Web guru expands in Asia
By Gigi Cheung

Web Guru Asia, an online business consultancy, came to Hong Kong from Malaysia two years ago at the height of the economic crisis.

The Malaysia-based company, founded in 1996, started out by providing IT services to Malaysian Airlines, according to Alex Moore, chief operations officer of Web Guru Asia. They then diversified to provide mostly Web-based services to clients including Carlsberg Malaysia and Sega.

"I came over here at the height of the economic crisis in Malaysia, to see if we could benefit from what was going on," said Alex Moore. "The idea is to keep our costs [in check], and keep our backend development team funded through sales in Hong Kong. It worked quite well."

Web Guru Asia provides a wide range of services, from backend services and programming, to front-end design, Web site design, logos and promotions.

"We call ourselves interactive business specialists. We do all things [that are related] to the Web and [also related to] taking a business online and making it work," said Moore, emphasizing that they are not reinventing the way that people do businesses. "We're very much taking [businesses] from an offline medium to an online one, or enhancing their existing online presence," he continued.

The company has grown since the launch, and now employs a total of fifty people in three offices situated in Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

The Hong Kong office is more of a front-end office, said Moore, while the back-end people are in Malaysia, adding that the sales office in Japan was opened earlier this year with the aim of attracting more business from across the region.

When asked if there were any difficulties in setting up an office in Japan and doing business there, Chief Sales & Marketing Officer Napoleon Biggs of Web Guru Asia, said that Japanese are used to the idea of foreigners bringing in new technology.

"In Hong Kong, people will assume that if you're a foreigner, you don't speak the language, you don't read the language… People will think that if [a company] is not headed by a Chinese, it's not able to build a Chinese [language] Web site. Whereas in Japan, that is not an issue. Japanese are very open to new technologies," explained Biggs. "People judge us on our work [there], not on our appearance."

The company is currently doing business in ten different countries.

"We're truly regional, from Australia to Indonesia, to Singapore, Malaysia," said Moore, adding that they have just received a job from the government of Brunei. The company is also doing projects in Hong Kong, Japan, China, U.S., and U.K.

"We're very bi-cultural. Wherever we do business, we have a deep understanding of the psychology behind. If someone comes to us and wants to market [their company] across the region, we can tell them that they should market their brand like this in Malaysia, and like that in Hong Kong," claimed Moore.

According to Biggs, the company is putting together an HTML version of its Web site, adding to the Flash version they have at the moment.

"The HTML version will have case studies of our clients [showing] what issues they've had, [and] how we resolved it, and the result [of it]," said Biggs.

"We don't get business from our Web site. We're not selling our Web site. Most clients came to us through referrals. Hong Kong's a small place. If you do a good job, you're referred to," said Biggs, explaining why they only have a Flash version of their Web site, profiling what the company does.

The company also gets businesses through self-marketing, and relationships that they have with advertising and PR companies. They also have strategic alliances with companies such as Oracle, KMPG, and Leo Burnett, whom they refer businesses to the company.

"In the web development business, we don't really do cold-calling," said Biggs. "When we first started, people would call us and say they want a brochure-type Web site. Now, it's become more sophisticated. They want to make it into a real business, to collect data, [and] to sell things. They want to communicate with their clients [via a Web site]."

Moore said that approximately 50% of their client base are Internet start-ups, and they sometimes have to turn business away.

"We try to move away from doing brochure-type Web sites. Our strengths are in application development. Right now, it's more efficient and [the company would] become better doing larger projects," explained Moore. "In the past, we've turned down jobs that are too big for us. But we haven't done that for a while now, because we've expanded."

Biggs added that because they have grown, they can now more accurately assess which project is viable and which is not than before, by gauging a project's relative merits with their accumulated experience.

"The Internet start-ups that we work with are the [ones] that we believe are going places. Therefore, we're willing to do a small project with them because it's an on-going relationship," explained Biggs. "…They'd refer to us when they want to add something to their Web site. And we're always there as an expert for them."

Besides helping companies to bring their businesses online, the company has also branded services that could draw revenue to the company.

"We're commissioned to build applications for people. We've retained certain intellectual property rights to the things that we built [for our clients]," said Moore. "Certain component parts that we've built will go into the 'brain' of the company. The 'brain' is the shared entity to the company. … From the revenue point of view, it's very effective. We can resell things that we've done and customise it. The idea is to increase the number of products that we are doing," he said.

According to Moore, the company has grown organically without borrowing money. But he believes now is the right time to bring in money from investors.

"Several people have approached us who have expressed their interest in acquiring a small stake in the company," said Moore. "The investors will bring money in and they'd be strategic investors to help us achieve regional expansion."

Web Guru Asia expects that by the end of September they will have reached an agreement with one of those companies.

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