Dato’ Syed Haizam Jamalullail Of The Hive Southeast Asia On Finding The Next Malaysian Champion

Following a career in London working for a Sustainable Responsible Investment (SRI) fund, Dato’ Syed Haizam Jamalullail returned to Malaysia in 2012 to get married, and subsequently set up private equity and venture capital investment group Tuas Capital Partners together with a few partners. He now holds dual roles as Managing Partner in Tuas Capital Partners and also The Hive Southeast Asia, a Co-Creation and Seed fund management company. The latter has a fund size of between RM30million and RM50million ringgit, and is mandated by the Malaysian government to run as an early-stage venture capital fund with 50 per cent of investment by Penjana Kapital and the other 50 per cent from private investors.

To date, in the space of under three years, The Hive Southeast Asia has made 11 early stage investments and expects to be invested into 15 companies by the end of the fund investment period. One of the fund’s key mandates is to invest into tech-related Malaysian companies, to help drive the country into the fourth industrial revolution. Among the companies which have received funding include iMotorbike – a digital platform to help sell motorbikes, Pod – a financial planning app specifically targeted to help the underserved such as gig workers, and Thoughtfull that offers support for employee mental health and wellbeing. “I think Malaysians in particular may not be comfortable walking into a hospital for mental health support so Thoughtfull makes this support accessible to everyone,” Dato’ Syed Haizam points out. “The biggest success is that a lot of the companies have since revalued, and have had more investors come in at higher valuations which satisfies our other mandate that is financial returns for our investors.”

What are the key criteria that you look for in selecting companies to invest in?

As with most venture capital funds, we help the companies grow which we then sell or list – but because it is government-related with the involvement of Penjana Kapital under its Dana Penjana Nasional program, we have a specific mandate of only investing into Malaysian companies and specifically companies that will facilitate the nation’s journey into the digital age.

Is it difficult to find tech-related companies that match these criteria?

You’d be surprised – we have seen more than 700 companies since we started two and a half years ago – and out of that number, quite a few have impressive founders with solid business plans. The Malaysian government through the likes of Mavcap, Cradle, MDEC, the Securities Commission and of course Penjana Kapital has done a great job creating the right ecosystem for venture capital funds and start-ups. There is a lot of talent out there and a lot of companies – now it’s about creating that right capital structure and ecosystem for these companies to thrive. And once they can make it out of Malaysia, they can be regional champions.

Most valuable business lesson?

When we first started, we were operating in later-stage Private Equity and we realised we weren’t in the right space – we were going for growth-stage companies and belatedly realised that there were more exciting companies that we could help further up the investment cycle. You had talented founders in companies such as Jirnexu who operate RinggitPlus and also the guys in Money Match. Two early-stage companies at the time but household names now. So we told ourselves that a failure is not necessarily a failure because you always uncover new pockets of opportunities; since then we have invested into companies that could potentially be digital game changers for Malaysia. Every ‘mistake’ that you make gives you a pivot on an opportunity.

What does 2024 look like for you?

Last year was the first year we were properly out of the pandemic. So this year becomes a springboard to thrive. My wish is that the community will have the optimal opportunity to do so – perhaps with the benefit of political stability and taking into account external factors such as wars abating – if things remain stable, it will be a big bounce year.

Your idea of happiness?

Family time with the kids is my idea of happiness. I have three girls and a boy and he’s quite sporty, so weekends are for little league football. He’s also a car guy just like me, really into his machines and to share that passion and interest with the kids is rewarding.

Biggest inspiration?

My closest and biggest inspiration is my dad who has always carried himself as a gentleman. He was a corporate guy, an accountant and what he and my mom gave me was a platform to take risks. I had an education and when I returned to Malaysia, I had a choice of a 9 to 5 job or I could start a consultancy with a good university friend of mine. The second option was only possible because of my parents’ sacrifices.

Your most memorable drives?

I am privileged to be born into this car world because of my uncle, the Sultan of Selangor. In 2007, he participated in the Peking to Paris Rally with a 1940s Chevrolet. I was very lucky to be able to drive the Moscow to Paris leg, going through St. Petersburg and all the Baltic states in a 1940s Chevrolet Fangio Coupe vintage car without ABS, automatic gear shift or air-conditioning. There’s nothing like it. And in 2015, I did The Road to Mandalay Rally, taking 24 days to get from Singapore to Bagan in a 1958 Jaguar XK150.

How do you unplug?

If I’m stressed, I take the car out on Sunday mornings and just drive. I’m quite a traditionalist and prefer a manual transmission – that helps me disconnect from the stresses of the world. I had a, “stick-shift,” Audi TT before and at the moment I don’t currently have one, but I am saving up for a G87 BMW M2 with a manual gearbox, the perfect traditionalist M-car.

What song is in your head?

Somewhere Only We Know by Keane. It’s a piece from when I was at boarding school in the UK during the mid 90s. I think the reason it’s playing in my head is because I just turned 40 and the song resonates. In Islam, 40 is the age where one has the right balance between health and wisdom – most of the prophets gain their calling at that age so it’s like an epiphany of sorts.

Your favourite table in Kuala Lumpur?

I chanced upon the Eat and Cook guys in between the various Movement Control Orders (MCOs) and now Chefs Lee and Yongzhi have become friends. I was just mind-blown by how amazing and how young the team is with so much of their food sourced locally plus they’re really nice people. I’m trying to make it to their new place Bar Kar now but it’s always full!

The Hive Southeast Asia

Photography: Marcus Wong / MV Perspective

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