The Chat Revolution Cometh

If the recent Rakuten Accelerator Demo Day held in October 2018 in Singapore is anything to go by, then Messaging as a Platform (MaaP) is making its presence felt in Southeast Asia.

Rakuten Accelerator Demo Day congregated startups from nine countries and regions in Rakuten Accelerator, powered by Techstars, to pitch their business to hundreds of top VCs, founders and startup community leaders for the first time in Southeast Asia.

The synergy between Rakuten and Techstars is seamless. While Techstars brings the global mentor network and best in class acceleration program, Rakuten supports startups with access to corporate assets, including potential collaborations with Rakuten's global ecosystem of more than 70 internet services and business from around the world. 

A Rakuten spokesperson explained that much focus by the startups is “on developing solutions to disrupt and revolutionize how businesses and consumers use messaging to conduct business and stay connected, driven by Rakuten’s focus on strengthening the Viber ecosystem.”

Rakuten purchased the Viber messaging system in 2014. Since then, the system saw much development with a whole host of services such as a chatbot and AI integrated into the ecosystem.

Making Business Conversational

Among the notable startups from the Rakuten Accelerator which benefited greatly were AND Global and Rooit.

AND Global is a Singaporean fintech that built Mongolia’s largest nonbank lender. It offers a money transfer service in Mongolia through Rakuten’s Viber.

"The service is embedded within the Viber chat conversation. Viber users in Mongolia can access financial services such as send/receive money, top-up, get credit right on their messaging app. Users must have a LendMN account to connect to their Viber, or they can open up one right away. Users write the amounts to send/receive as if they type regular conversations, and then click on the 'GIF+' button to enable the services and see the option,” said Bayarsaikhan Volodya, chief operating officer, AND Global.

The use of Rakuten Viber messaging platform by AND Global to introduce financial services to Viber's Mongolian users serves as an encouraging leg up to expand to larger markets such as the Philippines and Myanmar. “We are still in discussions with Rakuten about further partnership and investment opportunities,” said Volodya.

Another company that benefited greatly from Rakuten Accelerator is Rooit, which launched its English app in August 2018.

The Taiwanese gamified chat app uses chatbots to connect hundreds of thousands of millennials through AI. It soft-launched its first-ever English language version with a focus on the Singapore market.

According to Elsa Mou, Rooit’s chief operating officer, a series of skill sets including key metric-setting and product growth, were enhanced as Rooit dynamically engaged with Viki, Viber, and other mentors who were part of the accelerator ecosystem.

“Brainstorming with these mentors helped us to better experiment, observe and track product performance, and this, as a result, significantly raised our engagement through a variety of tests and new features,” said Mou.

It also fits the mission of Rakuten Accelerator.

“We work hand in hand with the founders of these companies to grow their network, gain traction with their product and accelerate their business. This does involve connections in the venture capital community and specific guidance about raising capital…Techstars also invited many participants from South East Asia's tech community -- including investors, founders, and CXOs from market-leading technology companies -- to mentor the startups that were part of the program,” said Dhritiman Hui, managing director, Rakuten Accelerator.

Rooit was able to get mentorship from AI experts from Rakuten. In fact, after the program, its chief information officer, who is leading Rooit’s AI efforts, also attended the Rakuten Technology Conference 2018 to further hone the implementation of best practices in the Rooit app.

“By empowering our matchmaking and conversation-assisting algorithms with AI, we aim to further improve user experience and engagement metrics such as in-app time,” said Mou.

Accelerating Intelligent Engagement

Messaging as a platform is not just an arena for people to reach out to one another. It involves a whole host of services that disrupt and revolutionize how businesses and consumers interact optimally to conduct business and stay connected. The Rakuten Accelerator showed how this future would look like.

Engagement is about bringing services to the people, as exemplified by AND Global and Rooit. The ubiquity of MaaP is a timely reminder that the digital revolution need not involve some far-fetched tools or services, but something we are already using.