UBS launched The UBS Future of Finance Challenge, an open competition for entrepreneurs and technology startups around the world. UBS is looking for innovative and potentially disruptive technological ideas and solutions that will support the transformation of the banking industry. It is UBS’s aspiration to support the competition winners in their bid to commercialise and scale their ideas and technologies by leveraging on its significant global presence, deep expertise in global banking and eco-system of innovation partners. Rewards for the regional and global finalists include cash prizes and acceleration opportunities worth over USD $300,000 and over 300 hours of dedicated coaching and mentoring from UBS experts and partners.
As the financial industry faces disruption and rapid technology change, UBS seeks to further progress by searching for solutions to four challenges for banks going forward: delivering the ultimate client experience, offering superior products, building an efficient operating model and ensuring security in banking. By inviting entrepreneurs and startups to present their ideas, UBS also supports a more open and collaborative financial services industry.
The UBS Future of Finance Challenge will be delivered in collaboration with several of the leading Fintech crowd-working and accelerator spaces including Level39 and JFDI.Asia, as well as the innovation agency 100%Open. This collaborative approach offers commercial and technical expertise to the innovators participating in the competition, and provides them with access to the innovation pipeline of a leading global financial services firm at the same time.
SINGAPORE, 6 August, 2015 – Techventure 2015, the premier meeting place in Southeast Asia for global technopreneurs and investors, is focusing efforts this year on increasing deal flow between the two sides.
Themed “Start Here! – where global technopreneurs and investors meet”, Techventure matches innovation with an enterprising tech-centered culture, and is the place to start and grow a technology business.
Now into its 19th year, Techventure, which will be held from 21–22 September 2015at the Marina Bay Sands Singapore, has grown into a global technology event attracting participation from Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Norway, Philippines, Russia, Thailand, Taiwan, Turkey, United Kingdom and the United States.
Designed to match investors with startups, Techventure features one-to-one sessions between startups and investors and these interactions will be tracked for follow-up after the conference. Techventure has enjoyed strong support among startups in Singapore.
Techventure 2015 is expected to see more than 100 investors 1,000 visitors and delegates gathering together from all around the world. It will feature different areas of technology – engineering and manufacturing; biotech and medtech; infocomm and digital media; and environmental sustainability. It is a must-attend event for anyone in this space.
“There are global talents with in-depth knowledge of their domestic markets in Singapore. Our startups can tap into this pool of talent for growth and expansion overseas,” said Dr Mark Hon, Acting Chairman of the Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE).
To celebrate Singapore’s 50th year of independence, Techventure 2015 will host a special panel of Singaporean technopreneurs, startup founders and investors who have built successful tech startups and venture capital funds. They will be sharing their experiences in growing technology ideas into thriving and profitable businesses. In addition, as a prelude to Techventure 2015, National Research Foundation Singapore (NRF) and ACE jointly organised the inaugural Singapore Startup Challenge. 8 of Singapore’s best startups were selected for mentorship by ACE in preparation to compete against global winning teams at Techventure International Startup Challenge.
Technology entrepreneurs and start-ups looking for seed funding and resources to scale can register early for Techventure 2015 as early bird discounts end on 15 August 2015. A ticket for a conference delegate costs S$350. An exhibition booth costs S$500 which includes a conference ticket during the promotion period.
Anthony Chow, the founder of local startup Igloohome, shares the advantages Techventure brings: “I think this event benefits everyone because of the networks that you can foster as well as the ideas you can generate from hearing what other people are doing as startups.”
Singapore, 29 July 2015: Rakuten, Inc. announces the opening of Rakuten Institute of Technology in Singapore and Boston, joining the existing league of dedicated research and design centers in Tokyo, Paris and New York. To kick off, the Institute is hosting the Rakuten-Viki Global TV Recommender Challenge, a contest aimed at data scientists in the countries and regions of Asia with the goal of solving a problem utilizing the data of the global video streaming service provider and Rakuten Group company Viki. With the aim to grow and connect a community of data scientists to help and innovate consumer experiences and products, the Rakuten Institute of Technology in Singapore has also partnered with the Economic Development Board (EDB) on a Rakuten Data Science Training Programme.
