Welcome to Episode 24!
Our guest for STIMY Episode 24 is Malek Ali.
Malek Ali is a former lawyer whose love of business eventually led him down the path of being a serial entrepreneur. Some of the things Malek has done include:
- Founding KL Classifieds, which sought to bring classified ads online;
- Working with JobStreet.com to disrupt the newspaper recruitment classifieds market in South-East Asia by launching an online job portal and related recruitment tools;
- Working in Maxis then Yahoo as head of mobile;
- Founding BFM 89.9: Malaysia’s only business radio station – which disproved conventional thinking then that Malaysian radio listeners only wanted entertainment content. BFM is now one of the most influential radio stations in Malaysia & one of my favourite radio/podcast channels to tune in to!; and
- Founding Fi Life, Malaysia’s first online life insurance service that aims disprove the adage “insurance is sold and not bought”
Malek shared a ton of fascinating insights on what it’s like being an entrepreneur & trust me when I say he hasn’t had it easy! It seems as though every time he starts a business, a financial crisis hits!
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Who is Malek Ali?
Malek was young when his parents divorced and upon that occasion, he was asked to decide on which parent to stay with. Having decided on his father, he moved over to Kampung Pandan and had what he called a “lonely” childhood. His closest sibling was 16 years older!
Some highlights of our STIMY episode include:
- 2:52: His childhood & being asked to decide on which parent to stay with during their divorce at the age of 5;
- 4:55: Accompanying his father (and later, brother) on their many overseas business trips particularly in France;
- 7:52: The 1985 recession that crushed the slimming center business chain that his father was running;
The 1985 recession coincided with Malek leaving for university.
Due to the hit that his father’s business took, Malek ended up having to apply for loans. He then completed his law degree at Bristol University and worked for several years in London in one of the top UK law firms around – Allen & Overy. But then his first love of business came calling…
- 8:46: Why Malek initially studied law when his first love was in business;
- 10:22: Working at Allen & Overy in London, including on a deal that involved the bankruptcy of Canary Wharf;
- 11:48: Studying for his Harvard MBA & the lessons he drew from that (he was classmates with Sheryl Sandberg!).
Entering the Business World
Malek ended up founding 3 startups, and also working at Maxis then Yahoo.
- 15:43: Founding KL Classifieds, his first startup, in 1997 & why that landed him RM300,000 in debt;
- 16:50: How Malek got out of his debt & ended up working at JobStreet;
- 21:26: What he learned from his time as Head of Mobile at Maxis, then Yahoo;
- 23:20: What Sue Decker, then CFO of Yahoo, taught him about the importance of creating good products.
Founding BFM 89.9 & Fi Life
I was really keen to discuss with Malek concrening the founding of his most famous startup, BFM 89.9.
And Malek was generous with his knowledge & experience, deep-diving into the intricacies of establishing & running a business radio channel!
- 25:29: What pushed Malek to start BFM 89.9, Malaysia’s only business radio channel;
- 30:50: The challenges he faced in getting investors on board;
- 34:08: How Malek obtained a dormant frequency for broadcasting BFM 89.9;
- 36:10: The collapse of Lehman Brothers & BFM 89.9’s struggle to cover relevant content with their threadbare staff;
- 38:18: Getting sponsors for BFM 89.9 including from Malaysia Airlines;
- 40:51: Sensitive topics that can’t be discussed on air;
- 42:12: Listening to customer feedback & how to handle complaints;
- 43:47: The different interviewees that have come through BFM’s doors & how their attitude informs their character;
- 45:47: Whether radio will ever be obsolete;
- 48:41: Why Malek started Fi Life;
- 50:27: Reading up on the investment portfolios of many other people on Fi Life’s “This Is How I Invest” blog series;
- 50:56: Impact of COVID-19 on the media space; and
- 53:18: How listeners can help Malek.
Isn’t Malek an inspiration?
If you’re looking for more inspirational entrepreneurial/business-related stories, check out:
- Nick Bernstein (Part 1, Part 2): Senior VP of Late Night Programming (West Coast) at CBS, and executive in charge of the Late Late Show with James Corden
- Dr Julian Tan – Head of Business Initiatives & Esports at Formula 1, on how he went from being bullied in high school to topping his year in Oxford, then Cambridge, before going on to bring esports into F1 (including the groundbreaking Virtual Grand Prix races that keep the lights on during the lockdown era!)
- Rabi Malla – an amazing Nepali social entrepreneur who works with Nepali indigenous communities (including the nomadic Raute tribe!) in selling their gorgeous handicraft to people around the world
- Karl Mak: Co-Founder of Hepmil Media Group (SGAG, MGAG, PGAG) – on building a meme business empire in Asia
- Sarah Chen – Co-Founder of Beyond the Billion, a global consortium of over 80 VCs that have pledged over US$1 billion in investments in female-founded companies.
If you enjoyed this episode with Malek, you can:
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Some of the things we talked about in this STIMY Episode can be found below:
- Malek Ali: LinkedIn, Instagram
- BFM 89.9 The Business Channel
- Fi Life
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Ep 24: Malek Ali: Founder of KL Classifieds, BFM 89.9 & Fi Life
Malek Ali: What worried me was the fact that hey, every time I start a business, it seems to be some sort of financial crisis.
So the first one was KL Classifieds. We had Asian financial crisis. And then I was with JobStreet. We had the dot com crisis. I talked to BFM and then 11 days later Lehman went down.
So here's a tip guys. Every time I start a new business, you can sell your shares. Yeah, call it a market signal. What worried me the most was the fact that again, this was KL Classifieds. You have the global financial crisis. People not buying advertisements, et cetera, et cetera.
I had a house in Malaysia, and I sold it just in case that I had to put in more money. So I've asked all investors at the time, all of us put in RM 5 million in reserve, another 2 and a half million in case something happens. So I sold it so that I can pay for if BFM needed the cash.
But thankfully, that crisis did not impact Malaysia so hard. The property market went roaring after that in 2009. And then I'm like going, oh no, here again. If I had waited another two months, the property would have been RM400,000 and get more.
Oh, here we go again.
Ling Yah: Hey everyone, welcome to episode 24 of the So This Is My Why podcast. I'm your host and producer, Ling Yah, and today's guest is Malek Ali. Best known for founding BFM 89.9, KL's premium business radio channel and Fi Life, Malaysia's first online life insurance technology company.
Malek Ali was once a lawyer working at Allen & Overy in London during the Canary Wharf bankruptcy.
But he soon left to pursue his first love of business by first completing his MBA at Harvard, where he was classmates with Sheryl Sandberg before returning for a stint as a consultant at Boston Consulting Group. Soon after he began his first startup, KL cClassifieds, but unfortunately hit the financial crisis that landed him RM 300,000 ringgit in debt.
Malek found a way out of that. And went on to work at JobStreet, Maxis and Yahoo before founding both BFM 89.9 and Fi Life. Malek doesn't hold back in sharing the realities of his journey as a founder, which were full of peaks and valleys. And I cannot wait to share his story with you.
So are you ready?
Hi Malek. Thank you so much for joining me today on this podcast. I would love to start with your childhood, And I understand you grew up in the late 1960s in Kampung Pandan in Kuala Lumpur. So what was that like?
Malek Ali: That's brilliant research. So I actually started at a place called Sam Mansion until I was about three or four years old. I was probably conceived out of wedlock.
So my parents married but it was a very short marriage. So I stayed in this apartment called Sam Mansion for awhile where my father came over once every two nights to visit me. He had a first wife and my mum was a second wife.
Looking back, I think it was a little bit traumatic because you see your dad one day and then you dreaded morning that he leaves and then that evening was going to be horrible because you don't have your dad around.
