Taking paper out of the billing equation with Billplz
By Gabey Goh April 23, 2014
- Aims to be easy-to-use billing management system
- Eyes GLC clients, with mobile apps in the pipeline
[Amended to clarify founding team details]
INSPIRATION can come from the most unlikely of places – at least, that was the case for Nazroof Hakim (pic), who got the initial idea for Billplz while he was working at Pos Malaysia.
In an email interview with Digital News Asia (DNA), Nazroof says that he chose to work in the postal industry because it “fascinates” him.
“It was also for sentimental reasons as my late grandfather was a postman during the Japanese Occupation,” says the accounting and financial management graduate of University of Sheffield.
The catalyst for his decision to take the entrepreneurial leap came when he crossed paths with an article focusing on the benefits of electronic bill presentment and payment (EBPP) in a trade publication issued by Universal Postal Union (UPU).
And Billplz, the startup he cofounded after leaving Pos Malaysia, is an EBPP platform that’s trying to make its mark helping companies and consumers stay on top of their bills.
Nazroof received a Cradle Investment Programme (CIP) 150 grant from Ministry of Finance funding agency Cradle Fund in late 2012 to develop an EBPP prototype (then dubbed BilPlz) with Emir Ezwan and Kamal Fariz Mohamed Mahyuddin.
Emir (pic) is vice president of design for the company and also the cofounder of Entropy, a creative production studio specialising in visual storytelling.
While not part of the initial founding team, Kamal's consulting company was contracted to build the first version of Billplz. He is currently the director of engineering for Viki, an on-demand video streaming startup based in Singapore that was acquired by Rakuten for US$200 million in September 2013.
The team brought in Arzumy Md Yusof as chief technology officer (CTO) last year to help get its product ready for production. He is also the CTO for social news network Says.com.
The problem with billing
In Nazroof’s own words, EBPP is just a “fancy term” for providing billing and payment over the Internet.
“Ultimately, billing without payment is useless because revenue is vanity and cash is sanity,” he quips.
The Billplz offering is divided into two components: First, its enterprise facing solution for billers to upload billing data, send bills and reconcile payments; and second, its consumer-facing application for individuals to manage and pay bills.
The Billplz team is attempting to eliminate the main problems businesses have with paper-based billing, which is expensive – it costs approximately RM0.90 (US 28 cents) to print a single paper bill, according to the team.
Not only is the paper bill itself easily destroyed and not environmentally-friendly, collection is not instant due to ‘snail-mail’ delivery channels; and then there is no option for delivery reports without paying more for the service.
According to Nazroof, his team’s solution has been designed to allow users to pay their bills easily with features such as automated SMS reminders, and secure payment authorisation straight from the email without the need to log in to the Billplz platform.
Cash settlement for bills is also faster, with Billplz claiming ‘next working day’ settlements versus the current industry standard of one week.
Apart from the obvious benefit of being an environmentally-friendly alternative to paper bills, the solution also offers free delivery reports and with minimal risk of data loss due to multiple server backups.
In terms of process, Nazroof explains that the platform leverages on “very basic” common tools.
“Arzumy (pic) is our Rails master ninja and Emir is the guy that turns my wireframes into a production user interface,” he says.
Billers upload billing information using Excel spread sheets, with a management console allowing them to manage email delivery and debtors.
Companies can also chose which payment channels they would prefer payment to be made in, with Billplz currently offering payments options such as Maybank2u direct debit, and major credit cards with no additional data entry required.
In terms of pricing, Billplz is offering a flat rate of RM0.25 per ‘stamp’ to send out a bill with an optional RM0.15 charged for SMS alerts to customers. Credit for stamps and SMS alerts is on a prepaid basis, for example, a biller can send 250 bills and 250 SMS reminders for a RM100 top-up. [RM1 = US$0,31]
“Billplz is not reinventing the wheel for billing and payment. We are merely customising it to fit local needs,” says Nazroof.
Taking Billplz to the next level
Billplz launched to market on April 1, with the biggest Montessori preschool in Malaysia, Brainy Bunch, as its first client.
According to Nazroof, the company processed more than RM50,000 in payments on the first day of production alone.
When asked about competition in the market, he says that competitors “are irrelevant” if billers are choosing to get paid via Billplz.
“So at Billplz we ask the same question every day, ‘Why Billplz?’ For example, if the industry standard for cash settlement is weekly then Billplz must offer next working day to be attractive,” he adds.
The Billplz founders – Nazroof, Emir and Arzumy – still retain 100% equity in the company and are actively looking for funding to grow the team and scale up faster.
“We prefer organic growth but are open to exciting opportunities,” Nazroof says.
Despite Nazroof’s assertions about competitors, the startup’s offering does have a slight overlap with the controversial MyEmail project being undertaken by Tricubes.
MyEmail’s scope covers managed services for electronic bill presentment (EBP), albeit only for government agencies.
The focus for the Billplz team for the next 12 months is on two key areas: Firstly, to secure four large government-linked companies (GLCs) with over 500,000 bills per month as clients.
Naroof says that the company is currently in discussions with the newly formed Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) to facilitate an introduction to the right GLC.
The second key area is mobile. The company plans to launch Billplz iOS and Android phone apps, having received a grant from the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC) via its ICONdap (Integrated Content Development Programme).
If there is one lesson learnt from his entrepreneurial journey to date, Nazroof says: “If I have anything worth sharing, it has to be about managing the expectations of your stakeholders.
“It is the toughest to do but once you meet their expectations, the business will start to be successful,” he adds.
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