There’s two way corporates see design, and I’ve been through both sides in my short career in DBS. The first is that design is an extravagant waste of money better spent developing more features, which is the reason why internal IT systems look more like Craigslist than Gumtree. On the other side of the fence, design seen as critical to the usability of a system. Without it, user adoption would be severely limited, which is a very pertinent point in building public-facing sites.
I like to use Craigslist as an example. It’s ugly but extremely effective and efficient. Pages load in a hundred milliseconds, a big plus for SEO. Users know what they’re searching for, and Craigslist makes it easy for them to find it. A huge and continually chorus of users and designers are heralding the rise of video as the next big thing in web design. Craigslist has to proven to be resilient to progress in multimedia technology nevertheless.
Closer to home, the granddaddy of property listing websites, Propertyguru, is still going strong after a decade. They’ve recently updated their interface to reflect changing consumer needs and modern web design styles, but it’s always been the old list view for a long time. Even so, they’ve constantly beaten STProperty and young trendy upstart 99.co in visitorship and search ranking – of course much of it also due to their savvy digital marketing strategies and large user base of agents.
In many organisations, many internal IT systems are comparable to the loveable giant Shrek - huge and ugly to see and use, but dependable and capable when it comes to getting the job done. In today's complex processes with multiple dependencies, IT project managers rightfully choose to invest the limited budget in increasing the technical capabilities and functions of a custom-built system, rather than dressing it up for the benefit of a small population of users (who would demand regular training anyway, so why bother eh?)
But these examples where function trumps design are the exception rather than the norm. Without a rabid fanbase (comic book forums, Stackoverflow, the infamous Sammyboy etc) or a truly functional site (w3schools, CPF website), poorly designed websites see much traffic. Take Facebook for example. One of the world’s highest visited sites, it has to constantly roll out new functional and aesthetic changes, which are usually panned by the online community (because someone couldn’t find understand Reactions, or the poke button has disappeared etc). But after weeks or months, users grudgingly embrace the change as they adapt to the interface and understand its intended benefits to the user experience.
This leads to user interface (UI) versus user experience (UX). The image below usually expresses the difference in their definition, but both are equally important. Ideally, good UI should lead to good UX, which is a holy grail every web designer aspires to. With videos touted as the next big thing in design, I’m not so sure actually. Remember the auto-playing music that loads up when we visited certain websites back in the 90s? Yeah, that was a bad experience, even though the UI was considered pretty back then.
To be clear, I’m no expert in web design. I’m fortunate that pretty websites can now be built using templates, so not much design or coding skills are needed. But everyone who has anything to do with online marketing, development or anything in between should know a bit about design, at least to optimize webpages for search engines and also not disgust first-time visitors. A few key pointers still relevant today:
Fast page load times
Remember loading pages over a 56kbps modem? Yeah, user hate that lag time, as does the Google Search crawler. Try to search for flights using the ITC travel website, and then try it on Google flights. Both are powered by the same servers, owned by the same company, and yet one is way better than other. Doesn’t take much to figure this out.
Google is still numero uno in search, despite the best efforts of Yahoo and Bing. In an era of content content content, Google steadfastly refuses to out news tickers, lifestyle news, ads, mail etc on their homepage, which sees millions of hits a minute. Instead we just see a search field and a button to submit the query. This works. Yahoo still hasn’t figured this out yet apparently.
Don’t make users think
Online users browse. Scroll. Browse. Giggle once in a while. They come to a page that says “We optimize a new generation of floral-inspired technologists.” What is this? Don’t know, don’t care. Scroll on.
As succinctly as possible, tell the users what the website does, and how it benefits them. But only as much as required. Trim the fat until it’s a lean, efficient message, and blast it right above the fold so users see it upfront (and also shows up in link previews on social media sites). Try to design for a lazy user – no matter how good a product is, first impression matters. Superficiality matters.
In the same light as the point above, “Learn about our business” says a lot less than “Sign up for a seller account” or “Join our newsletter”. Short concise phrases can be broken up further with different colour, font sizes or highlights to emphasize important points. The 5Ws and 1H does work, even in today’s meme-hungry content culture.
