Monday, 3 August 2015

RISE Conference

Our team went for the exhibition in the RISE conference organized by Web Summit. It was fruitful to learn from entrepreneurs and investors in the community. During this event, we demoed our newborn product, Tutormy, which is a mobile market place for tutors and students to meet and communicate.

Some highlights:

Regarding products:

We visited most educational related product booths during the event. There are basically three types of products in the market.

  • Dashboard management system for schools to better manage their internal resources, including teachers, students, courses, etc. The system also serve as a engagement tool for schools to communicate with parents and other relevant entities. Most teams who are doing this kind of B2B systems are mostly working on domestic markets(spotted some teams from Delhi and one from Philippines). Some have already been quite established and looking for new opportunities(Found one Norwegian company).
  • Marketplaces. There is a HK based startup with a similar idea as us but working in a purely web based system. As marketplaces, we keep record of the transactions and take commissions out of that. That's a proven model. However, no global dominated tuition market places exist yet in the market. Honestly, this kind of web based system has already been there for a long time. A guy from Yahoo visited the booth claiming that he created a similar platform 7 years ago. There are quite a few tuition agency websites coming into the market every month from Singapore, let alone elsewhere in the world. What makes us different? For us, our key selling point is the #1 mobile market place in Southeast Asia. For the HK team, their key selling point is a better web user experience compared to some existing ones. 
  • Content providers. I did spotted some companies being more content driven. An educational game design company from Latvia, a physical education data visualisation company from UAE, etc.
Why there are still no dominating marketplaces for the tuition industry? There are a few reasons in my mind:

  • Tuition market is pretty localised in different places, a universal online experience may not be enough to scale, further localisations need to get involved to fit into a specific market.
  • The fundamental experience is to find tutors and pay tuition fees. The online experience may not be as superior compared to the offline experience, i.e., online/mobile payments may not be so convenient as the offline.
  • Either the tech side for the tuition marketplace is just too easy to be replicated, or the game changing techs still haven't been properly utilised to make a big difference.

Regarding investments:

Honestly, there are not many investment companies or individual investors dropping by to booths. Most of them just assign some staffs to collect namecards and have a short conversation. There are some collaboration programs such as InvestHK which provides a bridge to help overseas startups to grow in HK.

Thankfully, I still got some interesting advises from some top investors. A Senior Goldman Sachs partner commented that the idea is good but the business model needs to get fine tuned and tested out. A Senior Paypal Braintree director suggested us to get the payment transaction integrated as soon as possible and try to test the tier commission model. Back in Singapore, I also received some critical advises from an investor in Sequoia. His suggestion is that the star tutors in our platform would be the key ingredients if we are to compete with others.

Regarding ideas and vision:

Honestly, I did learnt a lot during this event. I think bigger and more clear about how we can possibly enter into bigger markets. I deliberately talk to some Southeast Asia education startups to see potential collaborations. There are some in my namecard list: Indonesia,Philippines,Thailand, etc. However, those who come to us seeking for collaborations are mostly startups from 1. India 2. Taiwan 3. HK.

I visited my HK friend in Google and he's very interested to help explore the HK market. I think we may add some features gathered from HK in the product refinery stage in the next 2 iterations.

During this event, quite a number of smart people approaches us. Some includes an educator from MIT, a Stanford graduate, a Cambridge graduate, a Princeton graduate.

Two thoughts blow up my mind:

The educator from MIT shared his opinions regarding teaching. He believes the randomness in the offline community is very difficult to replicate. However, that's the essential of learning and teaching. Most schools teach students to be better employees, but a great school should empower the students to be better self learners and leaders. An interesting example he proposed is that a teacher spotted a very intelligent student in the classroom/school, he can encourage and inspire the student to be more motivated. The student can be a better self-learner and possibly become a next Nobel Prize winner. The point of this example is to highlight the importance of a community with intellectual students and teachers. The random connection between a teacher and a student make the whole experience magical and amazing.

The Princeton graduate who's currently working as an intern in J.P. Morgan also highlighted some very interesting points. Her first two questions are: "What makes a super good startup and why startups fail?" My answers to these two questions:"Stats shows 90%+ startups fail because of cash flow. However, most important thing is still the team. To be a super good startup, team is not the only thing, the vision determines how far the startup can go." She only cares about the vision part, since her question is to create a "super good" startup, not a normal startup. She's very interested to creating a great education company that's fundamentally change how people learn and think. That's a big vision and she can really sell. We had a further discussion regarding how we can possibly collaborate together. Let's see whether we can bring our project steps ahead.














Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Echelon Asia 2015

I attended the Echelon Asia summit on Tuesday and Wednesday. It was nice. Echelon this year comes with an app which help attendees better connect with each other. It's indeed pretty helpful.



In a situation when I cannot find a speaker in the back stage, I connected her with the app and it really helped out.

Top highlights: 



The talk about scalability: How HotelQuickly manage to launch 6 countries all at once and scale so fast all across. Speakers: Tomas from Hotel Quickly and Suhair from Google.


The talk about relationship between southeast Asia and China. Managed to talk to Thomas Tsao and William Bao Bean.  Learnt a lot from them and got to know how VCs think.
The talk about relationship between southeast Asia and Europe.
The story about freelancer.com. I posted my request to do SEO for my websites. Within minutes, I received 10+ free lancers asking to provide SEO service for me. Unfortunately, the one I chose with high rankings was indeed a scammer. Reliability is indeed the most important thing that should come along in a market place.


For the turkish airline's booth, they had a very interesting campaign in which they invite startup cofounders to talk about their business and broadcast to 110 airplanes. I talked about Fooyo and our new coming product Tut / Tutormy. That's pretty exciting.


Sunday, 17 May 2015

Smart Health

It was quite a coincident that this week's meetups all lead to the topic of innovations in health.

This Thursday, I attended a luncheon with Ms. Tin Pei Ling who is the youngest member of Parliament. She has a deep knowledge of health&health care related politics including the CPF medical schemes(medisave, medifund, medishield), government's attitudes towards mentor health, etc. I raised some questions regarding healthcare innovations especially for the aging population. It is an important topic in the Smart Nation speech delivered by PM Lee which I attended last year. Ms. Tin gave some suggestions and encouragements. Really appreciated.


That same evening, I went to 237.io in China Town to attend a health related event named Smart Health coLAB which happened to be a hackathon briefing. I've got to know people from that industry and the pains people are really facing.

The event organisers invited some industrial people to share their solutions to the current existing problems. In fact, some solutions are quite pioneering. One solution sounds very interesting to me. It is intended to keep track of the home activities of an elderly and help him/her live a better life. The solution is named Silverline which integrates Low Energy Bluetooth tags and some WIFI enabled hardware devices to connect to a central Hub and keep track of the indoor activity data including door opening/closing, flushing of a toilet, fan speed, etc. It is currently under experiment in some HDBs for elderly and it's going to raise more fundings soon. 


Another project which interested me is connexionsasia, a health data collector who creatively combines health data with the insurance industry. The problem they are trying to solve is to help HR in the company better optimise the employee insurance costs by referring to real health data and getting to know employees' health conditions better. They already received series A funding and going to extend the business to 12 countries this year.



Then I spent some more time with Justin, who is now a PHD candidate doing medical researches in NUS. He also works part-timely in a global health care organization named Access Health International. He is now working in the aging sector, which he believes a big problem in the society. We did some brainstorming together in a juice store, coming up with some interesting ideas. One of which is related to Square Dance(广场舞), a good way to help the elderly live more healthy and less lonely.

This Saturday, I went to the hackathon, with Justin and his colleague - Rachel Leung from HK Chinese University. Rachel is really outgoing and rationale. We had some quick discussions and everything became clear. Later, an lady, Alice, who plans to start an elderly program in HK joined our team. Since I'm very experienced in hackathon and have mentored teams to win hackathons, I guided the team to do brain storming and wireframing. Time is limited, thus our plan is to come up with a prototype by using existed prototyping tools. 


It went well and we managed to come up with the prototype with three killing features:

1. The self learning square dancing class
2. The square dancing event appointment system(before event, at the event and after the event)
3l A social community concept to help the elderly to better communicate with each other.



We won a great prize and it's a nice collaboration with the health&healthcare professionals.  Innovations will continue to happen in different areas. We'll keep on learning and work hard to create products we ourselves feel proud of.  Jiayou!






Friday, 1 May 2015

InnovFest 2015

I attended the innovFest 2015 event. It was quite eye opening. Besides the booth, some topics in the forums also interested me.

