TECHNOLOGY

Would You Take Business Advice from a Bot?

Singapore’s GrantUncle targets young, tech-savvy entrepreneurs

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BY Ezra Ferraz - 19 May 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

When Marcus Eng Zhao Wei, managing director of Singapore-based consultancy firm BTME Corporate Services, observed that grant consultants were limited in their capability to help every SME business owner that needed their assistance, he began thinking of how he could solve the problem.

As most of the questions from business owners were quite repetitive, Wei saw an opportunity to automate and streamline the process of grants. Thus GrantUncle was born.

Business owners who come to GrantUncle seeking advice face a three-step user journey. First, the user messages GrantUncle on Facebook Messenger, like they would an actual friend. The user can then inquire about which grants may be applicable to their business. GrantUncle will give this information using everything from colorful infographics to case studies. Finally, if the person still had more questions, he can schedule an in-depth talk with a representative from BTME Corporate Services.

According to Wei, GrantUncle targets tech-savvy business owners between the ages of 18 and 35. Some of them, he says, may even have short attention spans.

“To keep them interested, our strategy was to make our chatbot content bite-sized and with some flavor of Singlish added to it to get them engaged, which makes up our unique appeal and that’s totally the opposite of how government and professional consultants would explain grants,” he says.

If GrantUncle sounds like a helpful product for business owners, it’s because the team consulted them at every stage of product development, beginning with when they showed their functional prototype to their clients.

“Through our validation, we learnt what features are core and which are not. This helps us to focus and prioritize our efforts in building this chatbot. Aside from validation, we researched and consulted UX consultants with the goal to better the conversational experience,” he says.

Still, some people believe - fairly or not - that GrantUncle’s information may be unreliable, as it’s a non-official, non-government source. As a solution, GrantUncle is looking to partner directly with the respective parties. “We are looking to collaborate with SPRING and ASME to churn out more bite-size content that are accurate and credible,” he says.

Chatbot marketing

Ultimately, Wei believes GrantUncle is part of the first wave of chatbots.

“We believe chatbot is the most effective way of engaging fans and converting them into customers since we can constantly engage them in their favorite applications by pushing newsletters as message. The opening rate and conversion rate might be even higher than marketing techniques such as email marketing and cold calling,” he says, adding that chatbots might be the next evolution in marketing.  

For entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia who may want to also build their own bots, Wei suggests reading extensively about the space, as in Chatbots Magazine.

“Second advice is to prototype your ideas rapidly on [an] open source platform that doesn’t require technical knowledge to build, such as Chatfuel, API.AI, Converse.ai. In this way, you can validate it before committing more resources, such as time and money, into building a fully functional chatbot,” he says.

His final piece of advice is to give a chatbot a personality. “We observed that chatbots with a personality that converse like a human is more easy for people to get used to and share with their friends than the chatbot with robotic replies and personality,” he says.