Ping of All Trades

06 June 2016

From TV to hostels, Ng Ping Ho’s career has diverged many paths. We get to know this multi-talented entrepreneur better.

Born in 1973, Ng Ping Ho has made a name for himself in the Malaysian creative industry as an award-winning screenwriter, producer and filmmaker. Among his most popular work are the hit Malaysian English-language comedy Kopitiam, Reality, Table For Two and, of course, the highly successful corporate world-inspired TV series, The Firm. He is also one-half of the founders of Popiah Pictures, a venture he brought to life with fellow producer Anne Low. After finding success in the local film industry, Ng Ping Ho adds another, albeit unusual, feather in his cap – hospitality and F&B.

The idea of BackHome Hostel, a premium budget-hostel came from Ping Ho’s fascination with a character from the famous Town Boy graphic novel featuring the quintessentially Malaysian character, Lat. In the book, Lat’s best friend was a Chinese kid whose family ran a kopitiam, and lived above it. The fascination from the character eventually became the backbone idea of BackHome Hostel, but it was Ping Ho’s trip to Mongolia that really got the idea for the hostel to grow. After travelling through Mongolia’s wide landscapes and hills, Ping Ho came across a cottage that contrasted the surroundings. The idea of a stranger in an even stranger land, finding something that felt so close to home, really inspired him.

When asked about his decision to depart from the film industry, Ping Ho laments, “Before BackHome, I wrote and directed TV shows. I was getting exhausted from the long hours and pressure of the work.  But it was also a case where I wasn’t managing my work and priorities well, and that made my team frustrated with me. After a while, the way I was working wasn’t sustainable – both for myself or my team. Anne Low and I started BackHome as a side project – but didn’t think that it would do so well. When it did, we decided that we would take some time to re-evaluate and see what we wanted to do. I decided that after a year, I really did not miss the TV industry so much, and decided to move on. In contrast, Anne decided that she really belongs in the TV and movie industry, and is still producing.”

BackHome did really well in the beginning, with backpackers loving the new building, fantastic service and good location. After two years however, the revenue gradually dropped, courtesy of the surrounding competition. Instead of competing with the other hostels, Ping Ho decided to rebrand BackHome into a premium hostel by charging more, but adding value to the price, which included better sheets, a more delicious breakfast and of course, the most important of all, better WiFi. He made sure that BackHome was not just another hostel by offering customers a guarantee of personal attention to ensure that their stay is beyond just satisfactory. Should the guests feel the stay was unsatisfactory, a free night is on the establishment with no questions asked.

Working with a team that made effort into making people happy inspired Ping Ho to dive into the F&B industry, which spawned LOKL. So, besides being a successful screenwriter, filmmaker, producer and running a hostel full-time, he decided to add running a cafe to his impressive resume. “After working in TV, I started thinking about what else I had always dreamt about doing. One of my dreams was to run a café.  When I opened the café, I wanted an in-house space for the guests to have food they miss, like sourdough bread or scrambled eggs – just stuff that wasn’t noodles and rice that backpackers to Southeast Asia eat a lot of. I also wanted a neighbourhood space for the area, which there wasn't any at the time. But also food that would complement the heritage of the area. We’re one of the few cafes that are proud to serve Kopi O and Kopi Susu along with lattes and cappuccinos,” he says of LOKL café.

However, running a reputable hostel and café is not enough to keep his hands full as he’s currently working on two other boutique hotels that are set to launch in 2018 and 2021. With a two-year-old daughter and a newborn, Ng Ping Ho says that a lot of his future plans revolve around his kids and while he’d love to get into scriptwriting again, it’s very unlikely as scriptwriting is something that requires 100% of his focus and time. If given the chance, would he have done things differently? “I would’ve taken a step back and not sweat the details.” We think you’re doing just fine, Ping.

 

By Natasha Chan

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