We are half-way to the end of 2015! Without you knowing, this is the fourth episode of our Entrepreneur’s Insights! I have been receiving feedbacks from all around the world on my execution of interview. A mix of both good and bad. Luckily, the selection of entrepreneurs is generally well-received from the readers.
A common request from the ground is to do a video interview. I would certainly want to do that but as many of you might have known video production requires equipment and manpower which currently, I don’t have either. (That’s the sad part of running a one-man blog and thing doesn’t get better when you still have a day job! sigh).
If there is any kind soul with the production expertise and would like to “sponsor” his or her service, please feel free to drop me a note.
Helpling is a new entrant in Singapore’s market. Do you mind giving a short description of the company as well as how you land the job as a CEO of Helpling Singapore?
Ans: Helpling is an online platform that connects homeowners with part time cleaners. Leveraging on today’s technology, we believe that booking help for your home should be as easy as a few clicks. Gone will be the days where we have to trawl through newspaper advertisements or be vulnerable to the black market.
I was originally the founder of Spickify working on a similar business model, and we got acquired by Helpling earlier this year. This is how I landed the job as the CEO of Helpling Singapore team. With support and investments from our partners, I am able to confidently extend my outreach to more households in Singapore.
2.Technology sector is growing exponentially in Southeast Asia region. What is your view on Singapore positioned as a “Southeast Asia’s Silicon Valley”?
Ans: The tech scene in Singapore has definitely flourished over the years, but I am not quite sure if we are ready to call ourselves the Silicon Valley of Southeast Asia. Our Singapore government has been valiantly pushing ahead through infrastructural support and investment injection. But beyond this, entrepreneur spirit is the driving force and essence of the Silicon Valley we know today, something that cannot be achieved unilaterally from a policy push. The entrepreneurial community in Singapore is gathering strength, and perhaps one day we will achieve our own successes to create a name for ourselves.
3.There are other online business directories that offer more comprehensive and wider range of services. How is Helpling different from other online platforms?
Ans: Helpling in an on-demand cleaning platform which matches homeowners with reliable cleaners. It charges a flat rate of $20 per hour (min 2 hours per booking), and payment is only processed after the cleaning is done. The service doesn’t charge agency fees, nor does it require customers to purchase a ‘package’.
Helpling is also the only company in Singapore backed by a $1 million liability insurance for each and every job completed, adding to the advantages of using Helpling.
What are the challenges or opportunities for Helpling in the next 3 years?
Ans:Home services is one of the last industries to go online, and the market is warming up to us. This is an opportunity for us, especially as customers feel the pressure of increased costs in hiring a live-in foreign domestic helper due to tightening regulations.
A key challenge for us is scaling up our cleaner database. Cleaning is a tough job, and maybe even one that is frowned upon in Singapore. This is a social stigma we hope to eradicate. but meanwhile, expanding our team of dedicated, professional and tech-literate cleaners remains a challenge we have to overcome.
What is the expansion plan for Helpling in Southeast Asia ?
Ans: Singapore is the first city in Asia Helpling has launched in, and we have ambitious plans on what is to come. Upon establishing ourselves in Singapore, there are plenty of expansion options we are looking at, including widening our service offering and increasing our geographical presence.
What is your view on wearable technology? Do you see any unexplored market in this space for Helpling to fulfill?
Ans: In many sense, cleaning is still job that prides itself on good ol’ manual work to establish that personal touch that ultimately creates customer satisfaction. We have yet to see how wearable technology can be incorporated in our business, but we are definitely open to the idea as the technology matures. If there is anything the tech world has taught us, is that the possibilities are endless.
Is Helpling raising capital? If so, which funding stage the company is at right now?
Ans: We raised Series B in March 2015. In total we have raised USD 62 million (series A and B).
As an entrepreneur yourself, what are the attributes do you think an entrepreneur should possess?
Ans: One key attribution an entrepreneur should possess is conviction. Towards your vision, towards the work you do everyday, and towards the value you bring to society. We see ups and downs everyday. Without the ability to grit your teeth through the most difficult of situations, throwing in the towel becomes too easy an option.
An entrepreneur needs to have the ability to convince others of his/her vision too. There is no best person beside the founder of company to do this, and your ability to do this can well determine how far your company runs.
You are an seasoned entrepreneur. What advices will you give for our budding entrepreneurs or peoplewho want to start a business?
