Rockin’ Cradle will feature two Rockin’ Entrepreneurs in every issue. In this issue, get to know CatchThatBus and ReservO.

CATCHING A RIDE

Viren Doshi and Ashwin Jeyapalasingam want to put an end to long queues at dusty bus stations through its app, CatchThatBus. They tell us about nurturing and growing an idea that hit Viren while he was on a job-stint in India.

Moving forward: CatchThatBus founders, Viren Doshi (centre-left) and Ashwin Jeyapalasingam (centre-right) and the rest of the CatchThatBus team work hard to bring the company forward.

1. Let’s begin with telling us about yourself. Who are the people behind CatchThatBus?

Ashwin: CatchThatBus was founded by Viren Doshi and myself. We both studied A-Levels together in Taylor’s some time back, and always wanted to do something together, business-wise. We toyed with several ideas over the years, but ultimately the idea that really resonated with us was this one, which Viren saw executed successfully in India while he was working for a 6-month stint with an NGO there.

2. Why did you decide to venture into entrepreneurship?

Viren: We had always wanted to try our hand at entrepreneurship if the right idea struck us. Luckily, this opportunity came about at the right time, and resonated with the both of us, so we decided to take the plunge while we were both relatively young and without major family commitments i.e. kids.

3. Who do you count as your role model in the entrepreneurship world? Why?

Viren: It’s definitely Steve Jobs. The focus that Apple has on the product and customer experience is something that we similarly drive at CatchThatBus. Like Apple, we engage a lot of time focusing on the small details that make a difference. This is reflected particularly in our mobile app which we launched for Android last month. We tried to make the process as intuitive as possible, and the feedback we’ve been receiving from our customers have been extremely positive.

4. How did you start your venture? Did you set out to change something?

Ashwin: We really wanted to make a change in the bus service industry in Malaysia. We’ve seen a rapid evolution in the airlines and taxi space, but not really in the bus service industry. Things haven’t really progressed in the last 10 years and we think we’re the ones who are going to help shake up the industry. And if the industry doesn’t change, it’s going to be slowly eaten by other transportation methods – cars, low-cost airlines and high-speed rail. It has to evolve to compete and we’re going to use technology to achieve that.

5. What were among your three main challenges? How did you overcome them?

Viren: Our first challenge was in acquiring talent. Nobody wanted to join a start-up, and we didn’t have the slack to hire dead-weight. We really had to hunt for a significant period of time to find the right tech lead who had similar values to ours.

The second headache was tackling the operators. It took us a long time to gain the trust of the operators and many teh tarik sessions before we got our first operators on board. But it’s much easier now as they often refer us to other operators.

Our big problem now is getting awareness with the general public. We were fortunate to be featured by several newspapers and radio stations, but we still have a long way to go before becoming a household name. But we’ll get there.

6. Who do you turn to when you run into problems?

Viren: We are fortunate to have access to some good advisers, from our new investors, Jungle Ventures, mentors we met while being Cradle CIP Catalyst recipients and some good friends. Other fellow technopreneurs are also a good source of advice as many of us face similar problems and some of them have found good ways of dealing with them

7. How did Cradle Fund help you on your journey?

Ashwin: Well the money obviously helped make ends meet but also the application process forced us to really think through our business plan and help us plan our targets and milestones. We also gained access to quite a few business contacts through various initiatives and events organised by Cradle.

8. When you were younger, did you ever dream of being in business or was that the last thing on your mind?

Viren:  We have a family business, so entrepreneurship was definitely in the cards, but starting a business on my own was something I came to after careful consideration and not to mention, ‘spirited’ discussion with the family,

Ashwin: As a kid I used to be fairly entrepreneurial, selling stickers and little toys to my fellow classmates from a ‘supplier’ from another school that we used to stop by on the school bus route. When my parents found out about my little money making scheme, they put a quick end to it, but nowadays they sing a different tune :-).

9. Are you enjoying your entrepreneurship journey so far?

Viren:  It definitely has its ups and downs, but overall I wouldn’t trade the experience we’ve had so far for anything. And with the uptake in our services recently, we know we’ve gone down the right path and we can’t wait to see how else we can grow this business.

10. How does your idea make the world a better place?

Viren: Apart from making buying tickets easier and removing the hassle of going down to the bus station and fighting off ticket touts, we’re working on a few ideas to really revolutionise the bus industry and the overall journey. Look out for some exciting things in the next three months.

11. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Viren: Hopefully we’ll be catching that bus in more countries in ASEAN and we’re working on developing a new idea or two on the side. We’re just operating at capacity right now trying to make sure we get this right.

12. We know running a business can be stressful. What do you do to relax?

Ashwin: I enjoy going to the gym, and regularly conduct group classes as an instructor. Working out really helps me let go and release stress. Viren on the other hand, never switches off.

13. If you weren’t running a business, what would you be doing instead?

Ashwin: I would probably still be in PwC doing consulting work, as I had been doing for seven years prior to leaving to start this up. Viren would likely be running his family business. We’d both probably have a lot less grey hairs though.

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PRETTY ORGANISED

Online booking service, ReservO, aims to change the way reservations are done in the health and beauty service industry. Its CEO, Gan Chai Yee, tells us all about her journey.

