Vulcan Post is where you find news about technology and products that affect your daily lifestyle. We aim to add a human element to technology and discuss how technology is slowly changing our daily interactions with one another.
Apple is still holding pole position with a value of nearly US$900 billion, Amazon on the other hand sits second at US$765 billion.
Image Credit: Forbes
We all know Amazon as one of the forerunners of e-commerce, a site where you can literally buy anything from groceries, to furniture, and even digital content.
Beyond simply just becoming another retail outlet, they actually built the tech that powers their business online and offline.
This in-house R&D is done through their more than 40 subsidiaries like Amazon Web Services (the cloud storage and computing platform), Amazon Robotics (manufactures of their mobile robotic fulfilment systems), and Lab126 (developers of the Kindle and Alexa) to name a few.
Perhaps the most important factor that ties the Google product ecosystem together is Google Assistant – probably one of the better virtual personal assistant in the market today.
The thing that Google needs to work on more though is its payments platform. It has undergone a variety of changes throughout the years, from Google Wallet, to Android Pay, and now we have Google Pay.
More than just having an e-commerce platform, if Google can convince consumers to use their own payments platform then that will indeed be the homerun they need.
The Top 5 Will Be Interesting
Image Credit: Reuters
So here’s where we are at now with the top US listed companies, Apple is first, Amazon second, Alphabet(Google) at third, Microsoft sits at fourth, and Chinese social media giant Tencent is fifth.
All tech companies with plans to extend their reach across the globe. Perhaps the most interesting one on the list is Tencent.
After leapfrogging Facebook, Chinese company Tencent is on a steady trajectory to take on the rest of the big boys from Silicon Valley as they expand from their highly successful app WeChat into areas such as mobile payments and gaming.
Whatever the outcome, all five companies have the tech behind them that can change the way we shop, eat, play, and live.
We can only stand to benefit from this intense competition.
Last year, 1.49 million individuals benefitted from the NFS.
With the system, taxpayers only need to file a return if they have other sources of income that have not been included, or have to make changes to their tax relief claims (more on that later).
Thus, if you’ve been selected for NFS this year, all you’ll need to do is to verify the details of your auto-included information and preview your Notice of Assessment (tax bill showing your income tax).
What’s Auto-Inclusion Scheme (AIS), And What Does That Mean For Me?
AIS employers have to submit the employment income information of their employees to IRAS, so that when employees file their tax returns, they can save the step of submitting their income information again.
Results of YA2017 / Image Credit: IRAS
However, you’ll still need to file your tax return if you received a notification (letter, SMS etc.) from IRAS to do so.
If you have other income to declare, or additional claims for reliefs, you’d also need to file your tax return.
You can use the AIS Organisation Search to check if your employer is in the AIS, and if they have submitted your information for YA2018.
What If ‘NFS’ And ‘AIS’ Don’t Apply To Me?
If both acronyms don’t apply to your situation, you should be expecting a IR8A form from your employer.
Preview of the IR8A form / Image Credit: Talenox
To file your taxes, you’ll need to do it old skool and manually enter the information provided onto the tax portal.
What Are Deductions And Reliefs, And Can I Use Them To Reduce My Taxes?
This means that you’d be eligible for a tax deduction if you used your own money to pay for expenses necessary to your employment – travel expenses, entertainment expenses, subscriptions, etc.
However, do note that these expenses are those which have not been reimbursed by your employer.
Claims would also need to be supported by invoices, receipts, and vouchers lest IRAS asks for them.
< Deductions for Sole-Proprietors, Self-Employed or Partners in a Partnership >
Individuals who are sole-proprietors, freelancers, or partners in a partnership can claim tax deductions on business expenses, medical expenses, expenditure on R&D and even expenses incurred before commencement of business.
Individuals are also able to claim tax deduction on expenses related to rental income derived in Singapore.
This includes premiums paid on fire insurance, repairs done during the rental period to restore the property to its original state, costs of maintaining the property, and even costs like agent commission to secure subsequent tenants.
To encourage Singaporeans to give back, deductions can also be made on donations that you make.
Individuals are able to claim tax deductions of 2.5 to 3 times the amount of donations made 2009 to 2021.
Read more about what constitutes a qualifying donation here.
< Deductions under Angel Investors Tax Deduction Scheme >
This scheme is set in place to encourage individuals to invest in startups.
Investors would be able to claim a tax deduction when they have invested at least $100,000 of qualifying investments in qualifying startups within 12 months from the date of their first investment, and also hold the investment for a continuous period of 2 years from the date of the last qualifying investment.
To qualify, investors would also need to first apply to SPRING Singapore, to be approved as an angel investor.
There are many reliefs and rebates available, so be sure to leverage on them to reduce your assessable income!
