Yi Hern Chang was only 20 years old when he struck upon the idea to build an app that rewards people who become more active. Chang was studying engineering at Oxford University in the UK on full scholarship when a game called Pokémon Go took the world by storm in 2016.
“In 2016, I returned to Malaysia during a break when I saw many people playing Pokémon Go in a park. It was exciting because normally nobody goes to the park,” Chang told KrASIA during a recent interview in Jakarta. “At that time, I was an avid runner so I thought that if we used a similar approach, and gave people rewards or money, they would want to run and be active,” he added.
JomRun started as a rewards-based fitness tracking app before Chang realized that offering monetary benefits to app users was not a sustainable business model. Therefore, he decided to work with gym and fitness companies to offer vouchers on the app in addition to the rewards feature. JomRun app was officially launched in December 2017.
The startup was losing money in its first eight months of operations, particularly due to the e-wallet boom in Malaysia. Hence, Chang decided to drop out of Oxford one year shy of his master’s degree and returned to his homeland in 2018.
“When they started coming into Malaysia, e-wallet platforms were very aggressive and completely smashed the voucher business. The company was in a very distressed financial position and I realized that I needed to be very focused on this project,” Chang explained.
At the time, Chang and his team would attend running events frequently to promote the app. After meeting and discussing with many event organizers, Chang decided to build a ticketing function on the platform in August 2018.
JomRun now has two main functions: ticketing and rewards-based features. The rewards feature awards users points every time they meet running or walking goals, or when they complete an activity. Users can redeem the points to buy vouchers on the app. JomRun still keeps its tracking function so users can track their daily physical activity while using the app.
JomRun is backed by Malaysian conglomerate Sunway Group, Nexea Venture Capital, and several angel investors. According to Chang, the startup is not in a rush to do raise more funding as it is already able to generate positive cash flow and make profits. Most of JomRun’s revenues come from its ticketing feature, Chang added.
“We are not in a position to actively fundraise. Honestly, I enjoy the freedom of not depending too much on investors. Of course, if there are investors who are interested in us, we are keen to talk with them but it [fundraising] is not our main focus at the moment,” he said.
JomRun app is currently available in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, and Cambodia. The app has been downloaded by one million users and half of them are active users. Malaysia is its biggest market and the startup worked with over 1,000 events in Malaysia last year. Chang is confident about Indonesia as well, as the app attracted 50,000 users only one month after it launched in the country in December 2019.
Capturing a niche wellness segment
Following the rise of health tech startups, the wellness industry has begun to attract tech innovation, especially in the past year. In Indonesia, there are a few promising startups that aim to help people have a healthier lifestyle like The Fit Company that raised investment from East Ventures last year, and fitness booking app Doogether that recently formed a partnership with Gojek.
However, since wellness is a very niche segment, Chang doesn’t want to be very ambitious, with hopes of getting millions of users quickly. “To be frank, I don’t think that the wellness and fitness industry will boom in Southeast Asia in the next few years. For many people, fitness is seen as a luxury and not everyone is interested in a healthy lifestyle.”
Even so, Chang believes that more people take their hobbies seriously now, and running is a popular activity with a huge fan base and loyalists. In Malaysia alone, there are about 2,000 running events every year, he said.
“Our retention rate is high in Malaysia, and even in Indonesia. Many users are willing to go to several running events in a month.”
Selling tickets online is nothing new as you can buy them using many platforms including mass adoption apps like Gojek, Traveloka, Tokopedia, and more. But Chang believes that his platform has competitive advantages to compete with other apps. “While other platforms sell tickets for any kind of events, we only focus on one: running events. Runners will keep coming back to us because we offer more up-to-date and comprehensive events compared to other apps,” said Chan.
Chang also consistently improves user experience of the app, one of which is by working with e-wallet platforms like GoPay, Ovo, and Dana, to provide a seamless payment process. This way, users are able to purchase tickets without leaving the app. “Once users sign up, all of their information is stored safely in the app, so it only takes them less than 30 seconds to make transactions,” he continued.
Going forward, Chang said that JomRun will keep expanding its services and dig deeper into existing markets. The startup is currently preparing two more products on its platform: wearable tech devices under the JomRun brand and a healthy snacks line. The new products will roll out in Malaysia first this year, before hitting other countries.
The Indonesian market will also be Chang’s focus this year as he wants to partner with all running events in the country.
“As we are still at an early stage, we’ll keep improving our services and tech capabilities. In 2020, I will spend more time in Indonesia to strengthen JomRun’s presence and activities here,” Chang said.
This article is part of KrASIA’s “Startup Stories” series, where the writers of KrASIA speak with founders of tech companies in South and Southeast Asia.