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A nation of hard learners
By Anita Devasahayam
August 28, 2000

YOU would think that one might learn from watching others. Pick up a few tips here and there and then remember not to repeat the same mistake twice. But heck, this is Malaysia, a country populated by people who prefer to make their "own" mistakes and perhaps--not necessarily repentant--learn from them.

Long, contemplative hours, plus conversations with industry movers and shakers, two-bit researchers, the folks at the affluent computing-now-turn dot-com consultants and God have left me feeling more convinced than ever that Malaysians want to fall flat on their faces.

Recent dot-com deaths elsewhere have turned millions of investment dollars into dust. Suddenly, "first-mover" advantage is passe. Thinking big and building fast is no longer hip. Everyone who has at one time or the other toyed with the dot-com dream, but without sinking their teeth in it, has been vindicated. The Internet may have leveled the playing field, but the number one rule of starting a business, they all concur, is the same. Money rules. The new buzzword is profit.

Running a dot-com company is no different from running a regular business, they say sagely. Sound business models reflecting realistic revenue and expenditure is part of the whole plan. Grand concepts will stay that way if they aren't backed by a solid, money-making strategy.

While the deadly plague continues, we in Malaysia tend to delude ourselves into thinking that we are still in the early days of pumping disposable cash and borrowed money into dot-coms.

Yes, only in this beautiful country dotted with green hills and tropical rainforests do you find companies that have not turned in a profit in the last decade seeking to reinvent themselves by adding a "dot" to their name.

Seems like the dot-bombs have done little to deter our enthusiasm, although the language of startups may not contain the same chutzpah as in earlier days. Newcomers are careful to gloss their statements with needful words like "we have a solid business plan promising x amount in returns by y date."

Dispatch from Malaysia

Here's a nation that has built a first-world infrastructure. But can the country truly lead its people down the Yellow Brick Road to the smart city of tomorrow? Our Dispatch from Malaysia taps into the collective mindshare.

Anita Devasahayam spent a decade in technology journalism and currently plans to live the next one in Ipoh, far from the madding crowd and closer to home and family. When not pottering about the house, she is planting seeds in people's minds about the Internet and journalism as a career.


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