Here’s a table of all of them:
Screenshot from IRAS
Some noteworthy ones:
Course Fees Relief: You can claim up to $5,500 a year for courses, seminars, or conferences you attended in the YA. Do note that the relief is only applicable when the course is relevant to your current employment, trade, business, profession or vocation!
NSman Relief: NSmen can claim from $1,500 to $5,000 under this relief. NSman Wife and NSman Parent Reliefs are also given to the wives and parents of NSmen to recognise the support they give to their husbands and sons.
Life Insurance Relief: To qualify for this relief, you’ll need to satisfy a few conditions. First, your contribution to your Medisave account must be less than $5,000, next, you paid insurance premiums on your own policy, and finally the issuing insurance company must have an office or branch in Singapore.
The list of reliefs and their conditions is long, so check out the ones that are most applicable to you here.
What Comes After Filing My Taxes?
Congratulations – you’ve made it to the end!
Once you’re done with filing your taxes, you can rest easy until you receive a Notice of Assessment (NOA) / tax bill.
Most taxpayers should receive their NOA between end April to September 2018.
Image Credit: The Finance
Do remember to check through your NOA as soon as you receive it.
If you have any disagreements with the tax assessment, you can file an objection within 30 days from date of the NOA.
If all’s good, you can proceed to make payment using any of these few methods:
The co-working scene in Malaysia is enjoying a period of healthy growth.
And while they are mostly known as spaces where digital nomads, industrious students, and freelancers go to work, co-working spaces are also hotspots for community events and gatherings. This sense of community is one of the many reasons many individuals, startups and even corporations have chosen co-working spaces as their headquarters, instead of a conventional office space.
It can be hard for a person entrenched in the office scene to imagine what it’s like to be in a co-working space instead. To give you a bit of a glimpse, we’ve listed out some of the community events that are going on in some Malaysian spaces.
These events range from fun workout sessions all the way to Bitcoin mining talks and book launches. So next time someone tells you about co-working spaces and community, you’ll have a better idea of what they’re doing.
Or, attend some of these and get a taste of it for yourself.
1. (Fitness) Kommunity Yoga with Miss Mafia
Image Credit: Komune Coworking Space
Komune is known to host yoga events for members of its coworking space as well as outsiders. The upcoming Kommunity Yoga session will be hosted by Miss Mafia—an initiative that empowers women through upskill initiatives ranging from tech to fitness and more.
These yoga sessions usually see 40 to 50 yogis in attendance. The next session happens in April.
For more information about signups and pricing, contact Komune through their website or Facebook page.
2. (Workshop) Stories by Creators: Learn the art of storytelling
Storytelling is a valuable skill that sets a leader apart from a follower. Facilitated by Petalz, this 4-day workshop was designed to help individuals craft their own story and share it with the world; so they can develop communication skills as leaders to better connect with the people around them.
Learn the art of storytelling through this 4-day workshop, where you will learn to write, sketch, narrate and tell your story in a live event.
This is an interactive and hands-on workshop where the facilitators will guide you through the process of publishing your own story in the form of a printed book, ebook, and audio book.
3. (Talk/Seminar) Commonwealth Conversations – Young Jobless: Why?
This day seminar will host a panel session and idea lab to discuss the subject of unemployment, and how it affects us personally.
Hosted by Nation Building School and the British High Commission, this session will bring together speakers and representatives from organisations such as MDEC and PricewaterhouseCoopers Malaysia, and will allow participants to discuss solutions and provide their own input during the idea lab sessions.
4. (Workshop) Wellness at WORQ- How to Achieve Work-Life Balance
On average, work takes up one third of our daily life. Some of us may have longer working hours, some less. This one hour talk will aim to analyse how participants are managing their work-life balance and then teach them a simple guided relaxation exercise that can be applied anytime throughout the day.
This workshop hosted by veteran digital marketer Amirul Mokhtar aims to equip participants with a greater understanding of how to create a scalable growth engine using Facebook Ads and make the most out of marketing investments.
A lot of the resources online tend to have an American focus, so hearing it from a local perspective is a good ooportunity.
Topics include Facebook Pixel and conversion optimisation, custom audiences, ad copy and creativity, and success metrics.
This informational talk aims to educate participants (especially programmers and engineers) about Artificial Intelligence and tell them all about the basics of the technology and what it could potentially mean for the startup industry in the future.
This talk aims to teach participants about cryptocurrency and how to make passive income using masternodes—servers on decentralised networks. Topics to be covered include how to operate a masternode, how much can you earn, and the best way to maximise them for passive income.
8. (Performance) In A Different Light: An Earth Hour Tribute
A performance meant to celebrate Earth Hour, In A Different Light will immerse the audience in a visual spectale while engulfed in darkness. Directed by experimental theatre director Helena Foo, the performance will feature six perfomers and light play.
