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Geogy Ross

Get To Know Kelvin Sim, Waze’s Country Manager For Malaysia

I don’t think I’ll survive the zombie apocalypse but I know some places in KL/PJ where you can find legit Sarawak Laksa

Hey there, Kelvin. Welcome to Marketing In Asia. Kelvin, can you share a bit about yourself and passion?  

So I’m going to flat out admit that I’ve turned 40. And I’m okay admitting this because there’s something about turning 40 and realising what’s truly important when it comes to answering this question.

I really like fried chicken. At the time of this Q&A, the country is under the Movement Control Order and it has occurred to me how much we’ve taken for granted the humble fried chicken – when done right, it is the stuff of world peace. I’m not saying it’s my passion, as in I’m not going to retire and open a fried chicken stand, but I want to use this opening question to convey my appreciation to all whose duty is to fry chicken.

With that aside, I’m a father of two. I play badminton on weekends. I have no pets. I was born in Kuching, grew up in KL. I don’t think I’ll survive the zombie apocalypse but I know some places in KL/PJ where you can find legit Sarawak Laksa.

Formerly, you were in Astro Radio. What was your journey like since then to get to where you are today?  

My radio days taught me a lot about evolving alongside and anticipating trends. You quickly learn about what people liked and didn’t – what’s the flavour of today can suddenly become passé tomorrow. So that always made me appreciate the need to be adaptive and to always be glued to the ground on what’s happening now, what’s going to happen next.

I left radio after nine years and took a leap into finance. It was a steep learning curve but very rewarding nonetheless. This time it wasn’t about what people liked, it was about what people cared about – and you’re not appealing to their needs, but you’re learning about their future. So that was interesting even for my own personal growth.

After banking, I ventured into the telco sector. By now, my learning wasn’t so much about the industry. Here is where it got really interesting. It was the inflection point of where we are as a society today – hyper connectivity and the endless possibilities of whatever your imagination permits it to be. Looking back, it’s really amazing to see how technology has unfolded and how our society, human behaviour, interactivity, economics, ethics have shaped up because of accessibility and affordability of technology.

That piqued my curiosity even more, and that’s what brought me to Waze.

As Waze’s Country Manager for Malaysia, your focus is on growing the business, establishing local partnerships to improve the driving experience for all Malaysians and promoting community engagement to address transportation challenges. For those of us who are curious to know the details, walk us more on this, Kelvin.

If you do a simple search, you’ll find many reports that tell you the average time people spend commuting and being stuck in traffic. Basically it’s a lot of years, compounded. In Malaysia, Waze has 6.3 million monthly active users. Now imagine their collective time spent on the road and how much productivity is lost due to inefficient commute and travel management.

So for very many people, Waze is a navigation tool – I turn on Waze, it tells me the most efficient route to get from point A to B. But for us, Waze solves a very common human problem – how to get more out of 24 hours. We’re solving a problem with navigation technology. This enables us to ‘give time back’ to everyday drivers so they can get to and do more of what’s important to them.

Our business is only as strong as the community that powers the tool. This means that as long as Malaysians continue to share road insights, there will always be opportunities for Waze as an app to evolve and anticipate Malaysian drivers’ needs.

Suffice it to say, what I’m really interested in is the continuous engagement with this Malaysian community of everyday drivers, which also consists of Waze Map Editors. Malaysia’s Map Editors are one of the world’s most active bunch, featuring some 300 volunteers who proactively contribute their time, skills and effort to share road insights and update Waze maps so that Malaysians can have the best possible driving experience with Waze.

It is because we have such a strong community base that I’m always on the lookout for partnerships that share the same values as Waze in solving this shared problem of better time management on the road. To give you an example, it is a well-known problem in Malaysia that we lose Internet connectivity when driving through tunnels. This is an area which Waze has always wanted to address, and recently, we partnered with TRX to introduce devices called Waze Beacons, which enable continuous connectivity throughout their underground roads. It’s the first of its kind in Southeast Asia. We’re not stopping there – we’ll be sharing more via an official announcement so stay tuned! 

Waze has introduced a new feature of toll prices for drivers in Malaysia where it enable users to view and compare toll prices when they are driving along tolled routes. With this new development, what more can the users expect from Waze? 

Yes, we were really pleased to rollout this new feature in November last year, for Malaysian drivers for two reasons.

First, we recognise that for Malaysians, trip expenses are part of journey management. Of course it makes us very happy to be able to give them a solution that can ease their planning and their pockets.

