Interview with Sqkii


Hola readers! 123JS is introducing a new segment "#123JSfeatureoftheweek" whereby we will conduct an interview to know more about our incubatees. The objective of this segment is to enable our readers to have a better understanding of the guys/ladies behind a kickass startup. We're glad to have Sqkii, one of 123JumpStart's incubatees kickstarting this brand new segment. Let's go!

About Sqkii

Sqkii's core members (L-R): Sean Chua, Joey Ng, Marcus Ng, Eleazar Lim, Janan Tan, Kenny Choy, Alden Tan & Brandon Lee 
(Photograph courtesy  of Sqkii)

Sqkii (squeak-ki) is a mobile web application that rewards users with cold hard cash for discovering promotions that they like. A user would typically log into our web application to look at the latest discounts or give-aways from food and fashion retailers.

To enhance the experience, users are awarded random amounts (ranging from $0.00001 to $10 worth) of credit points each time they look at promotion for 10 seconds or more. These credit points can be cashed out via Paypal or Bank Transfer once a user accumulates $10 worth of points.


The Interview

123JS: How did the idea of Sqkii come about?

Kenny: It all happened back in Oct 2012, when I was having supper (during the exam period) with Marcus. That night, he shared with me about a trendy mobile application known as Phewtick. It is a social app that helps users meet new people and subsequently rewards them with money for doing so. How Phewtick monetises its business was a mystery to the both of us, until Marcus speculated that the company probably used advertisements as a means to achieve this.

Almost instantaneously, the idea hit me and I exclaimed excitedly to Marcus, "Why don't we come out with an application that rewards people with cash by viewing advertisements? Advertisers are always finding ways to get people to look at their advertisements." From then on, there was no looking back as both of us eagerly worked to put our plan into action. That would be followed by an incredible story of how we found and convinced Eleazar, one of the top students from SMU SIS, to join our team.
What started off as a fun idea to work on during the holidays slowly became a serious desire to create a level playing field in today's advertising industry - where more often than not, small players are unable to afford the costs of competing with larger and more affluent players.

123JS: How did the name 'Sqkii' come about?

Sqkii: We knew that advertising can be very expensive and small firms may not be able to afford that kind of money. This perhaps explains why consumers are usually exposed to advertisements from bigger and more renowned brands because they have pockets deep enough to afford this highly expensive tool. Knowing that, our team imagined a world where prime advertising can be afforded by anyone. We made it our vision to create a level-playing field for advertisers; a platform where the small players can stand toe to toe with the big boys.

Sqkii's new logo and tagline
(Photograph courtesy of Sqkii)

Sqkii: There is a common folk belief that elephants are afraid of mice. So we thought we would like to be the mouse that can potentially pick up a fair fight with the big elephants. And guess what, a mouse squeaks. So we call ourselves Sqkii (pronounced as ''Squeak-ki").

123JS: Who are the founders of Sqkii?

Sqkii: Sqkii was founded back in November 2012 by 3 then-undergraduates from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore Management University (SMU). Today, 2 of them have graduated and the third is in his final year.

Co-founders of Sqkii (L-R):  Kenny Choy, Marcus Ng & Eleazar Lim
(Photograph courtesy of Sqkii)

Kenny, 25: I'm in my final year at NTU reading Accountancy with a second specialization in Business Law. In 2014, I took a gap year from university to oversee the application's beta launch. Today, I handle the sales and project management functions involving planning, forecasting, and marketing of Sqkii's product to its key investors, partners and strategic advisors.

(Editor's note: Psstt.. Kenny is also a dean-lister who was formerly serving as the President of NTU Accountancy and Business Club [NTU ABC])

Marcus, 24: I recently graduated from NTU with a Bachelor of Business specializing in Marketing. In 2014, I took a leave of absence along with Kenny to design and implement a set of sustainable operational processes within the company. 6 months later, I resumed my undergraduate studies and completed the entire course in 2.5 years. Today, I manage the day-to-day operations of Sqkii.

Eleazar, 26: I recently graduated from SMU with a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems Management and an interest in Marketing. Today, I lead a team of developers to improve the company's mobile responsive web application and build future native releases.

(Editor's note: Eleazar led his Final Year Project (FYP) team to develop the first version of the company's web-based mobile application which received several awards such as the Easy Pump Mobile Innovation Award, Best IS480 Project Winner and Most Popular IS480 Poster Booth. He's also one of the 2 recipients of the DFS Scholarship every year. Hmm.. give me a minute. I'm picking my jaw up off the floor ) 

123JS: How did the 3 of you get together / know each other?

Kenny: I met Marcus from Nanyang Business School (NBS) Freshman Orientation Camp. My first impression of him was that of a mature and composed person. He was the complete opposite of me that I thought would help to compliment my strengths. The idea struck us as we were having supper one day and subsequently, we met up at Starbucks (for a full day) scribbling our vision and plans on blank papers. It took us a few weeks to finally devise a solid business plan with clear strategies to formalise our novel idea.

