Facebook is playing an important role in South-East Asia’s e-commerce growth. Thousands of stores promote and sell their products directly through Facebook Fanpages. Setting up a Fanpage and posting product pictures only takes minutes and news easily spread like wildfire, through likes and friends recommendations, particularly in the communities your shops want to attract. No complicated SEO is required for the shop owners to get into the top Google rankings. Especially in Thailand, where Facebook, Instagram, and Line are extremely popular it is comparatively easy to attract customers.
While Facebook was not designed to be an online store the basic functions to run a store are available. Notifications, private messaging, search, and apps that are able to add vendor functionalities to a Fanpage. However the latter is not used in SEA as often as one might think. Instead, followers send a private message to the page owner, call or contact them via Line. Contact details and bank details are exchanged and the payment is done via bank transfer. A call confirms that the money has been transferred and the product is shipped.
Scalability however is a problem. 1000 followers might be possible to handle manually, but what about 10000 followers and 200 orders a day? The informal, social design of Facebook is not able to handle this enormous amount of conversations. Order can get lost between all the likes, questions, shares and comments. On top, it takes a long time to address all queries and process orders. Page365 was created with this problem in mind. The software provides the vendors with a dashboard that lets them process order easily, follow up other product queries and get in-depth statistics on customer data that enable vendors to identify patterns and trends which might be turned into profit.
What is your personal background and that of your team?
I’m 23. Last year I graduated from Chula with a Bachelors in Computer Engineering. My partner, Pop, the CTO is 24. We have two employees around 30. I’m doing business development while the other team members are all developing Page365. We founded the company when I was in the third year of university as a software house. Through the projects we did back then we matured and eventually dumped our clients to focus on our own software (laughs).
The primary advantage of Page365 is that the customer experience is unchanged.
Can you explain a bit how Page365 works?
We could say that Page365 is an assistant for any social store to have a proper ecommerce system and assistant. We use a natural language processing (NLP) engine. Basically it reads and understands human sentences. We can process all the content of a sentence or text and convert it into an order, complaint or whatever it represents. This empowers the system to be able to do things like prioritizing content, in-depth analysis or even automated respond. The primary advantage of Page365 is that the customer experience is unchanged. Users won’t even notice that software is processing their queries. They don’t have to leave Facebook and login to some other 3rd party system. Store owners get all the benefits of traditional CRM tools and vacation responders without alienating customers who are expecting a simple point and click experience. We are currently able to process Thai and English, but we are more robust on Thai language. We have a larger corpus in Thai than in English which is why we are more robust. We harvested the corpus from real websites, from on-going Facebook conversations, because it’s already public. We got millions of sentences and compared it by hand. I and some of my friends, some people we hired, literally just sat down and compared it by hand. We cross checked each other to verify the sentences are legit. From that you build basically a classification for the sentences. Around that you build a system that understands which sentence belongs to which category and then you keep feeding or teaching the corpus.
How did you start to develop it for Thai language? It seems to me that it is one of the more complex languages to deal with.
Thai language is one of the most challenging languages, actually. That is why we attacked it first. We started by looking at technologies that do such things for English technology and tried to adapt it to Thai language. We combined that with some research papers from Chulalongkorn University and developed it into something real.
The conversion rate dropped by about 80%!
Why did you start with managing Facebook discussions?
Actually I never had the plan to go into Facebook commerce. A friend of mine runs a Facebook store. She used to consult me about building a proper e-commerce website because Facebook was too complicated to use for large amounts of customers. She wanted to close it and move to her own e-commerce site. She bought an ecommerce site and she put the URL to buy her items in every single Facebook picture to drive the traffic from Facebook to her new page. The conversion rate dropped by about 80%! That’s why she came talking to me. We did primitive natural language processing for her, which just showed high to low priorities for queries. She is still with us, and was actually the first one to financially back us. Just for the idea and the quick hack we got about 40.000 THB. It took about 30 days to do it. Facebook is an exciting market. The conversations there are real time. Lots of messages are coming from customers and shop owners can’t handle it.
This allows the shops to cross sale, provide suggestions to customers and so on.
What does the store have to do in order to process these automatic replies?
There are many kinds of automatic replies. The simplest form is a vacation mode. They just set a message that they are not available and then they can follow up once they are back. The shops have a dashboard for themselves and can work through this. The dashboard includes many features. We aggregate all the comments, interactions and every other update. You can browse all the customers and their interaction history. We also have access to the customer information. This allows the shops to cross sale, provide suggestions to customers and so on.
What are the next steps, future plans for your technology and business?
We will expand the business into other fields. The way we see it the system can be a travel reservation system, it can be a CRM system for brands that don’t want to sell online. It’s very handy. By the end of the year we will plug into other systems, like Line, E-Mails, and such stuff, and that will make it more powerful.