Then that anticipation of him coming the next day is fantastic. Again. So you go through this sort of cycle. I don't know how that affected me, but that was highs and lows, but my parents divorced when I was about five years old. Again, put in the slightly traumatic position of having to choose between my parents. They put it to me, a five-year-old child as to who I would like to go with.
I mean, mum took care of me. My mom was an actress before she married my father. Bangsa Wan, they call it. They used to go to various villages and act. And she had a former husband. It was both their second marriages and I was asked to choose.
And Mum was always a nagger. So she's the one raising me. And so you always wanted the person who came into your life once every two days kind of thing. So it was a natural thing for me, just to opt to my father that very, very easily. And I never saw my father cry. It was like, yes, of course you dad.
So my mom took that pretty badly. So I went to Kampung Padan to live with my stepmother and my father. And it was a house just actually by the golf club.
And my father, his businesses started to succeed in that time. It didn't before when I was three years old, but he was walking the streets of kale, wondering how to buy powdered milk for me.
So his first business failed badly. It was in construction. But I think by the time I was six, seven years old, he managed to do one successful business. We were leasing a golf club property, off of RSG C. Royal Selangor Golf Club. And that was where I had most of my sort of six to 12 childhood. It was a very lonely childhood. I had half-brothers and sisters, but most of them were studying overseas at the time. So I was pretty much the only child in the house for a long time.
So the next one above me was probably about 16 years old or oldest one's about 21 years older.
Ling Yah: I understand that you also tagged along with your dad a lot. He was doing all kinds of things like a career service franchise in Saudi Arabia, distributing deals with Petrona. So you went along as a child.
Malek Ali: I was his personal assistant. So I answered the phone calls, I was probably about seven, eight years old.
And yeah, when we went to a hotel room, he'd say, Malek, can you just answer the calls for me? I say, Oh yeah, como sava err yeah, yeah yeah. That kind of thing, so it was fun. It was the golden years for him and he was traveling a lot, meeting a lot of French principles. France was his playground.
And I remember going with them really enjoying that. It's nice to see how my father mingled business and pleasure. And during those days, business was phone calls and meeting people and long lunches, nice food the deals were done over three hour lunches.
I'm like, wow, this is not bad. Is it like that? I'm like oh gosh, little did I know.
And then after we would go to a bakery, a patisserie or something like that, and do our own thing. And so I saw the nice side of business, during that time.
And remember, this was the seventies. So we were very, very privileged. I mean, going on a plane, I remember it took about six stops to go to France. We went to Colombo, we went to Muscat to Rome. And then you ended up in Paris, six stops later.
And I seem to remember as a kid, I remember, we were somewhere, Columbia, I think. And then the newspaper fell into our lap and said something like Saigon falls to the Northern Vietnamese at the time. This was sort of the hazy memories I had as a kid.
it was almost like that post-war cold war communist versus the Western world on the Americans rather, in Southeast Asia and that kind of thing.
Ling Yah: Do you feel that you were inclined to follow your dad's footsteps because he was showing you all the glamour and the fun.
Malek Ali: Yeah, I think to a certain extent. I'm not a sit still kind of person. I think that came from that. After a while my brother came back from his university studies and worked as an engineer with MAS for awhile. but then he joined the family business. So he joined my father. So the three of us. .
So he will be talking to my brother. About business. I'd be sitting at the back of the car and listening, sometimes bored, sometimes interested. I'm the third person. I'm the kid at the back one big thing I've learned is that my father was a really nice guy, very likable.
And even he admitted himself, he's not a very good businessman because he was quite naive. He's very trusting of people and being in a way sort of suckered by people.
So at the time I didn't realize it, but I remember thinking, gosh, this guy it's so persuasive, there was this Australian guy. Absolutely. amazing salesman, , probably to the world I was completely taken off just like my brother and my father.
my mouth was engaged. you wanted to go in and go, yes. Yes, of course. This was a slimming center franchise. I mean, we were fast forwarding a few years. But because we got hit hard by that particular venture, I guess, to a young, teeny or teenager at the time, This was like, wow, this happened to my dad.
This happened to my brother and I was there. I was there when he was giving the sales pitch. So therefore there are people like that around the world. And so I learned. I learned vicariously through my father and my brother.
I still trust people a lot. But there is a voice image that says, okay, we'll take it at face value for the time being, but always protect yourself in terms of like if this goes wrong, what could go wrong?
There's always that element behind all those years from seeing my father, my brother being negotiated, fooled, wherever it is.
Ling Yah: So the recession hit in 1985 and the following year you ended up going to the UK to do law. was the recession something that really impacts that your family, like what was-
Malek Ali: Yeah. That was 1985.
We were setting up all these slimming centers not just in Malaysia. I mean we had sold a franchise in Japan and Singapore and for each franchise was about RM 1 million or something like that.
As I said, this is the mid eighties. Now when the recession happened, no one had money to go to a slimming center to slim down. So the business collapsed, and all those franchisees were gone.
And actually, I'll be honest with you. I don't think my father ever, truly recovered from that. So he had a couple of successful business ventures, but that venture from then on, it was just about assets. You have some assets from before, you were just selling one by one, one by one, one by one, for the next, I don't know, 15 years until he died. He didn't realize it at the time, but it was downhill from there.
I was just about going to university. It was 1985. I had to come back, applied for the loan, managed to get a loan, which is good. so that , sort of put me through university, a small allowance. So yeah, I did a law degree in Bristol University.
Ling Yah: Was there a reason why you did low as opposed to business administration for instance?
Malek Ali: Oh. I really want to do economics, actually. That was my first loan. but unfortunately my history teacher, Ganian, I went to international school in Singapore and my guardian, called Charles England, said to my dad , I've seen Malek during debates, and he's quite good. He should be a lawyer.
Why do people give that kind of advice? Because you should be a lawyer just because he's good at talking, you should be a lawyer like. So that idea was incepted or Inception was made.
And my father thought, ah, Malek, I think you should do law. And there's a history to it, I guess, because my father actually applied for a scholarship.
He was an immigration officer in Singapore when Singapore was a colony and he applied for a scholarship to do law. And everyone told me that this is just a heads and shoulders interview. They just want to see you make sure that you're real but in all respects, you've got the scholarship.
So my dad walked in, saw the police called the officer and he asked him one question. Mr Ali, why do you want to do law? And my father said to me, even until today he says. I don't know why I said it, but it came from the heart. It just came out. He said, I want to do law because I want to seek independence for Singapore.
And then he goes Mr Ali, that's the door. So there's your ambition unrequited. So when one teacher comes up to him and says, hey, your son might be a good lawyer. He just jumped on that. Is it Malek? I want you to do law. So I'm like, okay, dad. Fine.
Whatever it sounds interesting. and let's see what happens. So I just put my first love in economic society and that took me on a circuit of about six and a half.
Ling Yah: So you end up working in Allen & Overy in the early nineties in corporate finance. And I understand that you were working on the bankruptcy of Canary Wharf at the time ?
Malek Ali: well, put it this way. That was one of the reasons why I'm like, ah I'd better go, I'd better do an MBA. So I was doing a few things.
So one was derivatives, in the capital markets department. and I remember the 2008 financial crisis about 18 years earlier. I was like the rookie lawyer looking, what are bonds?
We did articles. So you move from department to department and it was my first thing I'm in the bonds department. So yeah, very corporate.
And then I qualified as a solicitor. The partner came in and said, look, Malek, we won a big deal right now. We have this huge restructuring to do. What is it?
Oh, it's the Canary Wharf problem. The Reichmann brothers owed money and so on. And we represented the banks. I remember entering that conference room, and there were 40 lawyers from our own firm. It's not even other firms and 40 lawyers from our own firm.
And some of them were introducing themselves to each other. Oh, hi. I'm so and so I'm so. And we spoke on the phone . So I thought, this is going to be my life if I were to do this. But honestly I've already decided at the time that I was going to go back to my first love, which was actually, I thought it was economics.
