We are excited to share our radio interview with MONEY FM 89.3
In case you missed it, here’s the podcast recording:
Howie: According to the recent Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry's (SCCCI) annual business survey, nearly two in five or almost 40 per cent of respondents predicted a drop in revenue. Just over 82 per cent of the businesses polled said expanding the top-line was their key concern. Given tough market competition, there is a need for firms, including SMEs, to focus on value creation and innovation to remain competitive. These include the challenge of complying with local regulations and standards.
Bernard: However, it is commonplace for businesses to face labour-intensive processes of filling up forms and documents without a clear timeline and direction. Digitalisation of these process could be a solution. Especially since local businesses are faced with market barriers of complying with global standards when they internationalise. Stendard aims to help local businesses simplify the long and arduous process of compliance. We speak to its co-founder and CEO, Jason Lim. Welcome to the studio, Jason!
What are some challenges faced by local businesses to survive?
Jason: I think the key thing right now in all SMEs are that most of these bosses and the team are always entrenched in their day-to-day business, that they are unable to think forward, to really focus about what is in it for them for the next couple of years, what’s the long term goal. And besides being really focused on that, with the labour crunch and also increased competition. These are the first, I would say, the top 3 key challenges that SMEs are facing day to day. And this branches down to one key thing. To me, it is the lack of standardisation, the lack of processes in a company.
Howie: When it comes to what exactly though? The lack of standardisation in what sort of processes?
Jason: Okay, so maybe let’s take one very interesting example.
Now you walk in, and you buy an iPhone. The moment you unbox it, the look and feel and experience of getting the iPhone out of the box, no matter if you are in Singapore or in any part of the world - This remains pretty consistent.
And I think this is where SMEs are lacking, because there isn’t a rule book, a manual, a set of procedures and documentation, that dictates what should be done to keep their product and services consistent.
Bernard: So how does the implementation of quality standards play an important role in uplifting the capabilities of Singapore's businesses?
Jason: Right. So talking about implementation of international standards. The key word, international, means that everybody in the world looks at the same thing. And when we talk about, you know, I could throw in a few key words, like the ISO 9001, some of these very generic standards companies are adopting. It talks about how you’re running different departments in a company. And once you are able to standardise these processes, you realise that the communication between what you are doing business in Singapore or international markets, the language, the lingo, is consistent.
Howie: And can be understood then, from everybody, despite the regions are so diverse and so different. And let’s not talk about regulation and legislation, and things like that thrown into the mix, right Jason?
Jason: Right! So here, that’s the reason why we always advocate for companies, regardless of your size, what’s the most important thing is that: Write down what you do.
So the moment that, you know, there is a turnover in the company, somebody comes in, he gets into the job immediately! And even if you're talking about shifting your office from a factory, or from Singapore to somewhere else, it is all about the manual. It is all about what you have written down on how to make your product or services consistent, and immediately you are in the next place and you can set up shop there. I think that is really the beauty about standards and standardisation of processes.
Howie: That’s the thing about standardising things though. When uncertainties come about, particularly now, say the marketplace for ASEAN and Asia, how can businesses respond more swiftly to capture market opportunities, especially with the economic downturn coming?
Jason: Yes, again, I will stick back to the same few points I mentioned earlier. It is when things are on a downturn - what you realise, as a consumer, as a business to business or consumer, you always look out for products or services that are of a decent quality. And in the downturn situation, people are even more cautious about the money that they spend. And then again, right now, we are saying that with standardisation, you can assure that sort of quality. No matter who you are trading with - be it in Singapore or in Asia or ASEAN, this remains pretty consistent.
Howie: And that way, people can know what to expect from you. Even in uncertainty.
Jason: Yes and that is the beauty of the iPhone!
Bernard: How can technology from Stendard enable local businesses to streamline their business processes and produce customised documents needed for like, audit purposes?
Jason: So if you imagine, for companies who want to adopt or implement such standards - they would have to, either write the processes from scratch, or if they want to take a shortcut, they will hire somebody else, or a consultant to come in to do that. But again, these are still manual processes. People have to write from scratch. And for our technology, and this is where we see ourselves quite different from what others are doing, is that we have this interactive, it's like a smart bot online.
We have the standardised questions that are available for you to fill in, and the moment you fill in your answers, we know what kind of processes are relevant to you as a business. We can immediately recommend that sort of details and content for you to start off, and that really significantly shortens the time to prepare this information.
