More semi-random thoughts on the consumer services wave in Singapore

Had the pleasure of meeting Jeremy yesterday for a coffee finally. One of those people I would chat with over twitter but we had never met in really life. We chatted about the local startup scene, our tour of duty in Asia, politics and of course – consumer services. More info on Jeremy here –

Back to the consumer services thing – what I find fascinating is that essentially two girls with an idea and some money can start a consumer services company overnight. Which is cool but unfortunately what happens is that a service is now offered to the public before it is really ready. A blog or some website that is not selling anything doesn’t really factor here but if a service is selling something then it gets real. The customer expects it to work. Just heard about a local service yesterday, JFDI company, that woefully missed their scheduled delivery window with nary a phone call. Pretty much a fail on all levels for a company that has to show up on your doorstep at a specific time.

My own story about iCarsClub hints at a bigger issue which is a well funded company in some ways is no better in delivering their service that a not well funded company. Just look at the comment train for similar experiences to my own.

To summarize, I searched for and called up all the car owners (90+) as shown in the system and was unable to even book a car for just an hour (I had reduced my initial idea of booking for 6 hours down to just one hour to see the response).

Being utterly disappointed in the system, i promptly called up the hotline intending to withdraw my credit and but was simply met by an utter silence. No pickups and no return calls. I will be posting a formal complaint (claim) against the company for intentional fraud or otherwise to the small claims tribunal if there are no answers from the company in the coming week.

And imagine my surprise when I came upon news that the company has recently secured $10 million in Series A funding, with a purported 1,400 personal cars available for rental in Singapore, when in actual fact, reality depicts otherwise.

What I am still surprised about is no one in the local media seems to think it is worthwhile to follow up on funded companies to see how they are doing, how the consumer is fairing and a general update on the progress. Maybe there is no money or readership in this – I don’t know but I think there are people who want to hear about it. A product idea is brewing – but I don’t have the time. My take on iCarsClub is they care more about rapid expansion than about the quality of their service. To this day no one has responded to me about my experience or review. Huge customer service, social media fall in my opinion. If this was my service and someone wrote about it I would be chomping at the bit to respond and hopefully correct the perception. iCarsClub clearly doesn’t give a shit.

Recently tried Redmart and everything worked as planned. They did not have one item – I need to see if the refund processed on it.

This is the new thing I want to try ::

Feel free to leave comments about any experiences you had with local services.

iCarsclub :: Review

I have been quite vocal about my experience with because I was looking forward to taking advantage of it in Singapore. People outside of Singapore may not know that owning a car in Singapore is for rich folks or people who don’t mind 1/3 of everything they make going to towards their car. I see in my own condo building, not high end, very expensive cars that look to be rarely driven. I am sure these folks are car poor cause if I had that kind of money I would probably be living in a bigger pad. In Singapore some locals choose to live cheap but own a car – I guess some sort of status symbol of sorts. All that being said though, it is nice to be able to get in a car once in a while, especially when one has a family. Sometimes the public transit thing is just a lot of work if one wants to roam around town on errands or go somewhere slightly further than normal – like the Kranji countryside for example. Taxis are okay in Singapore but if you were to use one all day it would be cheaper to rent a car – even UberX is awesome (prices in Singapore are the same as a taxi right now) but yet using Uber all day would still be more than renting a car.

So the idea that I can share someone else’s car for a day at reasonable rates without the hassle of dealing with a rental car company is appealing. Enter iCarsclub. Find a car near you, rent it online, go drive it and return it. Sounds great but what I discovered is the promise is so much better than the execution. I will add I successfully rented a car yesterday and all in all was a great experience but the issue is dealing with the service and the company – not the driving experience.

The way it works with iCarsclub is to go online to their site and submit the docs you need to get verified to rent cars. No biggie – it says it takes 3 days. Right. It actually took 3 weeks to get approved which I assume is just cause there is either a backlog or no one working on it. The frustrating part is when I used their support to check in on things – there was never any reply. To this day actually not one support email has been answered. Then I took to twitter – no replies. Left a message on their Facebook page – no replies. Again – to this day there has never been any replies to any of my social media messages. None.

Approved and ready to rock I started to find a car. The selection is actually pretty good and I was surprised to find some pretty cool cars but I was looking for cheap and no too far away from me. This is where I found the service to be badly implemented in that it looks like pretty much all cars are always available but what happens is that the owners of the cars are not blocking their own usage. It only shows when someone else has rented the car. For the first car I rented, which means you have to pay all the fees associated with it – will discuss the payment stuff more later, everything appeared to work fine. Yet moments after reserving the car and paying for it the system would sms tell me the owner rejected my request. Of course being the ass that I am I would sms the owner back to ask why – first owner said his car was in use every Sunday and I asked him why he didn’t block it as so. He said he wasn’t aware of needing to do that. So the owners are just accepting or rejecting based on their schedule versus updating the system to say the car is blocked. Lame. What’s lamer is I as the user can’t leave a review on that car since one can only leave reviews when you have rented the car already. This is silly.

