Business ideas for the ordinary Singaporean

I have a few business ideas for all the Singaporeans out there who are jobless, caught in dead-end jobs or jobs that they hate. Please take a look to see if you could implement or expand on any of these and live a more fulfilling life as an innovator, change agent or entrepreneur.

I’ve categorised them into two broad categories so it’s easier to zoom in on your area of interest or expertise

If you’re a people person

1. Start a charity to specifically help the aunties and uncles who are picking up trash/cans/cardboard boxes

Most people feel bad when they see the elderly bent over, working their butts off when they should be enjoying their golden years. I can’t say I know why they are working – I’ve never spoken to any one of them. The general opinion is that they work because they have to, in order to support themselves or their family; and there’s a considerable amount of anger that the government isn’t helping.

My take is: Forget the PAP (and PLEASE learn that maxim). If you look at a number of developed countries, organizations and individuals step in where the government won’t or can’t; and it’s time more Singaporeans take up social causes and turn this nation around, especially when cracks are appearing in society. You would be seen as a hero, a positive contributor to society. You’d be doing a whole lot of good and SG will be a much more pleasant place to live in.

2. Operate a personal concierge service that focuses on the key pain points of Singaporeans. Keep it to a short list of services that you know Singaporeans would need and do those few things in the most amazing way possible.

In order for this to work well, I believe the other thing to focus on is your immediate surroundings. I keep hearing about the loss of kampong spirit so bring it back. Community or togetherness invigorates the human spirit and it could lead to possibly less social ills. One more benefit about concentrating on your neighbourhood is that it means zero travel for you, which translates to a variety of savings.

The areas, which I think most useful are:

  • Child-sitting. With the increase in maid levy or maid problems, more people may find it difficult to employ a maid. Many more do not have the means as well. It seems like parents with primary school children are most squeezed. They want someone to watch over the kids at home and guide them, but a maid isn’t necessarily qualified; yet both parents need to work. What then? Wouldn’t they find a child-sitting service for a reasonable fee beneficial?
  • Project managing home renovations and smaller home services such as aircon servicing, plumbing, etc.
  • Catering service. Provide nutritious, home cooked meals, which your neighbours can easily pick up.

The long-term benefit of this is that Singaporeans would be able to rely less and less on maids; and this is a good thing. Singaporeans need to wean themselves off this dependence on foreign domestic help.

If you are more technically inclined

3. Invent and manufacture dry and breathable or cool apparel and footwear

Why is it that Dri-Fit or Geox was invented in a place with four seasons, relatively low humidity even in summer and not a huge amount of rainfall? What do they know about living in hot, humid environments 365 days of the year with seasonal monsoons? But you do. Market size: not sure, but definitely more than a billion. Think about that!

4. Build lightweight carriers

In the Dec10/Jan11 issue of Monocle, there’s an article about Raytheon and Lockheed-Martin’s exoskeletons that got me really excited! It says that the frames would “give wearers the ability to carry up to 90kg with little effort while remaining limber enough to kick a football”. This would greatly help infantrymen. But imagine the possibilities for consumers!!

A backpack would be obvious, but how about a carrier that would help folks, especially the older ones with their heavy load? Considering there’s a rapidly ageing population around the world and many cities/towns with cobbled streets and unforgiving stairs, it’d be fantastic. Baby carriers. Luggage. A frame that can be assembled/disassembled around an item to assist with any heavy object. Can you see the potential??

5. Create a more environmentally friendly packaging for supermarkets to replace styrofoam and plastic containers.

6. Invent a cool mist (or sorts) system in MRT / buses to combat bad smells, reportedly one of the top reasons why Singaporeans feel stressed while on their way to work. This ranks at #3 and is even above rude behaviour!

7. Create a crowd-sourcing site for non-profit organizations

With scandals in SG over misuse of funds in charity organizations as well as a common gripe about not being sure where monetary donations go, perhaps it’s time for someone to create a crowd-sourcing site that is not centered around raising funds.

Chartiy orgs can put up their request for paint jobs, books, beds, equipment, etc, and volunteers would need to get these things done; they’re not able to simply donate the money. This makes charity work more meaningful and you would know exactly what you’ve donated towards.

8. Provide personal cloud computing solutions

Digitise someone’s library – photos, books, CDs, DVDs, LCD, VCDs – the whole lot. This is becoming a very popular service in Japan as homes are small. Any Singaporean would agree that most living spaces in SG are getting smaller and we are seeing the rise of tablets. Cloud computing may not be on the minds of most people and it may not be cheap right now but there’s a market for someone who can offer a reasonable solution.

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Why do I need Mobile Me?

Today, I received a reminder that my Mobile Me subscription will be expiring soon and I need to renew it. The first thing that came to my mind, and this is the first thing that comes to mind every year when I receive the notice, was: Why do I need this? Unbeknownst to me, those words weren’t in my head. I had said it out loud and TH was within earshot.

“Because you love Apple,” came the reply I wasn’t expecting. I shot TH a dirty look.
“C’mon!”
Another dirty look.
“OK, let’s list down all the reasons then,” he said with a smug grin.
Arrrrggghhhh!!

Every year, I go through this. The Mobile Me subscription isn’t cheap and the features aren’t mind-blowing for the price you have to pay. In fact, I hardly use any of them. Wait. That’s even a stretch. I don’t use any of them, except e-mail, and surely that is not sensible. After all, I have four other web-based perfectly free e-mail accounts.