It is part of, but I think it was just about business and economics in general. , I had already made an application to do an MBA by then. and then sort of just waiting for the results And the results came through by fluke, I think, managed to get into Harvard, which is really like feather in the cap.
I remember being completely overjoyed of getting into that business school.
Ling Yah: So when you applied to the MBA, were you already thinking of, I want to do a startup because I understand that you were also very enamoured with the UK radio stations, like Capsule Radio, and Laser 558? So what's that like an idea of, oh, I went into business and it might be something radio.
Malek Ali: Yeah. I always was very interested in radio. So that was one of the options. I used to have a black book where I keep all my ideas of businesses. And I still see some of them recur even now.
And radio was high on the list. but I remember when I was writing the essays, To enter these business schools, they did ask you what you wanted to do post business school. I remember that doing my own thing was not the first on the agenda. and what was my first on the agenda was interesting.
I spoke about infrastructure. Hey, I want to get involved in airports. In telecommunications, the oldest kind of like big infrastructure areas, because I was still thinking in terms of like an economist. So what is good for the country? What is good for Malaysia at the time?
We had the North South highway come through. That's great, but I need more. We need power plants. We need telecommunications, we need airports.
This was 1982. So that was my first thinking is actually hey, why don't I experience the corporate world or a certain area of business first before venturing on my own.
then came the summer of, 1994 when I came back, back to Malaysia. and it was a summer break and I suddenly realized, oh my gosh, there was this thing called the time highway radio. And it was the first. private commercial station in Malaysia.
And I said, Oh, maybe this is an interesting one. Again, inception was then like, okay, I was interested in this from the UK. I really enjoyed the radio station, the UK, but in my mind at the time, I was more interested in entertainment stations and so on business radio station being come to mind,
Ling Yah: What were the biggest takeaways from MBA? Do you think that it was a good decision for you to have done it first? Because some people would go to like BCG then do the MBA. But you did the other way.
Malek Ali: Yeah, because I wanted to do it in the first place.
I really wanted to do business slash economics. So it was to me, finally after six and a half years detour, I can go back to what I love. And I loved it. Absolutely loved it.
Harvard has what you call a case study method, and essentially you're reading cases about people's experiences . The protagonists are going through those experiences. And sometimes the protagonists turn up in class. You don't know them, you see some face then they're like, Oh, okay, who's this.
And suddenly they are the protagonist. And so you go through three cases a day. So you get three experiences a day of other people's experiences. So you learn vicariously through them. So I thought that was an amazing experience because you learn through the eyes of others.
I think the best cases were the failures.
There was a guy called Dan Bricklin. he invented the spreadsheet, but you don't know Dan Bricklin. No one knows Dan Bricklin. He started a company called VisiCalc, which was a predecessor of Lotus one, two, three, which is a predecessor of the Excel spreadsheet and Google sheets, et cetera.
But it was Dan Bricklin. He invented it in a class of Harvard business group. But again, good, good learning. What happened? Shareholder disputes that slowed you down and other publishers came in and got the product out faster.
So learnings from that as well. From the failure of Dan Bricklin.
Ling Yah: Were you never inclined to stay on in the States and work there as opposed to coming back?
Malek Ali: Yeah, I wanted to. I couldn't, I didn't have enough money to put myself through college, my wife, we were just married.
I needed my wife to work and it's just tied over that extra 10,000, 20,000 us otherwise I'd be scrambling for that. And to do that, I needed a certain type of visa, which doesn't allow me to work, afterwards in the U S which is a shame because Sheryl Sandberg, one of our classmates also wrote the business plan for Yahoo.
Ling Yah: The third employee, I think .
Malek Ali: Yeah. Yeah. that was the internet 1.0 generation. So I would have loved to have stayed back at least another three, four years, but there we are. Instead I can. In back to Malaysia with BCG and then started my own classifies newspaper and then there's something called the Asian financial crisis
there I am watching TV. I was watching Astro at the time and , here I am crushed by the market, that cashflow problems, my business is failing. And I looked at the TV and there's a guy called Warren Adams, a classmate of mine. I played football with him . A great guy, very nice guy. And he sold his plan all business to Amazon for 250 million US dollars.
Huh? There's a crisis on my shoulders. And there was Warren sort of selling his company to Jeff Bezos.
So I'm like, wow, great for you. Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy, but damn, I wish I was with you, you know.
Ling Yah: And so all of this happened because of a startup called KL Classified, which you started in 1997. How did you first come upon the idea?
Malek Ali: Wherever I go, whatever experience, I tend to say, oh, can I do this in Malaysia? Can I do this in Southeast Asia? So, there was something called loot in the UK, at the time where people had this newspaper where the paper cost about two pounds. But it was like literally just classifieds and classifieds.
And Malaysia had it. But Malaysia had it in something called a millennial and people bought the millennial because of these classifieds.
I'm like, oh my gosh, there's only one real player here. Let's compete with that. So that was the idea for KL classifieds. I mean, the only problem is, that business is really dependent on people having a certain transaction volume of buying and selling cars and buying and selling property and jobs, et cetera.
But when you have a financial crisis, honestly, the 120 pages of classifieds that millennials had? It whittled down to about 80. You're talking about 85% drop.
Something like now. This is what we're going through right now. That kind of decline under those circumstances. I certainly wasn't the best entrepreneur. I was still very raw, had a bit of an inflated view of cost structures. But yeah, in those sorts of circumstances, businesses if you succeed during those times, you're one of the very few.
Ling Yah: So you ended up 300,000 ringgit in debt as I understand it. So what was the plan to deal with that?
Malek Ali: The plan was to go to Singapore work as either consultant or corporate guy again, earn sort of enough to be able to live as well as pay down the debt.
Mark came by and I met Mark Chang, the founder of JobStreet, whilst I was doing my business and we collaborated on a few things. and mom found out that my business was failing and Mo swooped in saying Malek, why don't you join me? I'll offer you something like, well, like 4,000 Ringgit or something like that a month, I'm like, Oh, RM 4000, I can't pay down this loan at all.
and then interestingly, I got a call a week later, and Mark said Malek let's talk. Let's meet some of the other co-founders of JobStreet.
And there was one meeting. It was a weird meeting, Cause, it was very philosophical . What's your goal in life? Kind of like this sort of conversation that we're having now.
What motivates you? And then finally, this gentleman who is now my business partner, a guy called Kay Yip. He asked me, Malik, How much do you owe the bank right now?
So paiseh and so I said, 200,000 instead of 300,000. He said this is okay. I have a suggestion. Why not? If I were to pay off your loan, would you join Mark and help him out , and then see what happens.
If you leave of your own accord, you have to pay back the loan. If things don't work out and I ask you to leave or Mark asks you to leave, then that's fine. You don't have to pay it. I think if you can help us with these things and get us some funding for Singapore to expand jobs across Asia.
I'm like, wow, here was someone that was going to erase that big cloud over my head, just with one check and that's what he did. He did that. I was shocked, but obviously very grateful.
Interestingly it's something I've heard before. And remember I told you before about my father walking on the streets of KL, not having money to buy milk?
He went to someone and had the same situation someone said to him. Yeah. Mr. Ali, I'll take over your construction business. I'll take over all the debts. you can just walk away now. It's all right. So history repeats itself and for relationships like this, these are relationships I treasure because they are few and far between.
Ling Yah: When I first came across this story, I thought, wow, that's such an incredible thing for them to have done. I wondered if you were them at the time where you have made that same offer to yourself.
I think Mark needed help. Mark was alone.
Malek Ali: He had no time. He was just struggling
Ling Yah: operationally with Jobstreet. And he had a
Malek Ali: venture capitalist knocking on the door, but Mark hasn't had the time to produce a business plan, to negotiate, to put a vision and a growth story together.
