11th Hour founders Tan Jun Yuan (Left) and Lim Ting Hong (Photo Credit: Tan Jun Yuan)
By Linda Lim
When it came to Tan Jun Yuan's efforts to get his tech business off the ground, the third time was a charm. During a brief stint as a hawker from September 2014 to May 2015, he was forced to throw away numerous unsold bowls of bak kut teh at the end of the day.
Witnessing the amount of food being wasted, Tan spied a business opportunity. His big idea was to develop a mobile app that would offer last minute food deals: consumers could get quality meals that were discounted by at least 30 per cent, while merchants generated revenue from food that would otherwise have gone into the trash.
Tan bemoaned how people in third-world countries were starving, while first-world countries had too much – enough to even throw food away. “It was there and then that I resolved to do something about food wastage," he said.
Users can use the app, called 11th Hour, to search for deals filtered by location or categories such as bakeries, restaurants or nightlife. Merchants, meanwhile, have the flexibility of posting customised deals based on their requirements anytime they wish.
But without a tech background, bringing the idea to life proved to be harder than Tan first imagined. On his first attempt, he gathered a team of four members, including scholars and PhD holders. Despite the collective brainpower – Tan himself holds a first-class honours degree in business from the University of Manchester and is also a Chartered Financial Analyst - progress on the iOS app was slow as they all still held full-time jobs. After a year of work, they were nowhere near a working prototype.
For his second try, Tan roped in an app development company to build the product in exchange for equity in his company. After four months, however, he felt the product fell short in terms of functions, user experience and design. Frustrated by the lack of urgency on the part of the developer, Tan parted ways with the firm and commissioned another app developer to build the product - this time with his own money.
In the meantime, Tan had taught himself several programming languages through online courses to help with the development. 11th Hour was eventually launched in October 2016.
The 11th Hour App (Photo Credit: Tan Jun Yuan)
Before 11th Hour, merchants had to pre-arrange deals with other deals app vendors and honour them for several months. 11th Hour put a spin on the business by giving merchants the flexibility to create their own deals at the last minute through the app. They could also set an expiry date for their deals. In the process, the app is helping to solve the problems of food wastage and excess capacity commonly faced by food and beverage (F&B) businesses.
“11th Hour gives merchants the opportunity to sell more on rainy days or during lull periods.” explains Tan.
The proposition proved a hit with both consumers and merchants. Without a single cent spent on marketing, the app has garnered more than 12,000 downloads since its launch through strong word of mouth and generous media coverage. 11th Hour currently features over 200 F&B merchants, including household names such as Swissbake, Swensen’s, Prive and Breadtalk.
Said Tan: “The nature of deals apps is that it is naturally viral as people rarely eat alone. When someone sees their friends using the app when they are having a meal together, he or she will become curious and start using it..”
Indeed, Lim Cheng Kai, a Biochemical Engineering student at National University of Singapore, loved the app so much that he joined the company as an intern in November last year. “I really love good food, and I really love cheap food as well. 11th Hour promised me both. How could I resist?” says Lim, who downloaded it after reading about it in an article.
Tan has also beefed up his management team, bringing on an equity partner and co-founder, Lim Ting Hong, a childhood friend and an experienced sales person, last September.
Looking ahead, Tan plans to reach out to bigger food chains, as well as expand to other South East Asian countries, starting with Vietnam and Indonesia. While the app will need to be tweaked to suit local conditions, he is confident that the basic idea of helping F&B merchants solve their food wastage problems at the 11th hour will be as well-received abroad as it has been here.