Sarun Vichayabhai of myCashback tells us about cashbacks and the impact of Covid-19.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Sarun Vichayabhai: As we live in Bangkok, we have been blessed with safety and reasonable care from the Thai government. Therefore our family has been somewhat unaffected by covid-19.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded myCashback.
Sarun Vichayabhai: I have been an entrepreneur for over 25 years now. I started my first company when I was 20, doing fantasy football online. I had to close it down within a year since we couldn’t find a way to monetize it on a mass scale since back then, we didn’t have a credit card charging ability online. So faced with certain doom, we had to make a decision to pivot to another business very quickly. We founded wrap-inc. Soon after and it because a huge success. We were the first to do personal vehicle wrap in Thailand. We did that business for about 20 years, then we faced some troubling issues from political problems and competitive pressures, and even death threats, so we decided it was for the better to find something else to do.
I took a year off and came up with the idea to do a micro-influencer platform in 2017. However, with limited knowledge of the new startup economy, I told myself that if I could not raise a small amount of funding from anyone credible, I would not continue the idea. So with just an idea in my mind, I flew to Malaysia from Thailand to visit a tech event. Luckily I ran into a partner of one of the biggest global seed funds in the world, and he invested a small amount with me. It’s still an inside joke between us that he said it was one of the fastest decisions he ever made. It took me 3 minutes to secure the funding. Seems like a dream come true. However, luck would not be on my side since we faced certain death again within 9 months of running the business when Facebook shut down all APIs for reporting and tracking our influencers, so I was faced with the same decision to quit or pivot again.
Hence the beginning of myCashback, an idea that was a by-product of the micro-influencer platform. From day 1, I wanted to change the world of cashback and do something no one else has ever done before. I looked at all the major cashback businesses around the world and found that the main problem was a very long wait time of over 90 days for cashback.
I came up with a simple solution of making myCashback the fastest cashback company in the world. We didn’t have a clear solution at the time, but I knew that if I just started something with the goal in mind to become the fastest cashback company in the world, we would definitely have a clear advantage over all the competitors.
So we launched myCashback in 2018, and we offered 1day cashback based on blind faith, thinking that people, in general, would be good and would not cheat us. We quickly found out that the internet is not a rose garden, and humans will try to game your system if you let them. We lost over $30000 within one month and again faced certain doom if we did not find a solution to stop the bleed. Armed with a limited amount of data, we decided that we should come up with an algorithm only to pay trustworthy people 1day of cashback. And that algorithm has been very powerful for us over the past 4 years. We have eliminated 98% of the fraud, and our loss rate is now only 2%.
Since then, we have achieved the following.
· The most innovative e-commerce startup Asia prize from Technode magazine in china.
· We also won the best AI engine prize in Thailand from the Thai government.
· We have just won a prize for a smart search engine from the Thai government.
· We have just raised a big round from the biggest conglomerate group in Thailand.
In 2021 alone, we have expanded to 10 other countries worldwide.
How does myCashback innovate?
Sarun Vichayabhai: We innovate by looking at our pain points. We use real business problems as our issues to tackle. For example, our award-winning AI was formulated by looking at user data and how they use our platform. We found that the first thing our users did was to search for the products that they wanted. We knew that conversion would improve if we showed them the most relevant products they searched for.
We came up with the first net of cashback price comparison system in the world by looking at how we can offer our users the most relevant information so they could decide what to buy faster.
All of our innovation is based on our customers’ needs, and we are focused on making their experience better on our app.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Sarun Vichayabhai: Both good and bad.
Before Covid, we were about to sign a $10m round with one of the biggest investors in Thailand. However, that deal was canceled due to Covid fears.
But during Covid, we were lucky to grow over 600% because our customers shopped online more. And cashback helped saved them money.
In the end, we still did rise from the biggest conglomerate in Thailand during Covid.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Sarun Vichayabhai: Our headcount grew over 5 times during Covid. So it was a different situation for us. We count ourselves lucky.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Sarun Vichayabhai: We hired a specialized lobbyist to help our b2b business. We found that to win big customers like the number 1 and number 2 biggest telcos in Thailand, we needed strong backing and influence to convince executives and working teams to use our enterprise cashback solutions.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Sarun Vichayabhai: Yes, we won 2 awards from the government. For a.i and smart search. We didn’t just ask for free grants, but we did think of innovative solutions to win the grants.
Your final thoughts?
Sarun Vichayabhai: We believe that we were lucky. During a crisis like Covid, I can not claim that we did well or we did good planning, or we reacted well. I believe that good things happen to good companies who continuously conduct good business practices. So for those who are affected, I would not give up. I do not think it has anything to do with your ability. I think that it was more to do with luck and the lack of luck. So continue to focus on making your own luck, and I believe that one day, given the right circumstances, your time will come.
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