So that was my first job to just put a story together. And it was quite natural for me because I was like, Oh yeah, KL Classifieds. There's jobs. After jobs we will do property after property, we do cars. It was all internet and things like that. So we'll do these sort of things phase fixed. We do jobs first and then we do property next. We went to cars next and then we'll dominate the online classifieds world in Southeast Asia.
that was a story. so yeah, the venture capitalist already won. Invest in that. And it wasn't because of me, it wasn't because of a business plan. They just wanted something to bring to their board. they have something, on paper. So I helped with that.
Ling Yah: I think you also brought on Asgari Stephens, right?
Malek Ali: Asgari came later on. We had a venture capitalist out of Singapore first, and then Asgari came two or three years before Jobstreet IPOed. So he was involved in that. That was the JobStreet story.
Interestingly, the characters that were around at the time. I remember that the poster boys in Singapore at the time at least were Patrick Grove and Nick Lim. And guess where Patrick Grove is now ? So it's roughly the same space.
He was in the portal space and then he moved into magazines during the tough times. and then he went out to the property classifieds, and then in car classifieds, and then now his. So it was interesting these sort of formative years of being part of internet 1.0. allows us to all develop at our own pace, our own issues and all that in this classified space.
Ling Yah: what'd you think it was about job street that allowed it to be so successful? Because in 2004, like IPO and it was sold for 616 million USD, which was a tremendous success.
Malek Ali: Yeah. even for me, I did not believe in that success. I couldn't imagine that that could be the case.
at the time he was struggling. When the dot com bubble burst, revenues were down and we had to bring our costs down. So Mark asked me to come back.
To Malaysia to keep costs down but I just had my first child. And my wife wanted to stay in Singapore and Mark said to me, Malek, if you were staying in Singapore, we'll have to part ways because we can't afford you to be in Singapore.
We need you to be Malaysia. We need to consolidate.
I said I can't Mark. Family obligations. My wife really wanted to be in Singapore. So we parted ways.
I'd sacrifice some shares of JobStreet. I kept some, but it was enough when JobStreet listed. it was enough to sort of at least put downpayment to my first place and say, hey, those four years of jobs was worth it. Something to build on. That was my best chance at building a nest egg.
Ling Yah: Yeah. Although maybe you should've held it on for an extra 2 days.
Malek Ali: Yeah. Yeah. So yeah, the story about the extra two days. The stock price just went double the next two days and it took me 10 years to invest hard investing. If I just had kept it for two more days, it could have equalled 10 years investing.
I couldn't sleep for a week, but it's all relative. That was my first million.
Wow. So you ended up going to Maxus and then to Yahoo and you were doing roughly, I think the same thing you were the head of the mobile for each of these companies at the time.
Yeah, so at JobStreet I was doing essentially not mobile, but generally the internet business as a whole. At Maxis it was about the young days of mobile internet. Those days was about ringtones and so on. We have a few entrepreneurs in that space.
Anyway, there's a guy called Tan Sri Yong, who created this company called unreal mind, he's an angel investor now. So that was also a bit of a go-go days for the mobile guides. Fortunately or unfortunately, I was on the corporate side, meaning I was at the Maxis side.
I was on the Yahoo side. A great experience for me because, getting into the mobile industry from the outside, suddenly opened my eyes up and it was uncanny. Even before Android was launched, I could predict that there was a need for something like Android.
Sometimes when you immerse yourself in a particular industry, you suddenly drop parallels. This is the easiest parallel. For me it was a no brainer like, Oh, okay. The mobile industry, what's wrong with it. Oh my gosh for every game you want them to launch, you have to have 20 different versions.
People like Swee Yong were like crazily creating one game for Nokia series 20, Nokia Series 40. Nokia Series 30, not sustainable. But that's parallels that's why the PC industry, what made it the operating system.
It was windows. That was the thing. So you need to win the operating system game and there's no operating system that dominates. Even Nokia was just churning out operating system of the operating system. I wanted to participate in that to create an OS for mobile as Microsoft did it for PC.
Ling Yah: Was there a reason why you didn't go into it?
Malek Ali: I think because radio came into play, I wasn't Yahoo. and, , the kind of things that we were doing, they don't move the needle.
And it was like, well, mobile ringtones . And I was like, my gosh, there's something bigger here, but unfortunately I wasn't close enough and I should have maybe, but that was the time I had a young family. Maybe I should have just kinda stuck my head out a little bit more and say, Hey, I want to go to Sunnyvale.
I want to meet people who can talk about this. But interestingly, as I was about to leave Yahoo, I noticed that Google started already putting out recruitment advertisements for people to join their mobile unit. And that was the time where I knew my gosh, I think who goes on to
Ling Yah: Was Yahoo the place where you realize that product was one of the most important things. I think Sue Decker came and she really changed your mind, realizing that you have to really have something that people want.
Malek Ali: Yeah, so. The value that Sue Decker brought to the table, so Sue Decker was a CFO of Yahoo at the time, and she came to Singapore. Everyone was like preparing for her visit and we were putting out numbers for her. We're putting out presentations on quarterly reports, et cetera, how are we doing financially and all that.
For the first 20 minutes, she humored us and let us sort of present all these things or how sales are doing.
Everyone's trying to impress her with our sales. And it was amazing because she turned around and said, actually, thank you for this presentation folks. But I think first thing lets just be clear . All these financials and all that. I appreciate it. But at the end of the day, I got your back. I'm the CFO. I'm going to talk to wall street and I'll handle these guys. You don't have to worry about these things. What team are you in? You're a product team? Okay. I want you, as a product team, not to worry too much about sales numbers.
But I want you to worry about what products will make Yahoo to his former glory as a number one portal or whatever products it is in five years time. I want you to worry about the products that we can bring up produce from now. And so that we're on a good streak in five years time.
What are the products that will make Yahoo in five years' time? And to see a CFO do that. And just to say, Hey, don't worry about the numbers guys. You focus on what you're good at, which product and concentrate on that because we're depending on that. And let me worry about wall street? It was amazing .
I was in Maxis at the time before that, and CFOs were not talking like that. CEOs were not talking like that. Shareholders were not talking like that. . And here you have a CFO who was talking like that. And I think that was, to me, the biggest. Eye-opener in terms of, , if you want to do some of these things, think about the product and it's true. These days when you create a product, the product will sell itself .
The necessary condition is the product must be good. then you add your marketing, et cetera. But your products are lousy in the day of social media, where people just kind of use your products almost overnight, if it's good.
Product now is to me the number one competitive thing that you have your marketing arsenal.
Ling Yah: So what was the impetus that pushed you from working at Yahoo to starting BFM in September, 2008?
Malek Ali: I got fired. Actually I got fired three times in a row.
And I say this because I was comforting someone who got fired yesterday , and saying it was his first time and I said, look, I got fired three times it kinda shocked him. And that was good.
I was fired from Maxis.
I was fired from Yahoo and I think I know why. Yahoo, I realized what it was. I'm not a good upward communicator. I'm so used to running, like, for example, my KL Classifieds. Being responsible for the whole company that sometimes when I worked for corporations, I assumed that, okay, this is my department.
I run it the way I want to et cetera, and I don't communicate what we're doing. But in corporate, you need to know what other people are doing. Because your boss will ask you what's your underling, Malek Ali, doing? I don't know.
He doesn't give me any reports. He just does it. And so it gets everyone uncomfortable, ? That you feel people don't know. So I realized that it's one of those things that I don't communicate well. Frequently I don't sit down with my supervisors et cetera and say, hey, this is what I'm doing.
And I think all these are good stuff I didn't do it. . So, because of that, I think people kind of like, , when you don't know, you assume the worst and sometimes things don't go out to plan and yeah a couple of things they didn't go to plan. So, there's one thing I've learned.