The first topic I joined was the Kopi Chat with Yossi Vardi, a famous Israeli entrepreneur and investor. He is straightforward and humorous. When talking about the most important reason why people wake up with a great idea but ended up sleeping without executing anything, he collected answers from the audiences. One answer pretty much fitted his appetite-- "People fear about losing faces". He shared his opinion with the quotes from Theodore Roosevelt, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
The second topic I joined was a Venture Capital forum moderated by SingTel Innov8's CEO, Edgar Hardless. Guests are Jixun Foo from GGV Capital Shanghai, Neal Cross from DBS and Wilson Cuaca from East Ventures. Jixun shared his opinion regarding China's innovations and trends from his 10+ years of investment experience in China.  The innovations in China once were copycats from the western innovations, but they have surpassed the initial ideas by creating products and services which really fit the market. E-commerces are getting more vertical to differentiate between taobao and jd.com.  Both Jixun and Neal spoke highly of Alipay which definitely drives technology in the financial world. Jixun also shared his own opinion regarding what might be the next big innovation comes come from in China. He shared two things: China has a lot of inefficiencies. That's where technology and services can really make a difference. There are second tier/third tier/forth tier cities in China where people are using mobile only(without PC). China is more than Beijing and Shanghai. The next billion dollar company may come from mobile only products which will be vertical for people to explore and help solve the inefficiency problem in China. One example would probably be agriculture. Wilson answered a question brilliantly regarding how Singapore startups can expend the markets into neighbouring countries. He answered that in Singapore, everything is based on a best case scenario where the networks, infrastructures, 3G/4G, have no problems. While in some other countries like Indonesia, entrepreneurs should assume that everything is in the worst case scenario. That's very different. 

Neal also joined another topic regarding how big companies and small companies should work together. He set an example regarding how DBS organises hackathons to solve their own internal problems and adapt to certain cultures from the startups. This topic is moderated by Michael Yap who is one of the most well-know Singaporean technology entrepreneurs and angel investors. I knew him from one of my friends who was once under his incubation coworking space in the Co-Foundry. Thankfully, I had a short conversation with him afterwards. 

Another very interesting sharing was regarding Asia's User Goldmine. The speakers includes Chris Reitermann, O&M APAC's CEO, who is a hardcore marketing guy, Nobuhiro Ito who is a marketing direct and evangelist from Microsoft, Troy Malone from Evernote, Michel de Rijk from Xaxis and Liz Gannes as the moderator. The answer regarding what is the user goldmine, the answers from Nobu and Troy drew my attention. Nobu said "cross-platform" is the way, Troy said "first of all your product needs to be really good". I guess it's because I'm a tech guy thus I buy these answers more. My partner, Wing, who comes from marketing&biz background prefers Chris and Michel's answers more.

Fooyo is currently incubating our own product. We believe the product suitable for other Asian markets such as Japan and Korea. Thus I also attended another session named "Japan & South Korea - Is There Room for Outsiders?" The speakers include a governor from Japan, a Korean VC working in a Japanese venture capital company and a Korean telecom company officer. After the session, however, I found it really difficult to enter these two markets. One interesting phenomenon raised by Mr. Saemin Ahn is that big companies in Japan tend to diverse their own products/services to enter into more fields, which makes startups, even the local ones very difficult to survive. Another very interesting thing agreed by the guests is that sometimes the startups may go through more rejections for fund approval a lot in Japan and Korea before they are finally approved. Whereas in Singapore, it's normally quite straightforward. If you are not approved once or twice in Singapore, that means you are not qualified and you need not to come again. However, you may need to apply again and again in Japan to show your determinations before the funds get approved.  

Besides the forums and talks, I also encountered a few interesting projects.  Some of my friends were having booths. Qiyue was demoing a space management solution. Qiao Liang and Jay were demoing their new BigSpoon app. While my previous project, ReadPeer was also under demo in SeSame Research center. One project which surprised me was the Aerolion quadcopter project which was once a school project named NUSlion. This new project has won the bidding for State Grid over Dji.com. It is now ready for mass production. That's great news. In picture is me with my friend Jiayuan, who is the first full time employee in the Aerolion project.


Tuesday, 10 March 2015

What it takes to create a news classification app?


Fooyo recently received a request to make a news classification app. It sounds quite challenging and interesting. We feel excited to solve hard problems. The request is a bit too urgent, but we managed to deliver it with good feedbacks from the client.

The requests is to crawl news data from various news sources, delete the duplications, classify the news into different categories and then display them on a mobile app.

It sounds quite straightforward, however, each module actually involves quite hard components that need deep knowledge/understanding to solve them.

In summary there are four components:
1. A web news crawler
2. A duplication deletion mechanism
3. A news classification mechanism
4. A mobile app which interacts with the server

A web crawler is used to crawl news list data and the corresponding page links. The web contents of the page links are then saved into the server. There are quite a few good open sourced crawler out there, e.g., scrapy.  Some sites may have anti-crawler feature which will block IPs when they crawl too much. Thus we may need different proxy servers to crawl the data when some are blocked by the news site.

