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Transitioning Your Business Into Malaysia

Transitioning Your Business Into Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur City

In A Nutshell

Locally successful start-up companies will eventually look towards regionally expanding their products and services to canvas a larger population of clients or users. If you find your company on the verge of breaking-out and you’re looking to cross the pond to graze greener pastures, you’ll be happy to know there are real benefits to tapping into neighbouring markets, especially ones adjacent to your locality.

Adjacent markets are not only more likely to behave similarly and share common characteristics, which means less changes needed to market and apply your products and services, they also share similar requirements, associate themselves to relevant ecosystems and grow similar communities. That familiarity ensures that you are more likely to hit the ground running and building traction early on.

There are exceptions to the rule when it comes to countries like Malaysia, which is a causeway crossing away from Singapore and one that shares (some loose) borders with Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines. The Malaysian Peninsula makes up the southern most tip of the Asia-Continental landmass separating much of Asia into two halves.

The common considerations for going regional typically cover understanding cultural affinities, legal and regulatory barriers not to mention existing political environment that can work for or against your business getting good footing and landing the jump. There are nuances that may set Malaysia apart from common knowledge (at least) that which you can glean about a country off the Internet. This article is based on actual assessments conducted by our team.

Cultural Essence

Malaysia is predominantly a conservative nation, build on the foundation of Islamic values and is a hodgepodge of multiple South-East Asian ethnic communities colouring everything from its colloquial speech, relationships to the spices used in authentic Malaysian food. Built into this conservatism is a taught practice of venerating elders and why our children are taught to greet adults especially non-familial ones: as uncle or aunty. It is a form of recognizing that individuals born from a prior generation could very well be our parent’s contemporaries.

This lends to natural esteem and regard for leadership and dignitaries, especially people of influence and business stakeholders. Being cognizant around knighthood honourifics (Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy) and addressing these individuals correctly is always a good first step. It is not necessary to educate yourself about how knighthood is awarded but being ignorant or callous towards this may lead to many closed doors. Some examples of common Malaysian knighthood honourifics are ‘Dato’, ‘Datuk’, ‘Dato Sri’ or ‘Tan Sri’. There’s a difference in the order of decoration but the details are not overtly important. Some may decline to be addressed by it, so take the necessary social cues. You are likely to find it mentioned on name-cards or if you hear someone else use the address, its typically safe to follow suit.

A Foreign Local

Its people pride on cultural familiarities of identity and the notion of belonging to grassroot communities can afford you a warmer embrace. If you speak a local dialect (as many Malaysians harken back to sub-ethnic groups) you naturally hit a soft-spot, short-circuiting social defences and lends you a listening ear. I gather this is a shared value internationally.

It may serve you well to work with a local intermediary that can navigate social cues if you find yourself somewhat culturally removed. Then again, Malaysia is not locked away in a time-capsule, adhering only to bygone era etiquette. Malaysians are self-aware of their conservative disposition, and many have contemporary world-views and can appreciate modern approaches.


Talent hunting becomes a major exercise when establishing remote offices and hiring to fill available roles internationally. The talent pool varies dramatically in terms of skills, availability, and culture. The general hiring process would not differ greatly, but adjustments will need to be made as it is a challenge find the best employees to hire cross-culturally, not to mention gauging management styles and conducting trainings. Having Business Development teams lay some foundation by pre-emptively hitting the ground and getting in-touch with key stakeholders be it local chapters of international business-related communities or relevant people-groups that can shed some light on local disposition.

Some Accelerators can be strategically positioned to assist you in finding suitable landing points. Many business accelerators work to establish large networks of contacts and can provide inroads to investors, sponsors and experts of which may land you a hire.

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