Terence Mak is no stranger to entrepreneurship, especially in the IT space. He started his entrepreneurship journey during the dot-com era and as he worded it, “I have never looked back.”
He had built companies that went head-to-head with technology giant, Skype, which has since been acquired by Microsoft in 2011 and companies in the events and tourism industry.
Terence’s latest venture, as the CEO and Founder, is a start-up called WhereIsWhere, an app that helps consumers discover lifestyle options such as dining, shopping and activities that they can do based on their location. In turn, it also allows retailers to reach their target consumers near their business.
In this interview, we check in with Terence on how WhereIsWhere started, his challenges and also his advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.
How did the idea of WhereIsWhere come about?
Discovering nearby shops offering products and services at point-of-search remains to be a key challenge faced by consumers today. At any given time, we are surrounded by hundreds of merchants, but we continue to have limited knowledge on their presence.
I saw the urgent need to enhance and streamline the discovery process and allow consumers – who are constantly bombarded with content and information – to make wiser and easier decisions while keeping them excited.
This led me to start WhereIsWhere, a first-of-its-kind location-based discovery mobile app that allows consumers to discover flash promotions, product and service offerings and activities within a kilometre from where they search, as well as timing-based offers around when they search. WhereIsWhere allows consumers to easily navigate and find great places, experiences and promotions within a target vicinity – which helps consumers make better decisions on what to eat, shop and do.
How long did it take for WhereIsWhere to be profitable?
Most offline businesses quickly realised how WhereIsWhere delivers a better advantage over online mediums such as Google and Facebook, which have limited capabilities for them to optimise audience reach and are likewise beyond their budget. As such, we see an uptake in the number of merchants availing of our fixed pricing model for advertising per outlet as they can better target nearby consumers and drive them into their shops.
With the fixed pricing model for advertising per outlet, merchants and retailers can push unlimited marketing messages on our self-servicing dashboard, which allows them to design and run campaigns across multiple outlet locations in real-time
Turning an idea into a reality is one of the difficult stages of starting a business, what were the challenges you faced along the way and did you overcome them?
As with most startups, WhereIsWhere was met with initial scepticism. Investors and merchants alike questioned its market potential, with some even brushing our idea aside as a “has-been”, given their failure to fully understand what WhereIsWhere is offering.
We have since crossed the barrier – a testament to this is how we now have over 2,500 retail locations in-app, across Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam and Thailand. Our partner merchants now include Ba Fang Yun Ji, the number one specialised dumpling franchise store in Taiwan; Babiday, a Vietnamese retail chain; Old Chang Kee, a Singapore snack, food and beverage chain; and even Singapore department stores and shopping malls such as Millenia Walk, BHG and Wisteria Mall. We have won partners over in less than a year, thanks to our fixed pricing model for merchants and WhereIsWhere’s capability to target nearby consumers.
Were your loved ones supportive of you starting your business than following the conventional way of working for someone else?
I am grateful for family and friends, who have given me their support since leaving the corporate world for good over two decades ago. Today, as I continue my journey with WhereIsWhere, their support is truly invaluable in helping me overcome day-to-day difficulties. I am also thankful that I have the support of recognised retail veterans Patrick Lum, former CEO of Suntec City Development Pte Ltd, and Michael Leong, former Managing Director/CEO of Jurong Point and AsiaMalls, whose insights served as the basis for enhancing WhereIsWhere further.
What’s your favourite part about being an entrepreneur?
I love having the freedom to conceptualise solutions and ideas that address common consumer pain points. I get to create solutions that transform industries and redefine customer experiences. I am excited at the prospect of making a difference in consumers’ lives and allowing these consumers to experience the potential of technology such as location-based services in discovering places to see, eat and do near them.
What’s your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Don’t be a copycat. Specialise in a niche, and strive to be the best in that area. Leverage your connections and partnerships, and focus on building synergy with them to fully capitalise on the digital economy. Visualise the bigger picture starting day one: Learn to think regional and global.