Ans: Well, I will not describe myself as “seasoned”. I am still on the learning curve finding my own way on many things. But if there are two lessons I have come to learnt:
(1) This is as much a journey of self-discovery as it is building something. Always ask questions, even of yourself. You do not know what you are capable or incapable of doing until you actually do it.
(2) It is a long journey, not a sprint, and often times a lonely one. Surround yourself with lots of support, whether it’s from friends, family, or associates you meet as you build your dream.
It is said that every entrepreneur has their own set of checklist while evaluating a venture. As an entrepreneur, do you mind sharing with us yours?
Ans: My two key criteria will be clarity of vision, and strength of management team.
““My boss is asking me to fly again! Where can I find a hotel in such a short notice?!”
I am sure we frequently hear this from our peers. Last minute hotel booking is never pleasant and hotels will tend to charge higher price than usual. HotelQuickly aims to provide travellers a quick, affordable and hassle-less hotel booking experience. The free app is available for downloads in all major mobile platforms such as iOS, Android and BlackBerry
This month Entreprenuer’s insights, we spoke to Mr Tomas Laboutka, Co-Founder of HotelQuickly. He will share about his view on the technology landscape in South East Asia as well as his journey as a serial entrepreneur.
Technology has changed radically in Asia for the past decades. What trends do you see in the near future especially in South East Asian markets.
The rise of messaging apps in Asia is a main trend happening with the South East Asian markets. Chat apps are becoming bigger than Facebook and Twitter in some countries and most are aggressively seeking to gain a market share within the South East Asian market. We can expect more promotions and expansion of their services in the coming nears as they shift from merely being chat apps to messaging platforms that are relied on daily. Over the last couple of years, we have seen how social commerce have scaled new heights in Asia. We saw WeChat introducing a payment service and flash sales into the market. Even Alibaba launched their own Chat app. You will be seeing more brands and even HotelQuickly jumping aboard sales opportunities within these messaging apps.
We’ve also seen how technology have evolved from being online to mobile and now to “wearable technology”, particularly smart watches.
Tourism and hotel bookings are competitive market and they are pretty much dominated by large corporations. As a startup, how did you formulate strategies to beat the big boys in the market.
At HotelQuickly, we believe that competition helps nurture a business. Competition is healthy and makes for a more colourful market. Having a competitive advantage and clear means of differentiating ourself in the industry is key to our success. We have clearly differentiated ourself by being a mobile only app that allows users to book 3*-5* hotel rooms at the last minute through its well-curated list of discounted hotels. Furthermore, our prices are on average 28% cheaper than the cheapest online. We provide a guarantee that you won’t be able to find anything cheaper online and if you actually do, we’ll refund double the amount!
What are the challenges and opportunities for HotelQuickly in the next 3 years?
We are currently operating in 15 countries across the Asia-Pacific region. The markets are strongly interconnected but customer knowledge is an important key in all these markets. In order to offer a superior product, we need to fully understand our customers well and the different culture we operate in. What works in Hong Kong may not work in Singapore.
We have yet to venture into the bigger markets like China, India and Japan. There is a large share of last minute spontaneous travellers who are also smartphone holders in these markets and we hope to capture them when we enter the markets.
Unlike many of your competitors, HotelQuickly is very focused on mobile users. With increasing adoption of wearable devices, mobile phones makers are rolling out smart bands and watches to complement their devices. Expedia has developed apps for Apple Watch. What are your views on this?
We recently launched the HotelQuickly App on the Apple Watch. 40% of our customers use iPhones for their last-minute bookings. By launching the HotelQuickly app for Apple Watch, we are continuing to innovate the mobile travel segment in Asia Pacific and we are taking the hotel booking experience to the next level.
The new app offers a “handoff” feature that allows users to continue on their phone’s app where they left off on the Apple Watch. Other features includes simplifies navigation and check-in, alerts and the ability to manage booking reference efficiently. We have to continually innovate and adapt ourselves to the needs and wants of the users. The end-goal for HotelQuickly is ultimately to deliver a “superior user experience”.
Is HotelQuickly raising capital? If so, which funding stage is the company at right now?
