One month ago, we officially launched ArcLab Malaysia in our new office in Kuala Lumpur (“KL”).
It was our immense pleasure to welcome customers and guests to the official opening, complete with the rolling of the pineapple into the office for luck. “Ong Lye Huat Ah”! 🍍🍍🍍 (Chinese Hokkien for “Pineapple, which sounds identical to “Prosperity”).
Thank you to all who took time to grace the occasion. There was much good conversation and makan (Malay for “eating”) and a great way to officially kick off ArcLab Malaysia.
One month in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
We’ve had the privilege to serve customers from Malaysia for more than a year, which helped validate our decision to open ArcLab’s KL office. Since international travel re-started post COVID lockdowns in 2022, I had been making business trips to KL every few months. But each trip was always constrained by time, and it was not possible to do everything we planned.
With ArcLab Malaysia’s official launch – I’m committed to spend 50% of my time in KL as as we work to build ArcLab’s Malaysia business and the ArcLab Malaysia team. Being in KL helps me better understand market-specifics in Malaysia and for our team to continue building out & iterating ArcLab’s mobile learning platform – there’s no substitute for pounding the pavements, conversations, listening, and hearing pain points first-hand.
It’s only been a short time, but here’s what I’ve learnt so far:
1. Norms of scale differ in Malaysia
We have the privilege to serve 4Fingers, an Asian crispy chicken F&B chain, in both Singapore & Malaysia (actually, Indonesia too). 4Fingers’ Singapore business has ~20 outlets across the island. In Malaysia, there are more than 3 times the number of outlets, ~70, – to serve Malaysia’s larger population.
Hence for ArcLab’s goals, it was a no-brainer to extend to an economy with a significantly larger workforce, where our platform can help businesses to easily create, distribute & track training in areas such as Food Safety training, Workplace Safety & Health training and many more (see https://builder.arclab.io/discover) .
(On that note, for F&B chains across both countries, central kitchens are a great efficiency-maximiser, and I was grateful to Kampong Kravers for hosting my visit to their Food Manufacturing operations).
2. Norms of distance (& time) differ in Malaysia
It’s easy for me to set 3-4 meetings a day in Singapore (if necessary) as the maximum I’d need to travel between locations is 45 minutes to an hour. Malaysia is a much larger country, and distances in KL / Klang Valley are obviously far greater.
In my first ArcLab trip to KL, in typical Singaporean style, we scheduled 3-4 meetings every day. This proved foolhardy as the estimated time taken on Google Maps is merely that – an estimate. Often it would take 20-30% longer (I was also recommended to use Waze instead).
The biggest overshoot I experienced was a trip from Subang to KL City Centre which G-Maps estimated at 1hr 15 min long but clocked in at 2h 20 min due to incredible traffic jams. Fortunately my Grab driver Mr Stephen was a model of courtesy, provided me frequent updates on expected arrival time, and great conversation. Stephen previously worked in Singapore as a software engineer and spoke fondly of his time working there, bringing his family over for a short vacation (paid for by his boss), and what he thought was a brilliant MRT system.
I gave an additional small token to Stephen, as I know he was also delayed from taking more passengers by choosing not to cancel my ride.
One lesson I learnt was that KL folks were considerably more sanguine about time, and much more forgiving of people who showed up a little late. A good lesson for us Singaporeans, who treat time as as very precious (which we should), but can learn to have more forbearance if things don’t happen on time. The Singapore model is efficiency & timeliness, but maybe a little more 人情味 (Chinese for “human touch”) can be added to our way of doing things.
My other lesson was to be less ambitious about trying to squeeze so many meetings in 1 day, and leave more time for travel, unforeseen delays, and also conversation.
3. My KL Public Transport experience is very good
After a few trips to KL and commuting by Grab, I decided to utilise the public transport system instead. Several Malaysian friends told me I was very adventurous to do so, but I gave it a shot as a KL Monorel station was near to where I stayed. So I bought a Touch’N’Go card and started to get familiar with the RapidKL public transport system.
