Founder and CEO - ServisHero.
A “self-described geek” from an early age, Karl Loo has fond memories of becoming a hero amongst his school friends when he became the first person in his class with internet access at home.
It was 1995 and the internet revolution was just booting up, though for a budding eleven year old tech entrepreneur it was the start of a connection with technology that would later be responsible for significantly altering his intended career path.
Not that he knew it at the time, having already told his parents that he planned to become a lawyer. But there was something about those computers that had already captured his attention. Enrolling in a conjoint LLB/BCom in information systems Karl freely admits that he didn’t do as well in his law papers as had expected.
“Whilst I excelled in my BCom courses with ease, law school was challenging for me. However, my legal education reshaped my ability to think critically and negotiate convincingly – skills which became foundational to my later business building.”
Initially deciding not to pursue his earlier intention of joining a law firm, Karl opted instead to take up a graduate position offered by TelstraClear (since acquired by Vodafone) and was immediately assigned to the legal team.
Eventually joining Simpson Grierson 18 months later, as part of their technology law practice, provided an opportunity to indulge a growing passion for technology.
“Suddenly I was being exposed to people building tech companies. This was a whole new world seeing how they were operating and I quickly realised that I didn’t want to be a lawyer anymore; I wanted to join them.”
Resigning his position and booking a one way fare to China, much to the disappointment of the partner he reported to, it wasn’t long before Karl found himself back in the classroom taking a full time course in Mandarin.
“I wanted to understand a part of my culture and my roots which to that point I had never explored previously. My parents only spoke to us in English at home and I felt there was this other side to me which to that point had remained dormant.”
As it turned out, the course provided another unexpected benefit.
“The others students in my class as well as the people I came to meet in Shanghai, came from a range of professional backgrounds which provided this instant network for me. Included in the class was an executive from Groupon, which at the time had less than 20 people in China. I decided to join them, rising to Regional Director and overseeing a company that grew to 3,000 employees in China. Watching that business grow and expand completely changed my perspective on how you could scale a start-up.”
As a result of the Groupon connection a new opportunity emerged to move to South Africa to be part of an online furniture start-up that would eventually become one of the largest e-commerce companies in Africa.
“I told them I could spare a couple of weeks before starting an MBA I had planned. My two week stay eventually turned into two years. The business was acquired at a substantial premium and part of the sales agreement included paying for my MBA at Oxford so things worked out very nicely in the end.
Completing the MBA and after a short stint working in Silicon Valley opportunity beckoned once again; this time in Karl’s country of birth, Malaysia.
“I emigrated to NZ with my parents when I was three, but here I was reconnecting with my roots and hoping that my next roll of the dice would continue my run of good luck.”
It didn’t take long for that next opportunity to emerge. Finding the air conditioning in his apartment not working and having no luck searching for a service provider online, a quick call to a relative elicited the unlikely suggestion of finding a nearby tree or lamppost which would contain a range of flyers advertising the services of multiple repairmen available for hire.
Sure enough, the nearest tree on the street was covered in flyers. But this was 2015! How could a region of the world (Southeast Asia), that had advanced internet infrastructure and 3.8 million new users coming online each month be so backward in its approach to making online services available to consumers?
Quickly spotting an opportunity, and calling a few of his former MBA class with offers to join him, Karl launched ServisHero an easily accessible mobile app that allows people to quickly and easily find the services they needed as well as being able to rate each provider.
“It took a while. When we first developed the app people didn’t understand the concept of what it did or how it worked. Apps were few and far between in Malaysia, though WhatsApp was widely used, so we simply pointed out that ServisHero was just like WhatsApp – it created a whole new way of finding services online that previously you found on trees and lampposts.”
It didn’t take long for the business to quickly gain a large following and today ServisHero has offices in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand and is operational in five cities across the region processing thousands of quotations from its large pool of service providers.
“Being able to make a real impact in the lives of so many people where your family roots are based is incredibly satisfying.”
And all because of a broken air conditioner and a good idea. You have to wonder what could possibly be next.