In August 2013, HotelQuickly secured HKD 9m (USD 1.15m) in angel funding. Prominent investors included Koh Boon Hwee, former Chairman of Singtel and Chairman of Singapore Airlines and current board member of several private companies such as Singapore’s Temasek Holdings. A USD 4.5m Series A-1 round was raised in Spring 2014, bringing the total funds raised to date to USD 5.65m. The second round was led by GREE Inc., a global mobile social company from Japan, and co-invested by William E. Heinecke, Chairman and CEO of Minor International.
As an entrepreneur yourself, what are the attributes you think that any entrepreneur should possess?
As an entrepreneur, courage is an important skill to have. When you have the courage, you are able to recognise certain risk and try to do what is possible to mitigate this risk while moving forward. It is important to overcome your fears and ensure that these fears do not keep you from reaching your highest potential. Being passionate about the business and having a clear vision of the end goals and working toward these goals are also important attributes to have.
A good entrepreneur should be able to sell ideas to the customers, investors and potential employees. You have to believe in your business and never waste time second guessing your idea. It is not worth the money and time on something that you can’t dedicate your whole heart to.
You are a seasoned entrepreneur. What advice will you give for our budding entrepreneurs or people who want to start a business?
To start a business, you need to be passionate about the industry and business you are operating in. You need to dedicate your whole heart to it because halfhearted attempts at starting a business will ultimately result in a business failure. You need to have clear vision and direction for the business. Businesses without constant direction can move from order to disorder if actions are not taken to push the business in the right direction.
It is rumored that every entrepreneur has their open set of checklist while evaluating a venture. As an entrepreneur, do you mind sharing yours with us?
As mobiles penetration is becoming more pervasive in APAC markets, HotelQuickly has attracted ventures who share a common vision of enhancing the way people live, work and travel, as well as their digital lifestyle. In return, we are looking for those who can accelerate our development, foster innovations in last-minute hotel booking and solving hoteliers’ unsold rooms.
Miss out previous Entrepreneur’s insights? Read Interview with Ralf Wenzel, foodpanda Co-founder here
Welcome back to Entrepreneur’s Insights! For those readers who are new to The Neo Dimension, we held interviews with entrepreneurs from all around the world. Through this interview, readers will hear from the entrepreneurs on the industry trends as well as their sharing on the startup journey.
Entrepreneur’s Insights is a bi-monthly interview written in Q&A format. This time we take the opportunity to interview Mr Ralf Wenzel from foodpanda
Ralf Wenzel is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of foodpanda group. Before, he held the position as the Group Chief Operating Officer at Skrill Holdings that operates the online payment system Skrill/Moneybookers. Prior to that, Ralf was the Senior Vice-President of Sales & Business Development at Jamba/Jamster. Ralf holds a degree in Computer Science from Berlin University.
Technology has changed radically for the past decade. Internet used to be a place where people search and exchange information. Now, it has become an inseparable part of our social life. What trend in the Internet market did you foresee in the year 2015?
We believe the past years were the years for desktop and 2015 will be even more the year of mobile. We are investing heavy amount of our time and resources on our mobile application as that’s where we believe the market is headed. Every company that can make it to his customer’s home screen on his smartphone is the one that will stay and for the rest the market will be very challenging. For a company focused on service and convenience, it really comes to life when all it takes a tab on your mobile be it wherever you are from stuck in traffic jam, at your desk in the office or sitting in your living room.
There are increasingly more and more competitors entering the food ordering business in both web and mobile sectors, how foodpanda is going to approach the market in order to stand out from the crowd?
foodpanda started in 2012 and has emerged to be the clear market leader in Singapore and most of its other markets. It’s a result of strong management, great user friendly product and commitment to customer as the king being a very service focused company. Our ambitions were always high to be the number one choice platform for the customers and we have grown and iterated reacting to our customer behavior.
Nonetheless, our biggest competitor is still the traditional telephone, the restaurant leaflets, the kitchen magnets. We are part of the internet revolution and want to switch food ordering from offline to online or directly to mobile. It is much more convenient and easier and faster through our app or website, than to call the restaurants via telephone and manually place your order.
foodpanda has been making acquisitions everywhere. Is this going to be strategy for expansion, especially in Asia?
With the recent selected acquisitions, adding to our already strong foodpanda businesses, we have consolidated our leading position in Asia. Moving on our focus is on making the customer experience an even happier one with faster delivery from only the best restaurants and more interesting features on our mobile and web application.