I was asked to leave from Yahoo as well and Maxis. But there's also another element as well is that I'm more of a thinker than an operational person.
My relative advantage if you had to put me side by side with someone who is just naturally more, process-oriented and more operational. I'll lose out for sure. My competitive advantages, sort of in a way of being able to think five years down the road. And that's why Sue Decker really touched me. Cause I really think five years down the road, what will things happen?
And sometimes you're a bit early. But I'll give you an example. And Maxis together with Datuk Jamal , who after a while gave up on this idea that hey, it's about building the ecosystem of content providers.
Here's what Apple is doing now with the iTunes store. That's your content providers. So basically you are building that up.
Whereas at Maxis, the CEO bang on the table and said, why are we giving 70% of any revenue that comes through mobile ringtone to these content providers?
We should have 50%. Bring it up to 70% max. Maxis should get more. This is the ecosystem. I cannot compete with 200 teams out there. I'm only one team competing against 200 teams. Why don't we create a platform for them? So that those 200 teams work for us. Yes, we get a smaller revenue share. So that kind of thinking.
And Yahoo was more than an Android thing. Mobile ringtones, it's just a waste of time guys. We should be focusing on operating systems. Koreans are almost on it. Let's not take resources from South East Asian from them. Let's pass it to the Koreans. So I didn't fight for resources for Southeast Asia. The Koreans needed it. So I realized that this sort of, thinking element, is my strong suit, but.
In an execution oriented organization or organization is going through an execution phase, to see someone be a bit professor like walking the hallway, it's like a red flag to a lot of people.
Ling Yah: So when you started at BFM, I think the radio ecosystem then was like a blue ocean. Like there was no one else. It was more entertainment, more music. And you saw that gap that you wanted to fill.
Malek Ali: Yeah. I realized now, after going through three rounds of things, I realized I don't have strong execution skills. I was lucky in the fact that there were a few people who turned up at my doorstep and said, Malik, I want to work with you.
And they were great. A lady called Ai Lian said, Malek, I'll organize your Salesforce. I'll do this because I love the station and I want to do this. So she created the structure of my Salesforce. She helped me hire the sales head who today is still with us. Charles Peters. She helped me hire him.
I remember the first two years of BFM, I feel myself going down this rabbit hole again. I'm like, oh my gosh, this is execution. The clients want you to follow up everyday and your followup skills are terrible So I was really struggling for the first two years, but thankfully Ai Lian came on board and through Ai Lian, had Charles and Charles trained the team so now we have a great, great team.
Ling Yah: Did you form BFM and what it was going to be based on any existing radio platform that was out there? Because I think that you were drawing from like radio presenters and business journalists, right? So the kind of talent you had was not quite suited to what you were thinking.
Malek Ali: Yeah. It was just common sense, really.
I think, , if I wanted to do a talk radio station, we can't talk about sex, we can't talk about politics at the time. Now we can. So what can we talk about?
We can talk about business. The Edge had launched by then already. In fact, the Edge were my first investors in my classifieds business.
The edge was going like, okay, , where we follow the money, we can talk about politics, ? I mean, , follow the money. One MDB, actually, you're talking about politics.
Because, usually when you follow the money and it's in the politician's pockets, Money drives politics, unfortunately. If you look around the world, business journalism actually is sometimes the one that actually is the financial times of the world, et cetera. They are the ones that when they follow the money, you find crooked politicians.
So that was inspiration to say, okay, business can be a topic that we can talk about. It doesn't have to be boring. it can be interesting. It can be entertaining. And the reason why we didn't call it business FM was there was a plan B right?
If businesses don't work out, we can just change the music station and call it BFM rates.
Ling Yah: And I think it's important for people to know that you didn't just jump into it without thinking you actually ensured that you had a buffer for yourself and your family for like a couple of years.
Malek Ali: Yeah. Every time I started a business, I'm going to have at least two years worth of being able to live without any income. and just put two years' worth aside and lucky with job street, et cetera. And some investments I put two years worth of, house expenses aside.
And I put RM 800,000 of my own money into BFM. I wanted to put about 300,000, but my fellow shareholders know me too well. It was Kay Yip. He said Malek, come on. I want it to be a bit painful for you. It doesn't..
Ling Yah: I mean, in the end you raised like RM 4.2 million from all your other investors.
And what I noticed was very interesting is that these were people that you have known and have followed you throughout your career. So clearly you have that established relationship and they really trust and believe in you as a person.
Malek Ali: Well, it was a long time.
I was like, Hey guys, are you in or out? Right. That was a worry. Because, I mean, remember, I was asked to leave Jobstreet. I mean, this was when I was passing around the hat for the money and there was kind of a pause there was kind of hesitancy, ?
Like, hmm. Because they know me well. and there was one investor. Her name is Lucy. She's the wife of another Jobstreet guys, Suresh. And she says, look, Malek has left JobStreet about six years ago. People grow and people learn. They find themselves with a little bit more. I use this as my mantra for even our employees and so on .
Just because someone may have felt that things are not being good at competence, something, a certain number of years ago. It doesn't mean that they haven't grown since then. You can't have that first impression and so.
So this is where I think, one of my investors, Lucy, said that Malik might have grown and if we can help him encourage them to get an execution oriented person to work with them, then maybe we have something here.
And that's what happened. So it wasn't an automatic money in the hat. There was a bit of a hesitancy. I'm like, Hmm. And then someone had to stump up for me and say, okay, he's a good guy. At least you get the integrity part. It's just whether you can get the execution part.
Ling Yah: So you had the 5 million, what was your plan in terms of deploying it?
Malek Ali: Yeah, so it was just basically operational. and marketing to a certain extent. But again, I learned from JobStreet days not to spend too much. I if you have a marketing budget that you want to launch something my first venture KL Classifieds, I would spend 80% of it upfront. 20% of it as maintenance and marketing.
But that experience told me that actually it should be the other way around. You spend 20% of it upfront, and then you save 80% because it's a marathon. it's not a race. So you need that maintenance. And after a while, interestingly BFM got to known a little bit more and then we became our own marketing channel.
Ling Yah: So what was your CAC or cost per acquisition at the time?
Malek Ali: I don't use those metrics. To be honest, I find digital marketing, very mind blowing. I'm not a details guy. So I rely on people to help me. So to me, marketing is all about directional. Is it directionally positive or directionally negative?
And even until today, I can get really lost in the details and I always want to surface up and say, directionally guys, has this been a good campaign or not? And I can work with that.
So you asked me about examples of business radio stations.
You can just give me two words. Or three words in this case. So there was something called BFM France, and their business station in France. And you just have to say to me, a French business radio station.
And to me building a product out of those four words. It comes easily to me. It's just one of those things. I just need a few words to understand, I can visualize what it can be.
I remember going for one talk on agile product development. And I would just sit down and one talk and then it crystallizes . Concepts are very easy for me. I can take three words and build a whole scenario, a whole product out of it, or a whole company out of it.
so that was it. I know there was a radio station in France called BFM, I didn't have to look at the programming from BFM in France. it just came, okay. We need the breakfast grill in the morning. We need a CEO interview in the morning for sure. Right. Who do you want to listen to? Who else will listen to? Yeah, you need mark commenters. You need this, you need that, that kind of thing.
And you just pick out a few things that CNBC does this kind of thing. . So, just synthesizing everything. I enjoy it. I enjoy it.
Ling Yah: So before we go into the details of how you plan your program, I think one of the biggest challenges you faced was getting a dormant frequency to be granted to you and you had to petition to Tan Sri Lim King Yet for it. Can you share a bit about that?
Malek Ali: Yeah. So I think I went to the licensing department of MCMC and they said, fantastic concept. All the commissioners love the concept of it, Malek. Unfortunately we don't have any frequencies .
Ling Yah: But why though? That was so strange, like it's dormant.