*May not be suitable for individuals with light sensitivity or fear of the dark. Viewer discretion is advised.
This workshop aims to teach participants about Washi Tape—decorative adhesive tape originating from Japan, and show them how to use them as decorative items, mixing and matching, as well as making Washi collage artwork. Perfect for beginners and pros alike.
This networking event hopes to link up startup companies looking for fresh talent with potential future interns and employees. Talents will get the chance to meet startup founders and be matched with them on speed dates, which will then possibly translate into a hiring opportunity.
With over 400 million individuals in Asia who will be expected to don’t use banking services, the FinTech startup industry has been seeing a boom in the emergence of innovative financial platforms geared towards helping the unbanked and emerging middle class further their livelihood.
With the right technological innovations, these groups will finally be able to access financial services anytime, anywhere, even in the absence of physical banks in their location.
And the Philippines is one of the countries that will get much help from this.
This is an opportunity that entrepreneur Mikko Perez was able to capitalize on when he established Ayannah, a digital commerce and payment startup company in the Philippines.
Ayannah is a FinTech platform that offers various services for the unbanked and financially marginalized communities in the Philippines.
The Road To Ayannah
Image Credit: FinTech
Perez spent the early years of his career working in communities. It was also then that he thought of venturing into business.
”I wanted to do something in agriculture, so I started a food business, with a capital from my family and from other investors, and I did that for a few years. At one point in time, I had 300 people working for me—I was 24 or 25, and had 300 women working for me,” he said.
He eventually went to the United States for business studies, and there he learned all he needed to know about the internet as well.
“I was in the US when the first internet boomed. And I asked what is it because I wasn’t really this techy guy.”
“I decided to move to Silicon Valley, to find out what was the big thing about the internet. I spent two years in there working for JP Morgan Group, actually, all I did was to network and I met a lot of entrepreneurs because I really wanted to do something more entrepreneurial.”
After learning all about networking and the growing internet, Mikko decided to go back to the Philippines and work for Chikka, a messenger application created by his friend.
However, in 2009, when Chikka was acquired by PLDT, he decided to part ways with the company.
“Chikka was about communication, there was a lot of showbiz there and that wasn’t really my scene.”
By 2010, Perez together with another friend started to build Ayannah.
“Ricky and I were formers bankers, and we knew there was money to be made from the internet but the only way to make money from it was through transactions. Back then it wasn’t called FinTech, it was e-commerce. That’s how we started it.”
An Ode to OFWs
Image Credit: Ayannah
Ayannah mainly focused on OFWs, since during that time the remittance coming in from overseas just kept on increasing.
“I think at that time it was around 19 to 21 billion… We just wanted to do something new, we wanted to give OFWs a way to send goods and services back to the Philippines,” Perez said.
“We started that and it’s actually still running. It is actually very profitable business, very good margin but it’s very difficult to grow because we found out that many of our OFWs don’t have credit cards.”
That was when they realized that the big problem in e-commerce was in the payment methods.
“They wanna buy stuff first, transact online but they don’t have anything to fund the transactions.”
Because of this problem, they thought of creating a system that will allow another person to transact on behalf of the OFWs.
They called the system ‘Power Sendah’, but later on, they changed it to Sendah Direct. They initially planned on deploying it overseas, but there weren’t enough funds to do so.
But local pawnshops like Tambunting and M Lhuiller suddenly reached out to Ayannah and inquired about the possibility of using Sendah Direct.
Sendah is a platform that allows OFWs to send electronic vouchers, mobile top-ups, and goods.
Sendah Direct, on the other hand, is a software that can be used by retailers to offer services such as online game credits, and domestic remittance.
Ayannah also launched Sendah Remit, a bank-grade software that allows domestic cash remittance.
Ayannah is currently partnered with traditional remittance companies such as Western Union, MoneyGram, and Transfast, new online remittance companies like World Remit and Xoom, Bitcoin-based remittances like Coins.PH and Rebit.PH, and leading remittance centers like Cebuana Lhuillier, LBC, and Tambunting.
In 2018, Ayannah is eyeing international ventures in order to further advance the largest digital payment network in the Philippines.
“I’m gonna be spending a lot of time this year outside of the Philippines. We’re hoping to launch by the middle of the year in Indonesia, and by the third quarter or fourth quarter in Vietnam,” Perez added.
All the methods that have made money remittance transactions a breeze were essentially born out of Ayannah. The company is the proponent of cross remittances and “cash pick up anywhere” in the country.
With its swift technology and continuous innovations, Ayannah is no doubt living up to one of the inspirations of its name.
The Filipino phrase “Ayan na” or “It’s here” in English, and we couldn’t agree more with the witty wordplay.