There’s loads more tips, and this is just scratching the surface of an entire discipline. My final tip would be to learn a bit about HTML. Enough just to understand and not fear it. It’s future, whether we like it or not.
Quality education is seldom free, even in an informal setting. To be a blacksmith, one has to spend years in a dark and humid forge, under the tutelage of a master. Likewise, anyone wanting to pursue most other professions also need to commit time, energy and money to seek training. My beef is with trainers and educators who extort inordinate fees, without imparting an equivalent amount of skill or knowledge.
We've seen those ads. $2000 for a 'get-rich'quick' trading course. $500 for a 3-hour 'internet-marketing work-from-home' class. $3500 for a two day coding workshop that promises a high paying programming job. And the reason for these prices? A graduate would be able to command a higher salary or income from the market immediately afterwards, whether in the job, financial or eCommerce markets.
Evidence do suggest that, of course. It isn't uncommon to find a 6-digit-per-year job in the gentrified tech towns of Silicon Valley, or a 7-digit-bonus job in Wall Street. But the difference is, most of these people have gone through the traditional academic route, taking on a proper degree in computer science in an Ivy League school, or spending tons of money in an MBA programme. Some employers in tech companies are skeptical of coding school graduates, since they might end up doing more harm than good, especially in team projects. Similarly, it isn't easy to game financial markets or join institutions that usually hire the brightest talent from the best schools only.
But that doesn't mean we write off these new education providers. The established educational institutions are due for a disruption, and there's a lot of new ways to learn these days outside of a lab or classroom, at a lower price but with equal or better quality.
1. Online Courses
Sure, I might be biased in my support for platforms that help anyone in the world to conduct educational webinars. And yes, I know that it lacks that mechanism to handle immediate feedback or questions. But with online education marketplaces, students get to learn from the best in the world (or at least whoever is on the platform). They are no longer limited to a professor or teacher who got assigned by 'the school administrator to a class, and in some cases, actually pretty crappy at conducting a class.
Then there's the review mechanism, which helps weed out the poor trainers. As more students attend the online classes, they give ratings to trainers and courses. The best ones are further promoted by the platform, and the lousy ones get left behind. Students benefit from excellent education, and the best trainers are financially rewarded and encouraged to come up with more great content.
2. Online Tutorials / Guides
Want to learn coding? Save on the one-day workshop and just Google "Java coding tutorial" (or whatever platform / language you want to learn from). There are plenty of excellent, step-by-step guides with screenshots and videos that teach beginners how to code from scratch - from the initial step of downloading the software needed all the way to building a full-fledged chat app. It's as easy as following instructions on what to do, while understanding the purpose of the commands.
Here's just a few decent ones that showed up on a simple Google search:
Similarly for financial literacy courses, which some training centres charge thousands of dollars for a day-long workshop, promising massive returns if the students commits to the programme. Forex trading, value investing, options etc... the list goes on. For the financial novice, there are loads of resources online available for free!
3. The Library
Singapore has one of the most modern libraries in the world, with a massive collection that is constantly updated. Today, it also stocks loads of eBooks, so readers do not even need to step out of home to browse and borrow books.
Books have traditionally been the medium of education, not educators. Everything from cooking, art, finances and IT can be learned from books. In fact, home brewers do not pick up the skills of making beer from a training centre (since there are none in Singapore!) - so many novices are directed to get a copy of this book to get started.
So it's clear I don't particularly support overpriced private training courses. I have another beef with the private tuition scene and what it does to the learning mindset of a child, but that's another post for another day. My point is, there's plenty of good people in this world that has developed free or cheap courses to share their knowledge, and in more effective ways. Save your hard-earned money, support these folks and their effort in making the tutorials, and stop buying into the Big Education Con!
On Monday, a new law was passed in the Singapore parliament that makes short-term home or room rentals illegal, unless with URA permission. This puts to rest any misconception that short-term rentals are permitted for private property.
