Dotcom survivor now thriving

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Fione (centre, in black) speaks on how to launch a successful global online business at the Asean SME Showcase 2015.Fione (centre, in black) speaks on how to launch a successful global online business at the Asean SME Showcase 2015.Fione (centre, in black) speaks on how to launch a successful global online business at the Asean SME Showcase 2015.

During Malaysia’s dotcom boom period of 1999-2000, many people gave up their salaried jobs to try their hand at building the next big Internet business. Many crashed and burned and only a handful managed to survive.

Fione Tan is one of them and not only has she managed to survive but her business is still thriving and growing more than 15 years later. Although no longer the fresh-faced dreamer of her youth, Fione is still aiming to take her business to another level.

Born to a poor family, living in a wooden house in Jinjang, she studied hard and did well enough to get a scholarship to study Management and Marketing in the US. When she returned, she joined the financial services industry.

“I was 21 years old and feeling bored with my job,” she recalls. Her mom saw her looking depressed and signed her up for a business motivation class where she met many executives in their 50s who were laid off by companies during the 1997 Asian economic crisis.

“That was my wake-up call,” she says. “It made me realise there is no job security when you are a salaried employee. The only way to have control of your life is to be your own boss.”

Fuelled by the optimism of the dotcom boom happening around her, she decided to dive in head first into the Internet industry.

It was in late 1999, during the height of the dotcom bubble and to Fione’s surprise, she managed to convince some investors she met at a networking event to fund her business idea of eOneNet, an online service that allowed Malaysia SMEs to create websites of their own. “After reading my four-page business plan, they agreed to put in US$26,000 which was fantastic.”

At that time, few Malaysian SMEs had their own website and Fione’s idea was to offer them a very simple online service that allowed them to build template-based websites for a low price.

Because she was a business major and not a techie, she did not know how to develop her own website so she had to outsource the work. “It really cost a bomb and I ended up paying a local web development company US$22,000, leaving me with just US$4,000 to run my business,” she says.

Her web service worked like a charm and she invested in search engine optimisation and e-mail marketing to promote her new company. In under two months, she made back the initial funding of US$26,000.

She was clearly onto something. Two years later, she made her first million ringgit at the ripe old age of 23. Today, eOneNet has offices in Singapore, Hong Kong and China.

“We had to constantly evolve by introducing new services such as webcasting online video in collaboration with MediaCorp Singapore and e-mail marketing software in partnership with Samsung. But the project that has gotten her most excited these days relate to online shopping malls.

Her service doesn’t just offer to build shopping malls for clients. It also helps to source for products and handle delivery as well, so clients need only focus on marketing. “We do all the heavy lifting with regard to sourcing for supplies and logistical issue,” she says. “We do a revenue share that earns them over 50% of the profits.”

Going forward, she is looking to list her company in Hong Kong in the next three years. Not bad for someone who first ventured into the online industry with very little technical knowledge.

“If I had not made that bold step 15 years ago when I was just 21 years old, I’d probably be just a wage earner today,” she says. “So dream big and take action. Life is short and you should not hesitate to pursue your dreams. There’s always the temptation to tell yourself you will think about it first but thinking about it won’t make it happen. Only by doing it will you know if your idea works or not.”

Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.

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