The evolution of a radio station

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BFM89.9 founder Malek Ali: “Innovation to me is a new product, service, technology or process that has a positive impact on the entities that they are introduced to, whether they are markets, organisations, consumers, society.”BFM89.9 founder Malek Ali: “Innovation to me is a new product, service, technology or process that has a positive impact on the entities that they are introduced to, whether they are markets, organisations, consumers, society.”BFM89.9 founder Malek Ali: “Innovation to me is a new product, service, technology or process that has a positive impact on the entities that they are introduced to, whether they are markets, organisations, consumers, society.”

Early last year, Business Circle talked to BFM89.9 founder Malek Ali about his background and the circumstances that led to his founding of Malaysia’s first and only business radio station.

In our latest conversation with Malek, he talks about the importance of innovation in business, setting up the right corporate culture to foster innovation and about the new innovations his company is introducing this year.

Malek comes from a varied background. Prior to founding BFM he had stints as a corporate lawyer and a management consultant. He also worked for a search portal and a local telco. It was all these things that somehow helped him become the businessman he is today.

“These varied experiences really rounded my skill sets, help me develop business acumen as well as figure out my strengths and weaknesses,” he says. “I really do feel that at BFM, legal background for my dealings with regulators, strategy consulting background for deciding what businesses BFM should and should not be in, Internet and mobile background in determining what BFM does in that space.”

Anyone who has set foot into BFM’s office can see that it’s a different kind of working environment from a typical Malaysian company. It feels a lot closer to Silicon Valley, actually. This is not due to chance but something Malek purposefully fostered.

“Silicon Valley is the model,” he says. “We have on open office – I do not have a room, the only rooms at BFM are the studios and the two discussion rooms. Indeed, we encourage discussions to held at the open pantry by building two generous kitchen islands with a fully equipped kitchen and a constantly percolating coffee pot. It’s wonderful when great ideas emerge from a casual conversation at the pantry.”

BFM fosters innovation by giving autonomy to teams, to come up with their own programming. “We also encourage individuals to pursue their own programming interests,” says Malek. “I guess it also helps that I have a soft spot for new ideas, and will not allow any early criticism of it until we bake it a little more.”

As a web-savvy and web-inclined person Malek has always placed high importance on the Internet. For example, although podcasts are not that popular in Malaysia, from early on BFM had made its programs available as downloadable podcasts.

“We use the full range of Internet distribution platforms to distribute our podcasts, our own iPhone and Android apps, iOS’ native podcast app, aggregator apps such as TuneIn Radio, and also our web and mobile sites,” he says. And how successful has it been? According to Malek, BFM averages a million podcast downloads per month!

The podcasts are currently personalizable by way of the user indicating their preferences but if Malek could have his way, he would like an automated preference detector system that could infer what a person likes from his downloading history and send them podcasts options that they would likely appreciate.

New innovations that BFM has in store for its fans this year include Internet video programmes aimed at the Malay-speaking audience, extending the scope of BFM Business School to include more programs (done in partnership with renowned international universities), establishing an entrepreneurs’ club that matches entrepreneurs with advisers, and continuing to expand its events portfolio to include many more industry verticals.

“Innovation to me is a new product, service, technology or process that has a positive impact on the entities that they are introduced to, whether they are markets, organisations, consumers, society,” says Malek. “It’s what we try to do every day at BFM.”

Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.

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