Jeff Cheong and Fui Choong both left their careers as lawyers to launch Kaodim in November 2014. Malaysia-based Kaodim is a web/mobile application allowing people to hire and compare professionals providing home services and repairs. The platform grows many small and medium businesses along the way.
Kaodim is backed by prominent international investors including 500 Startups and East Ventures and is, as Jeff Cheong outlines, “poised to become the regional champion in this exciting space.” Below is a Q&A format interview with both Jeff and Fui about Kaodim and how they came to become startup founders from a legal background:
Q: What is your background in Law? Where did you study and work in law before founding Kaodim?
Fui: “I was a corporate and commercial litigation lawyer for about 6 years before founding Kaodim. I read law at the University of Sheffield, UK and worked in a few firms in Malaysia – including one of the largest firms in Malaysia, Shearn Delamore & Co. I then moved over to a smaller local outfit and made partners there, until I left to start Kaodim.”
Jeff: “I graduated from the University of Reading, (UK) and was called to both the UK and Malaysian Bar. I am a member of the Honorable Society of Gray’s Inn. And I specialised in intellectual property litigation and commercial arbitration. I practised for 5 years as at Skrine and Wong & Partners (Baker & McKenzie) in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia.”
Q: What attracted you to the startup world having already studied and practised law?
Fui: “I’ve always wanted to build something that could bring positive impact to a great number of people. I felt the best way to do this was by starting a company because, at its core, a company is really a bunch of like-minded people coming together and working towards a common goal – and in doing so making the company a collective institution, far greater than the sum of its individual parts. The startup world was attractive because it is probably the best incubator to bring such a vision to fruition.”
Jeff: “This new digital and mobile economy is changing the way people consume everything, whether its products, services, entertainment or interaction with friends. The future is changing and I want to spend the rest of my career contributing to that change. I knew it was time to challenge myself even further by attempting to grow a business that would change lives at a massive scale.”
Q: What unique approach do you bring to startups with a legal background?
Fui: “Good, calculated and well-analysed judgment/decision making – litigation lawyers are trained to think on their feet and adapt to changing situations – this is crucial in business. Maturity and a broad breadth of experiences – as a lawyer you deal with many different types of situations and people, all of which enrich your view of the world and add to what I call ‘experiential wisdom’: which is short for saying that you make better decisions – both knowingly and perhaps more importantly, even subconsciously because you can draw parallels from a wide variety of similar situations and circumstances previously encountered.”
Jeff: “Lawyers are trained to absorb a lot of information quickly, analyse accurately and make precise judgment calls under pressure. When you’re responsible for recruiting, training, marketing and expanding the business all at the same time. It’s important to make the right decisions quickly and my training as a litigation lawyer has certainly helped with that.”
Q: Kaodim has established itself as a very interesting source for consumers to purchase services. Is law among those services? What are the most popular services you offer?
Fui: “Law is not amongst them, for now. The Bar societies in SEA are likely to prohibit lawyers from ‘marketing’ on platforms like ours. But we’ll see what the future holds. Popular services are those involving the home – cleaning, repairs, renovation etc.”
Jeff: “Law is not one of those services given the restrictions imposed by the Legal Profession Act. However, we consider that in this changing economy, delivering affordable legal services in an unintimidating and engaging manner is becoming increasingly important. Customers today care a lot about instant gratification while having an excellent user experience. Much of that gratification and experience revolves around their interaction with devices, whether it’s a computer or smartphone. At the right time, we will certainly consider how we can extend Kaodim ‘s services offering to legal services. At the moment we are focused on the necessities like plumbing, electrical, repair, cleaning and other home and health-related services.”
Q: How has a presence in Malaysia helped Kaodim throughout the process of becoming a successful startup?
Fui: “It’s home, and the market we know best. Malaysia is also becoming very well known as the home for some of the best startups in the region. We’re proud of that. That might help, but other than that, we don’t see ourselves as just a Malaysian company, but a regional one in which case. I wouldn’t say that a presence in Malaysia helps much in any other way.”
Jeff: “Malaysia is a market we are very familiar with having spent most of our lives here. The market has responded really well to our product with absolutely amazing traction. We’re growing at an exceptional pace and what we’ve learned from this market has allowed us to deliver an even better experience for our users in Manila, Singapore and other cities in Southeast Asia.”
Q: What advice would you give law students and current lawyers aspiring to enter the startup world?
Fui: “Do it – but give yourself the time to really think about why you want to do it – a strong foundation of ‘why’ is absolutely essential – so giving it careful thought is necessary, as leaving any job in pursuit of starting a company is always going to be risky – but at the same time, remember that it isn’t always a matter of life and death. You can always go back to law or something else – again, just make sure you ask yourself why repeatedly. Because the reason why you feel compelled to do it is that which will give you the strength to soldier on when it gets tough (which it inevitably will).”
Jeff: “Tech-driven startups today are going to be the leading companies of tomorrow. If you are considering going into entrepreneurship then it’s important for that business to have a tech focus. So that you’ll be ahead of the curve. If you’re thinking of working for a startup. The pace is fast and exciting and more happens in a couple of months to a startup than compared to a lifetime for many traditional companies. Kaodim is constantly looking for great people to join our team, and we love working with lawyers!”