Malek Ali: No, because I think they already assigned it to something. a licensee who has been sitting on it for two years. Haven't raised the money or not enough time. They chuck the frequency first, right. So I went back to my partners and said, Hey, they liked the idea, but they can't get the frequency. Then someone said, hey, actually I'm one degree removed from the minister. I know his son. And maybe we can arrange a meeting so we can meet Tan Sri himself and present.
And so that's what happened. I met Lim Keng Yet, Datuk I guess, before he passed away and said, okay, great idea. but I cannot give you a full English one. I have to give you 70% English, better dah, dah, kind of okay. I'll live with that.
So that's what happened. Got the frequency and that's the only frequency that we've gotten in our whole radio thing. I've been trying for the last 10 years to get more. it's just a brick wall.
Ling Yah: Can you share a little bit for those who don't understand how radio works, why frequency is so important while you can be in other places like East Malaysia, Penang, for instance.
Malek Ali: Radio operates on certain air waves. When you go in your car and put an 89.9, you get a frequency 89.9, which we are transmitting on from Genting Highlands but there's only so many kilometers that covers I think it covers about 60 years or 70 kilometer radius. Once you pass that radius, you need to transmit from another tower ideally from the same frequency, but usually not.
You need this frequency to be able to beam to you. Your radios are already connected to these frequencies. Without those frequencies, we cannot reach you. In Malaysia, I guess it's quite crowded.
The frustrating thing is that if you really want to do it, you can . fundamentally. New station comes out, we give them this. It's not optimized. You can't go around and say, Hitz, if you reduce by 0.1, bFM, you increase another frequency, we can space out everyone. Plus we have another four extra ones. It can be done.
It's just a lot of work and a lot of unhappy people. You have Astro going hey, our listeners know us to this frequency. Why do you have to give it up?
Hey guys, don't worry. You are so famous. Hitz is so famous. Don't worry. People will find you. whether you are, 92.9 or 93.0 .
Ling Yah: I wanted to talk about the programs and how you start at BFM, because I understand you opened up with the morning run with the Breakfast Grill.
And at the time the Lehman brothers collapsed, but you just didn't have the resources to cover that. So what were those early days like?
Malek Ali: Hugely frustrating. So Lehman was going down. The news was all over, and there were only a dozen of us. We had one presenter today. We have at least four, five. One presenter, one producer. on the show and we couldn't really cover it well. And our news team was just like three people or four people strong.
We did a breakfast really interview with one of the arts. I'm like ugh, here we are doing someone who was okay, fine. Entertainment business. But Lehman's going down. Rome is burning.
But credit to the team. I mean, nothing that can be done about it. . Just the timing thing, but it worried me. What worried me was the fact that hey, every time I start a business, it seems to be some sort of financial crisis.
So the first one was KL Classifieds. We had Asian financial crisis. And then I was with JobStreet. We had the dot com crisis. I talked to BFM and then, 11 days later Lehman went down, so here's a tip guys. Every time I start a new business, you can sell your shares. Yeah, call it a market signal. What worried me the most was the fact that again, this was KL Classifieds. You have a global financial crisis. People not buying advertisements, et cetera, et cetera.
I had a house in Malaysia, and I sold it just in case that I had to put in more money. So I've asked all investors at the time, all of us put in RM 5 million in reserve, another 2 and a half million in case something happens. So I sold it so that I could pay for if BFM needed the cash.
But thankfully, that crisis did not impact Malaysia so hard. The property market went roaring man after that in 2009. And then I'm like going, oh no, here again. It's not as bad as the two days thing, but not literally it was like, if I had waited another two months, the property would have been RM400,000 and get more.
Oh, here we go again.
Ling Yah: Always ignore your first instincts.
Malek Ali: Yeah. I don't sell anymore. that's my learning. So yeah. So I think that's what happened. We were lucky. we got cash flow breakeven, which is a great milestone in any business when a business pays for itself.
Ling Yah: Within like 18 months or something, . Like
Malek Ali: really, really quickly. Two and a half years. Yeah. We went down to all that 5 million. We went down to our last 500,000 Ringgit. So we used that 4.5 million then stayed at 500,000. And then it went up again.
Ling Yah: So how were you generating profit? And I think you were getting a lot of interest from my Malaysia airlines were willing to sponsor it from the get-go right.
Malek Ali: Yes, that's right. Indinier, she was the Head of Communications at MAS at the time. She wanted first to suss me out. So I had a meeting at my office, studios is a very sort of rudimentary place.
So he came in and wanted to suss me out, thought I was genuine and then said, all right, now, what can you do for us? So we came up with some industry campus playing with the BFM acronym, a competition to say what acronym that you can do to the BFM acronym that you can relate to flying, for example.
So you had things like Batik Flying Maidens and dah, dah, dah, dah, Best Flying Machines, So I had some fantastic support from indie and MAS. Had fantastic support from CiMB, who sponsored our first breakfast grill.
And the sponsor for the next four or five years, which was wonderful. So that gave us momentum.
From our first year, I think we earned about 700,000 Ringgit. Second year was at 1.7. We probably needed about two, two and a half to break even in those early days. I was very proud of it because JobStreet was a team effort. Everyone did that and it became successful. I don't think I had much to do with that.
But with BFM, I've never created something where he could stand on his own feet after a while and pay for itself. So that restored my confidence.
You remember the three previous jobs I had, I was getting like, sorry. you're out. So there was a bit of a confidence issue and I was like, ah, I know I can't manage well. I know I'm an execution oriented person.
Gosh, BFM would be a disaster because of me as well. But thankfully, managed to learn from all those mistakes. The true sense of accomplishment was when BFM broke even, and could pay for itself.
Ling Yah: Was that the point where you realized that BFM could be, or it was in fact a success already?
Malek Ali: I think, maybe a couple of years later. It was just more the sense of relief that this could pay for itself.
Ling Yah: And I'm wondering, as you're incorporating all these sponsors, do you ever feel that you had, or were compromising your editorial integrity in some way?
Malek Ali: Never. Yeah. Don't do Hara Kiri lah, for example. If someone was sponsoring a show, and they say, Oh, I want to go on the breakfast grill. And they want to buy advertising as well. And actually, our editorial team would probably do a really hard grill of this one.
Then you just say, look, Why don't you do the editorial part maybe nine months later . A year later. Don't do it now. Do your advertising now.
Then we can really grill you in nine months time. don't kind of like put everything together and someone be advertising and then you grill them like hell . That's not smart.
Ling Yah: Have you ever had issues where people come and they are grilling the way that they don't expect?
Malek Ali: Oh yeah. We've had people walk out, even as recently as a couple of months ago. So people will walk out. That's why we like live grills. You can't walk out.
Ling Yah: But I think also in Malaysia, there are certain boundaries that you have to adhere to. Regardless. Like I was speaking to Dr. Jason Leong, he said that we used to have to adhere to the four R's like royalty religion, reason, and Rosmah. I don't know how true that is right now.
Malek Ali: I think religion and royalty.
I think there was a recent incident where, even, religion in the business context was tough. I mean, we asked them about it wasn't an obvious question about, okay, this is zakat . You can get tax relief on it, and there's no limit I think to that tax relief. If you pay a million Ringgit in zakat, you can get a million Ringgit in tax relief. And we just asked about that and we got called out for it. Wow. Yeah. So even the business context.
Oh yeah. Another one, the obvious ones is that when we are interviewing one of the brewery companies on the breakfast grill and you're talking about financials and then we get a little weird ruling that says only non Muslim presenters can interview breweries even on the Breakfast Grill and like, really? Seriously? Yeah, come on. Let's be real.
I've been in conversations where people are trying to figure out how to restructure MAS. The biggest thing that the board is worried about is how to tell people out there that they're not to sell alcohol on MAS flights.
