The future is online


Online grocery, mobile marketplace, app-based service directory and healthy snacks delivery — this batch of four finalists in the Alliance Bank SME Innovation Challenge are all digitally-forged businesses, writes KELLY TEY.

WITH so many businesses on the e-commerce platform these days, it’s imperative for the 20 finalists of the Alliance Bank SME Innovation Challenge 2015 to have strong branding and be able to stand out from the crowd.

For Freshcart Grocer founders Jonathan Oh and Soh Shangrong, being a trustworthy name is a priority for their online grocery business.

With Freshcart Grocer handling about 800 transactions a month, Oh says it’s important that customers are confident in their products and services.

“Our customers know us: how we handpick items, who delivers, who packs their goods, and they can call us at any time. We check the sources of our produce. If we don’t eat them ourselves, we don’t sell them either,” he assures.

According to Oh, the Alliance challenge has been a good learning experience as he gets to bounce ideas with fellow contenders and new friends, as well as get guidance from experienced businessmen.

He hopes to see Freshcart Grocer become a specialty grocery store and a household name beyond Malaysia.

Fellow contestant SnapSell, on the other hand, is banking on the convenience of their mobile marketplace platform to attract more people to buy and sell items via their app.

SnapSell was founded by Swee Wai Hoow and Chris Chan, who are banking on an efficient sale-and-purchase experience with their user-friendly app interface.

“When you want to sell items, you can just snap a picture, provide product information and post. People can view immediately,” Swee explains.

With 20,000 users and growing, SnapSell’s app has been featured on the Apple app store four times, and has been lauded as one of the best Malaysian-made apps, he says.

The app takes a 10% fee from transactions, while also generating profit from its premium listing service. Swee thinks there’s plenty of room to expand. From the coaching sessions in the competition especially on marketing, he says he is inspired to look into enhancing SnapSell’s business model.

“Currently we’re still bootstrapping, but we realise now that we can still do marketing without having a big budget. This is truly eye-opening,” he remarks.

Swee says they want first and foremost to create a safe, reliable and convenient product within the country before turning their attention to the sizable Indonesian market.

Karl Loo, the man behind app-based business, ServisHero, says his startup came about after he found it hard to get reliable repair services whether for plumbing, air-conditioner or home repairs. ServisHero is an app that easily connects consumers to service providers.

“It’s like yellow pages, but reversed; you don’t find the solution, it comes to you,” says Loo.

ServisHero started with some 100 service providers, but has now grown to more than 1,000, in over 30 service categories. And the app has had more than 20,000 app downloads.

“It’s simple and useful for SMEs in the service trade, as well as for end-users. Both have the power to choose what they want to respond to,” he says.

The app is available as a free service at the moment.

“We need to ensure a high-quality marketplace by capturing more service providers and customers, before thinking about making money,” Loo says.

He says the experience from the challenge will accelerate his business when it’s ready to generate revenue and expand into other Asean countries.

Meanwhile Signature Snack promises healthy nibbles for consumers. Founders Edwin Wang and John Cheng opted for a subscription-based, order-and-deliver online platform promising a wide selection of snacks and easy delivery.

“We have more than 50 variants now. With three new recipes added every month, we are targeting to have about 100 types by next year,” says Wang.

It all started when an overweight Wang was looking for healthier eating habits. And the idea came like an epiphany.

With strong backgrounds in the Internet industry, Wang and Cheng have a clear idea of their business.

“It’s still very small, but if we win, we will use the prize money for staff education and building a good team to support expansion plans,” says Wang.

Inspired by the Bizsmart Academy CEO Chatroom Session organised by Alliance, they have applied what they’ve learned to their eight-person team.

“There’s instant impact on our team’s dynamics; we picked up on people-management and communication skills with staff, as well as customers,” reveals Wang.

He says they also learned about how to work backwards on action plans.

“You set a goal, you see to it that it happens; there’s no such thing as luck,” says Wang.

Signature Snack has over 600 subscribers so far, and the company has recorded 100% customer base growth every month since it was established in July.

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