30 May 2016 – EVER since his student years, Lim Chee How had the urge to build his own business. While he and college friend Justin Loh worked on technical customisation projects for Airbus Helicopters, they would explore options by tinkering with different business ideas related to the aerospace industry.

However, they were unable to come up with a practical solution that could be implemented, due to the bureaucratic and risk-averse nature of the industry. But this did not deter either of them from pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams.

Internet of Things

When Chee How stumbled upon the Internet of Tings (IoT) and big data analytics in 2012, he knew he had found the tools that would enable him to build his entrepreneurial venture. He decided to leverage the two emerging technologies to solve nagging issues in the brick-and-mortar retail experience.

Based on this central theme, Chee How and Loh started their company on a part-time basis in late 2012, with Chee How assuming the title of chief executive officer while Loh became chief operating officer.

Today, their company Tapway helps retailers understand customer behaviour and buying patterns, using WiFi-based technology. Since neither Chee How nor Loh considered themselves to be very tech-savvy, they sought to assemble a reliable technical team. This turned out to be harder than they had imagined, and there were several changes before the team finally stabilised in 2014.

That same year, they took a leap of faith and began pursuing the business full-time.

Improving customer experience

Everyone knows that the customer is at the heart of any business. Tapway helps retailers improve customer experience by knowing who their customers are and targeting them at the right time, in the right place.

Chee How points out that customer experience in the brick-and-mortar world lacks personalisation. For example, shopkeepers treat all customers the same, whether they are loyal or new customers.

In addition, promotions that are held are also not personalised to the preference and historical trends of individual customers. Through a deep understanding of customer journeys and behaviour, Tapway can employ real-time location-based marketing.

Unlike most existing WiFi marketing tools, Tapway uses a normal WiFi access point as a sensor to collect shopper data and to send personalised promotions based on the customer’s location and behaviour.

Two major challenges

Chee How and Loh stumbled many times while developing their innovative product. Chee How says that one of the biggest challenges in building the business is finding the right people. He believes that while Tapway has bright prospects, it might be too early for the region’s retail industry to grasp the power of analytics and real-time action – which explains why awareness of Tapway and the benefits of its solution remain low.

“Growth has been slower than expected and getting customers to pay for our solution has proven to be more difficult that I originally thought,” he confesses.

Tapway is working through these issues by meeting its clients halfway. “Instead of providing an analytics solution, we evolved into something more familiar-sounding, such as WiFi marketing and customer relationship management or CRM,” says Chee How.

Despite these challenges, Chee How and Loh have never wavered from their belief that there is huge potential in their services. They refuse to entertain any thoughts about throwing in the towel. “We have come too far to give everything up so we will keep pushing until we achieve our goals,” says Chee How.

Award winners

Despite a host of hiccups and challenges – as well as the fact that they had no prior experience in or knowledge of WiFi-based technologies – Chee How and Loh were able to successfully create a highly technical and complex product.

The duo’s perseverance and commitment have led to recognition and rewards.

Tapway’s clients today include restaurants, cafes, retail chains, hypermarkets, department stores, and shopping centres.

Chee How says all of their achievements are due to hard work and research. It would also not have been possible without a great and dedicated team and while their product is far from perfect, “we are all proud of it.”

Tapway’s achievements to date include becoming a finalist in the Alliance Bank BizSmart SME Challenge 2013, the regional winner of Seedstars World 2014, the national winner of the Dreamplus startup competition, and being voted Most Progressive Startup by the Coach and Grow Programme (CGP) in 2014.

In addition, it has received coverage from media outlets such as The Star, BFM Radio, Tech in Asia, and Inside Retail Asia.

Smart business tools

To help gain perspective and improve its business model, Tapway participated in the CGP. Through the coaching sessions, the founders acquired the tools to track and enhance their business model.

The CGP also enabled them to network with other startups, which provided them with encouragement through the knowledge that many other people are also fighting hard to be successful.

Besides seeing others succeed in their entrepreneurial journey, Chee How says he gains inspiration by looking up to business idols like Elon Musk, whom he describes as “a pure genius in his vision and execution.”

Hopes for the future

Confident that the IoT and big data analytics can transform and significantly improve the brick-and-mortar retail experience, Tapway will forge ahead in enhancing awareness of its brand and solution.

Chee How does not expect progress to take long: “In another year’s time, I foresee that our WiFi-based technology will be adopted widely in Malaysia and start to penetrate other Asian countries.”

Besides the retail industry, Chee How also believes that Tapway’s solutions will benefit other brick-and-mortar sectors, such as hospitality, tourism, and manufacturing.

“The adoption of connected sensors such as IP (Internet Protocol) cameras, WiFi and Bluetooth sensors and devices like AR (augmented reality) glasses and low-cost smartphones, across all industries will provide an immense amount of data which Tapway can leverage to provide real-time insights,” he says.

Chee How describes entrepreneurship not as a career, but as an embodiment of yourself and your dreams. He believes that patience is a virtue in the entrepreneurial journey. “In the toughest times, do not give up, keep hustling and working hard until you get there,” he advises.

Chee How says that to make an impact in other people’s lives, and to produce innovations that help make the world a better place, “don’t create a product you think customers want; instead, create a product customers think they want!”

Discover Tapway at www.tapway.com.my.