Just a few months ago, a local tech start-up was acquired by an American company for almost 30 million USD. (30, 000, 000 USD. That seems like a lot of money.) All four founders graduated from NUS.
So it’s with great interest that we speak to the founders of BOXEM, a logistics company started by Kenneth Fok and Poon Chow Yue, our fellow NUS undergraduates. Perhaps their start-up would become a multi-million venture somewhere down the road too? Kent Ridge Common goes Upfront! with these student-entrepreneurs, to find out what drives Kenneth, Chow Yue and their fledgling company.
Hi, Kenneth and Chow Yue, actually, what services do Boxem provide?
Using an innovative, ultra-efficient method, BOXEM offers storage and transportation services to our university community at less than a quarter of prevailing market prices!
With BOXEM, we hope to enhance the on-campus experience for thousands of international students in NUS with a much needed suite of logistics services not found in any other university in the world.
So, what inspired the setting up of Boxem?
The idea emerged while Chow Yue was working on her ‘business and finance for lawyers’ module in August 2013. Based on some research, Chow Yue noticed a pressing need for logistics services (storage + transportation) within the sizeable international student community in Singapore.
After a bit of brainstorming, we discovered a simple yet extremely efficient method of providing both storage and transportation services at the same time.
But how different is it from existing storage services offered, say those by NUS itself?
There is absolutely nothing special about storage or transportation services per se. But the magic of BOXEM lies in the fact that we found a way of providing storage and transportation at less than a quarter of the market price.
To use an analogy, there’s nothing particularly special about telephones, cameras, calendars, clocks, or mailboxes. But when you combine all of these ostensibly mundane things into a single device that fits in the palm of your hand, you get the innovative genius of a smartphone. Simply put, combining seemingly ordinary things in creative ways can sometimes lead to extraordinary results, and to use a personal neologism, we are ‘smartphoning’ the storage industry.
To give an idea of how it works, BOXEM is able to:
(1) pick up luggage from an international student’s place of residence,
(2) store it for a month in a professional full-time storage facility, and
(3) send it directly to the airport when that student is flying home.
All of that costs less than a single taxi ride from NUS to Changi! It’s almost like a personal concierge service, and it might sound too good to be true, but the trick lies in the combined efficiency of our operations.
What are the typical profiles of people using this service?
Most of the people who use our service are either exchange or international students, but we’ve also received a significant number of storage requests from members of the public who managed to find their way to our website.
According to your website, the storage facility was full the last semester. It seems that demand for this storage service outstrips the supply…
A 2-month long pilot test for BOXEM@NUS was launched last November with some support from the dean and staff of NUS Law, who facilitated an email blast to the entire Law Faculty.
However, the test had to be terminated prematurely due to an overwhelming response. The actual demand was more than 500% of our anticipated figure. As a 2-person pilot team, we had no way of handling the sheer volume of incoming orders at that point in time.
Are there any plans to expand the range of services offered?
We are planning to expand the reach rather than the range of our services. At present, BOXEM is fully prepared to provide its services to the whole of NUS. We are also in the process of extending these services to NTU, SMU, SUTD and all other universities in Singapore. But before that, we want everyone to know where it all started.
Hmm, it seems as though everything has been going on smoothly so far. Are there any great hurdles that both of you had to overcome or expect to meet?
It was admittedly difficult at times to convince others about the viability of BOXEM as an innovative start-up, probably because ‘storage’ simply doesn’t sound as catchy as other ideas like ‘social media’ or ‘3D printing’. However, we stuck with BOXEM because we were confident not just of its viability, but also its usefulness to the university community in the long-run.
Before we end this interview, are there people whom you’d like to thank for offering you support?
Definitely. BOXEM belongs to all those who have helped us along the way as much as it belongs to us. We’d like to thank Professor Stephen Phua and other members of the NUS community for their guidance, friends and family for their support, and this awesome magazine for featuring our little start-up!
And, thank you too, for sharing your nascent journey with us! We hope to hear good news from you all in the near future :]