Written by Iqbal Ahmad
Terence Mak, 50, thinks he will be lucky this time. After a failed attempt to bring armchair tourists to attractions around the world on a smartphone platform, he thinks he’s hit on a formula that would marry two groups: brick-and-mortar merchants and consumers. He is behind WhereIsWhere, a smartphone application conceptualised while he was on holiday in Phuket a few years ago.
He recalled being at a loose end then. “So I said, I want to get a massage … I want to to do this, I want to do that … I want to buy something.’’
He found himself trudging under the hot sun, going from one shop to another, tediously asking if they offered this or that product. “And then, you know you find one shop and then the one next door is actually cheaper and offers something better.”
He returned to Singapore with the idea of helping consumers who want to know about the best deals in their vicinity by getting brick-and-mortar shops to move into the digital space. Instead of relying on walk-in customers or signboards at the shop front, why not put promotions into one smartphone app?
By the middle of this year, he got the app ready. One click and all the shops that have signed up for WhereIsWhere within a default 1km radius of the user will pop up on-screen, which will include any discounts or offers going on at the time.
Mak describes it as a discovery platform for consumers to find what they want within the area and for merchants, including small players with no advertising budget nor online presence, to promote themselves better. He developed the software and started marketing the app to merchants in February, signing up big names such as Millenia Walk, BHG and Miniso. Then there are those who have a foothold all over Singapore but wants to differentiate each outlet, such as Jean Yip Hairdressing, Sushi Express and Hock Hua Tonic. In all, there are 200 over merchants in 1,800 locations and Mak hopes to hit 2,500 locations in six months. Merchants can update their promotions any time, any day with “flash deals’’. “We’re leaving it to the merchants to create things that work for you.’’
When this writer checked in at the Marina Square area, out popped more than 60 pins with merchants as varied as ToastBox, G2000 and Q&M Dental, with 49 promotions in all. In Bedok Central, 20 merchants are listed, including Old Chang Kee in Bedok Mall which is giving out free curry puffs as part of a redemption trial for the app.
Registration for merchants is free for now but Mak intends to charge $100 a month per location when a significant pool of merchants and consumers are on board.
He makes no bones about playing in a crowded market, with apps such as Save and Eatigo vying for the consumer’s eyeballs. He said he is claiming a niche: WIW is not a payment service, nor a review system, nor does it specialise in certain products. It is a general listing and promotions platform to let someone know what’s going on around them.
Mak, an Oxford-educated computer science graduate, considers himself a serial technopreneur. He made the news a few years with his previous start-up, Third Planet, partnering overseas tourism agencies and those in the hospitality with virtual tours of attractions in 3D. But there wasn’t enough consumer adoption.
Does he think consumers will bite now? “As long as the consumer knows the platform exists and use it on a weekly, monthly basis, that is a success for us… Once we have achieved that, it means we have also achieved helping the merchants push out their promotions to people.”
As he did with Third Planet, he isn’t just thinking local. The app is already being marketed in Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and Taiwan. “In Asia there are about five million merchants. We have barely scratched the surface.”