The issue wasn't about MAS losing money, hand over fist. It's about alcohol being sold on MAS flights. So I think at the end of the day, Khazanah said, okay, the compromises, we won't sell alcohol and domestic flights. that took 200 hours of management and timeframe.
Ling Yah: And so what extent do you listen to people giving feedback? Cause I noticed there's like BFM on Instagram. You're always asking people questions, asking for feedback. So to what extent do you take on board and change the way you run things?
Malek Ali: I take it very seriously and I try to use a marketer's ear. There's a lot of noise in the feedback. Sometimes a lot of anger. There's a lot of emotion when people give feedback because they feel something and they really want to vent. It can be good.
It can be bad and this is where I wear my marketing hand to say look, we can try and look through the eyes of that individual. Don't take everything too much at face value, but try to understand what's behind that feedback.
The best kind of things I've seen is when we have really rough feedback and people respond. And then what comes back is amazing because that person explains her position, then we truly understand it. what I find Malaysians doing is that when we get negative feedback, we just kind of keep quiet and don't respond, respond late.
Positive feedback is like oh yeah. Oh yeah. Thank you very much. So much. Negative feedback is like keep quiet.
And I think that's really difficult.
Ling Yah: so it's been 12 years since BFM was launched. What do you think are the big milestones?
Malek Ali: I think the big milestones are the fact that we had a change of government, which opened up the floodgates for the media.
I think there was a huge milestone. the genie's out of the box, I hope is a genie's out of the box and can't go back in. I really sincerely hope that.
If this pre-2018, all media was hush, hush, that kind of thing. Only the Edge was going all out. And we were picking our battles, and some battles we've also been quite vocal. there was always this element of dancing, and pushing and pulling back. It's like fishing.
you pull it back and let your reel go and pull back. Now it's almost like a free fall. So I think that was a watershed, in terms of media. And I think that was a milestone for you.
Ling Yah: Do you have any particularly memorable interviews you've done that really stayed with you?
Malek Ali: Yeah, don't do interviews. all the interviews are done by presenters. I did one with Steven Gannon around, but, on a special day of the, editor, Felicia, Malaysiakini . I think that's more like fun rather than anything else. you get lots of clues about people when we interview them or the process of interviewing them on breakfast grill.
Whether they're businessmen, not politicians.
I can tell you, Lim Kok Wing always sets up the interviews and always cancels. And we'd have interviewed him three or four times. We have interviewed so-called famous politicians right now.
One of them, everything has to be scripted. Cannot do anything outside of script. Yeah. Very insecure. And you go, Oh, okay. Another one requires an entourage to meet her at the bottom of our lobby before she will come up.
all this sort of things, you get real clues about people and then you get someone Idris Jala, who turns up 20 minutes before his minder has turned up and he has only one minder. He did not 20 minutes beforehand.
. So we're like, okay, This is a good guy. This is nice. He turns up before his minder, before his PR person or whatever. . And as wonderful. you can really see through people when they come up for the Breakfast Grill interviews. .
Ling Yah: So where do you think BFM is going to hit ? You're very heavy on the digital side so do you think that's the future ?
Malek Ali: Yeah. Yeah. particularly to deliver audiences, who are working professionals.
I think, wherever they are, that means not just on BFM. If they're on social media, on LinkedIn, we should be there with them reaching out to them on LinkedIn, reaching out to them on Facebook or Instagram and stories. So that will keep the professional crowd too.
And then to reach out to pockets of other sorts of groups. We have a program called Rumit, which reaches out to younger adults on their personal finance. We have another show called adulting. So it's about people getting their first jobs, et cetera.
So reaching out to new demographics, new consumers. But the core will be that sort of working professional group.
Ling Yah: Do you feel that eventually radio would be obsolete and we would go more to this digital, I mean, like, even though you have difficulty going to places like Penang, whereas if it's a podcast, you just need that link in, can access anywhere.
Malek Ali: I think radio is a bit of a shortcut for now . meaning that you're in your car in a traffic jam Whereas in podcasts there's Joe Rogan, and then there's your number. So you're like, wow, how do this and basically I think podcasts are about developing that very special tribe of yours that loves your stuff.
I think there's always a room for radio because people want to know what's current. what's my neighbors talk about? When I get to the office today, what can we commonly talk about?
Whereas if you're on your own podcast world, you can talk about a podcast, but there's none of that linkages. Podcasts have to be more than catch-up radio. We started BFM podcasts since day one. And so far it has been about catch-up radio.
Whereas this podcast, the one that you're doing, it's not catch up. It is a podcast and you produce it and you put your sound elements to it and I'm going to have to compliment you for it.
It sounds really slick. Sounds really good. So podcasts will have its thing. I think we have to think more about that, about creating just something purely for podcasts, because podcasts are one-on-one, which is what radio seems to be, but actually podcasts is truer in that sense.
Ling Yah: So you are no longer full-time at BFM because you end up starting Fi Life where you are now and in September 2018. So how do you decide to move into that new space?
Malek Ali: in fact, it came from an advertiser on BFM. in my forties, I actually, for the first time, I was really confused actually about my own financial, I was always an investor, but my own financial planning I remember.
So jobs are listed and I'm like thinking, okay, now I have this nest egg, what do I do with this nest egg, right? So I went and spoke to bankers, et cetera. Everyone who came back to me was selling products. Everyone. Remember I told you about being suspicious about people who try to sell you things and all that? That spider sense came out strong.
The more prestigious the organization like private bankers and all that, the more the rader went out. It's like, oh yeah, here's a single premium insurance. You put $1 million in this insurance policy. Yeah, you get this, this, this, this. What's going on? So actually I realized that the whole thing with this so-called wealth management, you've got to watch out because it's about selling products most of the time.
And I think when a company called U for life came into the market and started saying things like, Hey, Yes, just pure insurance.
if something happens to you, this is 1 million we get for your family. ? A very simple thing. It's not linked to this. There's no complications. There's no allocated, unallocated premium. There's no administration fees. There's no surrender value cash value and all that.
It's a clean thing. I'm like, damn I should have done this. Nevermind. but you for life I guess they ran into a bit of problems, I think they went and did a marketing blitz. Spent 80%.
Ling Yah: Oh no.
Malek Ali: 50% up front and then you have 20% trying to. go run on the marathon on And I guess by the time they got to that 20%, they said, Oh my gosh, would anyone like to buy us? so I caught wind of it. I said, okay, we'll buy you out.
and then I flipped it. We do our marketing, but the most important thing is the product. and let's say the 80% for the marathon. And so it is a marathon right now.
Ling Yah: So for those who are looking for insurance, you cut out the middle man ? You just go straight to the Fi Life. And it's a very simple plan that people don't have to really think too much about.
Malek Ali: Yeah. So essentially, if you're 21 years old and you don't have any dependents, your parents don't depend on you. You're still staying in their house.
You don't need life insurance. Of course, you need medical, maybe a personal accident but you don't need life insurance. when you have dependence. So when someone depends on you, if something happens to you. Or if you have to support yourself, God forbid you get yourself involved in an accident.
And you need funds to carry yourself, but otherwise, if you don't have any independence, no need to come to Fi Life for any other insurance. So that is the premise.
if you don't have a dependence, invest, invest it, it's about. Buying appropriate insurance for yourself, if you need it, for sure. If you don't need it, don't and then invest for your retirement. The mantra that we have is, buy term life, which is a simple form of insurance and invest the rest.
I have three children. And if something were to happen to me, and if I just had small savings, my wife would not be able to support them.
. So, what do I do? I get insurance to make sure that I can pay for their education and living expenses until they become independent. When they're working on the road. My youngest child is 13 years old, that's another seven years.
If my youngest child is just one year old, that's another 23 years. . So you buy insurance for that period. you see things like insurance, which is tied into investments and then some portion of the money is being used for insurance. Some portion of your money is being used for investments.