A duplication deletion mechanism firstly need a good text parser which involves the following tasks:

1. Texts need to be tokenised into list of words(This step would be important for languages like Chinese).
2. Each word needs to be be stemmed(say ran, running and run are all stemmed into run).
3. Remove the stop words(a, to, the, and, etc)[may not be a necessary step], punctuations, lower case, lemmatising, etc.

After parsing the text data, we need to calculate the text similarity to remove the duplications: cosine similarity, Jaccard similarity coefficient, etc.

To categorize the news into different groups, we need to adopt suitable text classification algorithms, e.g., Naive Bayes , Tf-idf, etc. Some recommended python libraries includes: nltk, scikit-learn, etc.

To transfer the data into the client app, we also created a data storage mechanism which saves the crawled data into database and then gets retrieved according to category&page number.

The final app is like the following, with a news list tableview page and and a news detail page. The category tabs are displayed at the top scrollview, which makes the experience more user friendly.

There are a lot of challenges. One of the challenge occurs when we use our news duplication deletion algorithm, the complexity is high when we need to compare one article with every others(n^2). If the similarity comparison itself is not efficient enough, the whole thing would be very inefficient. Imagine there are 1,000 articles, then we'll need 1,000,000 comparisons. If every second can process 1000 comparisons, then it can take 17 minutes to process the whole thing. When it's less efficient, that would be a disaster. Initially, we compare the whole text body. It took so long time. We switched to compare title which is much more efficient. The result turns out to be OK.  A better strategy would be to process the text body to abstract the top N keywords and then compare the keywords instead of the whole article.

The urgent task was not confirmed until 3 days before the deadline. It looked like an impossible task to finish in such a short time at this complicity level. Thankfully, three out of four developers in our team learned NLP/Machine learning and we confirmed it doable. Our team worked really hard staying overnight and together we made it happen. Thanks for the help from many open source communities for providing very good NLP/Machine learning libraries. Also a special thank to a friend from Tencent who gave us nice guidances in the very early stage.

This article is a personal sharing and there may be some parts which are not academically rigorous, please feel free to point out the parts which you find anything improper. Thanks!




Monday, 9 March 2015

Fooyo


I officially quitted my job in ViSenze in Feb 2015 to chase my little dream -- to create a lean tech startup that can make the world a better place.

In fact, my cofounders and I started working together in the early 2013 where we developed an iPad clock game which solves a small problem in a fun way.  Ever since then, we have never stopped our passions in making products that can benefit people. Though we worked on many projects in different teams in the past two years, we still cannot forget the most memorable days when we worked together in the midnight in School of Computing and go for supper together. That was the best time in my life so far.

On a usual day in April 2014, I proposed the idea to make a small and beautiful tech studio that makes elegant apps/products.  A lot of feedbacks came. Most feedbacks are just comments without any actionable suggestions. Only one friend, Rick(one of the cofounders) who was exchanging in Switzerland(ETH) saw my posts and then created a Wechat Group together with two others to discuss about the plan. The plan was to start doing outsourced projects to make some real successful cases. At that time, we had no clients, no money, nothing at all. But we never stopped seeking. We named our studio "Fooyo" which sounds like "浮游" in Chinese. It stands for a pure and simple object that can bring beauty and freedom.

The first potential client was introduced by Zhixing, who is not only a developer but also a professional photographer. The potential client was a photographer who would love to start her own photograph studio. She needed an official website that can showcase her work and potentially help attract more photographing clients. We spent a lot of time planning the most suitable proposal which can fit her requirements. The plan was good. However, the client was not buying. The budget was beyond her expectation though we already gave her a very friendly pricing. She didn't think the official website worths that much to pay for when it cannot really help attract more customers as Social Networks(Facebook pages, etc) do.  Her final decision was to build the website on Wix, which served the purpose and also saved some money.  The failure helped us realise some facts:

Technology is changing a lot of industries, including technology service itself. The low end markets will be replaced by automation and there can hardly be profits for services which still need labours to process. If we are still moving on with the tech consultancy service, we've got two ways to go:

          1. To aim for the high end clients.
          2. To develop products which still don't have optimal automation solutions.
          3. Create a solution that is automatic and can scale with minimal marginal cost.


The first approach is quite hard especially for young startups. High end clients will seek for high end consultants and there are few chances for the young ones. Though there are cases where the high-end consultants may distribute some tasks to new comers, the tasks are usually not that interesting. Other factors may change the situation, say relationship. If we know a big guy,  he may give us some good projects at a descent price. Unfortunately, it was not our case at that time.

The third approach requires initial investments and it can take quite some money. We were not at that stage at that time.