Second, I go back to the community that made this hyperlocal feature possible. I’d like to give a special shoutout to the six volunteers from the Malaysian Waze community who played a very big part in this latest feature for Waze namely: Kadyus, Kweeheng, Rickylo103, EpailXi, Izuaniz and Lutfi_bihar – if you’re reading this, thank you.

Our Malaysian Wazers were the ones who collected toll price information, directly helping other Malaysian Waze users not just to get more time out of their day with better travel management, but also to optimise their trip expenses. It takes a true-blue Malaysian to fully understand why these two factors are important to daily lives and this really shows that Waze is truly people-powered and community-driven.

There will always be more developments coming our way but one thing remains consistent – what you can expect from us is the constant and consistent delivery of solutions that are valuable to everyday Malaysian drivers. So stay tuned to more coming your way soon.

Today we live in a generation where technology is always evolving. How do you and Waze ensure to continuously stay creative and innovative, Kelvin?  

By now it should be clear that the community is really the source of our creativity and innovation. We look at how users interact with each other on Waze and we’re always taking feedback from our map editors. Even through daily conversations with family, friends, and peers, it reveals so much about the Malaysian psyche – driver or otherwise.

One of my favorite examples of problem solving by Malaysian Wazers is the well-documented  2016 project which Waze undertook together with the Selangor Government through their Smart Selangor Delivery Unit (SSDU). We all dislike driving through potholes, so it was great to see Malaysians swiftly learn how Waze can efficiently help them mark all the potholes in Selangor, and promptly too. This project helped the SSDU to mobilise pothole-patching-up operations across four state agencies. A nice upside to this was also our ability to identify flood-prone areas so that the Selangor Government could better prevent flooding risks. 

Last October, Waze rolled out a global initiative called Waze for Cities Data. It is a program available on the Google Cloud platform for ready analysis, allowing partners to seamlessly access Waze for Cities traffic data, to review and analyse transportation patterns, and create visualisations using Google Cloud tools. So we invite any public agency that is eligible to apply for the program by clicking “Apply Now” on the Waze for Cities homepage.

My team and I are exploring ways in which we can bring this alive for our partners and we’re eager to champion more positive changes – much like what we’ve done with the local government, and even big household brands like UMobile – that will enrich Malaysians’ daily lives further.

Marketing or branding, Kelvin – why? 

People want to trust that you’re really who you say you are, and what you say you do, and how well you deliver on your promises of meeting their needs. That inherent trust forms your reputation – the one that all your marketing, branding, public relations, and advertising goes to building and upholding.  

As a father of two, I can tell you it’s difficult to pick a favourite child. But what I do recognise is the season of growth for each is different. Bringing it back to the perennial question – ‘Marketing or Branding, and why?’ I hope we can see it merely as two available channels for investment that are not mutually exclusive, or that one is more superior to the other.

I’d like to think that in our efforts to justify Marketing or Branding spend, we shouldn’t lose sight of what either channels ultimately contribute to – reputation. What is your company’s raison d’etre and why should you be trusted? Once we understand this North Star, how dollars are proportionately distributed between Marketing or Branding becomes a moot point, really.

When we talk about the future of brands and branding, personally, how do you think marketing will play its role compared to the past?

Today’s world has forced many of us to throw conventions out the window and reset our understanding. One minute major companies are doing away with CMOs, the next reinstating them again. Everyone is ‘woke’ these days; throw in socio-political uncertainties, a global pandemic, and economic volatility and you have a perfect storm that upends our past understanding of what appeals to the end-user and how they interact with your brand or at all. 

As marketers today, I truly believe it’s in our DNA to safeguard a brand and company’s reputation. We need to create sincere experiences and genuine relationships with our consumers. Global markets are tightening their belts, consumer indices are dipping or plateauing at best – so here we are – Movement Control Order, low oil prices, unfavorable forex, and a global pandemic. What brands do you trust? Are brands really who they say they are? Are they delivering on their promises in meeting your needs? Marketers today need to market to ourselves first. The dollar you earn for your company tomorrow has a direct correlation to its reputation today.

For those who wish to get in touch with you, what is the best way? 

Email always works with connectivity on the go. It’s kelvinsim@waze.com.

Anything you wish to share with our readers, Kelvin?  

We are living in very uncertain times. Community has never been more important than it is today.

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Geogy Ross is a content creator at Marketing In Asia. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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