Actually for the most part, you get the worst of both worlds . you don't have the flexibility By the most cost efficient life insurance for yourself. if you have dependence and then a myriad of investment opportunities out there, including all the robo-advisors, including all the unit trusts, you can withdraw your money at any time without any penalty.
It's complete flexibility. So why are you tying down yourself to something that locks you in for the next 20, 30 years?
Ling Yah: And I think for those who want to understand a bit more about your investment strategy file, I've actually done a blog post on your approach, which they can go and read up.
Malek Ali: Yeah. My risk profile is very, very aggressive. I think you should go for what you're comfortable with.
We have a series called I'm Asman Rosni and this is how I invest. And I am Freda Liu and this is how I invest. We have that series, so we can actually have a little bit of a window into how people invest. and so you can pick up some points from there.
Ling Yah: This is 2020. How has COVID impacts you and your industry?
Malek Ali: I think the revenues, the industry will go down by at least 30 all the way down to 50%.
Ling Yah: Wow. Yeah.
Malek Ali: So that's the kind of fall that you see in history. Those who have cash reserves and the Astros of the world. The Media Primas are okay. The stars are okay. So basically it's a question of weathering this time.
So you have basically one major player. Astro has over 70% market share, then Media Prima is about sort of 15, to 20% market share. And then everyone else takes scraps. so, the industry has consolidated. So in a way, it's just a question whether you can withstand that 30 to 50% fall in revenues.
BFM, we were lucky. I mean again I can't emphasize enough what the Asian financial crisis did to me. I always kept a big buffer of cash within BFM. . I don't know why it was just instinctive, it's the comfort of having cash in the bank for the company, to tide over difficult times and the difficult times have happened and continue to happen.
I think we can safely say that we saw the recovery, in August, September. But I think we're going to get another dip again.
Ling Yah: So one of the things I noticed that was very interesting for me is that you have done so many startups and I noticed that each time you always have investors in it, as opposed to going down the bootstrapping route.
I wonder why that is because I know the number of founders who say they are bootstrapped as a matter of pride almost. But you've gone a different way.
Malek Ali: Maybe I'm impatient. I want the business to either prove or not prove itself within the first three or four years.
Otherwise I can only do one startup. My window is about five years. And you can really give it a decent go if you have a bit of capital behind you to nudge it along. Remember this 20%, 80% rule, You have 20 percent that you can nudge it along and you have another 80 to continue nudging along. . Otherwise you don't know. Did I not get there because I didn't have the resources to do that ?
So the other thing is that once you get your capital from someone else you take your immediate sedation. If someone doesn't wanna invest in you. You knew immediately that this, this idea might not be as strong as you thought it was.
But once people are excited to invest in you, then you say, Oh yeah, there's some legs here. So in ways it's an external validation. So I think bootstrapping is okay especially if you're testing but once you're onto a solid thing, there's no point strapping anymore.
It's time to raise some capital. Not crazy type things. I've been there before. During the.com days. Crazy money dangling around, but. I've learned that, whatever you do, don't throw it all in marketing. Don't throw it all on customer acquisitions.
You have a marathon to do.
Ling Yah: And for those listening, is there anything that they can do to help you?
Malek Ali: So I would love to talk to folks who have influences in school. There's 10,000 schools in Malaysia. And actually the plan is already there, McKinsey has gone in and they are global leader for education is based in Kuala Lumpur.
. Those guys know what needs to be done to the major education. They wrote the national education blueprint. We're just not implementing it. So. What would it take? I mean, my wishes to have changed managers, get involved, get their hands dirty and reform the religion education system and be given and be empowered.
You're the people that can do this, go for it. And we'll leave you alone. And we can change this 10,000 schools, CIS and Ameren is doing it for about 50 schools or a hundred schools. There's Teach for Malaysia that's doing a few things, but all these are like sporadic.
We have the people, we just need a green light. To do these things. If there are people listening, we have the similar vision of actually helping future relations in education. helping the current population in social housing.
Even things like having a way of distributing, I mean, we had this initiative about putting 50 ringette in people's ear, wallets and so on, Hey, that, that opens up huge possibilities, and again, like being able to like say, Hey to everyone that is the beginnings of a social security system, .
another one would give you an example, PNB or EPF can create, can make sure that, Can ensure people so that, Hey, if something happens to them and you can automatically do this, . how many children they have, et cetera, the moment you can just say, okay, out of EPF, we're going to take out, 300 ringgit a year.
To pay for 200,000 ringgit insurance policy on your life in case something happens to you, your EPF account, we topped by about a thousand, it'd be given to your folks. So these are some of the ideas that can be done.
I'll be honest. I won't get my hands dirty until my youngest child is old. And that's about five years' time.
and then I'll get stuck in, on all the other projects,
Ling Yah: I've noticed this a lot. That's written about you.
Can you share one thing that people don't know about you in the media yet?
Malek Ali: I think I told you I got fired three times in a row,
sorry. four times the first one. Yeah. Ever wasn't I was walking in a wine bar in London and that was, I was completely shell shocked after being fired.
because I wasn't very good at wine bartending and I was walking home, tail between my legs and it was like the worst day of my life. But that made me very hardy about getting fired three more times. . So sometimes it's just a question of Hey, you're, a square peg round hole.
Remember the CEO of Max's at the time, but Singapore and he said to me, Molly, everyone thinks about. Going right. You always think about going left. And I wrote the saying to him. Yes. But that's why I was employed. That's why I got the job because I think I left, yeah, I think that's one, fresh. Piece of things that you didn't know about. I think also you had a few nuggets. but choosing between my parents,
Ling Yah: So thank you so much for your time.
I normally like to end my interviews with these questions. So the first one is, do you feel like you have found your why?
Malek Ali: yeah, I think so. the next five years will be one of the ways which is, my children. but after that, my second way is my fellow relations.
Ling Yah: And what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?
Malek Ali: It doesn't matter. We will be dust. It's not a relevant consideration.
Ling Yah: And what'd you think are the most important qualities a person should have to be as successful as you?
Malek Ali: first I guess, I don't consider myself successful, successful? But resilience, I think being able to be positive, seeing good in people. There's also something I saw on the net, is it a Netflix show? I can remember. but, it's about curiosity.
if you're not curious, you don't learn. I mean, I always enjoy being curious. and I think it didn't kill the cat that's for sure. but it did open up my eyes to a lot of things, being curious about things.
And if you could always have that curiosity, I think you'd always be interested. You'll always be engaged with the world.
Ling Yah: And where can people go to connect with you and follow what you're doing?
Malek Ali: Probably the best places, LinkedIn. so you go to LinkedIn and then slash ion I think, and then slash Malek Ali. As easy as that.
I've been talking about some of these things, but some of my future projects, I like to get involved with, big heads. ? So on that it has stuff on fire right now. My current projects, they have stuff on BFM.
It probably has this podcast after you've done it. So there we go.
Ling Yah: And that was the end of episode 24. The show notes can be found www.sothisismywhy.com/24 include the transcript and links to everything we just talked about.
And if you want to be alerted to new episodes and be further inspired by other stories, projects, and initiatives outside of this podcast, then head over to the show notes and sign up for the weekly newsletter.
And stay tuned for next Sunday, because we'll be meeting an inspiring aen from Hong Kong who went blind at the age of six, but never allowed that to stop him. Defying society's expectations that as a blind man, he could only ever be good for working as a telephone operator or fortune teller.
He went on to become the first of many things. One of the first blind persons to attend university of Hong Kong followed by London school of economics. Pass the Hong Kong government's recruitment exams.
And has taken the lead in many things, including being on the board of Oxfam international, President of the Hong Kong Blind Society, Founder of Dialogue in the Dark, and a climate change platform for youth advocates.
To learn more about this inspiring person's story, tune in next Sunday.
See you then!