Why is foodpanda choosing to make acquisitions instead of other forms of expansion? What advantages does a business acquisition provide to foodpanda?
Our recent business acquisitions are very strategic and aimed at immediate gains for our customers and restaurants. With the acquisition of Roomservice and Koziness, Dial-a-dinner brands in Singapore, Hong Kong respectively, we have gained additional delivery resources and a team expert in operations. We are further empowering them with our automation and tracking tools to make it a more operationally efficient business ensuring improvement in the market overall and direct benefits for the end customer.
What are the criteria that foodpanda looks at when selecting target markets to focus on, and how do you identify the businesses you want to acquire?
We enter into markets where we see a big opportunity to offer customers convenience in getting their food delivered and at the same time restaurants a channel for incremental revenue. Food ordering always existed in these markets but primarily via phone orders and our role is to make it convenient and easy with a click of a button on mobile or web. For restaurants it offers them a channel for more marketing exposure online, more new customers and more revenue through the delivery orders.
What are the challenges or opportunities for foodpanda in the year 2015?
From where we started 3 years in Singapore as our first market, we are today one of the biggest choice platforms globally from Asia to Middle East, Africa to whole of Central Eastern Europe, and Latin America.
Our challenge would remain to get as many customers to go mobile and enjoy the real convenience over calling restaurants over phone. We will not stop to invest in our customer service and continuously improve our product and offerings.
What are the cultural difference or barriers dealing with restaurants in Asia than the ones in Europe?
In many countries in Asia we have realized how marketing for a single restaurant owner starts and stops at the very traditional channels such as flyering in his neighborhood, and we have to get them past their hesitance to adapt to the digital world where things are more targeted and much more efficient. For restaurants, foodpanda is much more than an online order marketplace. We are experts in online, as well as offline marketing and serve as an extremely strong marketing channel for our partners.
As an entrepreneur yourself, what are the attributes do you think that an entrepreneur should possess?
I believe an entrepreneur is one who sees a bigger purpose in life and wants to do something, create something that challenges the way people see, measure things and finds an interesting and better way to do so. One with strong passion to what he does, great amount of determination and willingness to persevere.
For the graduates, do you advocate the idea of starting up fresh out from the college?
I would go even a step further, one does not need to be a graduate to be an entrepreneur, four years at the university already offer a great platform to explore such an initiative. One big advice I will give is, there is no best idea that you need to commit your life to, all you need to start somewhere, some things that excites you.
It is rumored that every investor has his or her own set of checklist while evaluating a business venture. As an investor you, do you mind to share with us yours?
My checklist would be 1) market size 2) scope for expansion 3) similar players in the market/globally 4) current active customer base 5) revenue model/s 6) profitability target and very important 7) the team
Entrepreneur’s Insight: Q&A with YuuZoo’s CEO – Social Media Trend & Entrepreneurship
It is a rainy Friday morning. As I entered the YuuZoo office at Chye Sing Building, nobody seem to have noticed my arrival. Every single one of the workers I saw in the office, is either busy on the phone or engrossed in their team discussion. There is not a single soul lazing around in the office and I don’t see any sign that their activities will stop any time. I start to wonder “Is today Friday?”
The whole atmosphere is filled with enthusiasm and excitement. This is the dynamic environment of a startup! But, for all you know, YuuZoo is not an ordinary startup.
The Singapore-based YuuZoo (stock quote: AFC) is the world’s first company that introduces social e-commerce (or social commerce) to the market. With a market capitalization of more than SGD 250M, YuuZoo is also the first social media company listed as SGX mainboard in the history of Singapore’s stock market. In fact, 3 project managers working in the company have become millionaires after its listing.
I am really looking forward to the interview with Mr Thomas Zilliacus, CEO of YuuZoo. Before we start, just a little background of Mr Thomas.
Thomas Henrik Zilliacus (that’s his fullname) starts his career with Nokia in the 1980. In 1986, he was appointed as Nokia’s very first Head of Asia Pacific and relocated to Singapore. He was tasked to develop the Asia markets.
In the mid 90s, he left to become an entrepreneur and currently runs investment company Mobile FutureWorks, which advisors include former Nokia’s mobile phones CEO Jorma Nieminen and Ericsson’s former CEO Sven-Christer Nilsson.
