Future Shapers: Pandan Social’s Daniel Woodroof on Building Client Trust In An Oversaturated Market

The Co-Founder of Pandan Social explains why culture is a top priority at the digital marketing agency.

Daniel Woodroof

Daniel Woodroof’s Mont Kiara office was empty when we visited one early December Monday.

The small space which houses Pandan Social – Woodroof’s digital marketing consultancy – looks more like a college study room than a thriving agency. With rows of desks set in an open concept, it’s impossible to distinguish which is his from his staff’s if it was not for the fact that his desk was wrapped with wrapping paper.

“It was a gag for my birthday,” the 27-year-old explained. 

“They all surprised me by coming to work dressed as me, with the linen shirt and all.”

A familiar face on television, Daniel Woodroof is also a former racing driver with experience being behind the steering wheels of formula racing cars. It is still something very close to his heart.

Asked how a racer and TV host ended up setting up a digital marketing agency, Woodroof said that it all happened “very accidentally”.

Working for a project in the US several years ago, he said he was made the de facto person in charge of social media by the merit of his youth which felt natural at the start. However, after having to fly back and forth between Malaysia and the US every couple of months for two years, the work started to take a toll on him.

“I told them: give me the budget of one American staff member, and I’ll get you a team of people in Malaysia. So, I used that money to hire the first few hires,” Woodroof said.

While it is a cliché that it is cheaper to hire Asians compared to people in the West, Woodroof said that it was just half of the equation, saying Malaysians are some of the most skilled labour force in this region, not far behind neighbouring Singapore which costs thrice as expensive.

Daniel Woodroof

Pandan Social Co-Founders Brandon Lee and Daniel Woodroof. Image via @danielwoodroof

Alongside his best friends from his racing days Brandon Lee, Pandan Social emerged into the scene in 2018 and has now grown into a thriving business that employs over a dozen employees.

Named after the ubiquitous ingredient in Asian dishes across the region, it hints at a broader appeal instead of just focusing on Malaysia. Plus, Woodroof said, it is a name that is easily pronounceable by people in the West.

“So you’ve got everything you need for success,” he said.

Success however doesn’t come easy even when you have all your pieces set right, especially in a tough, competitive and saturated market like digital marketing consultancy.

According to Woodroof, the same cost benefit that allows for businesses to sprout in Malaysia can also drag it down as everyone competes on who can offer more for less.

“We tried to play that game of cost leadership, trying to be the cheapest one in the room. It doesn’t work,” he said.

With everyone with an iPhone and knows how to use Canva self-proclaiming to be experts, it is only a race to the bottom.

What sets Pandan Social aside – other than that peculiar name – is Woodroof’s emphasis on versatility in being a one-stop solution for the client’s need which is the platform through which they build a strong relationship with clients which ultimately gave his small team an equal footing with some of the largest agencies in Southeast Asia over the years.

“Relationships are super important,” he stressed. “It mirrors the level of service that we are able to provide and that’s why people go with us.”

Daniel Woodroof

The testament to his success is the recent acquisition of the five-year-old Pandan Social by the award-winning PR agency Ruder Finn in October.

Through the acquisition, Woodroof is adamant about keeping the culture, work ethics, and trust that they have built over the years intact into future growth now that the company has access to a larger network and opportunities to tackle more projects.

Key to this is hiring, something Woodroof continues to do himself – alongside his partner Lee.

“We don’t let that part of the company get outsourced to anybody else,” he said, adding that Pandan Social’s vibrant culture is one of the important things Ruder Finn saw in them.

In cultivating and maintaining this culture, Woodroof said that it means that if anyone is even “mildly toxic” or does not pull their weight and contribute to the environment, it is an immediate dealbreaker.

“Culture is the number one thing for us,” he stressed.

This emphasis on culture appears to be working very well, so much so as having people repeatedly coming for an internship at Pandan Social and former employees kept coming for lunch and drinks even after they had left the company.

“Just not today,” he said. “Everyone works from home on Mondays.”

Pandan Social

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