So minutes later I found another car, I got the refund from the last attempt which is not a refund but a credit to the rental account. This is not a huge deal but when you get rejected a lot this could be frustrating but it seems there is a way to force a refund but I didn’t try it. The next rental went the same way – the user rejected it mins later. I again sms’d them and the owner said they were using the car for personal use. Again I asked why they didn’t block it and they didn’t reply. It seems the owners are not at all aware of how to use the system properly.

Finally I rented a car and everything was confirmed for Sunday at 2pm. Around Sunday at 12 I sms’d the owner to confirm pickup spot. Owner replied that he had canceled the rental due to car trouble. Did I get a cancellation message – no. Owner said to call iCarsclub but I didn’t have a number. No where in all the emails and sms’s did I see a number. While this was happening someone called me from iCarsclub. A no caller ID call that I almost didn’t pick up – I don’t get why they can’t use caller ID so that one can at least see a number and call back. I answered and they said they were canceling the car and the money would be back in my account and that I would need to find another car.

Since I finally had someone on the line I decide to go all in and ask what the fuck was wrong with them.

Let me summarize some of this:

Q/A –

Why is no one responding to FB or twitter :: They don’t think they need to reply to social media. Plus they are busy opening China.

Why does no one respond to the online help system (powered by Zopim) :: They never got any emails from me. (I sent 4).

Why do the owners constantly cancel versus blocking their cars :: They probably don’t know how or are lazy.

Why can’t we complain in same way about these owners :: They don’t want any bad feedback about owners since they may leave the system.

Isn’t the users renting just as important as the owners when it comes to service :: No comment.

I tried to dig in more but the guy obviously didn’t know much and said he would try to find another car and sms where it was. I still needed to go online and book it.

Which I did and the request was confirmed by the owner. He sms’d me to say where is was, same as what the system was saying, and that it would be unlocked with the keys in the glove box. Now this is where it is weird in that with a country like Singapore this might work but in most countries I would want that car locked until it unlocked for me. How else would you know you are safe or that someone did not tamper with the car resulting in some damage that I might have to pay for. For this transaction it was on a nice street and in broad daylight but who would want to rent a car at night that was unlocked for example? Not me. This is where I am not sure if they don’t have the tech to remote unlock and lock stuff or if this is just how the owner does it. It worked in this situation but I don’t think this is scalable or would work outside of ultra safe countries like Singapore.

I grabbed the car and settled in. One thing I forgot was to get my own cash card for ERP and parking – I don’t remember this being in the tutorial but is pretty important in Singapore since pretty hard to get around without it. Fortunately I could stop into any gas station and buy one. Small Singapore formality that cannot be forgotten. I used the car almost all day and even extended it by 30 mins cause we were late getting home.

The return consisted of parking it back on the street in that same place and putting the keys back where I found them. Of course the car was unlocked since that is how I found it. I did use the system to end the time and stop the insurance but this did not involve remote locking it. Once again I see where this could be problematic – what if someone stole it right after me or took something from it. My time would be marked as over but would it come back on me in any way? The system should do remote lock and unlock or something more secure.

It cost me bout 85 SGD for everything. I don’t know how that compares to a car rental – I need to check but my experience with any car rental is this was less hassle. All of our trips on public transit would obviously be much less but I don’t think we could have covered the same ground by bus and train in the same time period. Taxi’s or uber covering all the same ground would be much more. A combo of transit and uber would be much less and doable but still the hassle factor is much higher.

So this worked for me. I got to use a car for a part of the day. We will most likely do it again and I don’t think there is another option besides iCarsclub but this product could use a lot of help. On the payments since this service suffers from what a lot of services in Singapore suffer from – they only accept PayPal for credit cards via PayPal. No drama since credit cards are the norm here but the process is so cumbersome and web only. Payments in Singapore for online services need some competition from the likes of Strip and others ASAP.

ICarsclub needs to hire some real product folks to make this work.

Consumer services update – iCarsClub, veggies, and broken iPhone 5

So after about 2 weeks finally approved my application for their service. I think it normally takes 3 days or at least that is what they say. Still no replies to my support emails or tweets. A fail then on all levels for customer service – what if I start using the service? How do I reach them?

