Shopping, Sleeping, and Not Driving Drunk: Taipei Startups to Watch Out For

Shopping, Sleeping, and Not Driving Drunk: Taipei Startups to Watch Out For
Credit: Cat Thomas
What you need to know

We look at four emerging companies from this year's MeetTaipei startup festival that are on track to profitability.

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With a slogan of Let’s Rock the Island one might expect startup festival MeetTaipei to be a somewhat raucous affair, but a quiet hum was more the measure of it on Friday morning. There were talks aplenty and people pitching on the various stages, plus startups at their stands willing to have a chat about their projects.

Some of these local startups are worth keeping an especially close eye on, but every startup must eventually answer the tricky question: How will your company make money?

Big Go

If you like online shopping in Mandarin then you may well already be familiar with Big Go. The Mandarin-only price comparison site currently ranks 66th in the Alexa ratings for Taiwan.

Big Go has 300,000 visitors a day and last month pulled in an impressive NT$2 million in revenue. They’re a small outfit — three engineers and one accountant, and yet they estimate that they have reached nearly half of Taiwan’s population since they launched in August 2016.

At present they make their money on commissions on the sales, Adsense, and the e-commerce marketplaces — of every 100 visitors to the site, six complete a purchase. They recently started offering their customers cash back on one to ten percent on their purchases. CEO Dewei Yen said, “In the first month, we covered our expenses and made a profit.”

Screea

Another cash back concept was Screea, an app that offers users points for spending money in partner businesses. These points can be converted into hard cash and transferred into a personal bank account. The return seems reasonable, with 1 point being worth US$1 (TW$32). However, the cashback rate is set by each merchant, so it’s a little tricky to know how much you need to spend to get a point.

It also operates as a pyramid where users pass on their code to friends to use when they sign up and then earn points on their friends’ spending too (no transaction details are viewable by third parties). Screea launched 7 months ago and currently have 5000 users plus 500 businesses signed up in Taipei. Nina Jiang, assistant to the CEO, explains, “We gather money from the merchants like advertisement fees.”

They have generated NT$45 million for the merchant partners so far but have they made any profits for themselves? Not as yet it seems, although they are hoping to break even by Lunar New Year.

My Room Abroad

Another promising prospect is My Room Abroad, founded by Belgian duo Vincent Mehele and Sébastien de Lophem. The premise behind the web-based service is simple, to provide a network of trusted landlords to students embarking on study abroad programs.

My Room Abroad find the landlords and apartments through recommendations from former study abroad students. The renters pay a one-off fixed fee of 20 percent of one month’s rent and the landlords pay 10 percent per month which covers processing the rent each month and dealing with all communications with the tenants. Anyone who has gone through the experience of trying to arrange accommodation from overseas will appreciate that this service has good potential. As Mechele says, “The long-term plan is to be the go-to platform for international students in the Asia-Pacific region and South America.”

My Room Abroad launched in Taipei in August this year, right before the fall semester, and in their first round set up 19 contracts, meaning that they immediately turned a small profit — if, as Mechele wryly pointed out, you don’t expect to draw a salary. Their site currently shows that this number has jumped up to over 500 in just four months.

Both Mechele and de Lophem are rare holders of Taiwan’s Entrepreneur’s Visa – a scheme which was launched to much fanfare back in 2016 but was notoriously slow to pick up. The National Development Council made some improvements, loosened up restrictions and outsourced the application advisor role back in August of this year and it seems that the visa has become more accessible.

Michele and de Lophem will take the stage at the Dragon’s Chamber on MeetTaipei’s Orange stage on Nov. 18 at 1pm to vie to secure funding in a format similar to the TV show Dragon’s Den.

Taiwan Designated Driver

One other startup that caught our eye was TWDD or Taiwan Designated Driver. Based on similar successful app from Seoul, as the name suggests, the company provides professional licensed drivers to chauffer users who’ve indulged in a drink or two back home in their own vehicle. While this service is already offered by taxi companies who provide chauffeurs for around NT$1000 upwards, TWDD is the first dedicated service and costs NT$350 for the first 10km and NT$50 for each additional kilometer.

TWDD has been running for two years and has 500 drivers spread between Taipei and Taichung. The uptake has been a little slow with 20,000 jobs done in that period — so about 800 a month — but this is one startup that hopefully will go from strength to strength if it helps to curb drink driving and the associated accidents, injuries and deaths.

MeetTaipei is at Yuanshan Expo Dome (Yuanshan MRT exit 1) until Saturday, Nov. 18. Entrance is free.