From A College Dropout To A CEO: Partnering SMEs To Grow Their Dreams

BusinessToday has an exclusive Insight to Exabytes CEO Chan Kee Siak’s Success and Failure Story of Building a 21-Year-Old Regional Business

BusinessToday: You were 19 when you decided to drop out of college to start Exabytes, share with us more about this. How did your parents react and how did you convince them to agree with your dream?

Chan:  I started my business when I was still in college. At that time, on one hand, I was a student and on the other hand, I started running two businesses. At 19, I repair and sold computers and when I was 20, I started web hosting business. Both businesses were doing very well, especially the web hosting business.

I came to a point where, because I had so many customers who I needed to take care of and serve, I started skipping my college tutorials. Then, I started skipping my lectures, and then later on I skipped my assignments. In the end, I skipped my exam.

So, I knew I had to make a decision. Whether to focus on my studies or to work. I first decided to take a one year break (like a gap year) to give myself a full year trial on running the business. In my mind, I thought – In case I fail on the business I can always go back to study, the college will still be there. But if I wait until three years later, to complete my studies then only go full time into the business, that three years will be a major difference on the business because, within three years, the entire landscape will change, my competitor will grow even bigger and who knows what will happen then.

Fast forward, I never went back to my study.

Despite not being able to complete my tertiary education, I do believe in education and would want my children to complete their education. As for myself, I do intend to complete my degree one day, just to prove to myself that I can do it. I’m lucky that my parents never held it against me and instead are proud of my achievements despite not understanding what I did. They were not fond of this idea back then.

BusinessToday: Tell us about the company – The backstory behind Exabytes, and what was the motivation into starting the company?

Chan: At 20, I set up my first web hosting reseller business which was 100% online based, and business kept coming in. When I was growing up, I was always more interested in computers and even in secondary school, my family members would often seek my help when their machines needed fine-tuning.

 I knew this was something I could make a business out of and was deeply inspired by the way chairman and CEO of Dell Technologies Michael Dell had embraced computing and e-commerce.

 To sell computers, I need to have a website. And to have a website, you need a web hosting company. There were very few in Malaysia offering hosting services at the time, so I decided to create one of my own. That’s how Exabytes started.

BusinessToday: It’s been 21 years since you started the company, from a hawker store helper and today a technopreneur millionaire. Looking back, did you regret anything? How has the industry evolved and changed since then?

Chan: I wouldn’t say I had anything that I regret because if I did, I would not be where I am today. For Exabytes itself, we started off offering only web-hosting services, which have grown over the past 21 years to include other offerings such as web security, web design, digital marketing,e-commerce services with a focus on providing solutions to SMEs and we are also the cloud-first digital transformation solutions provider for enterprise businesses.

The tech industry also has changed completely over those 21 years. Although Exabytes’ objectives remain the same, which is to help SMEs operate better and more effectively on the internet, the company’s products have changed quite a bit.

Websites are no longer mere pages of information that go only one way, but interactive sites that often ask for extras like payment gateways, and they also need to be mobile-friendly.

The landscape has become more complex, that’s for sure, and the growing use of mobile internet has also impacted our business. From purely desktop-driven activity, we now have to focus on mobile technology.

BusinessToday: Over the past 21 years, Exabytes has helped a lot of companies grow their dreams through Exabytes’ business solutions. How is Exabytes able to help small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs to materialise their dreams through business solutions and initiatives?

Chan: As a leading cloud and digital solutions provider in Southeast Asia, Exabytes provides end-to-end support for a wide range of businesses, in particular small and medium enterprises (SMEs), to grow their digital presence. With that said, we want to provide easy access to this exquisite method to let people know how amazingly huge the benefit it can give. We also want to educate the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) more about this method to make them familiarise themselves with the use of technology so that they can operate better and more effectively on the internet, especially in marketing because that’s what businesses and retailers can grab out of the most in business growth.

We are happy to share that Exabytes is celebrating its 21st anniversary this year with many exciting initiatives and programmes plotted surrounding 4 main pillars – Dream, Create, Grow; Manage.

As a digital company that nurtures and encourages digitalisation, Exabytes believes in materialising the dreams of entrepreneurs, the same way when I started Exabytes just from a dream of a 19-year-old boy. So, to materialise the dreams of others, Exabytes grabbed the opportunity to partner with many parties.

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