Fadzli Shah Anuar (MSc Technology Entrepreneurship, 2011) is getting used to being approached on the streets of Kuala Lumpur, his home town. “At least two people a day come up to me and ask, ‘Didn’t I see you on Make The Pitch?’” he says.
Make The Pitch is Malaysia’s version of Dragon’s Den, the BBC TV show in which budding entrepreneurs present their innovative ideas to potential investors to raise money and grow their businesses. In its inaugural series, Fadzli won the grand final by being offered the most money – 700,000 ringgit (around £140,000) – for his mobile phone app which allows shoppers to take advantage of location-based special offers. See his winning performance here.
Fadzli came up with the idea for VoucHEREs when he was still a student at UCL. The MSc Technology Entrepreneurship course offers case study-based learning, using real-life examples of successful start-ups, and Fadzli was inspired by the story of ZagMe, which offered hourly promotions to shoppers within the vicinity of centres like Bluewater by blasting SMS messages to their phones.
The idea was ahead of its time, as the technology was not available to sustain it, but nevertheless Fadzli took note and began to “revise and develop” when he returned home in May 2011. “I wanted to take advantage of the huge group-buying trend that has swept the world,” he says. “But there are already 174 sites in Malaysia, with its population of only 29 million, which makes it a heavily saturated market.”
Fadzli, who calls VoucHEREs a “cross between Groupon and 4Square” decided to involve as many big brands – Nike, Starbucks, Converse – as possible, as these are attractive to the country’s consumers. There is no group-buying, and vouchers can be redeemed straightaway.
Fadzli, who describes himself as a “huge fan” of Dragon’s Den, was one of 30 teams out of 180 to be selected to appear on the 10-week long Make The Pitch. He quickly came to the judges’ attention when he attended a big event called ‘When Silicon Valley Comes to Malaysia’ – and took a MTV film crew with him.
“I was able to get footage of me talking to people like the co-founders of You Tube and Dipdive, asking them how I could differentiate myself from competitors like Groupon. It certainly helped differentiate me from my competitors on Make The Pitch!” says Fadzli.
VoucHEREs is planning a beta launch on 21st January and a full product launch in three months’ time. In the meantime he is refining the product, adding more merchants, and raising more money in Singapore. His progress is all the more remarkable considering he only developed the software last August. He hopes to be operational in five countries within two years.
Fadzli credits the MSc Technology Entrepreneurship course with giving him the confidence to win Make The Pitch. “It’s not an inborn trait,” he says. “The course is very hands-on and you learn through practical experience how to be an entrepreneur. You discover how to anticipate difficult, probing questions from would-be investors. I find myself thinking: ‘What would Dave Chapman have asked if I was pitching to him?’”
Dr Dave Chapman himself says that the purpose of the programme is to tap into the “appetite and aspiration” of a talented individual like Fadzli and help him to grow into the role of an entrepreneur.
“Entrepreneurship can be taught,” he says. “Our students can learn a lot from those who have gone before them. They get to learn from others’ mistakes as well as their own. They also have an opportunity to benchmark themselves against an international peer group from a wide range of cultures and degree disciplines. It accelerates the process and encourages them to ratchet up their game.”
Professor Bert De Reyck, head of the MSI dept and one of the people that Fadzli credits with his success (Prof. Soong Moon Kang being another) adds: “Fadzli was an outstanding student – mature, polished, credible.
“Every year, out of around 60 students we see three or four major successes. Recently two alumni led start-ups have raised investments in excess of £1 million. Alongside Fadzli’s success this year’s stand-outs include: Eeve, a photo-sharing and social network; Poq Studio, which develop mobile apps for fashion shops; TipGain, a mobile app for sharing shopping tips with friends; and MapCarta, an interactive travel guide.”