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When Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based marketing analytics startup Aimazing was incorporated seven years ago in Singapore, it was still a mobile wallet business. Since then, Aimazing has pivoted twice–first shifting to a business-to-business (B2B) FinTech model, then reorienting focus to data analytics, where it finally found its niche in 2017.
Today, the company is the retail analytics platform of choice for mall management, allowing establishments like the Philippines’ Power Plant Mall to make data-driven decisions with complete transactional data visibility. Aimazing now has over 1,000 clients across Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan.
A “pivot,” according to Eric Ries’ Lean Startup Methodology, is a “course-correct” manoeuvre, a Plan B for a business model that isn’t taking off. In Ries’s Methodology, businesses should sketch out hypotheses, or testable guesses, defining their mission and preferred outcomes. If the hypotheses aren’t validated by experience, then the business should “pivot” to a new business model, and repeat till they find one that works.
Structural changes can seem daunting and tedious. But entrepreneurship, by nature, has no shortage of pivots. Even some of the most successful tech companies are born from multiple course corrections. Just ask Twitter, which started out as a podcasting company; or PayPal, which pivoted five times before finding success.
However, not all pivots lead to positive results. As the whole world saw in the last two years, COVID-19 was a big, unforeseen curveball for a great many industries. Aimazing CEO and co-founder Jun Ting offers the following lessons, based on his own experiences, on dealing with failure and pivoting a successful start-up.
While pivoting is common, it most certainly is not easy. For Aimazing, each pivot came with high stakes. Not only would the team lose the time and money invested in an idea, but they would inevitably lose team members and start again from scratch.
When Ting first started Aimazing, he wanted to create a business-to-consumer (B2C) mobile wallet. At that time, in 2015, FinTech was beginning to gain traction in the region. Alipay and WeChat were popular in China, and GoJek had just launched its digital wallet. In search of a unique selling point, the team landed on technology that would allow users to make payments through inaudible soundwaves produced by their mobile phones.
But just nine months after starting their business, Aimazing committed a common start-up mistake: burning too much cash, too fast. The co-founders had to either stick to their original business plan, but raise funds from a venture capital (VC) firm; or pivot to a B2B model. It occurred to them that, at just nine months in, they would not be able to convince any investors to put up the funds they needed, because they did not have the resources to grow exponentially. Differentiating themselves from other mobile wallets would also be difficult, given the market landscape at that time.
In the end, Aimazing decided to pivot even if it meant starting the business from scratch. But for Ting, starting over again was not an issue. Having cut his teeth in business at the age of 15, Ting instinctively understood that accepting failure early on was just part of being an entrepreneur. Aimazing’s team of entrepreneurs was not driven mainly by profit. Instead, they dreamed of creating products that can solve real problems. Starting from scratch was no trouble at all, considering their goal.
There is a common misconception that if you build a good product, the money will follow. However, if you fail to adapt to unforeseen circumstances, even the greatest product cannot save your business.
A few years ago, Aimazing was in danger of falling into this very trap. Their pivot to B2B looked promising. Aimazing won the MAS (Monetary Authority Singapore) FinTech Awards at the 2016 Singapore FinTech Festival, and got them into The FinLab’s FinTech-focused accelerator programme in 2017. The company had even signed a deal with a mobile wallet and a bank.
But in 2018, Singapore rolled out a unified payment QR code scheme in a push for cashless payments, which made Aimazing’s services obsolete. Consequently, all of Aimazing’s contracts with clients evaporated.
Yet Aimazing managed to find another opportunity in this setback. The company’s main product–a cashback loyalty programme–got Facebook’s attention; the social networking giant was interested in learning about obtaining offline transaction data to run their business.
That was when Ting realised that even big tech companies faced issues with merging their online data with offline. That insight helped create Aimazing as we know it today.
Aimazing now provides a Data Platform to help shopping malls to increase revenue through shopper insights, tenant performance and benchmarking. In the process, they help unlock new revenue opportunities across Southeast Asia, allowing businesses to better understand their market so they can reach and retain more customers.
When Aimazing pivoted for the second time, they had to explain their decision to investors in great detail. Getting buy-in was not guaranteed. In Aimazing’s case, Ting believes that their investors stayed with them through their second restructuring because they believed in the strength of the team.
The FinLab’s Mentor-in-Residence Felix Tan, who first met Aimazing in 2016, saw first-hand how the team was able to turn challenges into stepping stones for success. “I strongly believe that the team now has a very unique solution aimed at retail shopping malls, retail chains or fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs) companies that brings a lot of value with minimum fuss.”
Having a good product matters, but it’s the team who will be making all the decisions and executing the company’s ultimate vision. This is why VCs also look for start-ups with solid core teams: they determine how the business will respond to changing marketing conditions and take advantage of unforeseen opportunities.
Fortunately, Aimazing was led by a competent core team that put the company on a solid path to growth. “I was blessed to have very good co-founders,” Ting shared.
Looking back, it took Aimazing three years and two pivots before they were able to enjoy the success that they have now. The path to success requires entrepreneurs to embrace failure and be willing to reinvent their businesses. Having a good team, a helpful network, and the tenacity to persevere is what will see you through.
Have you set your sights on pivoting your business, but feel hesitant about making the big change? We’ll hear you out. Get in touch with us. If you want to kick off your digitalisation journey with the support of a like-minded community, sign up to be part of UOB’s innovation accelerator, The Finlab.
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