
“We love to use innovation to change people’s life positively. Service personnel will have more time to research, create investment plan and meet with the customer face to face or via social media crowd sharing. That is positive disruption and we have been doing that for the last 17 years and will probably do that for the next 17 to come.
“Without innovative and positive disruptive technology to lower down the operating costs, many more FSI would have been out of business by now. Amazingly the successful FSI’s revenue grow at the expense of the less prepared and less reinvented ones.
With that, Tiang concludes by sharing: “N2N will continue our set course to introduce more innovative services to help the committee FSI to gain more ground locally and regionally. Robotic Trading, Algorithmic Trading, Big Data Analytic are such trends for the future and we are into it already to stay ahead and stay relevant.”
So what you do to stay relevant and expand in your field pretty much lies in your hand. Or you can learn from war heros like N2N’s Tiang and plot your war game in the same.
Byline: By Vinodhani Nair K and Satoko Omata