Self-made tech millionaire’s unique story

Billionaire Gan has a keen eye on Malaysia’s startup landscape and sees the country strategically positioned at the heart of Asia.


File photo of Douglas Gan, the Co-Founder and Executive Director at ASEAN Fintech Group Ltd. PHOTO: THE STAR

September 11, 2023

KUALA LUMPUR – IN the fast-paced realm of technology and entrepreneurship, Douglas Gan has emerged as a self-made tech millionaire with a unique journey. Beyond his entrepreneurial success, he holds a deep fascination with Malaysia’s burgeoning startup landscape.

In an interview with StarBizWeek, the technopreneur who is currently the group chief executive officer of, a mobile app to discover unique experiences at food and beverage (F&B) merchants in Malaysia, shares his views on the country’s startup ecosystem, revealing its distinctive strengths.

Despite being a Singaporean, Gan says he has a keen eye on Malaysia’s startup landscape. He attributes this to the market’s cost advantages, a burgeoning local presence, robust business-to-business (B2B) prospects, cultural and linguistic advantageous, regional expansion potential, and a comparatively less competitive environment.

Gan sees Malaysia as strategically positioned at the heart of Asia. Its central location enables quick access to markets both north and south, making it a natural choice for startups and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) looking to expand regionally.

Malaysia’s multi-racial and multi-language talent pool serves as a valuable asset, catering to diverse markets across Asia and even India, he says.

“With a population of over 3.5 million foreigners, startups can tap into a rich pool of global talent with diverse languages and cultures,” he stresses.

As to the potential challenges that startups might face in the Malaysian ecosystem, he says brick-and-mortar startups should have an easier time finding investors than tech startups.

When speaking to investors in Malaysia, Gan says they remind him of the dotcom days. In terms of investment discernment, he says: “Startups in Malaysia might experience a cautious stance among investors when it comes to embracing substantial risks associated with tech startups, particularly those that allocate a significant portion of funds towards technology and market development expenses.”

Gan’s entrepreneurial voyage started in 1997 when, at the age of 14, he embarked on a career as a programmer. At the time when the Internet was still in its infancy, he made his mark by earning his first million dollars at the tender age of 23.

His pioneering work in hosting services, which foreshadowed today’s cloud computing, set the stage for his remarkable journey. Over the years, he ventured into various tech sectors, founding, co-founding, or investing in over 10 tech companies, ranging from gaming to eCommerce and beyond.

Gan’s path was not without hurdles. His youthful appearance posed an initial challenge, making it difficult to convince clients of his technical expertise.

“I had to overcome my boyish youthful looks. When I was 14, I looked like I was 10-years old, and it was super hard to convince anyone to buy my tech services. But I was lucky as most people did not understand tech in 1997, so I had an easy time not meeting anyone.

“But by 2000 when the dotcom bubble burst, I had a huge challenge to get people to sign up for my hosting services. So I turned to be a ‘white’ or ethical hacker and helped organisations beef up their security.

“And to further supplement my income, I went door to door asking people to buy my hosting services as it could help their business.

“My youthful looks caused a problem as most did not believe in a young kid. But an old uncle from the precision engineering industry believed in me and ended up being a S$20,000 client from a S$150 ‘print-something’ client,” Gan says.

However, he persevered, proving his capabilities to clients who soon recognised his talent.

Throughout his career, he weathered the storm of the dotcom bubble burst, the impact of the 2003 SARS epidemic, and the challenges posed by the 2008 financial crisis.

“I started all my startups in Singapore during 1997-2012. By 2013, all the startups that I had started or invested in had diversified teams across Asia. By 2017, I started my eWallet, money exchange, money transfer startup in the Philippines, Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand simultaneously.”

Each obstacle, he says, fuelled his determination to adapt and diversify his ventures. “Recently, I have been working on a startup called YouApp to help people discover unique experiences and events.

“By that I mean it is a platform for people to discover and immerse in unique experiences in real life and network with like-minded individuals, and Malaysia is the clear launch-pad choice,” he adds.

He says YouApp has secured Malaysia Digital status from Malaysia Digital Economy Corp (MDEC), underscoring the significance of government support to spearhead the tech startup landscape.

Acknowledging the pivotal role played by MDEC in fostering an environment conducive to tech-based startups, he says the collaboration between government agencies, institutions and startups holds immense importance in shaping Malaysia’s tech landscape.

He anticipates the emergence of Web3 and blockchain technology as a significant opportunity in Malaysia. He notes a growing interest in these technologies among local businesses and predicts that Malaysia will be at the forefront of concepts like non-fungible token (NFT) memberships and reward tokens.

NFTs are unique cryptographic tokens that exist on a blockchain and cannot be replicated. His startup, YouApp, is actively exploring blockchain integration, leveraging on Gan’s extensive background in this field.

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