April 2014
The three blind mice? Think again…

By Christopher Ong

Nanyang Business School undergrad Kenny Choy and team have a bold vision. With their app Sqkii, they want to be the mighty mice that help small companies take on giant firms with their larger advertising budgets.

Sqkii is a mobile application that rewards users for viewing advertisements. Advertisers pay four cents each time a user views their advertisement for 10 or more seconds – of this, two cents goes to funding a cash-incentive programme for users, while Sqkii earns the other two cents.

Says Kenny: "Advertising is expensive – for instance, placing an advertisement at a prime location like Dhoby Ghaut MRT station can cost more than $100,000. Small firms are simply not able to afford that kind of money."

"We plan to keep our rates affordable in the long-term so Sqkii will remain an advertising platform where small retailers can have a fair fight with bigger companies who have more resources."

"There is a common belief that elephants are afraid of mice. Since we would like to be the mice that can potentially pick a fair fight with these bigger companies, we named ourselves Sqkii (pronounced ‘Squeak-ki’) after the sound made by the animal."

It all began in October 2012 when Kenny was introduced to a hip, new smartphone app, Phewtick.

He wanted to know how its developers had succeeded in monetizing it – the app not only helps its users meet new people, but also rewards them with cash for doing so. "Advertisements? Banner ads?" suggested his buddy and schoolmate Marcus Ng. That's when the idea struck.

"Advertisers are always finding ways to get people to look at their advertisements, so why don’t we come up with an application that rewards people with cash for viewing them?" said Kenny then.

Inspired, Marcus came onboard and today leads the sales and marketing efforts for the app's clients and users. The duo also roped in Singapore Management University (SMU) undergrad Eleazar Lim to provide technical expertise.

In February, Kenny's seed of an idea culminated in the soft launch of the Sqkii smartphone app, with companies like home-grown dining chains Cedele and Strictly Pancakes already on board as advertisers.

The app also includes a function that benefits small retailers who have limited budget to design advertisements – the advertiser simply uploads a photo of their product, enters a description of the promotion and the discount they are offering, and a simple ad will be automatically generated.

"The team has been rewarded for their hard work on Sqkii in the form of grants – they stand to get up to $250,000 from the Media Development Authority under its Interactive Digital Media Jump-start and Mentor (i.JAM) Reload funding scheme and had earlier received $10,000 from SMU Academic Affiliates Development Grant."

Initially though, the mice had to work extra hard to ferret out advertisers who would buy into their vision.

Like three blind mice feeling their way around a confusing maze, the inexperienced trio had to learn to navigate the tricky world of business. Like any upstart, they had to get used to being snubbed: they emailed at least 1,000 companies using approaches ranging from infographics to presentation slides, and did not hear from more than ninety percent of these companies.

So they wised up and visited retailers in person. They had better luck – less than five percent of the 200 retailers they approached turned them down upfront.

The mice hit another wall when their proposal, furnished with all the benefits of their advertising platform, failed to convince the big players.

Kenny shares: "We learnt that, contrary to what many textbooks say, customers do not care about what makes your product tick and are more interested in how it can translate to results that fulfil their goals. Also, we realised that big firms would not care to meet us until we could show some success."

Hence, the trio changed tack to focus on small and medium enterprises and even waived their advertising fees as part of a free trial.

On a personal front, the challenge was for them to balance their lives as students as well as cofounders of a start-up.

For instance, a typical day for Kenny last semester would see him spending his mornings and afternoons attending lessons as a second-year Accountancy undergrad, evenings handling the affairs of the Accountancy and Business Club as its president, and nights working on Sqkii.

"Being very competitive, I try to be the best in whatever I do – I wanted to retain my position in the Dean's List, be a good club president and succeed with Sqkii. Fortunately, I was able to perform decently in all three aspects last semester."

With a can-do attitude like that, and their willingness to adapt to the challenges posed by the real world, you can see why the Sqkii team are anything but the three blind mice.

Interested in investing or advertising in Sqkii, or simply prefer to offer valuable business advice as a mentor? Connect with the team today at Kenny@sqkii.com.