Back in 1994, 5 pharmacists who were coursemates in Universiti Sains Malaysia decided to co-found a pharmacy together.
The result? The first CARiNG outlet was opened in Taman Muda, Cheras.
Today, CARiNG Pharmacy has a total of 115 stores nationwide, with plans to open 10 to 12 stores in the coming financial year (from June 2018 and May 2019). It’s reportedly also the fastest-growing pharmaceutical retail chain locally.
Redistribution of resources—rather than working to save sinking ships—ensures that they have the energy to be focused on maximising the “good” locations they already have. This strategy is particularly important as they’re going up against many other established international and local pharmaceutical chains that may have a lot more stores around and about.
4. They knew the strength joint venture model and capitalised on it.
CARiNG Pharmacy uses the joint venture (JV) concept of offering equity to individual pharmacists who are committed and in long service with the company, as a career opportunity.
Image Credit: CARiNG Pharmacy
One of the major benefits of the JV model is allowing the people working for you to have increased ownership over a business. This means that they’re more willing to go all out, as they now have a stake in the company.
According to Loo Jooi Leng, their marketing director, “To be successful, a JV requires a great deal of trust among the companies involved as well as a high degree of clarity about the direction of the venture.”
At the moment, around 60% of the stores are held in joint ventures with the resident pharmacists, though CARiNG retains majority control.
5. They watched retail trends and moved to match them.
With their focus on community phamacy services, CARiNG has traditionally been a very face-to-face and in-store business.
“We strive to get higher sales contribution from our online sales for the coming years within the group’s revenue. One of the key strategies is to improve customer trust within our funnel,” said Jooi Leng.
He added that one of the things they’re keeping their eye on at the moment is mobile payments.
“The retail industry has been talking about mobile payment for a long time, but 2018 may finally be the year when it reaches critical mass.”
To prepare for this, “Our customers are able to pay with their phones using Samsung pay, Alipay and few more local mobile wallets or e-wallets, especially to target Generation Z or millennials.”
6. They used tech and partnerships to reach and retain their customers.
As a company, they have to remain sensitive to their customers’ wants and needs.
An example would be their partnership with Collectco, a startup that allows users to shop online or return goods at selected collection points like pharmacies and mini-markets.
“Buy online and pickup in store, consumers want this service—and they also want the ability to return online purchases to physical stores,” said Jooi Leng. Of course, CARiNG Pharmacy also gets a side benefit from this partnership.
“The bonus of this method: Consumers who come to collect or return products often end up buying something new once they get into the store.”
They’ve also introduced the new CARiNG Regular Membership Programme in January 2018. Working with Capillary Tech, they’re building a single solution that connects, engages and rewards the customer.
“[We’re] providing a single solution that lets the company connect dots across devices and between online and physical stores by launching a CRM programme, mobile app and brand new e-commerce web site,” said Jooi Leng.
Most of the time, a company doesn’t get staying power and growth by just doing the same old thing that has always worked. It’s important to identify what are your strongest points that your consumers actually come to you for, and build on those on top of adapting new strategies as times change.
Jooi Leng summed up his company’s stance below.
“In order to get more traffic and sales, there are always tweaks, adjustments, and tactics we can execute to improve by developing a fluid plan for improving the revenue generation.”
You can find out more about Caring Pharmacy on their website here.
Many Malaysians don’t think about planning for their deaths, which leads to a more difficult time for those left behind to settle the legacies, insurance, belongings, etc.
The founder also thinks that the current way for Malaysians to deal with death is too fragmented, and wants to design a platform that helps to streamline the entire process on one platform.
Bereev is currently in beta, and will see a full release in April.
Here’s a difficult question—what will happen after your death?
No, not what awaits you in the afterlife. But rather, what will happen to your family once you pass on?
Could your family find all the information they need like the title for your land and documents of your life posessions?
If you have life insurance, is your family aware of it and do they know where the documentation is?
Do you have anything unsaid that they need to know?
Will they even know what to do at all in the event of your demise?
Currently, the way to deal with your own departure is too fragmented, with a lot of moving parts. Typically, you’ll start with a will, and if you have more to spend, insurance.
Bereev aims to be the blueprint that helps walk your family through the entire plan, and holds everything together to make your eventual parting easier for those left behind.
Image Credit: Bereev
“Most of us would prefer not to think about it but without a plan, our loved ones will end up bearing the consequences,” said the description of the platform.
This statement comes from a place of personal loss.
Founder Izumi Inoue came across this situation up close and personally when her grandmother passed away. It was a chaotic experience for the family, and led to some sour feelings on Izumi’s part.
“I found myself wondering whether our family actually cared for my grandmother, but after the moment passed, I realised that wasn’t the case,” said Izumi.
She hated how they dealt with her passing.
