SME Spotlight

Belling the Sqkii cat with a 'mouse hunt'

Sqkii founders (from left) Marcus Ng, Eleazar Lim and Kenny Choy first came up with the "Hunt the Mouse" campaign in NTU as a guerilla marketing campaign. An islandwide version of the hunt was later organised with OCBC as the $50,000 prize sponsor.
Sqkii founders (from left) Marcus Ng, Eleazar Lim and Kenny Choy first came up with the "Hunt the Mouse" campaign in NTU as a guerilla marketing campaign. An islandwide version of the hunt was later organised with OCBC as the $50,000 prize sponsor.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Five years ago, three undergraduates - Mr Kenny Choy, 27, Mr Marcus Ng, 26 and Mr Eleazar Lim, 28 - came together to change the way promotions help people make retail and dining decisions. Sqkii, (pronounced "squeaky") a promotions aggregator app, is now ready for launch. Mr Choy speaks to Marissa Lee about how they harnessed the power of crowdsourcing to build a community, as well as the numerous "Hunt The Mouse" campaigns they've used to pique interest.

Q How was Sqkii started?

A Marcus and I met in December 2012, during our first-year orientation at Nanyang Business School. At that time there was this app that went viral called Phewtick.

Basically what Phewtick does is it encourages people to meet up, and they earn points exchangeable for cash. So we thought, why not get people to look at advertisements and then pay them random amounts of cash - in a way, what Phewtick did - that makes it really exciting and easy to earn money?

We started drawing out the business model but neither of us could code an app. I'm an accounting student and Marcus is a marketing student. So we asked around: Who's the best IT guy in NTU, SMU and NUS? Eli - Eleazar - was one of them, and we approached him.

Q Did that original vision change?

A The first version of our app didn't really work out. It didn't have a mass market appeal. We were only reaching a specific group of people, students or housewives, who were willing to exchange their time for money. We used an operations team to find and upload promotions, but that was a lot of work.

But we also learnt that some people who had the time to make some extra bucks would really work for it. That's where we started to have a better idea of the sort of app we wanted to build, which is a community-driven platform where everyone shares promotions with one another.

We released an upload function for 20 different people, and within a week, 1,000 different promotions were put up.

Q Then you ran into problems?

A October last year was a pivotal month for us. We lost a key developer and were left with $17,000 in our bank and an incomplete, sometimes buggy, web application. We couldn't generate revenue, but we had to increase our cash runway.

So we stopped paying ourselves and ran a guerrilla marketing campaign that could bring us back to a desirable position such that investors would potentially want to invest in us.

That's how the first "Hunt The Mouse" campaign came about.

Q What was the objective of the first hunt?

A The first objective was to get as many people as possible onto the beta app. The second objective was to establish the credibility of Sqkii as a brand that gives away cash.

We were only left with several thousand dollars but we actually hid a real box of $800 of our own cash in NTU. We launched a campaign and said that a box of $800 in cash was hidden in NTU, and released clues. One of the clues was that the box was hidden underneath something. We started seeing people looking under tables, looking under chairs, under carpets. To our surprise, it sort of went viral in NTU.

Q How did you monetise that?

A After our second hunt in NUS, we had a lot of people asking if we could organise a cash hunt in their schools, but we didn't have enough money back then so it forced us to come up with a sustainable model.

We partnered with merchants in the vicinity and that allowed us to fund a couple of other tertiary cash hunts without incurring a single cent in costs.

Eventually, we decided to organise an islandwide hunt for $50,000. OCBC was the prize sponsor. That hunt lasted 23 days, and we hid a coin instead of $50,000. It certainly helped us to sleep better.

Q What is the profile of a typical Sqkii user right now?

A It's actually quite diverse. We have students, housewives, accountants in the "Big Four" firms - despite being very busy, they still post a lot of promotions. They are just ordinary Singaporeans who know a lot about deals. It's hard to fit them all into a profile or stereotype. They themselves have this habit of collecting deals.

Q When will you launch the Sqkii app?

A Very soon. We have over 5,000 users on our beta app now and 200 really active users who are posting a lot of promotions for us. When we launch the application itself, you'll find over 10,000 promotions within just one app. You'd see Groupon promotions, Eatigo promotions, online promotions, all within one app.

The whole vision that we're looking at is that by the year 2020, we imagine a world where everyone has their own virtual personal assistant (VPA) that can point them to the best deals in their vicinity.

We're not building this VPA because there will be Amazon and Alexa, Apple and Siri. But we're trying to prepare ourselves for such a case where a VPA becomes a norm in Singapore.

By 2020, if we have everything done right, we'll have a central database of updated promotions within one single app and a VPA could connect to Sqkii to find out what is the most talked-about promotion in your vicinity right now and ping that answer to you.

Q How do you balance between your core product and all these other campaigns?

A We're in the mobile app business, but along the way, we also need to have other sources of revenue to be sustainable. It cannot be that we're just burning money.

I think our investors also care a lot about whether we have that resilience, whether we are resourceful enough to find ways to survive and reduce expenditure or break even.

So far we've raised about $250,000 from private individuals, not including grants.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2017, with the headline 'Belling the Sqkii cat with a 'mouse hunt''. Print Edition | Subscribe