INNOVATORS VS COVID 19
Inbaraj Suppiah: Go Digital or Go Bust!
We talked to Inbaraj Suppiah, founder and CEO at Pixaworks Creative, about digital creativity and this is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Inbaraj Suppiah: We’re all fine. Our kids are fortunate to be enrolled in an international school here in Kuala Lumpur so they’ve been on e-learning since the lockdowns began last year. Regular government schools are still struggling and generally, education has been disrupted. My wife is a doctor so there’s always a risk of exposure to the family. We had 2 close calls but so far all good.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Pixaworks.
Inbaraj Suppiah: I’m a tech entrepreneur from Kuala Lumpur. Originally from a small town called Sungai Petani, up north. I grew up in a small middle-class family. I was always encouraged to do well in school so that I can go to a good university and hopefully get a good job. That’s the great middle-class dream. But I’ve always been interested in entrepreneurship because I realized something, the only people in my family who didn’t have any issues with money were my uncles who were entrepreneurs. After university, I became a Remote Sensing & GIS engineer, worked for 3 years in the industry then realized I’ll never have enough money to start a business. So I quit one day with my last drawn salary and my laptop and decided to do my freelance design work full-time. Over the last 15 years, I built a relatively successful digital creative agency and my corporate innovation arm. Today I work with some of the top corporate brands in Malaysia, and also global brands like Google, AWS, Rheem, and Microsoft. I also work very closely with many government agencies in Malaysia to provide professional services and run startup and entrepreneurship programs.
How does Pixaworks innovate?
Inbaraj Suppiah: As a creative digital agency, going digital is nothing new to us. We’re always in tune with the latest trends and innovations in the creative, tech, and marketing space so that we can provide the best solutions for our clients. But we also do many physical programs, especially in the corporate/startup innovation space, which at the moment requires digital transformation. Last year, we were forced to convert all our physical programs, especially hackathons into virtual events. It’s not easy to run a virtual hackathon that requires lots of collaboration, mentoring sessions, and demo sessions. We tested various virtual event platforms and found some great tools that enabled us to produce great virtual hackathons, with almost the same experience and excitement as physical events. We also had to transform our office photography studio into a live broadcast studio with additional gear.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Inbaraj Suppiah: Most of our digital marketing clients paused their campaigns due to the uncertainties with the COVID lockdowns. Revenue pretty much vanished for 4 months but we survived with some small projects here and there. Many of our physical programs were canceled last year. Some of those projects may never return due to the current situation, but we managed to convert some to virtual programs. After the full lockdown last year for about 4 months, we ran 3 major virtual hackathons, and some of our digital marketing clients resumed their retainers. Currently, we’re in a 2nd lockdown which started mid-January. Some of our clients once again have paused their campaigns, but thankfully most of our programs are virtual, including virtual hackathons, a market access program, and a startup summit, so we’re pretty secured for Q1 and Q2 of this year. We also launched a lifestyle-tech media platform in January 2021 called tehtarikpost.com to add a potential revenue stream to the agency.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Inbaraj Suppiah: Yes, we had to implement a small pay cut to keep the team onboard for 3 months, but we managed to survive the lockdown last year and bounced back, with all employees receiving a bonus at the end of the year. One big lesson is reserve cash can run out very fast, so it’s better to pivot and adapt quickly instead of just riding out a tough period.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Inbaraj Suppiah: Our team has always been digital and on the cloud. We’ve been using chat-based communication tools for years long before COVID, so we were quite prepared for the lockdown and working from home. But we have started using more digital tools for virtual event productions now, especially airmeet.com which is an amazing virtual event platform.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Inbaraj Suppiah: I don’t worry about competitors. What’s important is for our business to do better than before. 2020 was still a good year financially despite the 4 months lockdown, so hopefully, in 2021 we will do better than 2020… ideally better than 2019 which was our best year so far in terms of revenue.
Your final thoughts?
Inbaraj Suppiah: COVID-19 is here to stay for a long time, despite the upcoming vaccine rollout. Our lives will be restricted for at least 1-2 more years, so I think right now as entrepreneurs we have to keep innovating our products and services to best serve our clientele, and also help them to innovate if necessary. Keeping a lean operation, and stocking up reserve cash will help moving forward to deal with any uncertainties.
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