2016 saw a 61% rise in the number of complaints related to short-term rentals, even as the URA continues to explore how to permit services like Airbnb to operate in Singapore's regulated real estate market. Some proposed changes to the current regulation include the reducing of the minimum lease period from the current 6-month length, and a new category of residential housing for short-term rentals.
In the meantime, URA officers now have more power to investigate and prosecute overcrowded rental properties and short-term rental violations - including the power to enter suspected premises for inspection. To quote National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, this new law will "make sure that the issue does not worsen further".
Short-term rentals have been a sticky point for the authorities to manage, as they balance disruptive innovation with market regulation. While public housing is closely monitored, owners of private property has generally been dealt with a lighter touch until now. It shouldn't come as a surprise though - URA has regularly warned private homeowners against it.
A quick check on Airbnb shows hundreds of listings, which seems to be the tip of the iceberg. On forums and social media channels, there is a bustling online scene where homeowners advertise rental units for weekly leases, and budget-conscious tenants negotiate rent via private messages. Unsurprisingly, much of these transactions are partly to avoid paying agent commission, and with the assumption that there is safety in numbers.
If the new law is anything to go by, I hope these homeowners will reconsider their approach to finding tenants directly. The rental market may be slow and tenants may be demanding... but it certainly isn't worth a hefty fine or jail time.
Over the past weekend, much of Singapore has been busy gorging themselves on sweet snacks, buttery cookies and fizzy drinks while catching up with friends and families. With disruption being the new keyword, I wondered how receptive would people be, if ancient time-tested traditions started going the way of the Dodo.
Here's some ideas anyway.
#1 - Healthy Snacks Over The Usual Confectionary And Snacks
The simplest of ideas is potentially the hardest, since it upends decades of belief that the pineapple tarts, kueh bangkit and other local cookies and buttery confectionary are must-haves on the dining table. Restaurants, hotels, cafes and bakeries make a killing every year during this season, charging $30 for a plastic can of tarts that would otherwise go for $10.
Meanwhile, everyone reasons that their diet can take a backseat during this holiday season, because it's once a year, right? Well, besides the mooncake festival (716 kcal/mooncake!), the annual D&D feast, the Christmas feast, the Hari Raya snacks, the Deepavali sweets, the regular company lunches, the welcome / farewell treats, the occasional wedding feast etc, of course.
So eating healthy isn't in our lifestyle, or at least we do have a lot of reasons to cheat on it regularly. How about starting to change our mindset on festive snacks? Crackers and cheese instead of sugar-powdered sugar cookies, chocolate wafers instead of whole chocolates, fruit salad instead of fruit gummies and so on? Sure it might be tad more expensive for some alternatives, but it's worth a try... and to disrupt the big o' Big Sugar industry and their buttery counterparts!
#2 - The Yusheng
With Singapore staking a claim over its invention, I gotta tread carefully here. It's a decently healthy dish no doubt, but it's overpriced in restaurants, and it's more or less the same. Time to change up and make things interesting!
How about changing the ingredients with a theme? For those with a sweet tooth (yes, I know what I said in #1. Just let me finish...), how about a local dessert version to finish off a meal. The green strands - chendol. The red strands - jelly. The black ones - grass jelly. The sugar orange peels can stay. The carrots and radishes replaced with strands of sweet potato and aloe vera, and I'm thining like those from a bowl of Bur Bur Cha Cha. Maybe some sea coconut to replace strands of something else. Top up with gula melaka, some coloured syrup from ice kachang, and maybe chocolate sauce.
Disgusting? Maybe. But I'm sure that's what they said about yusheng way back in the early days as well.
Italian themed. Use angel hair as the base, and add olive oil, all sorts of mushrooms, truffles, herbs, spices, and tomato sauce. Serve as a main dish.
BBQ themed. Use carrots as the base. Add slices of sausages, strands from stingray meat, more strands from shredded chickens and maybe some grilled pineapple to balance the flavour with sweetness. Splash hickory sauce, tangy sauce, some lime, some ketchup, saying th usual auspicious phrases. Serve warm as a main dish.
