Chan Kok Long resolved, early in his career, to make enough money to keep his parents comfortable. “I came from a poor family,” he tells The CEO Magazine. “My parents struggled to put food on the table, so after I graduated, the first thing I wanted to do was to earn enough to provide a good life for my parents, and for myself.” Receiving a scholarship with oil and gas giant BP as an undergraduate, Kok Long soon after moved into selling computers and international calling cards for a computing company after chasing a role in sales to draw in much-needed commission.
The Asian financial crisis hit in 1997, and in the wake of the crash he found himself owing the banks a few hundred thousand ringgits. He realised that the only way forward was to go into business for himself. “I’m blessed in the sense that in this crisis, I found an opportunity,” he says. Realising that there was strong demand for cheaper international calls, Kok Long moved to a telecommunications company and asked his new boss to appoint him as the company’s distributor. “After some convincing,” Kok Long remembers, “he agreed to give me a chance. The rest is history.”
He established a large network of dealerships selling international calling cards, and after a year, further opportunity arose in the form of prepaid mobile phone services. By this time, the internet had started to become a significant part of daily life, and Kok Long was quick to realise its value for business. Impressed by “the access to markets across the globe, and the information that you can get within seconds on the internet”, Kok Long knew that future success lay in its direction.
A digital magazine, mobile88.com, was created, and with the realisation that prepaid cards could simply be sold over the internet – the cards are merely a set of numbers that can be easily digitised – came the next step: the payment gateway.
In the days before incorporation, Kok Long and his co-founders, Lim Kok Hing and Chong Lee Kean, ran into trouble when it became apparent that most banks in Malaysia were unfamiliar with the concept of a payment gateway. The founders eventually encountered an individual who had lived in the United States for more than 10 years and expressed a familiarity with PayPal. The payment gateway was built, and prepaid cards could now be sold online.
A crucial breakthrough occurred in 2005, when Kok Long received a call from the Japanese photography company Fujifilm, who wanted to use his payment gateway. “I told them, ‘Hey, you are Fujifilm – every bank will want to do business with you, so why don’t you talk to the banks?’ They said they were vomiting blood after doing so, and this reminded me of my own struggles with the banks five or six years earlier, in that they didn’t understand what we were talking about.”
“It has been a privilege to be part of iPAY88’s journey from the start to where they are today, as the leading payment gateway in the region. We are honoured to be their partner and look forward to working with them in the future.” – Stevie Heong, Managing Director, PKF Avant Edge
Kok Long and his co-founders realised the opportunities that could come out of partnerships with multinational corporations like Fujifilm, and used the rest of the year as
a testing period. “We targeted 100 merchants and tested our systems with them to identify our flaws, understand the opportunities and the challenges, and figure out how we were going to manage these financial services. About a year later, we realised we were ready, and in 2006 we incorporated iPay88.”
These days, iPay88 is the largest payment company in Malaysia, taking a decent slice of the market share. Kok Long seems entirely at ease when considering how his company will maintain this position and continue to stay ahead of the curve, a result of the attitude to technology he and his co-founders hold. “You can take either a bright or a dark view of technology,” he says. “On the bright side, technology is continuing to evolve.” He adds that he and the two other co-founders of iPay88 talk nothing but payment and mobile technologies.
“Technology evolves so fast that if you have no passion for it, you will get left behind and totally lost in the technology space,” he says. The company is committed to carrying out research and development in mobile commerce, or mcommerce, a rapidly growing technology platform branching from ecommerce, and to thinking outside the box when it comes to developing new products.
A strong presence in South Asia is necessary for the continued success of the company. With a presence in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Bangladesh and Singapore, iPay88 is considering commencing operations in Myanmar and Laos in the future. As Kok Long explains, “A payment gateway is an ecosystem, like a telecommunications network. Payments have become borderless thanks to the rise of the internet, and the ecosystem is being built through partnerships in certain strategic markets.”
“You can take either a bright or a dark view of technology. On the bright side, technology is continuing to evolve.”
Kok Long has reached a point in his career where he is ready to start giving back to his community. He places a high value on education. The company has founded an educational institute, the iPay88 Academy, which offers learning, training and internship programs designed to help small businesses, students, the company’s own employees, and the merchants it partners with.
The academy does not charge for its courses. “When you want to educate people,” Kok Long says, “you don’t ask people to pay you to share your knowledge. The old masters always shared 100% of what they knew, and in return asked for nothing. I see many big companies not doing enough. We are not yet a big conglomerate, but we are on our way; giving back to society along the way is, to me, an incredibly important message.”