“There were too many decisions to make and logistics to handle, but not a single person in my family had the chance to sit down, take a moment and process their own feelings.”
One year later, Izumi’s grandfather passed away as well, but it was a markedly different experience. Before his departure due to stage 4 parotid cancer, Izumi’s grandfather had very frank conversations about his final wishes, cleaned out his own room, and made arrangements for his passing.
When his time did come, the contrast was obvious to Izumi. The smooth transition allowed the family to deal with their feelings and properly grieve for the dearly departed.
“This is the reality when you don’t plan ahead, that’s what your family have to deal with once you’re gone. I know when my time comes, the last thing I want is to stack more pain for my loved ones.”
So she turned her harrowing experiences into a legacy planning platform.
Image Credit: Bereev
Still in beta, Izumi admits that it is now built mostly on “sweat equity”. But once completed, Bereev will be a freemium service where users can be guided through the planning process, in a more streamlined and approachable way.
If users choose to pay, they can also plan for their departure preferences, management of delicate documents and information (medical records, insurance, etc), or most poignantly, leave behind last words and messages.
In the interest of protecting all of this sensitive information, the entire platform is fully encrypted with AES-256, meaning that not even the internal team has access to your information.
The team will be adding other security measures, like a two-factor authentication and regular security audits led by an ex-security specialist for Royal Bank of Scotland, CitiBank and Standard Chartered.
They’re encouraging Malaysians to actually face their eventual demise.
In their mission to bring Bereev to mainstream social consciousness, Izumi thinks that they’ll have to overcome social taboo, as “broaching the subject of mortality has always been a huge ‘no-no’ in the Asian community”.
So they decided to change the narrative instead.
It’s not about being morbid, but instead it’s being realistic and logical. That’s why for the first 12 months, the team will be focusing on acquiring people who already have existing wills or life insurances—people who already have these concerns in mind.
“I would describe the experience to be ‘catapult-like’. Sam, Kash and the team have helped us open plenty of doors and helped us refine our enterprise model which will be one of our low-hanging fruits in terms of commercialisation,” said Izumi about the experience.
The platform still has far to go before its full version is launched, but the idea of at least helping your family deal with your passing is an important one.
Too often, we will see stories of families that were left defenseless once the primary breadwinner passes away, especially in instances where vultures come sniffing for your property in their passing.
With proper planning, you can help reduce the instances of families fighting over your worldly possessions too.
That being said, the success of the platform will now depend on how the team decides to execute. The clock is ticking down to the launch, and we look forward to seeing how the team has figured out their development roadmap.
Bereev will have a full launch in April 2018, but users can sign up for the platform’s beta version here.
It was reported that the startup will be opening new remote kitchens nationwide this year, one of which could evolve to become a fast casual eatery.
According to The Business Times, Deliveroo had applied for a dine-in permit at its Katong Editions site, but to no avail.
Although it has no tentative plans to reapply for the permit, it will still explore the dine-in concept at its new Editions site, which is likely to be located in the heartlands.
But fellow competitor Foodpanda has beat them to it, making them the first food delivery service provider in Singapore to provide such offerings.
Opening Doors In S’pore This Friday
External facade of Favourites by Foodpanda / Image Credit: Foodpanda
Foodpanda will be opening a central kitchen with a dine-in space this Friday, March 23.
Called Favourites by Foodpanda, the space in Woodlands will allow customers to buy food from multiple eateries hosted in the kitchen in a single order.
The space will also deliver food within a 5km radius, serving nearby districts such as Sembawang and Yishun.
Its managing director, Luc Andreani, told Channel NewsAsia that because it’s a canteen space, they needed to have a seating area due to regulation.
He added that the reasoning behind the location was “to bring more choice to our customers in the North, because naturally this is also where organically we have the least amount of restaurants.”
The location will also serve as a testbed for the company, as it looks to roll out more central kitchens across Singapore’s neighbourhoods.
Foodpanda’s Main Focus Is Still Delivery
Foodpanda’s delivery team / Image Credit: Marketing Interactive
Mr Andreani emphasised that while its customers now have the option of dining in, its core business will still be focused on delivery.
In fact, its menus, packaging, and selection of on-site restaurants are all “optimised for delivery.”
It is also looking at rolling out a self-collection option on its app.
Deliveroo has also expressed plans to do the same for its upcoming second central kitchen that will be launched in April.
As the food delivery service and app scene becomes more saturated and competition rises, it is imperative for these services to continue to differentiate themselves.
So while there are certain food companies that specialise in certain geographies like the CBD area or a certain district, some will specialise in certain types of food like hawker food delivery instead.
Right now, Foodpanda and Deliveroo seem to be sharing many of the same business strategies, so it’s high time for them to really push themselves in order to stand out from the competition.