#3 - Angpows
We tell kids to be financially savvy, to prepare for the future, and all that. And then they get cold, hard cash to spend after Chinese New Year.
How about introducing financial literacy by giving them physical stocks? Sure, they wouldn't appreciate it, but it does force them to figure out what third aunt gave them, on some paper document with loads of words on it. In today's digital markets, perhaps the CDP can hold the stocks for them until they can start managing their own portfolio, and I'm sure companies will be glad to hold the stocks in escrow while making some money off them helping other traders short-sell.
It's all theoretical, very unconventional, but it sure beats making kids watch a boring 30 minute video or play some app that "kinda" teaches them how to "own part of a company" and make money from it.
These ideas might be lame. Hell, some of it might be ahead of its time - years ago I toyed with carpooling for people running around house visiting. Today we have GrabHitch and Uberpool. Some ideas might seems like heresy, challenging centuries of traditions, only for us to realise it was all a gimmick from a few years back.
Culture and practices are always evolving, and just for fun, some funky ideas might make a happy festive holidays even happier - at the expense of inefficient businesses, environmentally unfriendly practices and overpriced goods and products.
The attention span of an internet user is notoriously short. Some writers put it at around a max of 600-800 words, before it becomes another TL;DR article. And yes, that term was created by the internet users, for internet users. It's just the way content creation and consumption has developed over the past decade.
So what about concepts that warrant a lengthy description to properly understand it? Unfortunately, our world is getting more complex, and ideas and products cannot be succinctly explained in a "listicle *shudder*" or a "meme *shudders more*".
What happens then is that concepts get misunderstood, abused in a wrong context, celebrated for no reason, and no one admits that they don't know jack.
Let me get started with a few annoying ones.
Blockchain is going to save the world. It can help "transform the world". It's a "brilliant approach to cybersecurity". We're gonna use it in all sorts of industries - like journalism, furniture, online gambling, and um... e-voting?
What exactly is this amazing technology that just emerged from the shadow labs (FYI - no one knows you developed blockchain yet) of the internet? For the TL;DR crowd, I'll try my best to fit it in here: Bitcoins started as an alternate form of cryptocurrency, a digital way to pay through the internet. This is heavily influenced by a crypto-anarchy movement on the internet, who also happened to be early pioneers on a lot of internet technology you see today. So these guys were adamant to let governments and regulators control their new world - and that included tracking their payments, moving money across physical borders, and they didn't really care much about Big Brother and stupid concepts like authority.
The problem with early crypto-currencies is that:
1. Users need to agree it has value. Without everyone agreeing that one US dollar is worth, well, one US dollar and not just a piece of paper, the value of paper money becomes worthless. There's a whole economic theory to this, but let this concept sink in first.
2. Digital media is comparably easier to counterfeit and create. Digital piracy is still going strong, despite the strong efforts from media companies and software developers over the past decade. In the real life, we know this creates inflation and a currency is gradually worth less (and eventually, worthless).
3. Adoption. Both sender and receiver of a crypto-currency have to trust the system to transact. This means having a bulletproof encryption algorithm, and trust isn't exactly built by secretive anarchists living behind multiple VPNs, port forwarders, IP-maskers and firewalls. Too few users using a currency, and it becomes as useful as exchanging bottle caps in international trade.
In 2009, a programmer (or possibly a group of programmers) under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto created a peer-to-peer currency, Bitcoin, and basically told their online friends about it. The breakthrough idea then was having a public encrypted ledger that tracked the movements of the limited number of Bitcoins unleashed into the world - the Blockchain.
So this blockchain made sure everyone knew who owned each unit of Bitcoin, and every transaction was added on to the ledger, making sure there was no room for fraud or counterfeiting new Bitcoins. Of course, new Bitcoins could be created by a process called mining, but that's another TL;DR article for the future.
