Entrepreneur Samuel Chua takes the concept of “multi-tasking” to a whole new level. The Singaporean co-founded Singapore’s first ‘happy hour’ app while holding down a full-time job and running another tech startup. Named ULO, the app is a booking platform that offers up to 70% off beauty and lifestyle services during off-peak hours.
The time-based discounts are a new spin on conventional promotions in deal apps like Fave, Burpple, and ShopBack. On ULO, you can instantly reserve appointments at specific timeslots which are heavily discounted. To illustrate, a merchant on ULO can offer a 70% discount for a 2pm slot on a Monday. Subsequently, they can decrease the discount rates by 10% every hour until it hits a 40% discount for a 5pm booking.
In-app, all discounts are direct discounts. That means there’s no need to redeem e-vouchers or claim cashback. The discounts listed on the app also apply to all services of the shop, unless otherwise stated. To discover a service, you can browse through merchants listed across seven different beauty and lifestyle categories. ULO also allows you to filter your searches by time and service, which makes it ideal for last-minute bookings.
Samuel first hit upon the idea for ULO in 2018 when he was going for a haircut at his barber. He realized that he was always being asked to come in during regular business hours (between 9am and 6pm) because shops experienced low footfall while everyone was away at work. Retail shops tend to empty out during off-peak hours so to boost business, Samuel’s barber had a standee outside their shop offering a 30% discount between 2 and 4pm.
“(But) it made no sense,” says Samuel. “The shop was located on the second floor at a corner, so the standee would miss the regular crowd since it would only be seen by people who walked past your shop.” Time-based services like barber shops never had this problem addressed. So ULO was launched in response to a “virtual standee”, with far greater reach potential.
It’s now dubbed as Singapore’s first “time-based management platform.” The project was piloted in late 2019 and has slowly amassed a growing user base—over 1,800 bookings have been made in-app. Today, it has over 2,100 active monthly users and 293 merchants onboard.
On top of developing ULO, Samuel wears multiple hats running a tech startup, Coconut Lab, while holding down a full-time job at a local co-working startup. Samuel also accredits his work to the faith he has in his right-hand man and co-founder, Chuen Lum Loh. The two first met in 2015. At that time, Samuel was pursuing an eight-year career in JLL as a regional real estate consultant.
He hired Chuen Lum to help with a pet project building a real estate website and was impressed by his work. “He’s reliable, precise and able to translate business to tech very easily.” Dissatisfied with his corporate job, Samuel left his real estate career in 2017 “to try something new” and proposed kickstarting a business to Chuen Lum. “Young people don’t waste time,” Samuel explains. “We wanted to go, so let’s just go.”
The two launched Coconut Lab in 2018, an app and web development company. The company serves clients across the Asia Pacific and employs a lean team of 15 across Singapore and Indonesia. The startup is responsible for ULO’s in-house app development, though the two remain separate entities. Coconut Lab has also developed SwapSwipe, another eco-friendly exchange platform.
In 2019, Samuel joined a local co-working startup in their enterprise sales department to drive regional strategy and business development. “I wanted to learn from the big boys,” he explains. Despite the immense effort it must take to run three gigs at once, Samuel is remarkably laid back about his accomplishments. “It’s really just time management,” he explains.
He also counted on his strong partnership with Chuen Lum, who he trusted to run Coconut Labs concurrently. “We complement each other,” he surmises.
COVID-19 has impacted the growth of the app, though it has since bounced back. ULO received over 3,000 monthly average users pre-COVID, which dropped to 500 at the height of the circuit breaker and bounced back to 2,000 to 2,500 users last month.
More shops have been coming forward asking for inclusion on the platform, says Samuel, adding that off-peak hours will always be a universal problem for retail. Despite the hurdles they face, ULO will be actively expanding. If all goes as planned, ULO will be revamping its user experience and expanding its suite of merchants to include fitness brands and activities. ULO 2.0 is designed for released in the fourth quarter of 2020.
Where others might balk at his workload, Samuel is living the dream. “I wanted to build something…(entrepreneurship and IT is) what I really enjoyed.”
This article was originally published by Vulcan Post.