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938NOW: Radio Interview with Smart Walkie

Keith D. Souza host The Breakfast Club on 938NOW. Talking about Enterprise Mobility this morning. We're told it's the largest I.T. opportunity in the next five years.

Transcript of Radio Interview

Keith D. Souza The Breakfast Club with Keith De Souza. A very good morning, we're talking about Enterprise Mobility this morning. We're told it's the largest I.T. opportunity in the next five years. Field workers like movers and drivers make up 60 percent of the workforce in Asia. As education and work becomes more white collar, they need information communication and collaboration tools to get their work done.

[00:00:25] So traditional push to talk walkie talkies are being replaced by the likes of Smart Walkie and it's their app is VoicePing. Singapore's first walkie talkie app which can be bundled and adapted with Android phones. What about the iPhone? Well, we're going to find out this morning from the CEO of Smart Walkie. Am I getting that right? We are joined this morning by its well its Chief Executive Officer Zhou Wenhan. Welcome into the program.

Zhou Wenhan [00:01:00] Hi good morning Keith.

Keith D. Souza [00:01:01]So let's talk about this Smart Talkie/VoicePing. What is it and is it replacing the traditional walkie talkie?

Zhou Wenhan [00:01:11] Well the company is called Smart Walkie Private Limited. And what we provide is a nationwide walkie talkie service.

Keith D. Souza [00:01:18]Sure.

Zhou Wenhan [00:01:18] And what this comprises of is first, a rugged Android smartphone that is made specially for walkie talkie. And then our App is called VoicePing and what it does is it emulates the walkie talkie functionality for both Android and iPhone. So we've got that covered as well.

Keith D. Souza [00:01:40]How difficult was it did to develop something like this?

Zhou Wenhan [00:01:43] So it was difficult and we only got it right on the second go. The first go, We tried it and we couldn't do it. So we started as a reseller for a U.S. based walkie talkie app. But after a year or two, being the engineers that we are we decided to give it another try and this time we got it. And we had a marketing site up and inquiries started coming in even with very little marketing. And that's when I knew it was an opportunity to pursue.

Keith D. Souza [00:02:08]So it eliminates the need for those cumbersome things while they're not as cumbersome as they used to be but they're still pretty cumbersome.

Zhou Wenhan [00:02:18] It combines multiple functions into one device. So of course you can do phone calls, you can do walkie talkie. It is an android phone so you can run the business applications. So companies embark on their digitalization initiative. It becomes a work tool for our fuel workers.

Keith D. Souza [00:02:34]So you talked about the teething pains and trying to develop. What made you want to develop something like you know this this app (VoicePing).

Zhou Wenhan [00:02:43] Yeah. I wasn't in the telecommunications industry and I was surprised at customers calling in from pretty large organizations and pretty large companies in Singapore, enquiring about our very simple application. So I did a bit more research. I realized that the need for instant voice communication especially in a group setting where you can talk one to many, it's actually quite prevalent in many industries. So that gave us the motivation to put in more resources and to make it a service and a separate company from my first company.

Keith D. Souza [00:03:19]So this was basically to help people say a lift maintenance operator, you know get in touch with his home base and things of that nature or someone else who is skiving off somewhere.

Zhou Wenhan [00:03:33] So the users are very varied. So we have drivers like the container truck drivers talking back to their headquarters. There could be security guards patrolling a building It's all for that quick status updates like "Hey where are you now?" or "Hey I need some help from to bring this over here. So could somebody volunteer himself?"

Keith D. Souza [00:03:55]Sure. So would it mean that these phones are where this app is situated. Is GP.S. enabled? You can be tracked so he is holding this mobile phone bill right away exactly the way we are.

Zhou Wenhan [00:04:08] And this helps you because like for example our distribution company right. The customer service agent was on the line could give a live update to the customer. "I think a delivery will be done 20 minutes. Just stick around and our guys should be there soon because they can see where the delivery guy currently is.

Keith D. Souza [00:04:24]So we talked about you know some teething problems. Was the G.P.S. part of it all the most difficult to get to pin down?

Zhou Wenhan [00:04:34] That's one of them because you there is a constraint on the battery life. The more location updates, the shorter the battery life is. So getting it optimized this one. I would say the biggest challenge at the start was the correct hardware. So at the start we were just "hey you guys can install the app on your own phone right."

Keith D. Souza [00:04:52]Right.

Zhou Wenhan [00:04:53] But then we quickly came to realize it was a logistical issue. The workers were distributed around Singapore, just installing it is like a three or four days of work for the manager. .