I know TH is right. I love Apple. But I’m a rational, practical human being. I own less than 10 pairs of shoes and my clothes barely fill one wardrobe, I don’t need to fly the best airline, sleep on 500-thread-count Egyptian cotton or have the latest gadgets. I’m not one for excess, so why the need for the account?

Back in the early days, when I first signed-up for an Internet account, I chose a cute moniker; one that means something to me but is as difficult to figure out as 1 + 1. As the Internet exploded and spam became a way of life, my account became an open invitation to spam. It’s like all day happy hour in my mailbox. That’s when I realised I needed another e-mail account. Plus the fact that cute isn’t very credible when job hunting. I signed up for another Hotmail account, but couldn’t get one with my exact name.

Then came .Mac. I admit that my initial subscription was irrational – Apple had just announced the service and I was starry-eyed under Steve’s reality distortion field. I signed-up and scored my name! I was now a proud owner of a Mac account with my name! Over the years, as I’ve signed up with other e-mail services, my .mac e-mail address remains the only one with my exact name.

And I guess that’s the reason – vanity and pride (Hey, finally! Signs that I am a Leo). I like that my e-mail address is as simple as my name, without extra letters or numbers, without a hyphen or dot. It’s exactly me. Now, excuse me while I get onto ebay to look for a subscription pack.

Update:
TH, upon reading this blog, suggested that I check the various services again, as they recycle handles. I was in doubt but decided to look. It’s available on Hotmail. Holy cow! What do I do?? He is pushing me to let it go. I can’t! It’s my primary e-mail address, it gives me storage space for photos…and stuff, I can…errr…sync important dates with my iPhone, it allows me to…umm…it’s a .mac account!

Please explain “Booking fees”

I’ve been an online citizen since 1996. I’ve seen the WWW grow from being a repository of information to an essential tool for everyday living. Internet banking, buying, selling, making hotel reservations, booking various types of tickets. Yup, can’t live without it now.

So we’ve come a long way and I’ve gone along with all these developments; they seemed like natural progressions. But something stopped making sense last week – booking fees. It’s odd ‘cos I’ve always paid that fee. I think it’s my current state of zero income and the $3 fee. It’s not a lot but I suddenly wondered why I had to pay it – $3 could buy me lunch.

I looked on the Sistic website for an explanation and couldn’t find one in their FAQ section. Next best stop – Golden Village ‘cos they charge a fee too. Here’s what they say:

“A $1 booking fee per transaction applies to all… This fee covers the administration, development and maintenance required to provide this convenient service to our customers.”

It’s an industry-standard reply that no one really looks at or thinks about these days, I reckon. And hence, venues, ticketing agents, cinema operators have all been able to get away with this great money-spinner.

In days of yore, when we migrated from paper to computerised ticketing, there was an increase in ticket prices as a matter of operational cost. Booking fees were not added. Is this because, based on GV’s explanation, a computerised system was not to the benefit of the customers but a needed upgrade for the operator? OK, let’s buy that for now. So for the customer, there were no changes. He still had to go to the box office to buy a ticket.

With the advent of phone reservations, everything changed, and this is when booking fees were introduced. For the convenience of the customer, venues, ticketing agents, etc (is there a collective word for this group??) had to hire extra staff to man the telephones. OK, I’ll accept that.

Then came the Internet and e-commerce. If this was say…1999, I probably wouldn’t be complaining. E-commerce was new, not many companies had figured it out, there weren’t many web developers who could integrate a payment gateway, banks weren’t on the bandwagon, customers were few and weary.

But this is not 1999. It’s 2010!! And now, I’m furious a booking fee still exists. An e-sales channel is essential to almost any business today. I would bet my entire life savings that none of these organisations would dare remove it now. Yes, it is to the customer’s convenience, but it is also a huge source of income for operators. This was acknowledged by GV. In 2007!!!

“Golden Village takes pride in serving our customers in every way possible and we know that they use the internet both as a key information source and as a ticket booking channel…” says Mr. Kenneth Tan, Managing Director of Golden Village Singapore (Press release, http://www.gv.com.sg, 2007)

The front and back end have long been integrated, administration and maintenance are almost negligible, and if Sistic’s system is anything to go by, the customer’s booking gateway is almost identical to the staff’s. Therefore, there really isn’t a separate system to maintain or develop. The increasing cost of a cinema/concert ticket should’ve covered all the above.

And we all know this – Internet bookings increases revenues and cuts operational costs. Once you’ve confirmed and made a purchase, the dollars are already earned. Operators can hire less staff, and sell tickets a lot faster, finite as it is.

If these organizations still believe that a booking fee is justifiable, then I’d like to hear them explain how the travel industry has been able to embrace this technology and even offer discounts for using the Internet. And don’t say it’s because they no longer have to use agents. That’s illogical. I could walk into Hyatt and get a room but if I booked it online, I could’ve gotten a discount.

So Dear Golden Village, Sistic, Ticketmaster, and all applicable organisations,

Kindly tell me why we still need to pay a booking fee. You know that I’m not the first customer to complain and this has been a long running issue. I..no, the Public deserves a good explanation and you need to do right by your customers. Right now.