We talked to Ian Low Jian Liang, founder of Trabble, about guest management in the hospitality industry, and this is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Ian Low Jian Liang: The COVID-19 pandemic definitely changed the way we operate on a day-to-day basis. As I was practically traveling to more than 2 countries per week pre-COVID-19 for our expansion of Trabble, this travel restriction definitely got me to slow down and forced me to be based in 1 location for the past year. This is, in fact, the longest I have not traveled since I was 5 years old!
With the Circuit Breaker (lockdown) here in Singapore, I have also decided to move back home with my parents instead of staying alone, which brought us closer together. We even adopted a dog from the animal shelter just before the lockdown, and it was a great addition to our family to give all our attention to in these difficult times.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Trabble.
Ian Low Jian Liang: Since my younger days, I have always been inclined towards Entrepreneurship. At the age of 5, I was already hawking my second-hand toys (illegally) at a public park, which grew to more mini-projects in a pursuit to satisfy my thirst for starting a business.
I was then exposed to more formal entrepreneurship models through the National University of Singapore Overseas Colleges (NOC) program, where I had relentlessly sought to be engaged in the field; interned in startups, joined a Venture Capital, dabbled in investment banking, done startup consulting, spoke at conferences, mentored at accelerators and judged at competitions, with experiences spanning around the globe, in USA, Israel, China, and Asia.
Trabble started as an idea that was “reversed pitch” by a hospitality company, our first client. Where I ideated on a problem that needed to be solved and then validated through very scrappy means to ensure that the solution was viable. At that point in time, chatbots were relatively new, and we wanted to bring its application, alongside operational automation, into Guest Engagement to serve the very antiquated and fragmented Travel & Hospitality industry.
How does Trabble innovate?
Ian Low Jian Liang: Our vision is to consolidate the fragmented travel industry by providing a Guest Engagement solution that is flexible, transferrable, and revolutionary to travel businesses globally. We help businesses leverage technology to upskill staff, automate operations, and level the competitive landscape for smaller industry players, especially in post-COVID travel.
Trabble offers Automated Self Check-In and Guest Engagement Software as a Solution (SaaS) platform to provide guests with a contactless experience throughout Enquiries, Bookings, and Services, via chat. Integrating Chatbot, Machine Learning, and AI, Trabble automates and streamlines business operations, unifying multiple chat platforms onto a single platform for easy, efficient, and productive management by businesses.
This helps hospitality businesses increase revenue channels, guest satisfaction, and operational efficiency. We empower businesses to seamlessly serve their guests 24/7 via guests’ own mobile devices from Pre-Trip, Check-In, In-Trip, Check-Out to Post-Trip, minimizing physical exposure to both staff and guests while enhancing high intimate service standards digitally, to serve their Enquiries, Reservations, Access, and Concierge.
With the development of our fully self-onboarded SaaS solution, businesses will be able to quickly roll out the solution in a plug-and-play model, with different affordable pricing options available to cater to different customer segments. Quic.Key is a feature that allows our clients to deploy Trabble’s self-check-in solution so as to allow their guests to check-in pre-arrival in the comfort of their own homes, go straight to their rooms, skipping the queues at the front desk, and all with the convenience of using their own devices.
In keeping up with the new normal of post-covid tourism, Trabble is working in partnership with Singapore Tourism Board (STB) to develop a new and innovative product. Quic.Tour, a platform that allows travelers to get audio tours and concierge services, can interact on chat with the live Licensed Tourist Guides. This will enable the recreation of an intimate travel experience for tourists whilst meeting the new post-COVID social distancing norms’ needs. Ultimately, our products all help in further consolidating the travel and hospitality industry by facilitating a closer working relationship between accommodations, travelers, and tourist guides. Through this, we hope that our industry continually strives to serve travelers better through the help of technology and constant innovation.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Ian Low Jian Liang: The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a greater need for social distancing as part of wider health and safety concerns. Thus, there is a surge in demand for digitization and automation in daily operations to minimize face-to-face contact in our daily lives. With COVID-19 redefining the travel scene and with social distancing and health and safety concerns being more stringent.
During the peak of the pandemic in 2020, Trabble saw almost no new sales as the industry is severely affected. We were fortunate that 2019 was a solid year for us in terms of profitability, and we used this time to expand our suite of features and functions of our Trabble solutions. We are constantly finding ways to allow our clients to improve their brand positioning as a safe, low-contact business without compromising their guest engagement and service.
Interestingly, the pandemic has helped better position our products, from what used to be a “good to have” innovative product, to now a more “need to have” position for the return of post-COVID tourism. We are now seeing an increase in clients, as many are already preparing and gearing up for the return of post-covid tourism. As most of the industry has retrenched up to 80% of their staff, it has increased the value of Trabble to help ease their operations and increase productivity, making it a good opportunity for them to revamp their SOPs.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Ian Low Jian Liang: Our team is strongly built on trust and accountability, believing in each team members’ commitment and contributions. We are receptive to one another’s feedback and criticisms to continuously seek and build on the best practices in developing and distributing our products and services. Thus, we have always been able to work effectively and productively through working remotely since before the COVID-19 pandemic, and thus able to coordinate with business expansion and sales in overseas markets efficiently.
Fortunately, during the pandemic, we did not have to lay off any employees and continued to work together to tackle the new challenges that emerged due to covid-19. We made use of the downtime to not only develop new features and products but, more importantly, to increase the productivity and efficiency of our team and to realign our goals as a company.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Ian Low Jian Liang: As the pandemic affected our clients’ industries severely, we had to be very sensitive in driving for sales through our engagement and marketing. We moved towards a more consultative approach, trying to understand their situation and needs. Being personal was key, and thus we took on more virtual calls in engaging our customers.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Ian Low Jian Liang: Fortunately, the Singapore government has been very supportive of startups, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, to support the development of new products, Enterprise Singapore has also been beneficial where we have actually tapped on the Enterprise Development Grant (EDG), under Innovation and Productivity, to fund the build of a number of new products in Trabble that we are currently in the midst of launching/just launched.
Additionally, as our customers are severely affected in the times of COVID-19, the government has been active in supporting their efforts in going digital with Trabble’s technologies by providing grants to help support some of the costs of adopting our solutions.
Your final thoughts?
Ian Low Jian Liang: In July 2019, we fully deployed Trabble’s technology into a hotel chain in Singapore, helping them completely remove their front desk. With product-market fit for our product and the pandemic rendering our Self Check-In and Digital Guest Engagement a crucial element for the return of Post-Covid Tourism, we believe that now is the time to scale our growth.
Graduating from Facebook Accelerator Singapore and Techstars Korea, we are now in the midst of fundraising to double down on our expansion into more markets and focusing on our SaaS platform for smaller international players to adopt our solution. Our intention is to close a Fundraise round in the first half of 2021, to scale our team, geographic focus in Asia, and in building our B2B2C channel to eventually monetize on Last-Mile Services.
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