On the vegetable front I tried this place :: In general it worked well but I think they could communicate a little better. I did the online order form which sends you a confirmation email. After that nothing happened but then my wife rang me to say someone left a box of veggies at our door. We didn’t know when they were coming and yes, get this – I never paid them. Still need to work that out. Veggies are good though and I will use them again. I might even pay them too. 😉

Last but not least my little girl dropped my iPhone 5 face down on the train yesterday and shattered the glass. I hunted around for someone to repair it near where I live and found this guy :: He quoted (130 sgd) over the phone and I went right over. Fixed it in like 20 mins and put a nice screen cover on it. Very friendly guy that Vincent and does awesome work. Even corrected one of the dents on the side of the phone so the new glass could lay down all the way into the phone. I may take him my bashed iPad mini and my other iPad with cracked glass. Highly recommend his work.

back to work…

Consumer services in Singapore…


I tweeted this yesterday mostly out of frustration with trying out a consumer service here in Singapore with horrible customer service. Looking at you I signed up over a week ago – about 2 weeks now – for their iCarDriver service where you get access to automated short term car sharing. My app is still processing:

To rent and keyless enter nearby cars affordably

Okay – no drama. I user their online customer support email thingy twice. No replies.

I tweet at them in a friendly, like is anywhere there kind of way, and no response. Nothing. How does a consumer company not answer any emails or tweets? Appalling.

Seems they have not tweeted in 30 days. How is that possible?

Check out the tweet search about them – just all stuff about funding and nothing about customers, traction or customer service.

Yet this is a company recently funded –

Maybe they are just annoyed by me, wannabe paying customer, asking for help. I just don’t get it.

But this brings me back to my other feeling about the local ecosystem coverage. There is not much depth to it. It is announcements about starting/funding, then the buzz about someone doing well and then the general industry coverage. There is not a lot about actual reviews of the service, report cards on how companies are doing and a little, but not much about the failing companies – how they failed and what the peeps at the failed places are now doing. I am not bashing the coverage or the people that cover the scene – just highlighting what I think is missing.

Will anyone with a bigger voice than me look into the iCarsClub weirdness? Probably not.

Next I will look into one of these organic vegetable services.

Fear BizDev

So JDFI 2014a is over. Check the videos here ::

What a great event and investors are frothing to get at the startups. awesome.

I had great fun mentoring a few of them.

I have had some follow up talks post demo day and I thought I would share one tidbit.

There is always a few big companies swarming around startups looking to grow their own business via partnering with a startup. Startups are small and looking to grow so initially the thought of working with a big company looks really appealing – a growth strategy of sorts. Well – let me warn you – many times partnering or doing some sort of business development deal #BizDev can usually be worse than not partnering at all.

Some of the pros:

– Getting users
– Getting traffic without paying for it
– Getting some PR
– Being able to tell investors you are working with or have signed a deal with so and so
– Learning from a big company

But in reality what can happen is the cons:

– It might take months to bring the project online
– You will have all the red tape to sort
– You will be at the mercy of the big company development and QA schedules
– Investors will think that the deal is more important than it really is and hound you about it. Not realizing the schedule is now out of your hands
– You might find that the cost of the users was more expensive than just buying the users via marketing
– You probably won’t learn a lot from the big company cause in reality they are learning from you
– The PR is not that big of a deal – sure it helps but it won’t make your startup

I am not saying don’t do #BizDev but have a healthy skepticism for how hard it is, how it may slow you down and how it may throw you off your core business plan.

Sometimes #BizDev is better in the middle stages of a startup than the early stages.

Just saying…

AWS does need to get a mobile story together

I am a big fan of AWS but I will call a spade a spade – their mobile services suck but really they just don’t have any.

Good article on the current situation is here ::

We love AWS at Spuul and wouldn’t be here without it. Yes – you can find cheaper services to run virtual machines on – we know that but when it comes to running a global service with servers we can spin up around the globe – I still think AWS has no equals. None.

However doing some simple things on AWS for mobile is well – not simple. We tried to build our push messaging stack around it and we hit too many walls and had our messages capped per day. AWS had no concept of our user base and the ability for us to buy messages in volume. We went to PushWoosh cause it was simple and cheap. Everything else we do we hand roll behind an API that we run on AWS using AWS services. We always try to use a service versus install code on a server so we have less things to support and update. This keeps our admin headcount low. I won’t tell you how low but let’s say it can’t go any lower.

MSFT is doing a good job with mobile services but I have no first hand experience with it but I know they make some things dead simple – like push messaging, among others. AWS is never really dead simple but it works and you know what you are dealing with.

Mobile is the thing and my guess even the next thing is all about – mobile.

AWS needs to up their mobile game.

I am watching.

Any yes – Brazil really did get spanked.