Singapore startups embrace local culture

Singapore startups embrace local culture

Summary: Ahead of Aug. 9 national day celebrations, ZDNet Asia speaks with five local startups which showcase Singapore's culture through their recent products.

TOPICS: Start-Ups, Singapore

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  • (From left): Team members Liyana Sulaiman, Farkhan Salleh, co-founders Elisha Ong, and Dixon Chan

    The idea for Burpple was hatched in late-2010 in Silicon Valley, where Singaporean co-founders Elisha Ong and Dixon Chan were roommates. Ong was then the lead designer at mobile video-sharing services company Qik, while Chan was leading the ad operations at another startup, social media IT solutions provier Gigya.

    Almost everyday, they experienced a challenging time deciding on what to eat. They could vaguely remember the food photos their friends shared on Facebook and Twitter, and very often ended up calling a particular friend and took her recommendation.

    At that point, they thought there must be an effortless solution to remember and share food moments with friends, and at the same time get trusted opinions available anytime, everywhere.

    In 2011, they returned to Singapore to continue developing the idea, which led to the creation of a social foodjournal. They aim for it to empower users to remember special dinner dates, share home-cooked creations, explore good features in places and organize their "food moments". Their third co-founder, Daniel Hum, a former software engineer from Microsoft, later joined the team.

    Ong's former colleagues from Qik also came on board, kickstarting several social media creative projects. Among these was the "How to Order Kopi Like a Pro" infographic which went viral over the Internet early this year--featuring Singapore's coffee-drinking culture.

    ZDNet Asia spoke with Ong to find out more about the company's projects.

    What was the inspiration and aim behind the "Kopi" campaign?
    Ong: While developing the Burpple iPhone app, we started making a splash into the social media and food community by launching several creative projects--one of which is "How to Order Kopi Like a Pro" infographic. This was the the brainchild of our communications designer Farkhan Salleh, who wanted to create something that could strike a chord with Singaporeans and foreigners alike--educating people on the different and somewhat confusing combinations of local coffee and making them into a useful, fun and cute infographic.

    How much success has the project received, and how has it evolved?
    Honestly, the campaign caught us by surprise. When we first released it on our blog, which only had a very small readership then, we saw a few hundred Likes in the first few days. When we started sharing it on Burpple's Facebook page, that was when we experienced first-hand the organic viral social network effects.

    Over the next few weeks, we saw more than 20,000 interactions with people liking, sharing and commenting and over 2 million views of the infographic. That's an overwhelming 1 in 4 Singaporeans loving the Kopi infographic! It was also trending on popular Chinese microblogging site, Weibo, and made it to popular meme and humor site, 9GAG, almost nine months later and caused another online sensation.

    It is just amazing is to see how a simple infographic like this could transcend geographic boundaries and time.

    Burpple was also approached by the Singapore Tourism Board to use the poster in its promotional activities in Melbourne, Australia. It was displayed as a giant billboard poster to educate people on the types of local Singapore coffee.

    We also launched a "Help Kopi Go Overseas" Web site, a social media campaign to promote Southeast Asian coffee and food culture to people around the world through new media communications. It included a humorous personalization of Kopi and his family, a video of Kopi aunties, and the infographic itself.

    Following the success of its previous infographic, Burpple released a brand new one called "How to order Other Singaporean Drinks Like a Pro".

    Perhaps one day we might evolve into a Burpple coffee or kopi never know!

    What are some of the highlights since starting the company, and what have you learnt?
    Honestly, we are humbled and have learnt so much since formally starting up the company seven months ago.

    Besides the success of the Kopi infographic, many have also placed the Burpple iPhone app with some of the best of Silicon Valley, such as Instagram, Path and Pinterest. More recently, Burpple was also featured by Apple on 12 App Stores under the New and Noteworthy category and among the Top Lifestyle and Food and Drink apps.

    We launched the Burpple iPhone app to the world while working out of a makeshift meeting room at the Plug-in@Blk 71 co-working space, managed by NUS Enterprise. Just last week, we are thankful to have moved into our own little space which will allow us to better grow the team and focus on bringing the best to our users and community.

    What are you serving up next?
    Having localized for China last month with a partnership with Sina Weibo, Burpple is looking at integrating more services such as Renren and Instagram. People can also look forward to using Burpple while making reservations, as well as many other exciting releases coming soon.

    Burpple is currently growing rapidly in countries such as Australia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Thailand and the United States, and users have journaled food moments in over 100 countries and 2,000 cities.

    Kopi Infographic

    Kopi infographic featuring different types of coffee orders in Singapore

  • Afzane founder Afzainizam Zahari, with students during his Japan teaching stint in 2010

    Afzane started as a business proper last year  with a simple idea: to educate and put a smile on the faces of as many people as founder Afzainizam Zahari could possibly reach.

    The company had its roots as a personal Web site, which Zahari started in 2002 after graduating. The site was used mainly for putting his personal digital artwork and mini Flash games he created.

    "Back then the most popular mobile device was the PocketPC, and I had a lot of fun creating games for that. It was only in August 2010 when I seriously considered to take this business off the ground," said Zahari, who currently runs the one-man setup.

    One of his more successful games has been Kopi Tiam, a time-management game where the player runs a coffeeshop in Singapore.

    Zahari shares with ZDNet Asia the details on how it all started for him.