Keith D. Souza [00:05:03]So when when when did you first start rolling this particular app out?

Zhou Wenhan [00:05:08] So we started in 2016. So that's three years ago. Yeah and development took about one or two years for that.

Keith D. Souza [00:05:16]What about funding? Did you come out with your own resources?

Zhou Wenhan [00:05:21] No it's fully bootstrap and profitable. So it was effort from from our own team. It was spun out from a first company, a mobile application consultancy.

Keith D. Souza [00:05:31]Okay. The reception seems to be pretty well overwhelming. You see once you put a marketing site up. People were banging on your doors. You've got some big well big names on your as using you and distributing your products as well. What is the business model. Do you perhaps rent this app out or do you. Are you perhaps in inverted commas a telco on your own.

Zhou Wenhan [00:05:58] We are an enterprise focussed telco basically. Because we subsidize the device like how a telco subsidise a device on a 24 month contract. And we then charge a subscription fee for both the software and the hardware.

Keith D. Souza [00:06:10]So you provide the hardware as well.

Zhou Wenhan [00:06:12] So we've learned that is really important right hardware.

Keith D. Souza [00:06:14]So with them it is basically a mobile phone and people can adapt to using on a work basis. Yeah. Was it difficult to adapt? Is it only for that and voice?

Zhou Wenhan [00:06:28] It's a basically Android smartphone with a loudspeaker. You need to be heard. People need to be able to hear when you're outdoors. And It has a dedicated a push a top button. So when someone speaks to you you hear it instantly. Don't have to press any button to play the message right. And if you pick up the phone you press the push the talk button you can reply instantly.

Keith D. Souza [00:06:47]So there's no putting the mobile phone on silent.

Zhou Wenhan [00:06:50] You can but.

Keith D. Souza [00:06:51]It's not advisable when you are at work.

Zhou Wenhan [00:06:53] Yeah. Yeah.

Keith D. Souza [00:06:53]Because you can be tracked.

Zhou Wenhan [00:06:55] Yeah. So because it's what one problem that it solves is that the manager needs to get a hold of you. Right. So that's why it's always on.

Keith D. Souza [00:07:03]We're going to come back this morning and talk some more with the founder of Smart Walkie Zhou Wenhan. We are talking about the trials and tribulations of getting the app online which is VoicePing. We want to talk about the business models and more and perhaps how Smart Walkie has perhaps solved this walkie talkie dilemma here in Singapore and I guess around the world. And perhaps if there is a disruptor in this particular industry. Come back with the Breakfast club after an update on what's happening in the world and on the road stay with us. Good morning.

Keith D. Souza [00:07:39]The Breakfast Club with Keith D'Souza. Back into the breakfast club in the morning fix right here on 9 3 8. Now we're speaking this morning with Zhou Wenhan

[00:07:47] He is the founder of Smart Walkie. We we're told it's the first walkie talkie app in Singapore and they're shaking things up this morning. Wenhan welcome back into the program. To your knowledge. Is it the only walkie talkie app around?

Zhou Wenhan [00:08:03] No of course not. So are they are U.S. based applications and Korean based applications as well.

Keith D. Souza [00:08:10]Mm hmm. Yeah but Singapore. This is the first one? What took so long?

Zhou Wenhan [00:08:13] Technology takes time to build up.

Keith D. Souza [00:08:17]But it was adopted everywhere else.

Zhou Wenhan [00:08:20] Yes but it's not just about a network but also the hardware. The appropriate devices so there was one that had to be soleved.

Keith D. Souza [00:08:28]And you settled on an Android phone why was it more. Was it more reliable? Was it more you know withstand stand more torture and manhandling?

Zhou Wenhan [00:08:40] Yeah. So from China there were rugged phones phones that came out that suited our needs so we adopted them. And of course the iPhones came in a certain form fact that it couldn't be changed.

Keith D. Souza [00:08:51]So other than that what other perhaps stumbling blocks did you face?

Zhou Wenhan [00:08:58] I think one thing is for our industries that we serve, the workers need to get educated. They need to go through the trials before they understand what has to be done. And so a lot of initiatives are started by top management but at a middle management and and the Workforce level that's something that you have to get comfortable with. And it's our job to make that transition as seamless as possible.

Keith D. Souza [00:09:21]You know talk about seamless ness and the ease of using technology. How difficult was it for the companies to get their workers on these things?