 Creating something beautiful: Gan Chai Yee with Denis (left) and Jarod (right) are the core team behind ReservO

1. Let’s begin with telling us about yourself. Who is Gan Chai Yee?

I am a coffee drinker (black only), day dreamer and spa go-er. Prior to ReservO, I was working as a management consultant in Accenture for the past six years. My prior experience also include stints in Phillip Morris, Ernst & Young and working as a farmer in my family farm. I also help out in my family’s budget hotel and café business in Malacca on a part-time basis.

2. Why did you decide to venture into entrepreneurship and set up ReservO?

Like most women, I enjoy my facial/ spa/ massage sessions. However, it’s always such a nightmare when it comes to making reservations because these places are always full or no one answers the phone. On top of that, unlike the hotel industry where there is Agoda and Booking.com, I realised a missing gap in the service industry where customers can go explore new places and make bookings. Hence,  how the idea of building a marketplace for services came along.

3. Who do you count as your role model in the entrepreneurship world? Why?

I am always inspired by entrepreneurs who have changed the world with the power of the Internet. Top of the list are Jeff Bezos (Founder of Amazon), Biz Stone (Co-founder of Twitter) and Alexis Ohanian (Co-founder of Reddit). These founders have harnessed the power of the Internet to change our lives.

As Alexis would say, “The world is still round but the Internet is flat.”  It has created an equal playing ground for people to discover and get discovered. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a prime location or a place with good foot traffic; with the right ingredients any business has an equal chance to compete on the Internet. The role for us as entrepreneurs is to close the adoption gap and help these businesses, people or charities make the Internet work for them.

4. How did you start your venture? Did you set out to change something?

I started ReservO with my fiancé, Denis, with the idea of building the Agoda equivalent for services, focusing on beauty services (yes, you can say I did it to scratch my own itch). We were later introduced to Jarod, a brilliant nerd/hacker who came on-board as our CTO. ReservO wants to allow businesses to have an online presence and get discovered. The challenge in the market currently is there are so many good service providers which are not online or are relying on coupon deals to get noticed. We want to provide a market place where these businesses can showcase their services, pictures of their interior or work and receive bookings.

5. What were among your three main challenges and how did you overcome them?

  • Unlearning corporate habits. Our users and customers in ReservO use a different set of vocabulary. Words like “validation” or “visualise” will kill the conversation.
  • Learning everything to survive on the Internet and the start-up-like lean methods – how to make Google love your site and how to growth hack. There is a lot of material out there and as founders these are the skills you definitely need to pick up along the way.
  • Raising funds. As ReservO moves toward commercialisation, we spend a fair bit of time pitching and raising funds. At the beginning, the process can be quite intimidating but after many rounds, you sort of get better at it and all feedback from these sessions are valuable and you will continuously refine your business model and outlook.

6. Who do you turn to when you run into problems?

My team members would be the first sounding board and then the start-up community in general. This community is all about giving and helping each out each other and a great place to turn to for advice. Most of the things I’ve learned in this journey come from similar founders like myself who have given me pointers and their opinions along the way. As long as you are thick-skinned, accept constructive criticism and you actively reach out to other founders, I found that they are more than willing to hear you out over a cup of coffee.

7. How did Cradle help you on your journey?

Firstly, receiving Cradle’s CIP Catalyst was a life-changing moment for us. We took the opportunity and went on this journey. Cradle’s network is a gold mine of like-minded entrepreneurs, mentors and potential investors and Cradle has done an amazing job connecting us with the right people through hosting networking events, training and pitching opportunities. Without Cradle, it would have taken us three to five times longer to establish these networks and get connected.

8. When you were younger, did you ever dream of being in business or was that the last thing on your mind?

It was definitely the last thing on my mind. I grew up with the LEAD factor – parents wanted us to be either a Lawyer, Engineer, Accountant or Doctor. I ended up studying accounting at the University of Melbourne.

Personally as a kid from Malacca, I just wanted to work in the Petronas Twin Towers. The idea of working there was coolest thing ever and I got to live that dream when I was based there for six years.

9. Are you enjoying your entrepreneurship journey so far?

Definitely! Despite the emotional roller coaster this journey’s taken me, the number of amazing people I’ve met, new things I’ve learned and challenges feels like a real-life MBA degree programme.

The start-up ecosystem in Malaysia experiencing beautiful growth. With the establishment of MaGiC, more hackathons and so many other networking avenues in place, it really helps new entrepreneurs like myself to get immersed in the culture and figure our way around the ecosystem.

10. Where do you see yourself in five years?

I would like to imagine that I am continuously building a meaningful business.

11. We know running a business can be stressful. What do you do to relax?

I enjoy reading biographies of founders’ of successful Internet businesses. Reading about their journey to some extent comforts me. Our roadblocks and the issues we have to face are similar. What really matters is your attitude and how to address these situations.

Also, my pet dog –  a white schnauzer called Gandalf – keeps me sane because he needs to be walked daily and likes to play fetch so he forces me to get off my computer for a good 45 minutes.

12. If you weren’t running a business, what would you be doing instead?

I’d probably still be a management consultant, I guess.