    What motivated you to start the company?
    Zahari: Prior to this I spent a good number of years in the education industry in Singapore and Japan. After winning some awards in Web design and Flash Lite game design competitions many years ago, I decided it was time to pursue my interests in digital arts and game development in earnest.

    My business started in January 2011 with a simple idea: to educate and put a smile on the faces of as many people as I can possibly reach. I know this vision is on track after receiving many happy e-mail messages from people who enjoyed using my apps with their children or grandchildren. The most recent ones come from the many people who have played Kopi Tiam. You can read some of their comments that they posted on Kopi Tiam game's official Facebook page.

    Some of my games have also been featured by Apple on the iTunes US app store. Another of my favorite app, called Cataline HD, has been featured as a "staff favorite" in appstores in many different countries for quite a number of times.

    What was the inspiration behind the Kopi Tiam game?
    The inspiration came from my fascination with time-management games. I have played a lot of games from this genre but I found none in the market that specifically feature things that are unique to this part of the world. I thought it would be wonderful to feature popular local cuisine in a game and then showcase that to the world.

    It has been a tremendous success for me personally. The game is very popular in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. It stayed at the number one spot for games in the iTunes app store in Singapore and Malaysia for about two weeks. 

    The most interest coming from outside the region is China and Hong Kong. I did not do any marketing for this app. It was simply through word of mouth when I first gave a copy of the game to a friend of mine. She then told her colleagues as well as friends from the console game industry to test it out. The game got a major traction after I released a free version of it called Kopi Tiam Mini.

    What's brewing in the pipeline?
    My next project is another time-management game but this time it will not be dealing with food. I am also warming up to adventure games. I am currently studying this particular genre and I do have a rough story line planned out. It is just waiting to be executed.

    With all these projects planned, I am thinking of expanding this business and I am currently looking for good game developers who share the same vision to come on board.

    Afzane Kopi TiamScreenshot of Kopi Tiam app 20120808 Afzane Kop Tiam 2Screenshot of gameplay in Kopi Tiam

  • (From left): TouristPads team members Caleb Wong, Abigail Khor, Joshua Wong

    Helping tourists get around Singapore is the main idea behind an iPad rental company dedicated to the tourism industry. Interested users can reserve one for S$30 (US$24) day, with delivery and collection services thrown in for free.

    The company behind the service, TouristPads, began around the start of this year when brothers Caleb and Joshua Wong teamed up with third co-founder Abigail Khor soon after they graduated from university. After tossing through several ideas, they decided to fuse their interest in technology and travel.

    Co-founder Joshua Wong tells ZDNet Asia why he believes there is a market for his service.

    Why do you think your business idea would work?
    Wong: Imagine yourself on a trip to another country, for instance, Vienna. The first thing you do when you arrive is to get to the bookstore and buy a map, perhaps a mobile SIM card, and maybe look around for some tourist brochures to see what are some of the things you've missed out.

    As a savvy traveler, you know the importance of local guides and knowledge, and you do not want to just visit the "common" attractions or worst, get lured into tourist traps. With our service, the moment you touch down at the airport, we will deliver our TouristPad to you, which will replace your map, your mobile SIM card which allows you to Skype home for free, and offer access to a wealth of inside information and guides from local apps, blogs, and magazines.

    At the end of your stay, our couriers pay you a visit to personally collect the TouristPad. There is absolutely no fuss with our service, just lots of goodness and value. We work hard to satisfy all our customers, and our apps and content is curated to bring the best to them.

    There were many challenges along the way to getting the business up and running, from getting merchant accounts with the banks for credit-card processing, to getting various marketing channels up and running ready for our launch, to coding and designing our entire Web site. As this was the first time all of us  were starting a business, we had to learn the ropes on-the-go but in all, we are proud of successfully bringing this service to all visitors to our marvelous sunny island.

    How has the takeup met your expectations?
    One definition of entrepreneurship by HBS professor Howard Stevenson is: "Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled."

    As a self-funded business, and having launched our service on Jul. 18, 2012, we have had to be resourceful to overcome various challenges in bringing our service to customers in all areas of the business. 

    We have had much fun learning while conducting all aspects of our business, including marketing, graphics design, legal, finance, accounting and business strategy. Balancing all of these has not been easy, but we believe our service is of great value to travellers and having a focus on delivering the best value to our customers has been our key priority from day one.

    As we have just launched and are only getting started, we can't really comment on the takeup rate. Of those who have used our service, they have been very pleased. One customer commented that having the ability alone to Skype home has made our service entirely value for money!

    How do you hope to grow the business?
    Depending on how well the business does, we will wish to slowly expand our business beyond Singapore's shores, as we believe our service brings additional value to travellers all over the world.

    We look forward to the day where TouristPads will be the premier technology rental service in major tourist destinations globally. In the meantime, we are focusing our efforts on building the TouristPads brand by providing the best service to tourists coming to Singapore. Our main goal is to delight our customers and enhance their stay in Singapore.

Topics: Start-Ups, Singapore


Loves caption contests, leisurely strolls along supermarket aisles and watching How It's Made. Ryan has covered finance, politics, tech and sports for TV, radio and print. He is also co-author of best seller "Profit from the Panic". Ryan is an editor at ZDNet's Asia/Singapore office.

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