When Tan Tie Wee, 40, heard complaints from his colleagues in China about the hassle of filing for tax refunds overseas, he was motivated to start up something that can help simplify this process.
“Some said it was language difficulties. Some said they were pressed for time because they were in a tour group. So I suggested an app that could help them with the claims and they said if there was one, they would definitely use it,” Tan told Channel NewsAsia.
He was working as PwC’s senior manager for indirect tax practice then, and he had spent two years working in China.
Tan was impressed by the country’s prevalent use of mobile payment apps and QR codes and figured that he could integrate it into his own venture.
He ended up quitting his job in 2015 so he could work on realising this ambition amidst other big players such as Global Blue, Premier Tax Free, and Global Tax Free in Singapore.
He then worked on developing Tourego (short for ‘tourist refund on the go’), an all-in-one app that acts as a mobile passport and e-wallet that stores tax refund tickets.
Image Credit: Merdeka
Launched just three months ago, the mobile app allows retailers to simply scan the QR codes which in turn generates digital tax refund tickets for tourists, replacing the current paper-based system.
This means that retail staff no longer need to take down the particulars of tourists when they issue tax refund tickets, which helps to effectively save time and manpower.
Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Sim Ann mentioned Tourego in her speech during the recent Committee of Supply debate, and said that such productive technologies allow staff to spend less time on routine or tedious tasks, and more time to provide better customer service.
On the other hand, tourists can also easily submit claims by scanning these e-receipts at the tax refund kiosks upon reaching Changi Airport.
With the digitisation of such process, tourists no longer need to worry about losing receipts when keeping track of their Goods and Services Tax (GST) refund claims.
Challenges On Starting Up
Tan Tie Wee / Image Credit: MediaCorp
The traction of the mobile app has been enjoying positive traction so far.
Although exact user numbers weren’t disclosed, Tourego said that it has gotten 150 retailers – such as Robinsons, Zara, 1872 Clipper Tea Co, and RISIS – onboard since its launch.
But starting up the business wasn’t easy.
The process was much more tedious than he expected.
For starters, the startup needed to go through stringent checks before being given its license by the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) last November.
According to IRAS, all central refund agencies that participate in the Electronic Tourist Refund Scheme (eTRS) have to meet necessary requirements to ensure that the GST refunds are properly administered, and that their systems are robust.
These include a technical certification process and IT audit.
But the start-up also managed to tap on Government schemes for support.
For instance, the Ministry of Trade and Industry’s Pro-Enterprise Panel facilitated cooperation with Government agencies to ensure Tourego’s solution complemented existing systems, said Ms Sim in her speech in Parliament.
The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) also featured Tourego on its VisitSingapore website and inbound trade newsletter, as well as displayed the start-up’s brochures at the Singapore Visitor Centre.
“With electronic payment platforms growing increasingly popular in Singapore, STB is pleased to support Tourego’s mobile application as it allows visitors to claim tax refunds in a more seamless and hassle-free manner in Singapore,” said STB.
The eTRS system in place right now already seeks to make Singapore’s tourist tax refund system less reliant on paperwork.
Since its roll-out in 2011, tourists no longer have to fill in different GST refund forms and queue at different counters to get the claims done.
Now, visitors can choose to swipe their chosen credit card at the self-help kiosks to retrieve records of their purchases. Alternatively, they can scan the eTRS tickets individually before indicating their preference for the tax refund method.
Competing Against Other Big Players
Image Credit: Tourego
Other technology players also seem to have set their sights on this space.
China’s Alipay, for one, partnered Global Tax Free last year to allow Chinese tourists to make claims and have their tax refunds deposited directly into their Alipay accounts.
This instant tax refund service through the Chinese mobile and online payment platform, was made available in Singapore earlier this year.
As such, Tourego is working to roll out its other features that would eliminate the need for its users to present their passports at the point of purchase and allow them to skip the queue at the airport.
“We want everything to be done on the mobile phone,” said Tan.
“For registration, all you have to do is to scan your passport using our app. At the retail store, flash your QR code and a digital receipt will be generated automatically.
“Joining the queue at the airport is probably the most painful part of the refund process and we think this can be changed. My full solution will be to move the declaration process on to the app so that there will no need to stand in line at the various counters or in Singapore’s context, queue to scan your passport at a kiosk,” he added.
The start-up founder is also aiming to expand beyond Singapore though the navigation of various tax systems could be a hurdle.
“We have global ambitions to be a homogeneous global tax refund solution. It may be challenging but we will take one step at a time and first, we will show that it’s going to work here in Singapore.”
Just last week, Magnus Games Studio announced a deal with Italian game developers and publishers 505 Games (a subsidiary of Digital Bros) to have their upcoming RPG game Re:Legend published globally through the Steam platform, which has 67 million active players monthly.
