As the driving force behind I Synergy Holdings Berhad and Affiliate Junction, Dato’ Lawrence Teo is a visionary, pioneering the affiliate marketing industry in Malaysia when e-commerce was still in infancy. In a recent interview with Top 10 of Malaysia, this remarkable visionary talks about his passion for success, what drives him to persevere, and how he sees affiliate marketing changing the landscape of the retail industry.
Long before Malaysians saw the potential of affiliate marketing, one man who did, created an industry taking the country by storm. That man is
Dato’ Lawrence Teo, founder of I Synergy Holdings Berhad and Affiliate Junction (AJ), an offline and online affiliate marketing network. “Simply put, affiliate marketing is a marketing solution that connects advertisers with consumers via affiliates or publishers,” says Teo. “It is cost effective, efficient and provides mutual beneﬁts to both the advertiser and the affiliate.”
A graduate in the electrical engineering field at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Teo is no stranger to hard work. From young, he worked in numerous part-time jobs as a night market vendor, cashier, sales assistant, and waiter among others, to earn pocket money and gain experience. Raised in a family of four, his father ran a nursery and mother was a teacher. Regrettably, the nursery was closed when Teo was only 15 years of age. Nevertheless, his parents’ tenacity and perseverance inspired him to push through any challenges he faced. “Ever since I could remember, I had a strong desire to improve my life in every way,” he recalls. He was fortunate to enter first year of university right after Form Five, and he graduated ahead of his peers at the early age of 21.
Upon his graduation, Teo worked as a mechanical engineer, and as a part-time insurance agent, to improve his earnings. “It was quite a feat juggling these two jobs. After my day job as an engineer, I would change from my uniform into a business attire at the petrol station before meeting my insurance clients,” he says with a smile. Within two years, he achieved his goal of earning a five-figure income before turning 40. Though a significant feat for a 25-year-old, he knew he was destined for more. “I view these careers as stepping stones from which I learned the value of persistence, a positive spirit, integrity and maintaining a good reputation. However, these careers lead to a linear growth as they still rely very much on your own time and effort,” he shares. “I wanted a business that can generate income while running on autopilot.”
Teo found it in the US where he met a successful entrepreneur earning a good income through a simple business model — affiliate marketing. “The concept was so new to me then and I immediately saw its potential. But when I brought it back to Malaysia, and established iSYNERGY with my core team members in 2008, we found that it was really tough,” he divulges. He explains that at the time, ecommerce was popular in the US. Naturally, affiliate marketing is an additional advertising channel for ecommerce merchants. “But in Malaysia, the ecommerce landscape was not matured at all,” he laments. As a result, he lost personal savings devoted to the business within two years, but not all is lost. Firstly, he was grateful to his committed team, comprising school and university mates, who stood by him despite not receiving salary for months at one point. Secondly, they managed to secure a foothold as the 50th flagship application in MyKad, which was a result of sheer persistence that saw Teo approaching various officers in JPN and MDEC for months. “To us, it was a breakthrough as we managed to combine the brick-and-mortar retailers with online merchants on our platform,” he reveals. This model works in Malaysia, and Southeast Asia, where a significant number of businesses still operate offline.
Now, all they needed was funds and Teo had to drive to Singapore to pitch to angel investors. “Strangely enough, they couldn’t see the value and potential of affiliate marketing business which is on the cusp of rapid adoption in Southeast Asia. I was even willing to offer 30% to 40% of the company for merely RM100,000 but there were no takers,” he says with amazement. Undaunted, he approached an insurance client for the loan. It was given and Affiliate Junction or AJ was launched in 2010. It soon gained traction and in December 2011, it attained the Pioneer Multimedia Super Corridor Malaysia Status, a recognition of iSYNERGY’s capability to develop and commercialise internet-based marketing.
Through AJ, merchants, retailers and advertisers are connected to the network’s affiliates, who can be incentivised for sales transactions or lead generation, depending on the predefined objective of respective affiliate programs. Affiliates then carry out the promotional activities through a range of online and offline solutions. MyKad Smart Shopper was the network’s ﬁrst offline retail affiliate program offering rewards to registered MyKad holders at participating outlets while rewarding affiliates on their successes. Affiliates who introduce merchants into the platform also earn incentives for successful transactions made via AJ platform. Currently, affiliates who wish to join AJ would need to pay an annual licensing fee to access a variety of valuable resources such as structural training and support systems.
Since 2010, iSYNERGY experienced a yearly growth of 35% and now has business centres all across the country. Additionally, it has garnered awards such as the Golden Eagle Award in 2013 and 2014 respectively, the ASEAN Most Recognised Brand Award 2010, Most Promising Award in Star Business Awards 2014, SME Innovation Excellence Award in SME Recognition Awards 2013, International Standard Quality Award 2012, and Asia Paciﬁc International Entrepreneur Excellence Award 2012, to list a few. His personal achievements are just as remarkable as he was named the Top Nominee for Emerging Entrepreneur Category of EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Malaysia Awards 2014, awarded the Master Class Entrepreneur of the Year in Global Leadership Awards 2014, Most Promising Entrepreneurship Award in Asia Pacific Entrepreneurship Awards 2013, and the Master Class Award for Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year at the ASEAN Outstanding Business Award 2013.
“I believe that when you do something and don’t gain the results you want, at the very least, you would have learned something,” says Teo who is a great believer in giving back to society, having been involved in a few charity projects himself. Moreover, he put his experience to good use. “I joined Capital, an angel investor network as an angel investor and advisory board member because of my passion to help other young entrepreneurs. I find it very meaningful and rewarding to nurture them, offer some ideas and invest in their ideas,” he says.
Moving forward, iSYNERGY will expand into Asia Pacific, and commence its operations in Indonesia by November or December. Additionally, iSYNERGY is to create a business presence in Australia where there are plans to expand its affiliate marketing network. Currently, the marketing arm of iSYNERGY is listed on the National Stock Exchange of Australia. Nevertheless, iSYNERGY is in the process of having all the different companies in the group consolidated under one roof for the listing on the main board, Australian Securities Exchange. “We are also embarking on Big Data Analytics and are in talks with an Australian technology company to offer real-time market intelligence data based on our database’s consumer behaviour to our merchants as an added value,” says Teo. “Today we have more than 2.2 million users and over 20,000 affiliates. By the end of next year, we aim to triple our number of users. With the wealth of information generated by these users, the merchants on our Affiliate Junction platform will definitely benefit immensely as they can tailor their advertising and promotion activities effectively.”