I found the KL MRT / LRT / Monorail system easy to understand, and of course map apps helped greatly in planning my route. While there were still the rush-hour crowds (trains on the Putrajaya MRT line for example, came at 5-8 minute intervals during rush hour (vs 2-minute intervals we’re used to back home)), it was manageable, and the trains’ travel time was predictable. I’ve also been taking the KLIA trains from the city centre to the airport – no risk of traffic jams or delays.
The last mile is sometimes more challenging (e.g. ArcLab Malaysia’s office was 15 minutes’ walk from the MRT station, with the feeder bus only coming at half-hourly intervals). But as a healthy person I could still manage it.
I think if even more KL friends took public transport during workdays, the traffic jam situation would be considerably better too. I am getting used to it, and even managed to give directions to someone (in Bahasa Melayu!).
4. Consumers’ Digital Adoption is extremely high
KL consumers are fully digital and mobile.
Common with cities everywhere, KL commuters are viewing social media on their phones in the trains and also while walking. Payment apps are commonly used, and Malaysia’s DuitNow is inter-operable with Singapore’s PayNow for business entities – however, for hawkers and sole proprietors here whose DuitNow payment QR code is to their personal bank accounts – Singapore’s PayNow could not be used. There are obviously alternatives, e.g. Fave is widely-accepted so travellers from Singapore like me could use our app in both countries, and card payments even more ubiquitous.
As a former public servant, I pay close attention to public policy and also followed Malaysia Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s Budget Announcement – it’s great to see support for digitalisation initiatives.
I definitely think there is room for more adoption of digital in business, like the work ArcLab does empowering companies to digitalise SOPs. We’ll keep working hard on that front and hope to serve many more Malaysia businesses in the coming months!
5. Malaysian cuisine is sedap (Malay for “delicious” – note: Singapore’s is also sedap)
Malaysian food is great. I will not steer into comparisons of which country’s food is better. I personally think Singapore and Peninsular Malaysian food are just different expressions of equally great Malayan cuisine (high-school friends Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh & Sumana Rajaratnam’s term from their book “Floating on a Malayan Breeze“).
I’ve had great Nasi Lemak (shout-out to Taste Legendary at Chow Kit market (note: not halal)), Chicken Rice, Biriyani, Peranakan Laksa, Bak Kut Teh (Pork rib soup / tea), Beef Noodles, Soto Ayam, just to name a few. I also like the Yong Tau Foo Chee Cheong Fun (tofu dishes with rice rolls) from Restoran Kuchai Lama, which I eat plain as it’s lighter and healthier. At my age I do need to watch the diet closely and make sure to hit the gym and swim every other day, so the calories going in are used up. Heh.
As an aside – since I’m also here in KL on weekends, I took the chance to be a tourist, walking around the different KL neighbourhoods, as well as visiting Batu Caves, counting the 272 steps 😅 and burning the calories from all that eating…
I also visited the Bank Negara Malaysia (“BNM”) Museum and Gallery. As some may know, the earliest days of my career were spent at the Monetary Authority of Singapore. Hence I’ll always have a natural affinity for Central Bank & Financial Regulator colleagues. My BNM Museum visit brought back many good memories, especially the replica Bloombergs in the Dealing Room exhibition which transported me back to my Reserve Management days. It was great fun, and the Fintech exhibits were very educational too.
I’d been saying this for a while now, but we’re still at Day 1 of ArcLab’s journey to empower businesses to upskill their deskless workforces.
I hope to keep having the opportunity to learn from customers and businesses here, and also to learn from Malaysia’s founders and startup and technology community. For us coming from Singapore, where many problems have already been solved and we’re honestly just making small tweaks to improve quality of life (“1st-world problems” as some may put it), there is value in broadening horizons to see how different things are in different places, and help to solve them with our heads and hearts.
I think there is great scope for ArcLab to grow here in Malaysia, and contribute to improving lives and livelihoods in this country.
if there is any way that I and ArcLab can be helpful, please reach out.
And if you know a business who could benefit from an easier way to train their workforce, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope to write another travelogue soon! Meanwhile…
#ArcLab #MalaysiaBoleh ! 🇲🇾 🇸🇬