The real situation led us to the second approach where we aim more for app development than website development. The fact that four of us are full-stack developers and can make both apps and websites, our competitive advantage is to make full-stack solutions for entrepreneurs who have already received fund or traditional industry leaders who would like to do more innovations on IT.

Thankfully, we've helped some entrepreneurs building websites/apps before and they trusted us for our ability and frankness. We've got our first client Wanmen.org who received seeds fund from Renren inc and was in desperate to seek for tech teams that can really deliver good quality products. As a friend and a previous active developer, I suggested the CEO of Wanmen to seek for a good outsourcing team at the first stage. The CEO was not a tech person and he had limited connections with good engineers, it is indeed the best way out for their company at that time. After some comparisons, he still found that reliability is somewhat more important than capability when multiple teams have the capability to do something. He asked whether my team is capable of doing that. I consolidated with my team members via Skype(one in Toronto, one in Zuich, one in Singapore) and we confirmed that it was doable. He trusted us and we made a first deal to make a website + iOS app + Android app full stack solution.

Four of us distributed our talents and really delivered the products on time(with some help from professional designers and project managers). The first version was quite a success. In two weeks time, there are around 10, 000 registered users and 10, 000 total app downloads. The investor gave 3 million USD more fund to Wanmen and the company is growing well.

Since then, we are more confident that we can deliver high-quality full-stack products in a very efficient manner. More project requests are coming. More biz entrepreneurs are trying to hunt us to be their CTOs. That was also the time when I cannot balance my work and my passions. After months of mental struggling, I decided to quit my job although ViSenze is a nice company and I can possibly become a more professional engineer staying there. I decided to be a tech entrepreneur creating tech products to improve people's lives rather than an obeying engineer.

Now, fooyo is moving fast. We initialise our own products as well as helping other people realising their dreams. We've got passionate people working as Business Director, Senior UX designer, etc. One of my Swedish friends also joined us as a strategy director. There are still a lot of problems we need to conquer along the way, but I'm confident that our team can move forward and really make a difference.

Fooyo


Thursday, 1 January 2015

New Year Resolution

A lot of things happened in the year 2014.  A lot of people to thank to, also a lot of people to apologise to...

Thanks to ViSenze who gives me various chances to learn different skills.

  • I worked out my first java project with highly professional team members.  I learnt how to translate business requirements into user cases, how to initiate execution plans and prioritise, how to design a system in a more elegant manner, how to code java properly, Spring, Akka, Unit test, Angular.js, etc. 
  • I worked out the first version of iOS sdk based on the Java sdk and Faceplusplus iOS sdk
  • I worked out a demo site based on the PHP sdk and fixed a few bugs in the PHP sdk.
  • I learnt to be more careful implementing front end CSS and HTML and be a more detailed person.
Thanks to all the helpful people in the company who would like to share their knowledge and expertise, especially to Guangda who helped point out my problems straightforwardly no matter how naughty I am, to Dejun who helped guide my technical skills, to Siyuan and Pengjun who helped solve a lot of things together, to Pengjie who taught me how to think like a designer and project manager, to Vincent who encouraged me every now and then, to Oliver who showed us what business professionalism really means, to Victor, Vasanth, Shirely for being patient and helpful and also many personal thanks to Linlin, Depeng, Song Zheng, Xu Fan, Gao Ge and Li Shen.

To be frank, the people I need to thank most are those I need to apologise most. I should have worked harder and met a better standard. I shouldn't have let them down. 

For the new year, I wish I can be a better iOS developer. After trial and errors, I realised that I am more passionate about making something people can use. I care more about the way how things are delivered to the user instead of the very hardcore backend system operational level issues. To some extend, I've got to pick one or two areas that I myself should be really good at. Otherwise, I am highly replaceable.  Quality is important, quantity is somewhat more important as a junior. I still strongly believe in Agile development where things are make better iteratively. Same for technical skills and project experiences.  I foresee myself to do 3-5 iOS projects in the year 2015, including discussing, wire-framing and actual coding. In between, I will also need to do some front end projects to continue polishing my front end skills. Hopefully(I will) by the end of year 2015, I can proudly present one app which is really useful and good in UX/UI. That's my resolution for the new year.

It is not a right time for me to do a startup, both technical wise and connection wise.  However, it is also not responsive if I work in a company and have something else in my mind. I've got a small little dream that I can create a small and beautiful company making great products. I do work hard on that goal. However, these personal dreams can sometimes conflict with the current job I am working on. The more time I invest on my dream, the less commitments I can make for others. This conflict can really mean something. I may have to choose between one and another. It's a tough decision but I'll consolidate that in the first week of 2015.