Once that was done, it was time to find a fantastic tech co-founder. We didn't want to settle for an average programmer. So we asked around for the best tech guy around our age and we were given 2 names from SMU. It seemed like a crazy idea, but what we did was this: we conducted a Facebook search, printed their faces and waited for them at the lobby of SMU School of Information System (SMU ISS) - the place where most IS students have to walk past every single day. After spending some time twiddling our thumbs, we finally spotted what seemed like the first guy on the list: Eleazar.

This was it. After briefly readying ourselves, we approached him: "Hi, I am Kenny and this is Marcus. We want to start up a company that will make people want to look at advertisements. We think you are the right fit for the team; do you have 5 mins to spare?" We requested him to sign a non-disclosure form - which he did so without hesitation - shared the idea with him, shook hands and the rest was history. The three of us have been working together for more than two and a half years now.

123JS: What is an average day like in Sqkii's office?

Sqkii: Everyday is different because we are constantly working on new things. We consider ourselves rather flexible when it comes to choosing the place we prefer to get work done. There is no expectation that everyone has to turn up to work in the office nor do we enforce fixed working hours. We are of the opinion that the office space is meant to aid and complement us in our work, and at times allow us to communicate our progress and ideas with one another. So if on a particular day we find that it is more conducive to work from somewhere else, we would usually do so. Coincidentally, we have just moved into a new office earlier this month (Sept 2015) and from the looks of it, everyone seems to be enjoying our new space.

 Co-founders of Sqkii (L-R): Eleazar, Marcus & Kenny
(Photograph courtesy of Sqkii)

123JS: We noticed the consistency in all your visual contents. You guys seem to be fond of using bright and fun colors. Any reason?

Sqkii: Honestly, we have not given much thought to this. The designs and colors of our digital artworks seem to be reflective of what Sqkii is attempting to accomplish - to create a simple, thrilling and rewarding way to find promotions. I supposed this goes to show how deeply rooted our primary objective is, such that it unknowingly becomes embedded in our work.

123JS: What's the toughest moment or most demoralizing setback while running Sqkii and how Sqkii over came it?

Sqkii: Throughout the 2 years, we had quite a fair share of obstacles like most startups - rejection from merchants is a common thing, played out by an accelerator, technical bottlenecks, rejected PIC application (which we recently managed to successfully appeal), commitment and hiring issues, etc.. But we are unable to pick out one single biggest problem from the list. Probably it has to do with our habit of downplaying the seriousness of each obstacle (in a good way) so it becomes easier for us to get over with the emotional part (i.e. disappointment) and quickly work on the issue.

123JS: What's your greatest takeaway from running Sqkii so far?

Kenny: A high performing full-time team where members trust and understand one another. People have always asked if it was the right decision to start a business when we are all students. Back in 2014, I wrote an article about my decision to leave university temporarily to dedicate full time to Sqkii. One year on, I think I can probably add another point to the article: It takes time to build trust in a team and I think it is better to do it early. 

Assuming if we did not start Sqkii when the three of us were still students, I supposed it would have been very difficult to convince someone as talented as Eleazar to build a startup with Marcus and I, right after graduation. Moreover, I might not even want to start a business (needless to say convince Eleazar), considering the many high-paying jobs that would (hypothetically) come by after my graduation. It’s easy to ponder about our passion and purpose in life, but it takes time for us to really fall in love with these passion (and purpose) to the degree that we find an urge to act on them. One must have already fell deeply in love with his passion and purpose in life, to be able to go against (sometimes) his parents’ expectation, give up on financial stability, social life and the list goes on.
These two years gave us a taste of what it is like to live our dreams, and now that we love what we are tasting, we are more committed than ever to this cause. The many obstacles that we faced in the past have helped us better understand one another and build trust within the team -  this does not happen overnight.

123JS: What are some pieces of advice you have for young budding entrepreneur?

Kenny: An entrepreneur is just a more glamorous term for an underpaid administrator, decision-maker, designer, filmmaker, laborer, motivator, salesman and writer. Life as an entrepreneur can be exciting but it requires a lot of discipline because no one is going to tell us what to do and when to do it by. We have to figure it out ourselves and follow through. It can be miserable at times. I lost count of the number of times I ran out of money in my bank account. But I do remember the first time it happened: The year was 2013 and I was knocking on doors to get the initial group of merchants on board. Just before lunch, I found myself left with $2 in my pocket and $16 in my bank. I couldn’t withdraw the money from ATM and so I bought myself a bun to keep me going for the rest of the day. Occasions like this keeps repeating even till today, even after we have raised our first round of funding. This is why we should never do it for money. In the most trying times, other than keeping a positive mind, it is revisiting the reason why I started Sqkii in the first place, that kept me going. Had my primary motivation been money, I think I would have quit a long time ago.

This post is brought to you by 123JumpStart - an initiative by SiTF.

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