In recent years, he attempted to buy out Nokia Mobile in order to steer the company towards Android OS. On the very day that Microsoft bought Nokia Mobile, he started a new mobile company Newkia with the intention to bring former Nokia employee to develop new phones running on Android platform.
** A quick note here. The below Q&A has been edited to ensure smooth reading for the readers. Rest assured! More than 90% of the text below follows the exact same wordings used by Mr Thomas.
Qns 1: Technology has changed radically for the past decade. Internet used to be a place where people search and exchange information. Now, it has became an inseparated part of our social life. Thanks to the social networking website. what change or trend in social media, globally, did you foresee in the year 2015?
Thomas: Well, I think there will be a number of new ideas coming up. If you look back over the last few years, it has been very much dominated by names that have been around for some time and you look further back into the history, you will see that always there have been names coming up and then disappearing and new names taking over. Now, everybody is talking about Facebook as something that will be there forever. I’m very much doubt it.
Facebook is going to see a downturn as well just like before Facebook, there was MySpace. MySpace was before Facebook seem as the name that would there forever. Now, nobody even talks about MySpace much less than uses it. So I think that we are right for a new way and that is again where YuuZoo is coming in with a concept that it’s new! So, I think that the market needs a constant reinvention and renewal of the offers that are interesting for consumers and I think in 2015, we will see new names and ideas coming into the markets.
Qns 2:. YuuZoo is the first Singapore-based social media company listed on the mainboard of Singapore Stock Exchange Securities Limited (SGX-ST). The unique business model of combining e-commerce and social networking platform for companies is what big companies like Facebook or Twitter could not do at least at the moment. With the rapid growth of mobile users globally, how YuuZoo is going to approach the market in order to stand out from the crowd?
Thomas: Our business model, as you said, is new and in many ways unique. I think if you go in and look at what our business model incorporates. You’ve already seen that our business models do stand out from the rest.
Number 1, nobody else is building a business based on franchise model. Franchise model is one that able us to offer consumers in each market a fully localized version of shopping mall that we’re building. If you look at our competitors, they all have a one-size-fits-all solutions. Facebook is Facebook Everywhere, Twitter is Twitter Everywhere, Amazon is Amazon Everywhere.
We are a different company in each market. The brand is always YuuZoo but the solution is always localized starting from design and language but even more importantly for the consumers, in the mix of what we’ve offered to the consumers; this is something that we can do under the franchise model. That’s one thing we are different.
The other thing where we stand out is that we combine under one single URL: Social Networking, E-commerce and Gaming. That is also something that others do not offer. It is either you are in social networking or you are in e-commerce or you are in gaming and I think consumers like the simplicity in whatever they do. That’s why shopping malls are successful. Because you go to big shopping mall, you find everything there from nice café to sit down to shops that you could buy. We are creating the same thing in the virtual environment.
Last but not least, everything that we’ve built is built for mobile optimization. We are device-agnostic but we are always building it with mobile users in mind and that means we are creating solutions for mobile users, where growth is by far the fastest, are optimized and that is again something unique.
Others don’t do that. Others are built for desktop uses and then there is a mobile version which in some cases, it is not that fantastic. Some have been doing quite well but there are many companies who have not created good mobile version of the desktop solutions.
Qns 3: What are the challenges or opportunities for Yuuzoo in this new wave of social media?
Thomas: The opportunities are almost endless because I think that if you look at social media; Facebook is doing it wrongly from the point of view of the companies. Companies cannot make any money on Facebook. They create a big following in their fan pages but they are creating, through their following, a big revenue stream on advertising that Facebook keeps for themselves.
For companies’ incentive to be on Facebook is very limited because they are basically giving money to Facebook. Amazon is doing it wrong in e-commerce because they are not adding the social element that become so important that people make their buying decision. People want to communicate with the other buyers and they want to see the experience of the other buyers.
Because of how other companies are doing it. There are endless opportunities for us to get both businesses as well as consumers to start to use YuuZoo; not necessary so that they will move away completely from Facebook, Amazon or others. Rather, they will start to use YuuZoo in addition to what they are doing because YuuZoo enables businesses to make money and enable consumers to do social e-commerce in a very targeted way
As regard to challenges, the main challenge is when you fail to design a product that consumers like. Technology is well known for creating things that are fantastic from the technology’s perspective but terrible from users’ perspective. In that sense, we are not driven by technology. We are driven by the market. We understand what the users are looking for. I believe design is a challenge but it is a one that we are managing quite well.
