Shopping is a very big deal in Singapore, and shopping for bargains in crowded malls is possibly the most popular form of bloodsport all Singaporeans participate in. But as Vaasu Gavarasana found out, there wasn’t a single comprehensive resource on the latest information on shopping promotions anywhere in the market. A consumer had to look through a lot of places – newspapers, brochures, mailers or online sites – before forming a picture of what’s available. To take that “pain” away, Vaasu founded Promeoh.
The idea first came to Vaasu when he was asked for shopping advice by a friend who was visiting Singapore. Realizing that there was an opportunity, he quit his job, sourced technology, sounded out some marketing gurus and came up with the concept. Promeoh basically aims to provide consumers with comprehensive, updated information on sales promotions so that they can identify the deals that most interest them and go shopping well equipped with this information.
“We are not an e-commerce site – our objective is basically to provide information,” says D. Sriram, Singapore-based Promeoh‘s CEO. “The big new idea here is getting marketers a proper database of consumer reactions to different kinds of promotions and creating an engine for planning and executing sales promotions.”
Both Sriram and founder Vaasu are advertising folks who quit their jobs to start Promeoh. Sriram has some 18 years of experience and was also formerly CEO, Asia-Pacific for Starcom Mediavest Group. Vaasu also spent a similar 18 years in advertising, and was last regional VP at McCann Erickson. He started Promeoh because, as he put it, he wants to “actually live and breathe solutions instead of recommending them and walking away”.
“To us, entrepreneurship is all about finding ways to create value – for our customers and our consumers. If we can do that, we succeed, if we don’t, we fail – and either outcome is acceptable to us as the result of what we do,” says Sriram.
Promeoh’s key USP is also its greatest challenge
Sriram declares that a “comprehensive listing of promotions is our USP and is what will bring users back”. “There may be better places for a specific category – so people who only want that specific category might find that its better to go look in a superstore than on our site – but the next time around, when they shop for furniture, or a TV, or bedsheets, or anything else at all, Promeoh is the only place likely to have it all,” he explains. “Our goal is not necessarily to be the best in every category, but to be the best generalist across categories, and to be the best generalist across all promotion types.” At present Promeoh has between 1500-2000 promotions listed at any point in time (often a few hundred will expire over the weekend so the number fluctuates quite a bit).
However, searching for promotions on Promeoh can be difficult and confusing, and its search engine’s algorithms leaves a lot to be desired. For example, when looking for mobile phones, a keyword search for “phone” fails to return any result. Only when you search “mobile” do you understand why: mobile phones are classified under mobile handsets or mobile smartphones so apparently the engine checks the first word in the search string instead of within the entire string. This is counter-intuitive, and some natural language processing technology is seriously needed here to make the engine work a whole lot better (and smarter). And why isn’t there a way to search for an exact item, say a Blackberry Bold?
Aside from the relatively unattractive design of the site (which can be easily improved), this is potentially the deal-breaker for Promeoh.
Sriram admits that they accelerated their launch to “try and help shoppers over Christmas and New Year and while its pretty much there, there’s a couple of bugs here and there which we’re sorting out on the fly”. One of the key challenges it faces, says Sriram, is that without adequate money some features have to be put on hold and having to work with a smaller content team than is ideal. “But the biggest challenge is trying to get advertisers to give us the time of day since we are a small part of their lives and not the most important thing on their to-do lists.”
Opportunities in times of recession
One of the bright points, Sriram noted, is that given the current recession they are actually finding it easier than expected to get traffic and repeat visits. “We now have an initial visitor base of around 11000 – on that base we need to start selling listing packages to large retailers and use that funding to add features to our product, promote to a larger base and grow into the 100,000+ visitor base at which we would seriously challenge other places where promotions get advertised.”
“Also, our early traffic is giving us some great data on what appeals to consumers which we’re hoping to use to bring in advertising dollars.”
Promeoh is currently fully privately funded through friends, family and associates. “At this point we’ve spent about S$500,000 to develop and launch and expect to use up another S$300,000 by . Having said that, we’re funded adequately to survive another few months without revenue, and we should be starting to make some money by January.”