Prior to this, Re:Legend managed to garner a 99% approval rating on the Square Enix Collective as well as a financial backing in excess of US$630,000, greatly surpassing their initial goal of US$70,000.
This development comes as an indirect result of MDEC’s efforts to improve the games industry in Malaysia, with other recent successes including Kurechii’s Postknight and Gameka’s Kluno: Hero Battle.
In 2016, MDEC announced the setting up of a game development hub in the busy locale of Bangsar South. This initiative was part of a concerted effort to enable local game developers to further grow and enhance their capabilities.
“Malaysia has an exceptional talent pool for the game industry, and the world is beginning to sit up and take notice,” said CEO of MDEC Dato’ Yasmin Mahmood.
“It is important that we continue to press forward in building a world-class ecosystem that enables our local talents to strive for excellence, putting us on the path to becoming the Game Hub for the region.”
So far, this effort has borne fruit through a number of success stories by local game devs.
And just last week, Malaysian game developer Magnus Games Studio announced a publishing deal with 505 Games—a subsidiary of Italian games developer and distributor Digital Bros—to have their indie role-playing game (RPG) Re:Legend released internationally through digital games platform Steam.
“It is an absolute honour for a budding studio like Magnus to be partnering a major publisher such as Digital Bros. We are thrilled with the market opportunities for Re:Legend that this worldwide publishing agreement brings,” said Magnus Games Studio co-founder DC Gan at the announcement ceremony.
“We worked hard and poured our passion into making this game enjoyable for our supporters and fans, and we hope to bring the game to the next level through our experience working with 505 Games and Digital Bros to grow Re:Legend into a global franchise and at the same time mature into a leading player in our region.”
A Critical Hit
The highly anticipated Re:Legend first gained traction when it received a 99% approval rating on the Square Enix Collective—a curation platform where creators can post game ideas to judge whether or not they should be put into development.
The game combines elements from famous farm simulators such as Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley, and allows players to raise magical monsters, build entire villages, and play cooperatively with other players .
Convinced of the viability of their idea, brothers and co-founders DC and Welson Gan launched a Kickstarter campaign in July 2017 which has since proved wildly successful.
The campaign garnered financial backing in excess of US$630,000 and greatly surpassed their initial goal of US$70,000, allowing the Magnus Games team to add various other features to Re:Legend including full voice acting, underwater quests, as well as releases on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
And all this comes at a time when gaming is at a high point.
An Ocean Of Opportunity
According to marketing intel agency Newzoo, currently there are an estimated 2.2 billion gamers across the globe. This market generated about US$108.9 billion in game revenue for 2017 alone, with the Asia Pacific region at least a quarter of all revenue.
On the digital distribution front, Steam shared in August last year that there were about 67 million monthly active players, most of them from North America and Europe, with Asia quickly catching up.
This represents a huge opportunity for Magnus, which started as a two-man operation back in 2015. The company now has a staff force of 20 and is based in LEVEL UP Inc., an incubator space for game development created by MDEC themselves.
Representing MDEC at the signing of the agreement, MDEC CEO Dato’ Ng Wan Peng said, “It is another truly ‘Malaysia Boleh’ moment for us and further proof that MDEC’s endeavours are bearing fruit.”
“We have often lauded local studios and their capability in delivering world-class IPs, so we are extremely proud that Digital Bros shares the sentiment about Magnus and Re:Legend,” she said.
“On behalf of MDEC, we congratulate Magnus for landing this major deal and putting Malaysia another step closer to being the preferred regional hub for games development and delivery by 2025, an inspiration that is in line with our Digital Economy initiative.”
So far, the signs look good for the gaming industry, and hopefully we’ll be able to see more of these success stories appear going forward.
Check out the official Re:Legend website for more information about the game and its current status.
Cytron Technologies is an online marketplace based in Penang that caters to the maker community in Malaysia as well as the Southeast Asia region.
Founded in 2004, Cytron makes it easy for students and makers to access components such as integrated circuits and sensors that would otherwise be hard to obtain through retail.
They also have an online forum where makers can connect and share knowledge, and they also run occasional workshops to teach and equip beginners with skills to get started on their maker journey.
Anyone with knowledge of the tech startup scene will know how important the maker community is to the ecosystem.
The maker community is a collection of individuals mostly based in centres called makerspaces that house cutting-edge tech and equipment to enable the creation of tomorrow’s technological necessities.
Aside from just creating and innovating, this community (also known as the “maker movement”) is an invaluable resource where younger minds can learn about things like artificial intelligence, robotics, and 3D printing among other things.
Hoping to be the leading light of the movement locally is Cytron Technologies—a Penang-based online supplier of electrical and robotic parts that is aiming to give digital makers in Malaysia the chance to show the world just what they’re capable of.
