“I call myself Chief Everything Officer of this company,” says Exabytes founder and CEO Chan Kee Siak with a chuckle.
“I went through a long journey. I started Exabytes in a small office with barely any staff. Now, we have more than hundreds of employees across the region,” he adds modestly.
It came to a point where I needed to decide whether I wanted to continue my studies or pursue this path as an entrepreneur.
Dropping out of college to start a company can be a daunting prospect even for a young individual but forgoing his education to chase a dream to start something of his own was a risk he gladly took.
Founded in 2001, Exabytes has emerged to become the country’s leading web hosting and cloud service provider, serving over 100,000 customers in 121 countries, ranging from SMEs to public listed companies. The company’s main markets are Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.
In March 2019, government-linked private equity fund management firm Ekuiti Nasional Berhad or Ekuinas, bought a 40 percent stake in the company.
Growing up in Penang, Chan used to help his parents at their hawker store, giving him an early exposure to entrepreneurship. By high school, he started a small business selling and fixing computers.
After a year at Tunku Abdul Rahman College in Penang, the then-19-year-old decided to take a chance on himself. Going against the wishes of his parents, Chan dropped out of college to focus on his business full time.
“It came to a point where I needed to decide whether I wanted to continue my studies or pursue this path as an entrepreneur.”
“When I went to college, everyone at that time was buying a computer. So with the little knowledge I had, I helped friends and relatives set up and troubleshoot their computers. That turned into a part-time business.
Chan relates how he was inspired by American computer maker Dell revolutionised the industry by selling computers directly to customer at home.
“Michael Dell was the rising star back then. He turned a hardware business in an e-commerce model by selling PCs online.
“I wanted to be ‘Micro-Dell’,” Chan says with a smile. “I thought I needed a website to promote my computer hardware business. That’s how I got involved in web designing, and then web hosting.”
Exabytes specialises in helping SMEs to grow their businesses online, providing services like digital marketing, domain name registration, website solutions and more. It manages over 1000 servers, 100,000 websites and one million email accounts.
“When their businesses grow, that’s when they need a more sophisticated server or private cloud services or etc. We offer a complete range of solutions to help SMEs grow online,” says Cham.
Exabyte is staffed by 300 employees in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and Singapore. In Indonesia, it has three offices – an illustration of the company’s aggressive growth plans in the republic. “I think what our customers really like about us is that we are a local company with regional presence. “
“It does come to our advantage because a lot of local or Asian SMEs need support, guidance and hand-holding. They feel more comfortable to speak to us when they need support.
“And as a local company, they know we understand what SMEs here really need compared to a provider from another country,” he says.
When asked about lessons he learnt as an entrepreneur, Chan says that having a technical background alone was not sufficient to run a company. One of the biggest mistakes he made as a young entrepreneur was not looking closely into the company’s finances.
“Every dollar we made was invested back into marketing and our product (development). I had no idea what's profit or cash flow. Our finances were a complete mess.”
A lot of SMEs are in the process of digitalising their businesses. How can Exabytes play a bigger and more strategic role to help them?
“Our focus was to just grow and expand the business like crazy for the first seven years. Until one day, an investor knocked on our door looking to invest in Exabytes.”
“However, because we didn’t have our proper accounting measures, we lost that opportunity. That was a huge loss to us and served as a wakeup call to be more serious with the business,” he says.
According to the 38-year-old, it took the company three years to hit a revenue of over one million ringgit. Last year, the company generated RM70 million in revenue.
What’s next for Exabyte? Chan hopes to reach further into existing markets and to get into new ones in the region.
“We have a good head start in Singapore and Indonesia but the question now is how do we do more in other parts of Southeast Asia?
“A lot of SMEs are in the process of digitalising their businesses. How can Exabytes play a bigger and more strategic role to help them?
“Moving forward, I think it is going to be very interesting because of the transition from 4G to 5G.”
“For the shift of 3G to 4G, a lot of new business models and startups are being created. I believe with 5G, it will reset some of the existing ecosystems. We are entering a new era.
"I’d also like to help more SMEs and startups, other than just providing services,” says Chan. “I’d like to mentor them, give them advice or even become an angel investor.”