Now if you're wondering why this blockchain thing sounds familiar... you probably have seen it in one form or another. Ledgers are familiar stuff - corporate accounting uses it to track profits and expenses, and eventually it gets reported publicly as quarterly or annual financial reports. In IT systems, audit logs record every single activity performed, so fraudulent actions can be discovered (sometimes even alerted in real-time).
So here we are. The world is going gaga over a technology that, in its simplest form, dates back 3 millenia ago in the Sumerian civilisation, as a way to track movement of goods in and out of stores and farms.
Is this going to really revolutionise journalism, furniture, gambling, e-voting etc?
Come tomorrow, the United States will wake up to a new president, and a controversial one at that. Donald Trump has rode the wave of populist nationalism into the White House, and if he carries out his threats, oh I mean campaign promises, we might see a more divided America internally, and belligerent externally.
This is disruption, far more so than Snapchat or Carousell or the like. Trump is going to be Mr Opposite - taking sides against the conventional stand or school of thought. One-China policy? Scratch that, he's going to enjoy letting Taiwan cosy up to him. Global expansion of American businesses? Not on his watch. Racial and religious harmony in the USA? Well, the Mexicans and Muslims are none too pleased to be singled out. And what's with that, all these groups starting with the letter 'M'? Next up, Malaysians? Perhaps Mormons?
My point is, Trump is exactly doing what Silicon Valley insiders have been hoping tech companies do, to overturn the Old World Order. To change practices that have become the norm, to be blatant about it, shrug off negativity and to tell all dissenters to suck it up and get lost. So we celebrate when a tech firm launches a small app that "disrupts the artisan marketplace" by having yet another website to list jewellery for sale, but we cry foul when a politically incorrect businessman turned politician does it to a greater extent.
I'm not here to celebrate Trump. Far from it. If his rash public opinions and childish tweeting behaviors are a sign of things to come, then count me out. But here's some food for thought for businesses, tech startup or otherwise - this is real disruption. Have a controversial stand, make jobs redundant, improve efficiency, and do it not for a niche market, but for the greater public. AirBnB and Uber come to mind, taking on regulators and hotels and taxi drivers and unions. Dig in for the long term, watch industries panic, struggle and fall. And it might turn to be for the better.
Be that disruptor.
The Businesstimes reported today that the property agency industry shrank by 6% from last year, and the number of salespersons fell 3% to 28,397. Analysts attribute this to a slow market and tech disruption, as an inevitable wave of change is preparing to shake up an inefficient market.
The Council of Estate Agents (CEA) was started in 2010 to regulate the real estate agency industry, which was rife with notorious and unprofessional middlemen claiming expertise in the property market. While this brought some order and introduced formal punishment for unethical agents, the market was still heavily reliant on them to conduct transactions.
Today, huge advances in computer hardware, and information and communication technology have made information transparent and readily available to consumers. The agent has much less to do, but the commission structure has not reflected that. Hence, it comes as no surprise that the industry is facing such a decline. So what does the future hold for a property agent?
1. Personalised Service
An agent should up his or her game. It's no longer about going for viewings and doing paperwork. Instead, think "premium" - like being a butler, instead of a domestic helper. 24/7 availability, instead of fixed house-viewing timeslots. Custom legal documents over standard templates. Some agents insist to meet their clients directly at the property for viewing. These agents may not last in an increasingly competitive market.
2. In-depth Knowledge and Analytical Skills
An agent should be able to give proper analysis on real estate, and not just through regurgitating figures and statistics. Automated tools available to them are often abused, creating pages after pages of numbers, charts and tables, that are then heaped onto the consumer. The discerning consumer now knows where to get the same statistics. It's time to deliver quality work that would not be out of place on a Bloomberg reporter's desk.
It's still a problem in today's market. Agents have to juggle between many potentially conflicting interests - their client's, the regulatory organisations, fellow agents, their own.... and the list goes on. The practice of co-broking is still well and alive, where agents representing different parties of a transaction share a single commission, for instance from a landlord. This shifts the focus from finding an ideal house for a tenant, to closing the deal as quickly as possible, occasionally limiting the number of houses to choose from, or withholding information that might otherwise compromise a transaction. Consumers these days are savvy enough to contact each other directly and find reliable information, even when they engage an agent - so the mindset of an agent has to move beyond that of hitting KPIs.
