Terence Tan, SUTD freshman and co-founder of payment solutions company Beep shares how he got his startup off the ground and why SUTD excites him
Old Airport Road Food Centre is known for its delicious hawker fare, but Terence Tan was not there to eat. The budding entrepreneur was there to talk to the “uncles” and “aunties” about his app BeepPay.
“We wanted to do a food-ordering app, which we hope to cut down the queue during peak hours,” Terence says. “However, the uncles and aunties tell us that the main problem for them is collecting payment. It’s like the self-ordering kiosks at McDonald’s. Some people order using the kiosks but still pay over the counter. It’s not efficient!”
Still serving National Service at the time, Terence and a buddy from his unit, Kristoffer Jacek Soh, had discovered their common interest in technology and app development. They started having regular discussions in-camp and their enthusiasm to create something useful starting spilling over to the weekends, when they would meet up and bounce ideas.
Through their weekly conversations with hawkers (“3-4pm is the best time, they are quite free”), they eventually focused on developing a cashless payment solution that is easy for both merchants and customers to use.
“We’re just techies and we wanted to understand the magic behind payment systems. One of the questions we asked the hawkers was, ‘How come you never install NETS?’,” Terence recalls, noting the difficulty in getting hawkers to adopt cashless payments. “The traditional machines are clunky and not so easy to use, they tell us.”
When it was time to decide on university, Terence says SUTD was the place that excited him the most. “I saw that computing courses at the other local universities are mostly focused on software. I thought SUTD was very cool because they have expertise in both hardware and software.”
Why is that important to him?
“Many people can do software. It’s easy to scale up, but it’s also easy for people to copy,” he points out. In contrast, when you integrate hardware and software, it’s not as easy for competitors to catch up. He cites Square Inc, a mobile payments company based in California, as a source of inspiration.
Seizing Opportunities at SUTD
After he presented his prototype to SUTD professors during his admissions interview in 2017, Terence’s efforts were recognised. Before he even formally started his undergraduate studies, he was introduced to the SUTD Entrepreneurship Centre, where he was exposed to the industry through competitions and networking events. At one such event — the Singapore Week of Innovation & Technology (Switch) — he was introduced to the vending machine sector. He saw an opportunity.
“Implementing cashless payments on vending machines requires a lot of hardware-software integration. That’s where SUTD’s expertise is!” says Terence. He also feels that the vending machine is a strong growth area, with labour becoming expensive and manufacturers looking to increase margins by direct selling.
Terence highlights the help he has received from seniors in SUTD. For example, the mechanical design and 3D printing of Beep’s devices is handled by another SUTD startup. The team has also been consulting a senior who has interned at Nvidia on Beep’s facial recognition feature. “Through our chats, we better understand what the industry best practices are and even which camera models work best.”
He is also grateful for the opportunities provided by the school, including a study trip to Taiwan where he learnt first-hand about Design for Manufacturing, and business competitions that he has taken part in, including the recent SUTD $10k Challenge, where Beep came in first.
Terence advises other budding entrepreneurs to seize the learning opportunities provided by the university.
“Make full use of the technical lessons that you learn in SUTD, you will never know how much it can benefit you in the future. Look out for announcements on networking events, many companies are out there to look for people who have creative and innovative minds to solve problems,” he says.
“Lastly, look for competitions to join. Winning a competition is not the most important, the experience through that competition will unknowingly benefit you tremendously.”
Dreams Can Come True
Beep was incorporated in August 2018, and the team now aims to provide a unified solution for cashless payment. By switching to Beep, merchants no longer need to display all the various QR codes used by payment processing companies and nor would they need multiple devices for processing different cards.
“We aim to eliminate the need for additional hardware and terminals to increase the efficiency of the merchant’s daily operations,” says Terence.