NEWS FROM THE ENTREPRENEURSHIP COMMUNITY IN SINGAPORE
ISSUE #6 NOV/DEC 2016
A tale of two start-ups
By harnessing technology to optimise small businesses, these start-ups are blazing the trails in their respective industries.
The education and hospitality industries involve rather different business methods, yet two homegrown companies in these respective sectors share one thing in common: Both are using technology to improve businesses.
Budi Santoso and Larry Chua, co-founders of online hotel management start-up Caption, developed CRONO, an online hotel management platform targeted at helping small Southeast Asian hotels improve their operating standards through technology.
Though they had both experienced failures in their previous travel-related start-ups, Santoso and Chua found common ground in their passion for growing and innovating the travel industry. They started off with the idea of building an online travel agency for boutique hotels, but quickly realised that most hotels within Southeast Asia are not technology-enabled. They then turned their attention and resources to customer development, which in turn led them to long-tail accommodation.
The concept of long-tail accommodation refers to hotels with a less than three-star rating, guesthouses, hostels, camping sites, bed and breakfasts, and Airbnb accommodations. As a long-tail travel accommodation enabler, Caption provides technology to accommodation providers who have not be able to use technology for reasons such as affordability, unstable power and internet supply or usability issues.
Though they had both experienced failures in their previous travel-related start-ups, Santoso and Chua found common ground in their passion for growing and innovating the travel industry.
Mr Budi Santoso (right) and Mr Larry Chua (left), co-founders of Caption
Similarly, Tan Chia-Zhi, founder of online portal for children’s enrichment and school management system GoForClass, is passionate about using technology as an enabler for better business revenue. His search for suitable enrichment online programmes for his children inspired him to set up an online marketplace that allows parents to search and book classes at various learning and enrichment centres throughout Singapore. Tan set up GoForClass in September 2014 with the aspiration for it to become “the TripAdvisor for learning and enrichment classes”.
Rising to challenges
Being a solo entrepreneur comes with its unique set of challenges, and in Tan’s case, it was finding the right partner to build the online platform of his dreams with a limited budget. “I went through several partners before finding someone who had the right expertise to develop a good product at a reasonable price range,” he explained.
For Caption, the main challenges proved to be fund raising and finding strategic partners. Chua explained, “Travel is a ‘sexy’ industry to most people, but it has one of the highest start-up failure rates. There is a limited pool of investors who have the appetite or interest in funding a travel start-up. Getting strategic partnerships to test big concepts and ideas is near impossible if you don’t know how to navigate the industry or if you don’t have a strong network of contacts.”
To connect to travel industry thought leaders, Chua started a Facebook group called Travel Startup Asia. It brings travel start-ups within the region together to foster collaborations while drawing potential investors.
His search for suitable enrichment online programmes for his children inspired him to set up an online marketplace that allows parents to search and book classes at various learning and enrichment centres throughout Singapore.
Mr Tan Chia-Zhi, founder of GoForClass
The road ahead
Today, Caption is focused on underserved low-cost Indonesian hotels and is looking forward to expanding its reach to five Indonesian cities by the middle of 2017. It will then venture into Myanmar, Thailand and the Philippines. In the meantime, Caption’s team is constantly establishing strategic partnerships while providing educational workshops that help traditional hotels embrace technology. What keeps them going is their customers, said Chua. “We enjoy every single moment of working towards our company’s vision and goals. When we see the smiles on our clients’ faces as they validate our product that solves their problems, we feel very proud.”
As for Tan, now that GoForClass is fully up and running, his next mission is convincing more service provides to take advantage of his online platform. “In my dealings with most learning centres, I have found that their core business is tuition enrichment. Technology is secondary to them,” he said.
With GoForClass, learning centres have a 24-7 storefront that accepts bookings and enquiries no matter the time of day. “As busy parents, we tend to have free time after dinner and in the evenings, and that’s when we start looking for enrichment or learning courses for our kids,” he added. “But when we find something and want to make an enquiry, the centre is closed. By placing their classes online, learning centres can optimise their business. People can make a booking anytime and the centres can follow up during business hours.”
Tan added that his has been a great learning journey, but he is proud of how far he has come since he made the decision to leave his job as an IT project manager. “My dream is for GoForClass to be the ultimate online portal for all learning centres, not just the ones for children,” he enthused. With the right technology, his dream is steadily headed into the realm of reality.