Moving home is a complicated process. First the struggle to find the right movers, comparing prices, making sure they don’t blow the budget, then the paperwork, and so on… It’s something you can’t get away from.
The Singaporean cross-border relocation service Moovaz wants to make it easier. “I’ve experienced the personal awkwardness of moving around, as a student and for jobs,” Moovaz’s co-founder and CEO Lee Junxian told KrASIA. For him, moving doesn’t have to be complex or stressful, especially now, with the help of technology.
On its platform, Moovaz connects customers with service providers in the destination. The user enters origin and destination cities, the volume of movable items, and a tentative move date. The tool will then propose a plan and calculate a price. Each customer gets a “move manager” who will guide them through the steps, such as home surveys and other personalized requirements.
Moovaz ensures that moving costs remain reasonable and transparent. The company further offers visa application, personal and family insurance, and pet transport assistance. “We also have other, smaller services that we don’t monetize, like getting SIM cards,” Lee added.
Moovaz was founded by Lee and two of his university classmates, Jerry Chua and Vishnu Vasudeven. The idea originated from Chua and Vasudeven, who lived seven years in Myanmar where they had to relocate several times. They now offer a global service, but the clients mostly come from Singapore, Hong Kong, and Australia.
The global mobility industry has a large potential, estimated to be worth USD 80.2 billion according to a report by Technavio. As the cost of living continues to soar in the developed markets, more people are looking to move to more affordable places. China and India are loosening their immigration laws, easing the process for foreigners to relocate there. The burgeoning economic activity in Southeast Asian countries, such as Indonesia and Vietnam, is tempting the “gig economy” to look for opportunities there. The mobility industry, however, still seems stuck in the past, lacking digitization.
“If you look into the relocation industry now, it’s entirely manual,” said Lee. “We’re talking about people writing on boxes, handling piles of paper documents.” Furthermore, paper-based data is not recorded properly, it is hard to process and analyze for market insights.
In 2018, Chua and Vasudeven approached Lee, who at the time was chief financial officer for the fraud risk management company Shield. They were looking for someone who excels in operating a business, executing plans, and building solid teams.
Lee himself thought that leaving a well-funded and flourishing company for a startup was probably “commercially the worst decision to make”. Nonetheless, he wanted to broaden his horizons and solve new problems, and thus agreed to join his former classmates in the new venture.
Not sexy enough
After extensively researching market trends, potentials, and customer needs for about half a year, they finally established Moovaz. But there was another challenge—finding capital.
“We are frontrunners in this sector. A lot of investors are not looking into relocation, it’s not sexy for them,” said Lee. “We faced headwinds. Our rejection rate was so high.”
The company finally managed to notch seed funding from Mojo Partners, Goldbell Group, and Hustle Fund in 2018 and 2019.
Moovaz then started to approach logistics service providers such as trucking and cargo companies to build a supply chain. Lee found it very difficult to convince the established players to board its platform.
“Logistics is very traditional and my supply chain people, they don’t care about tech,” he said. “In conversations, it only revolves around ‘can you help me earn or save money’. Technology adoption is one big hurdle that Asian logistics needs to overcome.” At present, the company has a global network of more than 2,000 partners that are certified moving service providers.
For Lee, his firm doesn’t have direct competitors in terms of business model. Even though they face challenges from the likes of Santa Fe Relocation or Asian Tigers, its use of technology provides Moovaz an edge. Users have more options and pay less for the service. “We are probably similar to local moving platforms. But they are doing inter-state only, less complicated than cross-border,” said Lee.
Labeling itself as “lifemovers”, Moovaz wants to be more than just a moving service, be proactive in helping people starting their life in a new place.
“The reality of a cross-border relocation is that it’s a reset of your life. You have to cancel everything at where you are from, and reconfigure everything at where you are going to,” said Lee. People need to adjust their habits and lifestyle.
Through data submitted by users, such as property preferences, personal information, and the relocation place, Moovaz can draw a rough profile. Based on that, they can make recommendations for places and activities that suit the customer’s taste.
Data from the global mobility industry offer interesting insights. Lee sees different customer preferences between Asians and westerners. The first prefers to buy property along with new furniture, while the latter opts more for rental.
Most relocations are for professional reasons. “In the past, you have secretaries taking care of this process,” said Lee. “Now the company gives you an allowance and you manage the move yourself. Even though it looks like B2C, it’s actually B2B.” 80% of Moovaz’s customers follow this profile.
Another interesting trend the company observed is that more people are moving on short-term visas. They are migrating to Japan or New Zealand to work at a ski resort for a year. There are also westerners moving to low-cost areas, such as Bali or Bangkok. They work remotely and get paid in dollars, while spending less than at home.
“Because of the internet you can work from anywhere, there are a lot of digital nomads now. This affects how people relocate internationally,” said Lee. In the past, people tended to move to places where the economy is buzzing, but now, this trend is shifting.
Last April, Moovaz raised USD 7 million in Series A funding led by Quest Ventures. YCH Group, Singapore’s largest home-grown supply chain management company, also injected capital through its corporate venture arm, SCAngels. Moovaz intends to use the money for geographical expansion.
Acquisition in the making
“We are doubling down on Hong Kong and Australia, then expand to India and China,” said Lee. “We are actually already in Bangalore, and going to figure out from there.”
To prepare for the post-COVID-19 scenario, Moovaz is already looking for new revenue drivers. This could be a B2B product for other logistics companies. Acquisitions, which could help diversify its services, are also not off the radar.
Lee insinuates that his company might soon be on the move itself: “Many traditional companies and tech startups are working together. In tough times, you are either acquired or acquiring.”
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.