It all began in late 2004, when Tan Eng Tong, Ober Choo, Phang Chin Yee, Youn Koon Hong, and Kong Wai Weng emerged as national champions at Robocon Malaysia. Then university mates, they were majoring either in mechatronics or mechanical engineering at the University of Technology, Malaysia (UTM) in Skudai.
“We started Cytron when we were still in the fourth year of our five year degree programmes,” said Eng Tong.
“After becoming national champions at Robocon, we received a lot of inquiries from other universities to train their team members and supply them with materials to build robots.”
The founders of Cytron during their UTM days / Image Credit: Cytron Technologies
“We saw that there was a demand for parts among students to do their projects,” said Chin Yee.
“We understood because we also faced the same problem.”
“Parts were hard to find. And even if you could find them online, most probably you’d online find them somewhere overseas,” he added. “We managed to source for parts or designed our own, and made them easily available for the local market.”
“Most of the electronic components like integrated circuits and sensors are designed for the industry, making it hard for students and makers to access,” said Eng Tong. “We turn them into breakout boards so they can use them directly in their projects.”
Small Capital, So What?
Since inception, Cytron has grown from just being a supplier of parts and equipment to now operating a full-fledged online marketplace along with a manufacturing plant in Bukit Mertajam, Penang.
Through their website, makers and builders can find all sorts of supplies ranging from circuit boards and microcontrollers, all the way to passes for workshops and seminars that they organise occasionally.
“Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of cases where students learn to build stuff using our solutions, then slowly turn their prototypes into commercial products and set up their own companies,” said Eng Tong.
“These kinds of success stories keep us motivated.”
The Cytron journey began with each founding member contributing RM650 to the starting capital. According to Eng Tong, this was due to the fact that that was all the money they had in their bank accounts at the time.
“Back when we started the company, there was no such thing as startups or getting funded,” said Chin Yee. “We were only 21, and there wasn’t much information for us to refer to on the internet.”
He mentioned the pains that the five of them went through, including having to bootstrap and persevering through negativity and naysayers.
“Later on, three of our juniors joined us and our team increased from five to eight,” he said.
“I’m proud to say that after 14 years, we are still working as a team with all eight of us still in Cytron.”
“We’ve evolved from friends to business partners, and now we see each other like a big family.”
Cytron’s current manufacturing plant in Penang. / Image Credit: Cytron Technologies
The Making Of A Tech Ecosystem
Co-founder Ober Choo also had a few thoughts on the makerspace community in Malaysia, and said that the local scene currently has plenty going for it.
“The movement started late compared to other neighbouring countries like Thailand and Singapore, but we are gaining momentum through government initiatives that encourage more students to get involved in the maker movement,” he said.
“With more players coming into the market, we need the government to further recognise the maker movement and start including it as subjects or activities in schools.”
He also believes that the local makerspace community is vital to driving Malaysia’s tech and startup scene forward.
“The maker movement is important as it encourages the community to solve problems, which is what we are all about—solving both domestic and international problems,” Ober added. “Through the maker community, members can engage with others from around the world and be exposed to as well as get inspired by different solutions to problems.”
“We’ve been seeing more tech startups popping up in the last three years and I believe the maker movement is a direct contributor to the startup scene locally.”
To SEA And Beyond
In tandem with the growth of the local startup ecosystem, Cytron themselves have managed to perform quite satisfactorily.
“One of our biggest achievements was building and commercialising RERO—the very first educational robot in Southeast Asia,” said Eng Tong. “We also set up an automated PCB assembly line in our factory in 2017.”
rero Reconfigurable Robot - YouTube
“Another one of our famous products is the brushed motor driver, a product we started developing in 2005,” added Ober. “Through constant improving of our product, we now have 15 different models of motor drivers.”
“This led to an incident where a Japanese client contacted us with a challenge to design a 106A motor driver, which we delivered in three months. Now they are using that driver in the famous robot restaurant in Shinjuku.”
“We made RM6 million in revenue in 2017, and are looking to hit a growth of 30% this year,” Chin Yee said. “We ultimately want to grow Cytron to be worth RM100 million, and become the biggest digital maker marketplace in Southeast Asia as well as become top five in the world.”
Image Credit: Cytron Technologies
Chin Yee and Eng Tong also shared how they aim to achieve this.
“Our immediate plan is to focus and grow the local market as we foresee that there’s still room for expansion locally,” said Chin Yee. “At the same time, we will be attending events overseas and look out for opportunities to increase our distribution abroad.”
“At the beginning, we tried to do too many things for too long and ended up losing our focus,” he added.
“Our challenge now is to grow and scale while focusing only on the business model that we have identified.”
To know more about Cytron Technologies, head on over to their website.