Krib offers consumers an alternative to managing real estate transactions, instead of engaging an agent. However, we are heartened that with this trend, consumers only stand to benefit from a more professional and transparent market, and potentially saving a fair bit of money in service fees paid. After all, we all agree that change and progress are the only constants in society and the economy.
This article was first published on the Krib blog. Read more real estate-related articles here!
So my co-founder and I launched Krib in late November 2016 during the SITEX exhibition. The weeks that preceeded and followed from the launch can only be described as hectic, exhilarating, at times nerve-wracking (as complaints or unruly users started using the app), and interspersed with some downtime as I took a break overseas.
Launching an app can be as easy as clicking 'publish' on Google Play or Apple Store, or as complicated as running a launch party with celebrities and fireworks. Fortunately, my investor got us connected to the folks at the SITF, so we scored a booth at the annual IT show. In the four days that followed, it was almost non-stop screaming out the product pitch to anyone who found him or herself unfortunately passing by the booth, from 10am in the morning to 9pm at night. Make me repeat the pitch from memory, I double-dare you.
A month after the event, we're seeing gradual installs and user signups, which was encouraging given the limited marketing budget and the uncertainty of how the public would react to the product. At slightly past 200 downloads, it would seem like people might actually want to check the app out for real!
Nevertheless, it's just a month, and I've got the whole of 2017 to make the growth numbers go BOOM. Not just a whimpering boom, but a massive, ear-shattering explosion of signups... or I'll have to figure things out again.
So here's to 2017. Here's to hard work, good luck, and building an amazing product that I'm absolutely proud of.
Part of my launch strategy for Krib involves reaching out to journalists and hope for some love. A press release is the 'official' way to get their attention, through the formal announcement of something major, and hoping they'll see something in the app that warrants their attention.
The tough part is getting their attention. In a busy world where everyone is suffering from information overload, journalists are inundated with hundreds of press releases everyday. My challenge is therefore to stand out from the other articles, screaming READ ME in golden rainbow colours and still keeping it newsworthy and factual.
While I'm learning the finer nuances of writing a press release, here's some useful pointers I gathered from the internet so far, within the format of a standard press release.
Format of a Press Release
Writing a good press release is a balance between making it a convincing sales pitch without sounding like one, and putting sufficient facts and figures without sounding like a textbook. Check back in a few weeks time, and I hope to share Krib's first press release experience here!
If you’re really doing social media for a business, it pays to invest in a management tool. Social media is the billboard of our times. It's where people hang out, where businesses get ,most views and awareness. It's a surprise if anyone still thinks social media is 'just a fad'.
So, is it worth the subscription price to get a fully featured social media platform? First, it helps in scheduling posts. I run a startup, and based on previous research on the profiles of social media users in Singapore, the ideal time for posts to appear is around 7–8pm, when everyone is heading back from work, and browsing on their mobile phones. I probably won’t be in office at 8pm just to push my 120 character post out… so a social media tool can do it for me.
The next advantage is its support of multiple social media channels. So Facebook Pages allow me to schedule posts. But what about Twitter? Google+? Instagram? LinkedIn? In just a single click, I can get the same post out on all these channels, at a scheduled time, and without logging into different websites to get that done.
The third advantage is analytics. Is a post working well for my business? Are people engaging with it? Sure, different social media channels have their native analytics tools. But in a single platform, I get all the analytics available, and I can compare which platform works best on which post. All these matter - so I know I need to do more career-centric posts on LinkedIn, maybe a more lifestyle slant on Facebook, and customer-service posts on Twitter… If I had to analyse each channel independently, I would have more difficulty to get these insights.
In my career, I’ve used Hootsuite, Buffer and Oracle Social as my social media management platforms. Different budget will define which tools will be best suited for your business, or even your personal profile!