Not just another chat app


By JOY LEE
  • Focus
  • Monday, 06 Feb 2017

Big dreams: The founders of Hyperlab (left to right) Greenough, Teo and Sithasanan hope to expand into the region.

Hyperlab aims to provide brands with an effective consumer engagement platform centred around conversations

INSTANT messaging is said to present new marketing opportunities for brands as consumers look for a more personalised interaction with them. And if WeChat’s success in China as a platform and a mobile portal is anything to go by, observers note that there is plenty of room for brands to grow their engagement with consumers through instant messaging.

Vic Sithasanan, co-founder and chief executive officer of Malaysian startup Hyperlab, is hoping to be one of the frontrunners to champion instant messaging as an engagement platform for brands in South-East Asia.

Hyperlab, founded in April 2016, launched its chat app JustAsq last November and has already attracted some big brands including Maxis, CIMB-Principal Asset Management, Tropicana Properties, Sime Darby Group, DPO International, Top Gear and UEM Sunrise.

Unlike other chat apps which are used for social interactions, JustAsq enables chats between users and local businesses, experts or helper chatbots.

“We are focused on connecting you with people that help you get things done, most times that means going outside your current social network. Whether it is to service your car, make a service complaint with your telco, get tax advice or book your next flight, JustAsq is the easiest way to find a quality expert to help you get it done,” says Sithasanan. While users can chat with specific brands on the platform, there are also fully autonomous bots on the platform that are available to chat with users on topics like health, gadgets and movies.

A bot is an application that performs an automated task and with today’s advanced technology, chatbots can be trained to learn individual conversational preferences making the conversation more human-like.

He explains that this conversational experience with brands makes for a better customer experience and is different from just clicking on buttons.

Sithasanan, who previously headed one of Asia’s leading digital agency, along with his co-founders, Janet Teo and Chris Greenough, embarked on building JustAsq in 2015 when they observed a growing trend towards mobile conversations for brands.

Have a chat: Conversations are a way for brands to engage consumers.
Have a chat: Conversations are a way for brands to engage consumers.

“Conversation is the interface of the future. To make JustAsq the platform of choice for businesses and experts, we focus on three core areas. Firstly, we make it really easy to enable conversations on websites and mobile apps. Secondly, through our bot framework, we give businesses and experts scale to engage with a much larger customer base than with current channels like telephone or email. Lastly, we aim to deliver a superior customer experience,” he adds.

Sithasanan claims that Hyperlab is the company with the most bots in Malaysia and Singapore.

While chats are a good immediate use for bots, he notes that their function can be expanded for other use. This means automating more simple tasks to free up human capital for more strategic roles such as planning.

“But we will continue to develop our chat platform including supporting other Asean languages,” he says.

Hyperlab’s immediate goal is to get 80% of the top companies in Malaysia and Singapore on board its platform.

“Our focus is on powering businesses. We know how difficult it is for companies to use social media for marketing. This is another channel for engagement,” he says.

Hyperlab raised US$500,000 of seed-round funding last April and is looking at another round of funding this quarter.

Funding is not its biggest challenge, says Sithasanan, as there is growing interest in this field. The issue, rather, is in acquiring talents.

“It is quite hard to build this type of technology outside of Silicon Valley. We do not have the support system here so the speed at which we develop is really dependent on our own ability,” he says.

And talent is not as easy to come by in the local market given the lack of emphasis on such skills as machine learning and artificial intelligence in our education system.

But Sithasanan notes that his staff of some 13 people make a strong team to move the company forward.

Sithasanan believes Hyperlab will be able to develop its technology rapidly from here on as its foundation has been firmly established.

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Business , Hyperlab , marketing , instant messaging

   

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