AngelHack Malaysia winners Owe$ome seeking sponsorship for Silicon Valley showdown
Debt-collection, bill-splitting app scheduled for mid-August launch, on iOS platform first
THE team of Malaysian developers which won the local leg of AngelHack, touted to be the world’s biggest hackathon, is seeking sponsorship and support from individuals and organisations as they prep to compete against the world’s best in Silicon Valley.
The Owe$ome team, which competed in the Malaysian edition of AngelHack in early June that saw 150 developers and 35 teams, won a two-week trip to San Francisco for its debt collection app. Now two of their team-members will compete against 25 other teams there, and also pitch to investors at key events. They will also receive training and coaching as part of a mini-accelerator programme.
As a whole, AngelHack attracts about 10,000 developers from 50 cities across the world for its hackathons.
The Owe$ome team is looking for sponsors to help them defray some of the costs, and perhaps even bring as many of its six-man team there as possible. “We won as a team and should represent Malaysia as a team as well,” says Joann Soon, Owe$ome creative head and idea founder.
In an email interview with Digital News Asia (DNA), she says that as part of their prize for winning the local leg, they’ve been awarded two return tickets to San Francisco for the two-week startup mentorship and investor pitching event.
“The developer Gan Chu Hang and I will travel using those tickets,” she says, adding they are working hard to get sponsorship from corporate and government entities, and even airlines, to bring the entire team to San Francisco.
To rally their forces, and perhaps build up some patriotic backing as well, the team has set up a Facebook page where the hope to share updates of their journey and Silicon Valley experience.
“Our mentor Raiyo (Nariman) inspired us to do this – to start a blog or something involving people in our app development and journey to San Francisco,” says Soon. “He encouraged us to get the entire country to root for us, as we would be representing Malaysia in Silicon Valley.”
“Zahir Mazlan, our social media writer and marketing whiz, manages the Facebook page and status updates. We all help contribute to this. Perhaps, we may follow up with a blog – once we surmount the tsunami of work and e-mails!” she adds.
Nariman is the Asia managing director of Angels Den, a company that helps entrepreneurs, startups and SME (small and medium enterprise) owners raise the capital required to take their businesses into high growth.
There was some early good news: At the end of an interview on KiniTV, the video news arm of independent news portal Malaysiakini, the latter’s chief executive officer Premesh Chandran surprised Soon (pic, left) and the Owe$ome project manager and lead designer Tan Sue Lin (pic, right) with two sponsorships.
An entrepreneur himself, Premesh told DNA that the sponsorships, worth RM500 each, come from Mkini Sdn Bhd, Malaysiakini’s publisher, and AllStars, an accelerator in which he serves as mentor.
“Premesh … has kindly agreed to get the ball rolling by supporting us with monetary support and publicity,” says Soon.
The Owe$ome team comprises the four above – Soon, Tan, Gan and Zahir – as well as ‘design whiz’ Lee Chien Chien and front-end developer Shaiianne Ong from Tribal DDB.
Soon herself began her career as a trainee copywriter in a local ad agency, KHK Advertising Sdn Bhd, then moved into digital advertising about five years ago as senior copywriter, and is currently at VLT KL as its creative head.
When asked what her domain expertise is, she says, “Copywriters have to be thinkers, so I immersed myself early on in ideation.
“So to answer your question: My domain of expertise is writing and thinking very hard,” she says laughs.
From mini-hackathon to world stage
It’s been a short, intense entrepreneurial journey for the Owe$ome folk, from a simple hackathon exercise to a full-blown mobile app development project and soon, the Silicon Valley challenge – all in a matter of a couple of months.
In early June, Soon and her colleagues from the ‘Labs’ department at local digital agency VLT KL Sdn Bhd decided to try their luck at AngelHack, co-organised by VLT KL itself, 1337 Ventures and Startup Mamak.
“AngelHack encourages developers and hackers to join their competition, but the initial two team members who decided to go there were (Tan) Sue Lin and me – before it snowballed over a single night into a full-blown team of six, inclusive of developers,” says Soon.
“She (Tan) fought for my idea and told me, ‘Mama, if you will go; I will go!’ – if it weren’t for her tenacity, I might not have gone. We might not have won,” she adds.
The Owe$ome idea was triggered by an everyday problem, Soon says.
“My colleagues and I are buddies at work and play, so after lunch one day, we had this usual conversation: ‘Who paid for the bill yesterday? Hey, did you pay already? Okay, I pay you now, but do you have change?’ ”
“I thought there must be an easier way to do this, and the Owe$ome app idea was born,” she adds.
The idea was to make debt-collection and bill-splitting business legal, user-friendly and socially interactive among friends. The Owe$ome mobile app allows groups of friends to store and divide shared expenses in a neat and easy way, the team says in a press statement.
“Just snap your bill, tag it to your friends to notify them instantly, and remind serial debtors with fun animated reminders ranging from mild (poke) to harsh (splash red paint all over them!). The tagline sums up its purpose: Bills divided, friends united!” goes the marketing.
On June 8-9 at AngelHack Malaysia in Cyberjaya, the team had to develop the required idea prototype just to show the judges how the app works. The first beta version is planned to be released to early adopters in mid-August, running on Apple’s iOS platform, with an Android version to be developed in a few months.
The beta “will be market-ready and contain key functions, and from there we’ll market-test it, track it, iterate and add in cooler features across various rollout phases,” says Soon.
The app’s website allows early adopters to sign on, with already 170 in queue, and also has a countdown to that first release.
Why the rush and why roll out this way, DNA asked.
“We love sleepless nights! Oh yes, and we wanted to show traction for our app,” Soon chuckles.
“We didn’t think there was a point in slaving over a product without making people aware of what awaits them. Of course there’s a risk in doing that – someone may steal the idea – but the tech world is too dynamic and fast-paced for us to let that fear paralyse us.
“Both go in parallel: Building the best product and making people excited about it. Our AngelHack mentor Raiyo (Nariman of Angels Den) is mainly to blame for inciting this madness,” she laughs.
“I also need to add that we couldn’t have accelerated our project this far if Alphapod Sdn Bhd did not come on board with us,” she adds.
Alphapod is a Kuala Lumpur-based app development studio that focuses on the iOS and Android platforms. Its portfolio includes apps for brands such as Volkswagen, Tourism Malaysia, Ford, iProperty, Unilever and others.
“I sought advice weeks ago from Alphapod founders T.J. Tee, Janice Tan and Clayton Bernard Narcis after the national leg competition,” says Soon.
“They fell in love with our idea, and agreed to partner with us as mobile app consultants and co-developers. Thanks to their expertise in this area, we're confident of meeting our crazy deadline to develop the Owe$ome app in time for Silicon Valley,” she adds.
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