Qns 4: Industry players have foreseen that there will be more marketplace created on instant messaging platform. Line is a good example. Ads usually annoy users. What kind of opportunities you see in mobile advertising?
Thomas: I agree. Mobile advertising is something that in many case, has not been implemented in a consumer-friendly way. There are a lot of consumers are pretty unhappy with the way advertising is “pushed” in their face.
We have a patented-pending solution where we allow users/consumers to chose the sector of advertising that they receive. Let say that a Singapore user want to receive ads relating to real estate.
We are developing a calling app. When there is incoming call, you will lift up your mobile phone to see who is calling and the number is displayed on top of the screen. Underneath, there is space to display ads. So, we will deliver user the ads in sector he has chosen – real estate for example here.
You click on the ads that you have previously chosen and after you are done with your call. It will direct you to the advertiser’s page. By doing so, it does not interfere the way you use the phone. More importantly, such advertising, instead of annoying, helped the consumer as the information is more inline to his interest. In addition, it also helps the advertiser to deliver the ads to the specific consumers whom is of their interest.
In short, we are very much on the consumer’s side. I don’t see any point of “pushing” ads to the consumers who will get irritated by irrelevant ads and stop using the app. We will only deliver ads on the conditions that users have allowed it.
Qns 5: You have highlighted an interesting trend in the global aspect. What did you think about Singapore or South East Asia in general? How does South East Asiacompanies or brands positioned themselves to capitalize on this rising trend in social media?
I think, in general, SEA companies are a bit lagging behind US and Europe in terms of creative thinking. When I say so, I am also referring to the consumers in South East Asia. South East Asia do not understand the enormous power that social media has.
I have a good friend who built one of the world’s first web design company in the early 90s. He has told me how difficult in those days to convince the companies to have a corporate web page. 9 out of 10 has commented, ” Why we need a webpage?”, “who is going to be on internet?”, “This is complete rubbish!”
What my friend had experienced is a bit like what social media today. Companies are still thinking that such advertising approach is “only for kids” and “We don’t need to be on social media”. They do not understand how quickly people are switching over to social media and how influential that social media could affect buying decisions. I think that companies need to understand that social media is not something that they could ignore. Otherwise, they will left behind.
Qns 6: Let’s bring the discussion to Singapore, there is a recent incident disclosed by a renowned Singapore blogger on the “questionable practices” by a local social media marketing company. what is your view on this incident? What advice you would like to give to companies or brands which is new to social media marketing?
Thomas: Advertisers have to be very mindful and don’t appear to be too smart. It is not about who you are getting the message across. It is more about how to do so. When you annoy people, it is counter-productive. Consumers will not buy into these brands if they are annoy by the ads.
I had an experience with the Olympia game several years ago. VISA has bought an exclusive advertising rights. However, all purchases could only be done with VISA card. In other words, if you don’t have VISA card, you can’t buy anything even food for yourself. This approach annoys consumers by forcing them to use VISA card. Once you are there, it is too late to apply one. That’s to me a counter-productive advertising.
Qns 7: You have done many interviews in the past. There was once you highlighted about the difficulty of hiring candidates in Singapore. What exactly the key qualities or skills that you are looking for in the candidates?
Thomas: In Singapore, you can find very good people in executing the works. Singaporeans are very diligent and responsible workers. What’s lacking is the creative mind – the ability to think of out-of-the box solutions. In my opinion, that’s something that pretty much linked to educations.
In certain countries, the people are taught in a way that is exactly what the book has written. Other countries, people are encouraged to challenge what they are taught. In our business, we need both kinds of people. People who are very dependable but we also need creative people which I feel it’s lacking among Singaporean workers. I think we have spent quite some time in finding such people.
Qns 8: For our graduates, do you advocate the idea of starting up immediately after fresh out from school?
Thomas: I think that’s a great idea. There are 2 ways to see this. One way is that you enter an established company and you learn before you start your own. However, by doing so, you lose time.
That’s also a danger when you do that, you become so comfortable with the safe corporate environment.
