by Osman Husain
Feb 20, 2020
Kah Hing’s love affair with Shopify began in 2015 when he started an online store for commercial alarm systems.
At the time, ecommerce in Malaysia was still in its infancy. Kah Hing’s goal was to scale his B2B engineering products firm with an online presence while his peers almost exclusively relied on cold calls, referrals, and trade shows for the majority of their leads.
The early adopter was sold on the viability of Shopify’s platform and supporting ecosystem from the beginning. He noticed that the product was very easy to use and brought in tons of traffic and potential leads. Companies from across Southeast Asia started to send inquiries and requests to work together.
“I quit [the engineering firm] and started a digital marketing company with a focus on Shopify,” says Kah Hing as we discuss how his firm got off the ground.
He adds that Shopify’s stellar user experience was a major factor behind the decision. If it worked so well for him, he was certain it could work well for others too.
“Why not bring Shopify to Malaysia and help traditional businesses digitize their product offering?” explains Kah Hing. “Despite Shopify’s lack of penetration in the Malaysian market at the time, we were confident that we could make it work.”
His was in 2016. The team started an online store of its own too, in order to get their feet wet and learn the tricks of the trade.
This helped them acquire skills around marketing automation, backend development, and integration with other apps.
“We learned how to position products, and the pricing and margin you should maintain. We acquired knowledge of how to build and run an online business and from there on we felt we could guide other businesses,” says Kah Hing.
While Meecko was ready to conquer Asia, confident that it had all the tools to help entrepreneurs navigate the digital economy, the rest of the ecosystem took a more cautious approach.
Its first client, Singaporean pharmacy VivaHealth, signed up because of personal connections.
“VivaHealth’s founder is a friend and she trusted our skills and knew we could deliver. She needed a small job to build an online store and connect a payment gateway. It’s still running today,” says Kah Hing.
Apart from Viva, the Malaysian entrepreneur and his team found it very difficult to convince clients to come onboard. Some felt the development costs were too high and couldn’t foresee a positive ROI. Others gravitated towards local solutions instead.
But Kah Hing hadn’t come this far just to give up. He knew he had to go the extra mile if he wished to make a lasting impact.
His instincts told him to spread the word about Shopify as best as he could. If he could build a community of people who believed in the product, it would make it easier to grow his business and solve emerging problems in the Southeast Asian internet economy.
A fateful meeting with the government of Malaysia’s digital wing gave Kah Hing’s fledgling startup a boost. The meeting lead to free exhibitor space at an upcoming digital event in Kuala Lumpur, where Meekco was able to build awareness about Shopify and its solutions as well as secure some valuable leads.
More networking events and exhibitions followed. Slowly people started to understand the scope of Shopify and how easily it enabled businesses to sell online. Some brands signed up, giving Kah Hing the portfolio boost he needed.
The determined founder says the “game-changer” for his business was the acquisition of Shopify partner expert status. His agency didn’t quite meet the requirements when they first applied. But he was able to secure a meeting with a Shopify representative visiting Kuala Lumpur.
“We connected with [Shopify representative] Kirsten who was very understanding and accommodating. Over the course of a couple of meetings, we told her about the merits of our application and where the market was headed. She spoke with her team back in Canada and within a couple of weeks we were approved as a partner,” beams Kah Hing.
“We then transitioned into running a full-stack agency as our passion is to see other entrepreneurs and businesses scale up. Partner status made all the difference,” he affirms.
Kah Hing credits Meecko’s growth to its extremely close association with Shopify. Community meetups were a common trend in other parts of the world, but not so much in Asia. So he took it upon himself to foster the growth of the community.
“At the beginning, we had no idea how to run the event or how to organize it. But with the help of Shopify, we started to organize meetups. Then we understood that it was very much in line with our passion to build communities,” he explains.
The meetups brought together a diverse crowd: small merchants, large brands, app developers, and marketing agencies. However, all shared one common goal: to learn more about the Shopify ecosystem and see how they could get involved.
Meecko’s status as a Shopify partner and organizer of these meetups helped position itself as a thought leader. Kah Hing says the more he gave back to the community, the faster his leads grew. Sometimes they ran free workshops and training sessions, with the goal of growing Shopify adoption in Asia.
Well-known companies such as Air Asia eventually signed up as clients, which Kah Hing says took only “one or two meetings” to secure.
Building a new company is fraught with challenges, particularly when you’re attempting to do something that’s completely new in your market. Kah Hing agrees that there was no set playbook that they could follow, since it was an attempt to build a business which no one in Malaysia had attempted before.
This lead to some “low points”, particularly for acquiring talent to grow the company. It was important to hire the best and brightest, but in the early days the company didn’t have enough revenue to justify high salaries.
Attending the Shopify Pursuit partners conference helped Kah Hing meet other agencies, those experiencing similar problems. This helped with perspective and support.
“Thank you Shopify for all the networking sessions and assistance in resolving my concerns,” he exclaims.
So what advice does he have for others looking to start new companies and immerse themselves in Shopify’s ecosystem?
“Your tenacity and persistence in delivering will set you apart,” says Kah Hing. “When the time comes, you have to overcome your challenges and persist.”
He warns entrepreneurs that it won’t be a rosy story, pointing to the fact that part of being a business owner is dealing with challenges every day. But he encourages others to take advantage of the mentoring and support Shopify offers in the form of community meetups and close association with Shopify account managers.
“Sit on the shoulder of the giant,” says Kah Hing, referring to Shopify. “They will help you, and push you up. I couldn’t get to where I am today without them [...] keep pushing yourself, stretch yourself to your limit, and never be content with something ordinary.”