South China Morning Post
Gurus nimbly navigate internet space
Consultancy survives dotcom meltdown and thrives as digital marketing specialist
Few internet companies escaped the dotcom bloodbath unscathed, but web development consultant turned digital marketing specialist Web Guru Asia was nimble enough to survive and thrive.
"We've never borrowed money or gone into debt. The bankers used to tell us debt is good - it was a gold rush," said managing director Alex Moore, who runs Web Guru with Napoleon Biggs and Singapore office partner Jeffery Zweig.
When the crash came, they were prepared.
"We saw it coming, though we never expected it to plummet as far as it did," Mr. Moore said.
Web Guru Asia, which changed its name from AeroScan in 2000, has evolved from website development to digital marketing specialisation, helping clients maximise business returns via the internet and manage the associated risks.
The firm offers strategic consulting, together with digital design, software development and integrated marketing, and uses techniques to ensure their internet presence adds value to clients' traditional media activities, such as print, radio and direct marketing.
The current hot issue is potentially infuriating viral e-mail marketing.
"It's very useful - provided you've signed up for it and are anticipating it," insisted Mr. Biggs, "Web marketing is a hot area."
Clients Malaysian Airlines (MAS) did it, he said. "Participating customers get referral marketing."
An e-mail marketing campaign the firm did for Singapore Airlines (SIA) was hugely successful, with 365,000 sign-ups, he added.
Companies liked "pay per click" internet advertising, he said. "It's results driven, you can track everything. This is where the internet is delivering on its promises. We're stretching the whole media interaction - it's the beginning of convergence and a lot of the dotcom promises are coming to fruition."
Web Guru Asia's clients include many travel-related companies as well as Disney, BMW and Time Warner.
Past events have taught these experts to find opportunity in adversity and make use of cheaper cost bases in other countries.
Mr. Moore and Mr. Zweig started their business in Malaysia in 1997, only to be hit by the financial crisis, a water shortage and forest fires which were equivalent to smoking 80 cigarettes a day.
They decided to take advantage of the currency collapse in Malaysia by expanding into Hong Kong.
"Our production costs had effectively just dropped 75 per cent, so we decided to expand," Mr. Moore said.
A key area where they save money is on personnel, with a small core staff of 25 and a team of project-based contractors.
"Even so, though we know when the money should be coming in there's a still a risk," Mr. Biggs said.
They had always paid their staff, no matter what, Mr. Moore added.
Having thrived during the Asian financial crisis and the dotcom meltdown, they managed to benefit from Sars too. Logistics helped.
"At busy times now we've got up to 50 people working for us, in Malaysia, Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong and now we have sales offices in Tokyo and Shanghai," Mr. Biggs said. "So if things go bad here, we can, for example, switch focus to Singapore. Malaysia, for example, was not nearly as badly hit by Sars as elsewhere."
Additionally, Malaysia has a Chinese-speaking workforce, which is essential for Web Guru Asia's expanding translation and multilingual work.
Business internet usage boomed during Sars and the future looks bright, with expansion into China, where they have a flagship client in PepsiCo China, the marketing arm of Pepsi-Cola in the country.
"We'd call ourselves a small to medium - sized company now," Mr. Moore said. In America, he added a typical project could be worth US$1 million, but in Asia it was more likely to be $20,000 to $30,000.
"Our annual turnover is US$1 million and we want to increase that three or four times - not with more staff but with offices staffed with key people," he said. "We just need to beef it up a bit. But we are entrepreneurs and we do want to sell the company one day - but it needs to be worth enough."
As to why Web Guru Asia thrived when so many foundered, Mr. Moore is clear; "It's the survival of the fittest. We balanced realism and optimism and we always took reality checks. Right now we could be bigger but we are in good shape."
Mr. Biggs added; "It's important that it's our money. We have to think about it carefully. I like the speedboat and the oil tanker analogy - an oil tanker takes 30 miles to stop. We can make decisions quickly because we control the cash flow."
said: "We're nimble and we've adapted. What we provide is so much
more sophisticated than it used to be - but then so are the clients."
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