Howie: That’s great Jason, because I was about to ask: it can't be the same for everybody. Everyone's business is different. Although the SME sector is Small Medium Enterprises, it's a large sector! Not everyone's obviously in the same industry, for example. But tell us of your journey, Stendard’s journey, as Co-founder and CEO, as a start-up and what sort of plans you have for the future.
Jason: We started in 2016, together with my co-founder, Vincent. Right now, we are 3 years in, with about 200-over companies that’s adopting our solution, and they're not just based in Singapore. We have clients in Australia and Germany, Korea even!
Howie: So your bots are intuitive enough to be able to pick up on the nuances and differences from region to region?
Jason: The beauty of international standards is that everybody's looking at the same thing.
Howie and Bernard: Right! Okay.
Jason: So there's this harmonisation going on. Of course then again, we always expect some sort of difference - national differences. We could be looking at, let's say, 5% of that but the rest of the 95% is consistent. And when we design our technology around it, we make sure that we also cover some of these nuances as much as we can, as we learn from different markets.
Bernard: Well Jason, I'm sure there are many SMEs or SME owners tuning in right now. How accessible are Stendard’s solutions to them?
Howie: ’Cause you know, the towkays are going to tell you right, that in downtimes, we should not be anyhow spending money, for example.
Jason: Yes, we have a free trial online. So people right now can just go to our website and sign up for a free trial account. They can really experience how that can be done. We even have professionals going on our website. In fact, a French consultant who is doing this job professionally, manually too. He found our tool and he managed to prepare all these documents in less than half an hour.
Howie: It used to take how long, would you say?
Jason: Okay, it used to take six to eight weeks to get this information prepared.
Howie and Bernard: Wow, okay! That is an impressive figure. Yeah!
Jason: So we have seen that and these are factual information that people do, and we kind of feel encouraged about that. And that keeps us going to really try to understand what are the other issues that it's going on in the SMEs’ businesses and we will continue to tackle, using technology to streamline these processes.
Howie: How challenging was it to come up with the tech? That's an impressive figure from six to eight weeks, you've whittled the process down to half an hour. How did you guys do it?
Jason: This takes really quite a bit of effort to sit closely with our clients to find out what they really need. To really hear what are the kind of things that could be different from company to company. And yes, we did take a while to really bring the tech up. While we started off in 2016, we got our product live at the start of 2018. So yeah, it took us about a year and a half for us to get it up to speed. But right now, we are very encouraged about this adoption, and we are really thinking about where else we can move.
Bernard: Okay! Tell us how else can SMEs mitigate the challenges that they face, when it comes to digitalisation.
Howie: Sure. It's a great sell on what you're doing - “I can whittle the time down to this”. So that’s a big sell! But they will also perhaps maybe throw other sorts of challenges at you. “How easy is it to use for my workers?” “Do I really want them to be taken offline?”, so to speak, or downtime for the business to try and learn and implement Stendard.
Jason: Yeah, we really see it in terms of the challenges of digitalisation. Even from the recent studies that Microsoft did, they actually found out that one of the four key issues of people being discouraged to digitalise. One of the key things is about the culture, the fact that the employees are afraid to adopt new technologies. I think for us, we are really keeping it simple enough such that you can go on a free trial, you can just experience it at no cost at this point of time, and we are also keeping the prices really affordable.
Howie: On a subscription basis or what sort of model?
Jason: We are keeping that flexible, we have costs that are one-time fee and we also have subscription models for people who are liking it and are investing for the long term.
Howie: So how is Stendard then preparing to face the economic headwinds that are coming?
Jason: As we advocate people adopting standards and having processes, we ourselves are also certified. We also have these processes in place, and I think that's one of the key things. But the most important point is for us to keep innovation in our heart. I think that's the most important thing to us as the founders of the company. Innovation means that we need to really be hearing what the companies are needing, and how we can keep looking a couple of steps forward - what kind of digital tools or technology can be leveraged on, to streamline and make these people feel comfortable in using our technology. I think that's the direction we are heading towards.
Howie: Still bootstrapped though, at this point?
Jason: We have investors, and that is also another form of encouragement that we are doing something that contributes to the economy and of course helping the SMEs at the same time.
Howie: Stendard’s Co-founder and CEO, Jason Lim joining us today. Jason, thank you so much!
Jason: Thank you, Howie and Bernard!