Having spent at least half of their lives working and studying in the US, Max Lee, Syaheedah Jes Izman, and Eong Tat Ooi finally decided it was time to return to Malaysia after coming to a realisation.
While working in New York, they met many successful Malaysians who weren’t keen on returning due to the lack of opportunities they saw, especially in the fintech and software scene.
“But we decided to come back because we believe we can create that opportunity for ourselves and for other fellow Malaysians as well,” Max shared in our interview.
With combined experiences in the finance and software engineering fields, they built a system called Pantas and launched it on May 31, 2021. It’s meant to help other businesses transact e-invoices, billing, and payments via a network effect.
What is Pantas?
On the surface, Pantas seemed like just any other cloud-based accounting software on the market, which isn’t lacking in Malaysia or globally. Here, we’ve got options like Financio and Bukku, which also offer e-invoicing functions, and have been around for a while now.
Pantas however, is a little different, as Max and Eong, who are the company’s CEO and CTO respectively, explained to me. They shared that most other companies, though claiming to provide e-invoices, simply create PDF documents that a user has to send over via emails or WhatsApp. A quick check of some other e-invoicing companies’ websites in Malaysia confirmed this.
With Pantas, the whole process is integrated into the system, offering an end-to-end invoicing, billing, and payment software.
Pantas’s end-to-end transacting system is not a new concept as such softwares exist in the West. But its founders shared that they’ve decided to launch the system here as they see it lacking in SEA.
“We see a lot of opportunity in SEA to provide similar services, and now our solution is tailored and localised to the Malaysian market or the SEA market,” they said.
Here’s how it works
To make it more digestible, we’ll use the terms Company A and Company B, or simply A and B.
Say A sends B an invoice, B will receive the invoice and accept it on their end. A will then be notified on the acknowledgement.
Then when it’s time for payment, Company B will be reminded of the due date by Pantas.
Once B pays, they can upload the receipt onto Pantas so that both parties can keep track of the transaction, which will be reflected in the software’s integrated accounting systems.
Hence, Pantas operates on a network effect, by which the value or utility a user derives from a good or service depends on the number of users using the products too. Think Facebook—it just doesn’t work as a social network if there aren’t enough users on it.
So for A to be able to bill, e-invoice, and pay in a way where all actions are reflected within Pantas, they would need all their clients and suppliers to use the same software.
What happens then if A’s supplier, let’s call them C, doesn’t want to use Pantas? Well, the straightforward answer is that A and C would just have to transact the manual way.
It’s where invoices are sent via email, and transactions have to be manually recorded onto the accounting systems. Some businesses don’t find this much of a hassle, but for those that do, Pantas offers users a more enhanced and quicker way to go about these processes.
Building a network of users
“The incentive here is that we offer Pantas for free, so it’s in our clients’ best interest to get all their other clients and suppliers on board too to help save time,” Max stated.
But I was still doubtful, as most accounting software companies charge a subscription fee for businesses to use the service. How then does Pantas monetise?
Max shared that the team is working on building a financing service in the backend, which will come with a fee.
By using Pantas, its algorithm will track a company’s invoicing, billing, and payment history. That will function as a proxy for a company’s cash inflow and outflow, which will help Pantas determine a business’s creditworthiness to provide them with financing such as loans.
The team imagines this feature to be a one-click financing solution for users, which will be how Pantas monetises.
Pantas’s main service will be free for life, and to ensure their clients of it, it partnered with MDEC, CEDAR (a subsidiary of SME bank), and SME Corp for attestation.
“They did their due diligence vetting us, it took several months to get approved because they needed to be absolutely sure that Pantas is helpful, and that it’s secure, and that it’s really free of charge,” Max shared.
Having such backing for their service has thus far been one of the ways Pantas was able to scale so quickly. To date, it has onboarded 723 users. If Pantas wants to grow its network at an even more rapid pace though, targeting corporations could be a good strategy.
Funding for time
Initially bootstrapped by the 3 founders, Pantas also closed a funding round upon its launch.
It was able to raise US$1.53 million, or about RM6 million, from venture capitalists (VCs), private equity and hedge fund investors in New York and Europe. Max disclosed that 80% of this funding pool came from overseas, while the rest came from 2 companies in Malaysia (who are now also using Pantas).
On why they decided to seek funding so early into operations, Max and Eong pointed out that it’s so the company had time to build their financing system—the one that would be bringing in the revenue.
“We need time to build that up since there are regulators and banks involved,” Max said. “So the funding will give us the capital to support the business before we’re able to monetise.”
For now, Pantas will focus on developing its solutions with Malaysia as its base, but the co-founders aim to eventually expand the solution to the rest of the SEA market via countries like Indonesia and Thailand.