It was a Thursday evening, 25 March 2021, when the Carsome team were on the edge of their seats virtually (and some, in-person) cheering on our Co-founder and Group CEO, Eric Cheng, at the prestigious EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2020 Malaysia awards gala – he had been a Top Nominee for the Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year award.
As soon as the announcer said “Eric Cheng”, a slew of WhatsApp messages came through. “Eric won”, one WhatsApp message read, which led to a trail of ‘wow’s, party hat emojis and the likes. It was indeed a big deal in the industry itself, but it meant more to the Carsome team, and even more to Eric.
Having tried various ventures in the past, even admitting to some “shoddy” gigs, Eric has come a long way.
Here’s his story.
“I wanted to make money”
A college dropout and one nicknamed “David Copperfield” for his disappearing act in school, Eric had a dream of running his own business from the get-go with a simple goal – making money.
- Joining a multi-level marketing (MLM): Eager to find his way to success, Eric embarked on a long journey filled with trials and tribulations, even joining an MLM scheme for 10 months. “I dropped out of accounting in my second year of university before joining an MLM. I earned quite a bit of money there. I wanted to use that as capital to start my own business,” he said.
- His first taste of entrepreneurship: He began a household magazine delivered straight-to-mailbox, known as “Media Focus” in 2006. It operated as an ad network with an offline coupon system that roped in clients. However, the company later closed after pushing out three bi-weekly issues and exhausting all their initial capital.
- Entering the gaming world: Looking for a source of capital to start another business, Eric ventured into an unlikely path. “One of my friends told me about this game, World of Warcraft, where he earns RM1,000 every other day and it blew my mind. So I learned about gold-farming. It was super dodgy though,” he said. His gaming streak later came to a halt when the founding company of World of Warcraft, Blizzard Entertainment, lost a lawsuit and was forced to shut down operations immediately. “All my accounts were logged out and I lost all my money I earned on the game,” he said.
“I had to start all over again, it was tough”
Losing all his money after another failed attempt at starting a business, Eric found himself demotivated to try again.
- Crawling into isolation: Eric entered a dark mental state and began isolating himself in his room. “If I wanted to work in a company, I had to start from the very bottom. This was hard for me to accept. So I spent a few months locked in my room, and I hid my reality from my friends. They were graduates who had jobs and here I was, still trying to find something,” he said.
- Finding a job: In 2008, after spending a few months jumping from various part-time jobs, he joined an interactive online marketing company, Innity. “I had an ‘awakening’ when I became a Hennesy promoter. I couldn’t fork out anything to have a drink with friends and it was embarrassing for me. Many of my friends didn’t know my situation,” he said. He then spent eight years doing marketing and advertising campaigns at Innity.
- Discovering digital: In Innity, Eric was catapulted into the digital world in an era where the internet was just picking up. He moved up the ranks quickly from his initial position as a Sales Executive to becoming the Senior Account Manager. “It was the era where MySpace was big. Clients back then had to be educated on why going digital was beneficial for their business and brand. I spent a lot of time researching digital campaign tactics,” he remembered.
- Another try at entrepreneurship: It wasn’t long until his entrepreneurship traits kicked in once again and he set off to start his own advertising company with four friends, even gaining prominent clients such as Maxis. However, he quit after nine months by selling his shares to his then-partners. “I felt that this wouldn’t be sustainable. I wanted to build something that would have significant growth,” he said.
- Heading back to Innity: Struggling and out of ideas, he later met his former boss who offered him his old job at Innity. Eric took the offer and regained his working momentum, eventually becoming the Account Director. The money was good, but he was still itching to start his own business.
The headlight at the end of the tunnel: finding Carsome
After mulling on kick-starting another venture, he convinced his then-colleague, Teoh Jiun Ee, to start a new business together. This time, he decided to take a step-by-step approach, setting clear goals after learning from his past mistakes, and in 2015, Carsome was born.
The start of something awesome
Carsome began as a car comparison website and later thrived as the integrated car e-commerce platform we know today. The main strategy? Recognizing industry pain points and finding solutions to fix them.
“We started the business by creating a website with information on car specifications. We thought it was essential to provide consumers with a complete understanding of the car they want.
“But we noticed a lot of people asking us other questions, specifically when it comes to selling their car. We realized the pain points that people face in the market and that pushed us to deliver a solution on selling cars,” he said.
Finding the new way of selling & buying cars
Eric noticed a lot of distrust in the traditional ways of selling and buying used cars. In addition to that, the stigma around car dealers wasn’t that great either. He knew if Carsome could bridge this gap, the idea would work.
“We wanted to provide customer experiences instead of only information about the process itself. When it comes to the used car market, the process has always been very traditional. It’s funny how cars give you convenience but when it comes to selling or buying a car, it is far from convenient. I realized this was a problem that is marked by distrust within the industry itself,” he said.
Accelerating Carsome into the future
Fast forward to 2021, Eric is now leading an over 1000-strong team with operations in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore. He nurtures his leadership style through lessons learnt from his mentors and even takes on the same principles from Manchester United football legend, Alex Ferguson.
“I’m always learning. I start my days by reading the latest industry news and global events. I also watch a lot of football matches, and I have always been inspired by Alex Ferguson’s success in his time. It might be weird, but many of the principles he held and the way he managed the team have influenced me on how I manage the company,” he said.
Now crowned as EY Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year 2020, Eric is fueled more than ever to move forward with Carsome and his drive has proven fruitful. In the first quarter of 2021 alone, Eric and Carsome have garnered other accolades including:
- ranking 17th in the Top Growing Company by Nikkei Financial Times Statista High-Growth Companies Asia-Pacific 2021 – and the only Malaysian company in the Top 50;
- a joint win with co-founder Jiun Ee as SME & Entrepreneurs Business Awards’ Technopreneur of the Year; and
- recognized as Southeast Asia Disruptors in Boom21 by Wild Digital 2021.
Currently, the company transacts an annualized 100,000 cars totaling more than US$700 million in transacted value, but there are no limits to Carsome’s growth.
Together with his co-founder, there are many more ground-breaking strategic plans and country expansions in the works. These breakthroughs include a pledge to bring cutting-edge data application and technology to enrich the communities in which Carsome operates, while moving people forward in the new norm with holistic mobility solutions.
“He (Jiun Ee) is a Liverpool fan, so we shouldn’t be able to work well,” he joked, referencing the rivalry between the Manchester United and Liverpool football teams.
“But we work very well together. And after all these years, we are both still very passionate in what we do,” he said, excited for what’s to come for Carsome.