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How Bots Can Help Start-ups in Southeast Asia

Could the new catchphrase be, “There’s a bot for that”?

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BY Aaron Aders - 02 Feb 2017


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Bots may be the buzzword in Silicon Valley, but the technology behind it is also gaining traction in Southeast Asia.

For Leon Lim, the CEO of Aitomon, the move was born out of his own company’s problems, rather than a desire to cash in on a trend.

“In 2016, my partner, Alex came to me complaining about the problem of taking too much time doing manual work like customer service, posting ads to get people into our platform, verifying the users, etc. Ding, ding! The light-bulb moment!” Lim says.

He then sold the idea of software bots automation to his partner, and together, they built a team around the tech. They began their bot journey by creating custom bots for larger corporations, which could perform a wide range of functions, including scraping the web, copying and pasting across entirely different software, and even automated content writing.

“Anything that is done by a human on the computer, we’ll automate it. These bots helped various departments to save up to 10 hours a day. If we did the math over a year, that’s a lot of resources we helped to save,” he says.

Lim is also going after the small and medium enterprises with a “virtual worker” that can find leads and act as the company’s virtual salesperson online. Such a bot appeals to many SMEs because they appreciate the quick ROI – their prototype has increased leads by 300%, in some cases.

There are many other Southeast Asian companies doing interesting work in the space. KeyReply was founded by Spencer Yang, who formerly headed optimizations for Twitter in the Asia Pacific region. According to Yang, KeyReply provides AI chatbot as a service for enterprises and governments in Asia and the United States, and their client roster includes Tech in Asia, SGAG, Ninjavan and Gov.SG

“We focus on use cases for user engagement with leading brands, creative agencies and government. The KeyReply platform supports the needs of enterprises from management of content, NLP tuning to analytics,” says Yang.


‘There’s a bot for that’

Lim believes this is an industry-wide trend and that bots will be the next big thing in the region. He points to a third-party survey that found Southeast Asia has the largest take-up of chatbots in the world. Such findings make sense because emerging markets like Myanmar, Cambodia, and Vietnam leapfrogged the PC era and went straight to mobile.

“Moving from such apps to chatbots seems like a natural progression for both consumers and enterprises,” Lim says of the 650 million people in the region, adding that the new catch phrase could very well be “there’s a bot for that.”

Still, there are region-specific issues to contend with.

“South East Asia as a region is very diverse in culture, background, colloquial words. The challenge for companies will be to ensure the same consistent experience across markets,” says Yang.

Lim agrees that language can be a challenge, particularly with how users tend to act. According to their findings, people expect chatbots to converse exactly like a human, and when they don’t, users tend to get upset, going so far as to say nasty things toward the bot.
According to Lim, one way to address this is by managing user expectations. Another way is collaboration, not just in the start-up world, but across the tech ecosystem as well.

“As a product and community builder, we actively work and encourage fellow start-ups to collaborate with each other and with technology giants like Microsoft to push the limits for R&D. There’s no point fighting against each other when the bigger war is with the skeptics,” he says.

Lim believes that bots in Southeast Asia are only poised to grow further, as businesses begin to understand the competitive advantages they offer. Many already are. He points to the retail bot Sparkle, which enables users to navigate, claim rewards, and increase stickiness of their mall. Banks, for their part, are pushing out chatbots that allow users to ask questions, transact, and deposit or withdraw money.

“The investors we’re speaking to are already looking to invest in bot products and services that make the lives of the 650 million in the region better. What better industry to be in?” he says.

Still, even YuHsuan Chao, the co-founder and CEO of botimize, is quick to look past bots and bring it back to the users they try to help. “Building a product that solves real problem is always more important than just using the most recent, fancy technology,” he says.

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