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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  • 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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