Community News

Conversation with Vouch

It’s heartening to know that it’s not all gloom and doom during this time of uncertainty. The silver lining for us is, Vouch, a homegrown brand and friend of Gather, not only survived, but adapted and thrived during this time of change. Read on as Joseph Ling, Founder of Vouch reveals his strategic decisions to adapt to the situation and shares more about his entrepreneurial journey.

Photo credit: Vouch SG

Why the name Vouch and what inspired you to get into it?

When I started Vouch in 2016, the idea was the use big data to do targeted marketing for retailers. We planned to use vouchers to influence behaviour, hence the name Vouch. After pivoting, we thought the logo and name was nice and decided to keep it haha.

Photo credit: Vouch SG

What’s Vouch up to at the moment?

Vouch works with hotels to deploy digital concierges that help increase revenue, boost productivity, and elevate the guest experience. Our digital concierges allow guests to self-service without downloading yet another app, just by scanning a QR code on their own phone.

The digital concierge has proven great success in the hospitality industry. Did you plan on targeting specifically the hospitality industry when you started the venture?

No we didn’t! We had run out of money sometime in early 2018, and were looking for new opportunities, when at the time the Singapore Tourism Board was having a Hotels Innovation Challenge. We needed some revenue, participated, got a pilot with one hotel, found that our product had great ROI in the hospitality industry, and the rest is history.

Vouch not only survived, but adapted and thrived during this uncertain time. What are some decisions you’ve made due to the pandemic, or how has the situation contributed to the growth of the business?

COVID was a really trying time for us. I think we really realised that shit had hit the fan when SG banned Chinese tourists. We quickly realised that there was no way we were going to be making any revenue in the short term from hotels, so we made 2 strategic decisions:

  1. Position for growth – We pivoted our in-room dining feature to allow hotels to make money from restaurant takeaway/delivery during circuit breaker, and gave it out for free as part of a drive to help hotels during this period. This gave us the opportunity to build great relationships with them, and they eventually converted into paying customers.
  2. Search for other revenue source – We realised that the only people spending during this period was the government, so we began looking for government projects that we could take part in. We started working with the National Heritage Board on a couple of pilots, which were successful and eventually translated into some really interesting follow-on projects that gave us significant cashflow to survive.

These decisions helped us capture nearly 20% of all the hotel rooms in Singapore.

Other than hotels, where else do you see it as an emerging opportunity?

We’re expanding into the wider travel industry, where we see a huge opportunity once markets reopen. So whether its attractions, museums, shopping malls, or transportation, we’re starting to make in-roads into these industries.

Photo credit: Vouch SG

How do you think Vouch will be impacted/ play out its role further with the acceleration of digitalisation?

I believe Vouch playing a big part in helping to enable digitalisation across the travel industry. We focus a lot of UX, making sure that accessing our products is as user-friendly and easy as possible. For example, we believe in making sure that users don’t need to download another app in order to access the digital experience, and our attention to things like that help us achieve really high use rates in the hotels we work with. This is critical, because without high use rates, people will end up going back to the old, manual ways, reducing the benefits that digitalisation can bring.

What’s next for Vouch?

You’ll be seeing us at many other places around Singapore (not just hotels) soon! We’re also really pushing hard at growing across the region and becoming a mainstay in the travel space. In a few years, we hope that people are going to say stuff like “just Vouch it la” when making requests or getting information at hotels or attractions!

“Artificial intelligence” is today still an intimidating concept to some, and many has the perception that it will be costly. Is it really? Is the digital concierge something start-ups can look to hop on?

Well the big boys like Google and Amazon have made it really easy for start-ups to take A.I. concepts and build useful applications around it. We are one of the beneficiaries of this push for making A.I. more accessible. I think actually tapping on A.I. to build applications is no longer a costly endeavour, but whether these applications are in turn expensive to businesses that want to use them, that probably depends a lot of market forces, e.g. value to customer, cost comparison against current solutions, etc.

What are the advice you’ll give to businesses who have decided to implement a digital chatbot?

Chatbots are just a channel for delivering information. Don’t focus so much on the “chatbot” part, but focus on choosing the right interface for the job. When we first started out, we thought hotels really wanted the smartest chatbot possible to impress their guests. Turns out, the more important thing is to use the right interface for the task at hand, and that’s why we began building out a suite of mini-apps that address functions like food-ordering where chat may not be the most intuitive interface. Its why we don’t call ourselves a chatbot anymore, and chat is just one of the modules that we provide for answering FAQs.

What has been your biggest takeaway and/or best advice given to you as an entrepreneur?

You’ll probably never stumble across a perfect idea, and if you do come up with one, someone else has probably had the same idea before. What’s important is actually pursuing that idea and focusing on the execution. Ideas are cheap!

As an entrepreneur with a young family, how do you balance your work and personal life?

When I first started Vouch, I used to work 18 hour days every day. With experience and the wisdom gained through those experiences, I’ve started to realise that there are many things that I used to do that don’t really have much impact, and have started to be a lot more careful about where I spend my time. I also greatly appreciate the team that we’ve built at Vouch – most critical operations are now handled by them, and that frees me up for more strategic things (and time with the wife and kids :P).