Easing the visa headache for Asia

  • eVisa Asia aims to become the one-stop shop for all visa-related information and services in Asia
  • Open to funding from external investors for second phase of its expansion plans

Easing the visa headache for AsiaIN 2006, Cambodia became one of the first countries in the world to launch an electronic visa (eVisa) system. Since then, thousands of travellers from around the world have leveraged on it to expedite the necessary paperwork for a visa.
 
But did you know that it was a Malaysian company that designed and deployed the system for the government of Cambodia?
 
The team at 1.com.my, a low-profile Malaysian company, were the brains behind the venture. Leveraging on the experience gained from the project, the company launched its own consumer-facing venture called eVisa Asia.
 
“It is a very niche business to be in, that’s for sure. At the time the Cambodian Government wanted to launch an eVisa system, it couldn’t find a vendor which could take on the project,” said founder Lee Earn Pin.
 
In an interview with Digital News Asia (DNA), Lee (pic) said that the main intent behind eVisa Asia was to provide a service and comprehensive resource about visas (and nothing else) to travellers eager to explore Asia.
 
“The problem we’re solving is this: Typically, when travellers come into Asia from Europe or the United States, they tend to visit a few countries in the course of a single trip, and they want a one-stop visa solution for multiple countries,” he said.
 
In addition, even for travellers within Asia, it is not easy to find information about visa regulations. The information is typically buried in the official websites of individual government agencies and written in a dense style that is not easy to digest.
 
“The first stage of solving this problem is about information. Visa regulations change all the time, and it’s not always communicated to the public. For example, Myanmar just stopped offering visas on arrival and Sri Lanka just launched its eVisa option,” Lee said. [Amended to include the correct new country offering eVisa applications]
 
According to him, there is no other website covering Asia for visas the way his company does. In the United States, there is a company called Visa HQ, but it only services American citizens.
 
“None is offering visa application services on an Asia-wide scale, and while individual countries such as Australia and Myanmar do have eVisa options, it is only for their own countries,” he added.
 
Easing the visa headache for AsiaGetting the right form
 
eVisa Asia was quietly launched in mid-2012 with minimal marketing, relying instead on word-of-mouth recommendations from the travel community. DNA’s own discovery of the company was through a short blurb about its services in AirAsia’s in-flight magazine Travel 3Sixty.
 
“We haven’t really shouted about ourselves because we didn’t want to. Our main focus is on creating a solid product for the market. You can give me one million for marketing but if I have a product that is not good, then there’s no point," said Lee.
 
“I’ve seen quite a few startups get too caught up on marketing their product and not spending enough time making it the best it could be.

“In addition, a visa project like this is all about the trust the consumers have in your products, and that’s not something you can spend money shouting about,” he added.
 
Lee declined to share exact figures in terms of users or traffic, however to help illustrate market demand, he pointed to Cambodia. The country receives about 300 online applications a day and plays host to approximately three million visitors a year in total.
 
The key value proposition offered by eVisa Asia is its ease of use, providing accurate and relevant visa information for countries in Asia, based on a user’s nationality.
 
“We aim at being the visa expert for each country. To advise travellers on which is the best method for each country be it to apply online, at the embassy or on arrival,” said Lee.
 
The core feature of the eVisa Asia offering is its streamlined application process, which allows up to 20 people to apply in a single go, making it ideal for groups of travellers. It also offers support for up to 25 languages.
 
The application filled out by all potential travellers is essentially a single step-by-step form, which is intelligent enough to determine what information is required for the application of a visa for a particular country.
 
“It really wasn’t easy to design the form, it was a challenge and took us a year to come up with the process and flow,” said Lee.
 
“There are different forms for every country and we wanted to make the process simple for users. Typically, some forms are really complicated, asking for information which is not needed and new applicants don't know which parts they can skip,” he added.
 
In addition, there are cases where people make the time investment required to fill out the entire form, only to discover upon submission that they are not eligible for the visa, which can be a frustrating experience.
 
eVisa Asia’s application process is a two-stage process, the first being the collection of basic information, after which a pre-verification is conducted and applicants are informed on whether or not they can proceed or whether additional information or documentation is required. Once that is completed, applicants complete the rest of the form and pay the fees. eVisa Asia charges a fee on top of the cost of the visa application.
 
Lee is understandably proud of the application process offered by eVisa Asia, with himself boasting core expertise in User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) design.
 
"I always tell my designer, this form will be used by my father who can't even hold the mouse properly. So keep in mind that every option you offer has the potential to confuse,” he added.
 
The application form is an on-going work in progress for the team, in line with its internal mission to make things as simple as it possibly can for users.
 
Lee said the team is confident in its product and the information it serves to its users.
 
“Information can be copied, but the application form you see today is actually about five years in the making from our experience with the Cambodian project and that’s our core differentiator,” he added.
 
Lee said that what has been most interesting for the team is the different use cases encountered as they serve more and more customers, with unique circumstances from children with special needs to specific travel timetables.
 
“Whenever we come across a new situation, we update the information from that experience into our application system, which immediately applies it to the next person who wants to apply for a visa,” he added, noting that most agents don’t accumulate that type of knowledge and then apply it.
 
Easing the visa headache for AsiaFunding the form
 
While eVisa Asia may be a fresh venture, the company behind it is not, boasting over 10 years in the market doing web development projects for corporate clients.
 
Lee, at 32 years of age, describes himself as an “old school tech guy” whose MSC-status company was the beneficiary of a grant from Cradle Fund during its early days.
 
To fund its consumer-facing venture, the company is also the official representative for Rackspace in Malaysia, offering premium email and hosting products, managing approximately 500 customers in the country.
 
Lee shared that a lot of work was put into automating that part of the business, to enable the team to devote the necessary time and bandwidth on eVisa Asia’s growth.
 
“This involved us putting in some work to streamline the whole process for our customers and make it really easy to adopt and deploy Rackspace products. It was also about re-educating them on things such as not paying us via cheques and using email to contact us for support versus a phone call or office visit,” he said.
 
In the meantime, with the first phase of the eVisa project already underway, plans are underway for the next phase.
 
“Certain countries require your passport in order to process the visa so you would need a collection centre in the country itself. Right now we only have one centre in Malaysia, so we can only serve local passport holders,” said Lee.
 
He shared that planning is underway and if eVisa Asia does well online, and perhaps with some push from additional funding, the company intends to establish collection centres in markets such as Singapore and Indonesia, before expanding to Europe.
 
“Then we will become the ‘runner’ between applicants and the respective embassies, each country should have a one. If we can establish this collection centre network, we can create a high barrier of entry to other potential competitors,” he added.
 
Lee admits that while the team is certainly open to interested investors, he is not actively pursuing the fund-raising route.
 
“If you focus too much on raising funding for your company, you will loss focus on your core business,” he said.

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