Azran Osman-Rani is currently the founder of Naluri Hidup, a digital health technology company providing a cost-effective, accessible digital solution to provide mental health and wellness support, and help users adopt healthier lifestyle behaviour changes.
“We want to solve this through embedding artificial intelligence tools”
You are renowned for creating and leading “challenger brands” which bring change to their industry unconventionally. AirAsia X and now iflix Malaysia have both been successful challenger brands – is there a commonality between the two brands that has led to their success?
There are definitely common themes across these two companies, as well as the current startups that I am building or investing in, such as Naluri and MoneyMatch.
The first theme is that they are focused on the mass-market consumer segment, within emerging markets, and in particular, Southeast Asia. This requires reimagining the respective business models and industry dynamics from the lens of this under-served consumer segment, which has not been the priority of large existing incumbents. We specifically look for new ways to deliver a service at a simpler and lower cost by going back to first principles without legacy systems and processes.
Secondly, we use technology, and specifically digital technology, to deliver personalised services and targeted marketing. The traditional strategy segment is that you either win by being the lowest-cost commodity provider, or the highest service quality premium brand. With technology, we found ways to be both the lowest unit cost operator but offering a personalised service delivery that delights consumers more than existing incumbents.
Finally, the brands were accelerated through strategic partnerships. If we had built the brands organically, it would have taken a much longer time to get traction across multiple markets. Instead, we found partners that gave us instant access to a large following or existing customer base, whether it was global sponsorships in Premier League football or Formula 1 racing, or through our telecommunications partners for iflix. We earned their trust by coming up with unique ways that we added value to their customers.
What would you say is the most important tactic a large scale corporation can learn from the startup mind-set?
If I had to pick only one, it would be to revamp the evaluation of new investments, projects or initiatives. Many corporations spend a lot of time trying to craft the perfect business plan, with detailed financial and operational forecasts and scenarios, risk mitigation plans, and business continuity plans. In today’s dynamic and volatile environment however, it is impossible to predict what will happen around the corner, and too much planning can lead to missed opportunities.
Instead, corporations should have an early-stage venture capitalist mindset when they invest in startups. They invest less on the business plan, but much more on the founding team and their ability to be creative and resilient in order to adapt to any unplanned circumstances that are bound to crop up within months of the new venture’s launch. Corporations should think about how they build a steady pipeline of top entrepreneurial talent within their workforce who can build and lead new ventures and make faster decisions with business plan evaluations. And make sure that the executives who lead new projects have real skin-in-the-game, including downside exposure if the project fails.
This requires larger corporations to deploy agile management practices that create a faster cadence, rapid design and prototyping, and build a strong sense of curiosity and learning through frequent “retrospective” sessions every sprint cycle.
What is the most critical piece of advice you would give to young entrepreneurs?
Don’t fall in love with your business model or product idea. Expect that to change through constant iteration. What matters is that you fall in love with the problem you’re trying to solve. You need to be obsessed with the pain points that your target consumers are experiencing today and use that to focus your efforts to create new products and services that will address those problems in ways that others are not able to.
Can you tell us about the latest company you have founded, Naluri Hidup?
Naluri started off as a digital platform to offer health psychology services to those at risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity, to coach them how to make lifestyle changes that will last. Many people want to become healthier and they know what they need to do, but most fail – not because of lack of knowledge, but because of mental resilience factors such as self-esteem, stress and anxiety, and inability to cope with conflicting demands in their lives.
While there are other models tackling them, lifestyle changes require a deep understanding of local language and culture. We also cannot just be a marketplace that connects healthcare professionals to users who need help, because there is a dramatic supply shortage in Asia. We want to solve this through embedding artificial intelligence tools to increase the productivity of psychologists and allied health professionals by between10 to 20 times.
Finally, we see a big problem within the current healthcare delivery model which is siloed and not patient-centric . Doctors, dietitians, psychologists, fitness coaches, pharmacists are providing advice based on the lens of their own disciplines. We want to develop tools so that the health and lifestyle care is coordinated and holistic across the different disciplines.
What is your favourite thing about your job?
I relish the opportunity to tackle hard, protracted and persistent problems in industries that exist because incumbents are not consumercentric. In particular, they tend to neglect the unique needs of the massmarket consumer.
I love imagining new potential solutions to these problems and building them out quickly to test and refine. I’m most proud of building the teams that do this so that they can keep being innovative leaders long after I have left.
What are your hopes for the future of Asian business?
The best way to illustrate my aspiration is to use the example of how Grab, a ride-sharing platform started in Malaysia and now a dominant Southeast Asian unicorn, beat Uber and caused them to leave the region.
This requires us to nurture entrepreneurial leaders who think as winners and not followers, who may not be the very first to come up with a business idea, but who are the best at customising it for the three billion Asian population, and who can successfully build scalable organisations across multiple countries, languages, and cultures.
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