Zhou Wenhan [00:09:31] It varies from company to company. For some companies, after a one week trial the workers understand that it's not as different as using their smartphones or any smartphones these days. For some companies they might be more comfortable with the all ways of communication. So it depends. But I would say 80 percent of the time, it's quite a seamless transition. Once they go through the one week trial they understand it and they can use it from there.

Keith D. Souza [00:09:58]Tell us about your operatiosn or expansion into other markets. I believe you are in the US market as well.

Zhou Wenhan [00:10:04] Yes so we have had the resellers approach us from a lot of countries. Central America, Mexico, the US and Canada. And this year for us our personal goal is to set up the same model in Singapore where we control the hardware, software and SIM cards in Indonesia which is of course a large market.

Keith D. Souza [00:10:24]So bottom line, are you making money right now?

Zhou Wenhan [00:10:26] Yeah. So we are profitable company and we are pretty much in a growth stage right now. Scalinng our marketing and advertising to let more people know because I did not not a lot of companies know that there is a nationwide walkie talkie service and that you can enable them their Enterprise Mobility initiative.

Keith D. Souza [00:10:44]How difficult was it to convince organizations to get on board?

Zhou Wenhan [00:10:51] Not really. I mean once we had the marketing side...

Keith D. Souza [00:10:55]I say other people would have a dream. Well how did you manage to identify this niche? Is it because like you said you're the first app here in Singapore. Was it that that drove you guys?

Zhou Wenhan [00:11:07] I think that was partially it but we also started to see patterns where in certain industries especially those field workers were the ones in need. And so we definitely do not have the banks, because everyone's in office so there is need for that. We kept seeing Hotels. We kept seeing our logistic companies. We kept seeing manufacturing plants. So most of my time I am in Tuas actually.

Keith D. Souza [00:11:29]So it's basically because it is geared towards the blue collar worker. Someone on the move on a constant beat. What is the perhaps the range that someone can contact each other?

Zhou Wenhan [00:11:41] It' is nationwide.

Keith D. Souza [00:11:42]It's a similar I just tap on the network and I can get anybody. Unlike a walkie talkie which has a range.

Zhou Wenhan [00:11:48] We even have some companies that have operations in Johor and they use it to bridge Singapore-Johor communications.

Keith D. Souza [00:11:55]Wow that far. Let's talk about future plans. What's next you seem to be everywhere already.

Zhou Wenhan [00:12:04] I think there is a difference in in terms of depending on resellers and doing it ourselves. So we are going to do Indonesia ourselves because we think that that model might be the fastest and most beneficial to our customers because they get the know how that we have built in Singapore, in terms of customer service in terms of hardware maintainance. We will take this entire model and replicate it in Indonesia.

Keith D. Souza [00:12:30]Also a big market. Reception over there?

Zhou Wenhan [00:12:34] That is one reason why Indonesia hasn't really caught on earlier.

Keith D. Souza [00:12:38]Is it because of the covered network coverage?

Zhou Wenhan [00:12:41] Indonesian network is a bit more congested but I think there's been big improvements especially that they've adopted the 4G network in the last few years. So that is less of a concern these days.

Keith D. Souza [00:12:52]And we talked about Singapore, you had your problems. What about overseas?How difficult is it to penetrate that market?

Zhou Wenhan [00:13:00] So Singapore companies always find that it's difficult to go overseas.

Keith D. Souza [00:13:04]Why is that?

Zhou Wenhan [00:13:05] I think I went through a SMEa conference two weeks ago.

Keith D. Souza [00:13:08]THeres an SME business conference coming up. You should be attending it as well.

Zhou Wenhan [00:13:12] Yea, so they say like every country you go to is like a new start up again because you would have to adjust your model. You got to know the people again. It is like restarting a Start-Up. And I think that is just one challenge. You can build a model in Singapore but you probably have to tweak it once you go overseas. Even a close country like Malaysia. So for example one question I haven't solved is how we are going to still keep our 24 hour device replacement program but in a larger country like Indonesia. In Singapore you can send a device in one hour but Indonesia might take five days.

Keith D. Souza [00:13:43]Indeed indeed. And well you don't have to go that far. You just cross the causeway and it could be a while as well. Yeah. So we wish you all the best. I guess things are on the up and up here in Singapore. Thank you so much. Wenhan. Sorry. Thank you so much for making it in this morning. Zhou Wenhan is the founder of Smart Walkie. They are the developers of the first walkie talkie app in Singapore and it's well hit the ground running for two years and there's been great reception. Congratulations and see you come back and talk to us again. Thank you. And you've been listening to the breakfirst drive love on your morning fix right here on 9 3 8. Now stay with us. 9 3 8 now.