247 Job News Saifudin Hidayat: Malaysia’s Speedhome falls victim to SEA’s layoff bug

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Ahad, 10 Julai 2022

Malaysia’s Speedhome falls victim to SEA’s layoff bug

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Malaysia’s Speedhome falls victim to SEA’s layoff bug

Renting a home in Malaysia can be a tedious process. You’ll have to deal with an agent, whose primary goal is to earn a commission and not finding you a proper unit.

But before you can even do that, you first have to dodge the racism here. While our consitution prohibits discrimination on based on grounds including sex, religion, and race, we don’t have anti-discrimination laws per se. Malaysia had that chance in 2018 to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination but we didn’t.

So prepare yourself for questions like, “What is your race?” or “Which country are you from?” And you can bet that locals and foreigners will be treated differently. You can also count on the fact that not all locals are treated fairly, too.

I’m a mixed-race brown man, and yes, I have been on the receiving end of this treatment despite being Malaysian. Most of the time I have landed a unit because it’s my wife who does the negotiating - she is of a different ethnicity.

Let’s say you have earmarked a unit. The agent will then start to get pushy and rush you to sign a rental agreement and collect - here comes the best part - a so-called deposit that can amount to four months’ rent.

The deposit supposedly acts as some sort of “insurance” in case the tenant goes rogue, trashes the place, or worse, turns it into a crime den.

Of course, you have to sign a tenancy agreement. The terms will not be in your favor, save for the fact that in case the landlord breaches the agreement, they will return your deposit.

So in order to rent a space, you have to pay not only a deposit that protects landlords against your potential future bad behavior but also the legal fees for a lopsided tenancy contract.

Luckily, my landlords have been great and I’ve also been a good tenant. . But the entire process and the upfront cash can be stressful.

This is where Speedhome comes in. The company promises to do away with the middlemen and the hefty upfront deposits. It also offers insurance for landlords.

This sounds great, but tackling a systemic issue like the rental market can be perilous. Maybe that’s why the company is downsizing so it can better allocate resources.

It’s a sad story. If you drive by major highways in and around Kuala Lumpur, you’ll find huge digital billboards of Speedhome CEO Wong Whei Meng trumpeting perks and such. It was an entirely different picture when Wong took to LinkedIn on July 1 to announce that he is starting a talk show on Facebook where viewers can tip him.

Wong wrote that four years after putting up Speedhome, he is worth millions on paper. But “that’s just a facade; it doesn’t pay the bills.” The reality is, his family’s “savings are dwindling,” so they “started to set a strict daily meal budget.”

Somehow all that marketing spend, the seemingly pro-tenant perks as well as funding (it secured a Series A round last year) did not pay off.

What truly happened? I don’t know. For now, Malaysia has caught the layoff bug. But as I cover some of these stories, I ask myself, “Why did such a great idea like Speedhome, which could have benefited a lot of middle-income families, just couldn’t take off?”

-- Emmanuel Samarathisa, journalist at Tech in Asia

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