Being entreprenuer is risky. Your risk appetite declines with age. The longer you stay in the corporate environment, you are more reluctant to start up. From that point of view, to go straight to your own business immediately fresh out from school is, in many ways, a good idea as long you can tight up with partners and investors who have experience in areas that you are venturing in.
That are challenges in starting up especially so for fresh graduate without experience. However, I think there could be overcame. There are many VC and angel investors who are willing to help, not just by providing money, but also their expertise to the young entrepreneurs.
Qns 9: It is known that every investor has their own set of checklist while evaluating a business venture. As an investor yourself, do you mind to share with us yours?
To me, it is pretty much depending on the personalities of the entrepreneur. Education background is certainly not one of the areas that I am looking at. He could be a guy with no education but possesses good entrepreneurial personalities. However, I would like to emphasize that there are good entrepreneurs with good education background as well.
Hence, I will go in-depth in understanding the personalities of the entrepreneur and how he derives and approaches his business idea; not just building of the business but also, at the same time, how he is going to manage it. There are often a need to change track during the course of building the business.
When you are building a business, it is about ideas and creativity. Once you have reached a stage of managing it, it is much so about control and processes to sustain the business. In that aspects, it requires a change of management meaning different people to run the business.
I will not be impressed by people who show me fantastic idea or belief. So what it is a great idea? I don’t think people should be ashamed if they do not have a formal education. If they have good idea and right frame of mind, they could be extremely successful. Look at Mark Zuckerberg, he is a dropout from university so are many other successful entrepreneurs.
Not enough? See Q&A with Mr Ralf Wenzel (co-founder of foodpanda) here
The current crisis has wiped out the global market confidence but not the ambitions of the entrepreneurs.
And the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME) and the Rotary Club are aiming to recognise those who have succeeded this year despite the many obstacles.
The Entrepreneur of the Year Award is now into its 21st year. It seeks to honour successful entrepreneurs who have been able to recognise opportunities, take appropriate actions and accept the associated risks. Past winners include homegrown firms like Charles and Keith, Breadtalk and Qian Hu.
What are the qualifying requirements?
The Candidate must be an entrepreneur who has been in business for at least three years, and has demonstrated outstanding entrepreneurial qualities in growing and developing the business.
The Candidate must be a Singapore Citizen or Permanent Resident, who is above 21 years of age.
The Candidate’s company must have a minimum 30% local equity.
If the Candidate owns between 10% and 30% of the Company’s shares, he/she has to be nominated by the Board of Directors.
Total fixed production assets of the Candidate’s company should not exceed S$30 million. Total number of employees must not exceed 400 if the Candidate’s business belongs to the service industry.
The Candidate’s company must neither be a listed company nor a subsidiary of a listed company.
The Candidate’s company must hold at least three years of audited books of accounts, which must be submitted for evaluation.
Global market slumped like a freefall but innovation will never stop. Entrepreneurs will continue to innovate and invent interesting products and services. Give yourself a chance to indulge in the air of entrepreneurism at NTU Business Plan Competition(NTU BPC) this coming Friday, 9 Jan 2009.
NTU BPC – 08CreativeLab is a campus-wide competition very much in line with Singapore’s effort to promote and develop a strong technology entrepreneurship environment leading to a vibrant and thriving sector of high growth technology-oriented companies. Spearheaded by Nanyang Technopreneurship Center (NTC) and designed to encourage the growth of entrepreneurship through education and competition, NTU BPC provides a platform in which participants present new innovative business concepts to venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, business leaders and angel investors.
Through the various learning initiatives and training engagements with business communities, participants are strongly encouraged to go beyond “paper play” and to start up ventures based on their business plans.
This year’s competition which began in May attracted a total of 294 NTU students or 67 teams. During the first round of judging, we narrowed this down to 18 teams. 8 teams from the Semi Final have advanced into the Grand Final of 08CreativeLab.
Our judges from the preliminary and semi-final rounds have short-listed 8 finalist-teams for this Grand Final, where each team is expected to perform an elevator pitch on their business, followed by a venture capital fair where each team will set up a booth to showcase their business idea to be evaluated by a panel of distinguished judges consisting of venture capitalists, business angels, successful entrepreneurs, eminent corporate business leaders, intellectual property owners, solicitors, government officials, and etc.