In this week’s Community Feature, we speak to Aik Phong Ng, the Managing Director of Fave, a local discovery and lifestyle app that allows users to go cashless while finding the best deals in town.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Aik-Phong (@AP) and I’m the MD (Managing Director) for Singapore. I look after the business, pretty much from everything, from demand to supply. Demand is linked to consumers and supply is linked to merchants using our services to better their businesses. We are a B2B2C platform. Basically, I manage pretty much everything that you see in Singapore with an incredible team of 60 over highly collaborative and passionate individuals.
The whole cycle from Groupon to Fave, how did that happen?
Joel, Chen Chow (@CC) and I used to run Groupon APAC (Asia Pacific). We were doing that for about 5 years. Sometime in late 2014 early 2015, Joel noticed a big trend in the U.S for fitness sharing/ subscription-based platform… he picked it up and introduced it to Singapore and started KFit, roping in CC and myself. I do have a sports background (I used to represent Singapore in Fencing), so getting into the fitness industry was exciting and kinda no-brainer for me, plus the fact that I work really well with Joel & CC.
We soon realised that beyond fitness, our customers, from HK to MY to SG, liked beauty & wellness services. In the earlier days, we introduced some of these massage sessions into KFit and we saw that the pick up was very strong.
We continued with the line of serving our customers well, thinking what else would a fitness customer like and want? Next logical step was introducing food (to feed the hungry KFitter) and figured that it was about time to launch a new multi-category product.. Hence the Fave app… to do all your favourite activities and eat at your favourite places with your favourite friends!
Next, a major pivot came when we started introducing payments, which is Favepay. We talked to our merchant partners on what they liked or didn’t like about doing promotional deals on platforms such as Groupon or Fave. While they loved that deals brought in many new customers, some of them gave us the feedback that they would also like to have more repeat customers, a loyalty solution in essence.
Sometime in 2016, some of us went on a trip to China and realised that cashless payment was really taking off (eg. Alipay).
So, we combined the needs of the merchant (loyalty) with the upcoming wave of cashless QR code payments to introduce FavePay in mid 2017. When customers make a payment with FavePay, they have a merchant specific cashback of up to 30%. Customers are rewarded to go back to the merchants and use their cashback credits again and again. Merchants win because they get more repeat customers. Consumers win because they get savings, and convenience of going cashless! As a testimony to the rapid adoption of FavePay, I am happy to share that we have crossed our 3rd Millionth FavePay transaction in Singapore on 30th March 2019!
Are your main customers’ merchants or consumers?
Actually, we do focus on both. I think the challenge is which one to focus on at which stage. When we first started off, we really wanted to be a merchant-centric company because that is key. If the merchants are not onboard the platform, no consumers are going to enjoy any benefits. So we started off having a very merchant-first philosophy. That’s how we started growing but at the same time, we also had to take care of customers so it is not an easy job being a B2B2C trying to balance the needs of the merchants and the wants of the consumer. So far, we are hitting the sweet spot, as we have over 20,000 merchants across three markets (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia) and we’ve gotten over 3-4 million app downloads in these markets to date.
On the consumer side, we have recently launched a Rewards section… where the more transactions you make on FaveDeals or FavePay, the more cash rewards you can earn! Also, if you click on a merchant listing on the Fave app, you can see actual consumer ratings and reviews of each merchant on the Fave platform.
To ensure that both the consumers and merchants are looked after, we have 2 product development teams; one team looking after the consumers and the other looking after the merchants.
We will continue to develop solutions that help merchants reach out to more customers and bring more efficiency to businesses on the Fave platform, and at the same time, make Fave app users’ life easier, more convenient, efficient, fun and rewarding!
Being a company that is in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia; was it difficult to scale from one city to another? How did Fave go about doing it?
It was definitely not easy, especially at the early stage. I think when you are starting a new product or service, the first weeks, months or quarters are the toughest. You are trying to get the right product-market fit and have to consider when to launch your product or service when it is considered an MVP.
Once you get it right, you double down and scale fast within the country, and then possibly introducing it to other markets. We have playbooks on how to duplicate and scale so that really helps. Coincidentally, we have just launched Fave in 5 new cities in 5 days in Malaysia (Muar, Batu Pahat, Nilai, Alor Setar and Kluang!)
If you’ve got a good team behind you, you could do it really fast, and I am extremely grateful for the awesome team members I have in SG and regionally. Thanks, guys! You all rock!
Were there differences in consumer shopping behaviour across the three countries?
Actually, there are quite similar. Thankfully working in this region, the tastes of consumers in SG, ID and MY are very similar. A lot of customers actually prefer F&B, which are the biggest purchase items. Next is beauty; salons, manicure, pedicure, massage. They are quite similar in all three markets.
When you have a playbook and you use it to scale, what do you do exactly?
When we started off KFit; Malaysia had a head start of two weeks to a month and they scaled up first and next came to Singapore turn to be launched. When we did that, we parachuted the top salespeople from Malaysia, not unlike a commando team, to grow Singapore up to a hundred fitness locations. After that is done, they went back and built up Malaysia again.
Right now, as we have stabilised the few core markets we want to focus on, we have sharings sessions instead. Every week, we have a weekly management business review calls for all three countries. That’s where we have different pockets of innovation. For example, in Singapore, we introduced Fave Fridays where we have upsized specials, cashback, discounts and the launching of new deals. It is working really well and the other countries are now replicating it. When there are certain campaigns and initiatives they did well in MY, SG will then replicate it as well. This cross-sharing and learning really help us make fewer mistakes collectively, and helps us double down on what works!
What is a feature that will help payment gateway companies to dominate the market, besides the ease of payment?
I can briefly share what has worked for Fave and what is unique for Favepay. You hit on one aspect, which is convenience. I think convenience is about (a) the speed of payment and (b) about the number of acceptance locations. If there are only 100 places I can use Favepay, then it’s not really useful. So, the convenience, speed and density are very important. Every payment system would need to have that. I think we managed to do that pretty well. In Singapore, we have over 5,000 acceptance locations already and going really rapidly.
In terms of speed, it is so much faster than our first version. We are always making it better, faster and safer, kudos to the Fave product and engineering teams.
One of the most well loved feature of FavePay is the cashback. I think it gives users a reason to use Favepay. On a bill of say 10 dollars, you get between 1 – 3 dollars in your wallet depending on the merchant (10-30% cashback). It incentives users to go back, which is great because it’s win-win for both customers and merchants. Customers get savings and merchants to get repeat customers. I think that makes us really unique with the convenience, the speed plus and of course the cashback. That is our formula. I guess every other brand have their advantages but I think we are doing quite well with this.
What is Fave’s endgame?
We don’t really look at it as an endgame. I think there is no finishing line. Our mission is to help our local businesses in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia for now, succeed, helping businesses grow through digitalisation.
We focus on helping our merchants grow their businesses and helping our customers find value, savings, convenience, rewards and fun when using their Fave app.
We are always evolving and thinking of what our merchants need. One really cool thing about the Fave team is our culture of teamwork and that we are very open to experimenting. Any ideas can come from anywhere, from our merchants, consumers or the team. Whether the person is an intern, senior or junior staff, we really take action on good feedback. We put it into a plan, discuss and execute it. It keeps us ahead of the market, and in tune with what merchants and customers really want.
Our immediate goal is to serve 100,000 merchants in SEA. As of now, we have over 20,000 merchants so lots more work to do!
Watch the full video interview with Fave here:
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