What about Twitter?
Yes at one point, but for South-East Asia, Line will be the first priority. E-Mail and Twitter come later.
Can you create a patent out of your technology?
Yes, I guess we could, but we try not to because then we have to release our secrets. There is not really a reason to do it. At the end of the year we will provide an API which will allow other tools to plugin.
Did you receive any investment so far?
Yes, we got some pre-seed investment. We had a private pitch for our first round; actually through a second degree connection. It was quite hard to get the first investment.
How did you get initial contact to investors?
Through StartupWeekend. We talked to several investors and we had finally the chance to get into a private pitch.
Did you participate as Page365 in the StartupWeekends?
After 50 pitches you get much better!
Which event do you think was most useful?
StartupWeekend, because I met my CTO there! I met him at the first StartupWeekend which was powered by AIS. We agreed to work together during the second StartupWeekend. We were constantly talking. During the StartupWeekend we tried out if we would be able to work together. We never met before. I met the investors during the GoogleDevFest at Center Point. It took us probably 80 pitches to actually get investment. All in Thailand. To be honest, not all of the people I pitched to were real investors, some of them just pretended to be. I had absolutely no experience and I didn’t know better. But actually, it was good practice. After 50 pitches you get much better! (laughs)
Given the huge amount of rejections you got. How did you deal with that?
I guess it’s normal; a yes would have been more surprising actually. To be honest, it would be nice if more of them would say no right away. If they say no, then you can ask why, what is missing, but usually they will say “Yes, I like your idea” and they will never contact you again.
What’s your best practice for following up, dealing with rejections or no feedback at all?
Oh, I’m not good at it. Usually I sent an email, explain the things they are in doubt about and try to make them curious of what we are doing here. I try to get a blunt respond, so I know what should be improved or answered.
How long did it take you getting the whole deal done, from pitch to investment?
About two month. To get a pre-seed investment you have to talk pretty often, and of course go through due-diligence. Now the investors leave us more or less alone though. We report every month of course, and if we need advice we can get that, but they don’t try to steer us in a certain direction, or tell us what to do. My investor was an entrepreneur himself.
What are you looking for now, in terms of investment?
Still seed stage, around 3 million THB. We are still negotiating. We need to invest into technology, about 60% into technology and 40% into marketing. We believe that a great product will more or less sell itself. We focus heavily on development now and can afterwards shift to marketing.
How are you going to approach more clients?
Currently we team up with wholesale stores that sell goods to the small Facebook stores. We have co-promotions with them. If a store buys with the wholesale provider, they get 3 month Page365 for free.
What is your revenue model?
We are based on a subscription model with four different tiers. The different tiers are based on the amount of likes a page has.
How are you going to adapt the tiers, for example, to emails?
We will go by a conversation volume.
What are the next languages you will be covering?
I’m currently talking with my Indonesian friends. In Indonesia they buy through Facebook too. It’s actually a phenomenon that can be found across all South East Asia. We actually have already users in Indonesia. A Japanese company that is selling their items in Indonesia. They saw us on the news so they registered right away with us. We obviously don’t support Bahasa yet, but they just wanted to know what it’s like. There are options beyond that though. In WeChat for examples companies have accounts and get about 500.000 comments every single day, and they obviously can’t handle that, so they currently just ignore everything.
Do you have direct competitors?
Yes, there are people that solve the same problem, with different solutions and there are people using our solutions to solve different problems. There are for example some providers of in-Facebook stores that provide a store tab on the Facebook page.
How many customers do you have at the moment?
I won’t give you an exact number but we just ended the beta and we are now approaching the mass. We currently get 10 plus x sign ups a day. There are about 10000 stores in Thailand right now. If we want exponential growth we have to go for Indonesia and other countries with similar problems.
How do you manage payments for Page365?
We currently offer PayPal but none of our clients use it. Everybody goes for wire transfer and to ease our pain we provide them with discounts for annual plans. There are guys who are on a monthly plan and I have to write them a personal message every 30 days so they can wire the money. Even though we take all the PayPal fees they still want to use bank transfers. They even have credit cards, but still. It would be a one click thing, but they just don’t trust it I guess. Currently that is by the way also how the stores on Facebook receive payments. However, we will integrate payment methods into Page365 by the end of the year. At least we provide an option.
To get where you are right now, what was your greatest challenge?
To get customers! It’s difficult to explain what Page365 is and what value we provided to them. That is why we started in the tech community, because they have a better understanding and are more open to try software out. Surprisingly there are many shops that are run or supported by geeks and of course they wanted to try. We convinced them that they make better impressions and increase conversion rates. We are also publishing client case studies to increase awareness.