It was such a big hype when it hit us—personal concierge services. People to do our work for us. Run our errands. Do our chores. Apparently anything, as long as it’s not illegal. And the legal possibilities are just endless. But these fancy first world services come at a price. Perhaps a price that us Malaysians are not yet willing to fork out.
Bemalas (or also known as Belazee in other countries) is one of the few personal concierge service startups that launched in Malaysia in April last year. They promised to be the “Alfred to your Batman”.
About 3 months later, they’ve received USD$500,000 from Cradle Fund, KK Fund and an unnamed angel investor. They’ve gotten plenty of media coverage (from Vulcan Post and many other publications).
In October 2015, they launched Bespoke, an invite-only membership that promises private parties, premium meetups, exclusive events, and a 24/7 online personal concierge. They also launched their e-commerce store in November 2015 to help users shop from a curated list of items.
Fast forward to today, the Bespoke website is no longer active. I haven’t received an email from Bespoke’s “Alfred” in months. The Bemalas app is still listed on the Google Playstore and can be downloaded, but you’ll repeatedly get a “server problem” notification.
A post on the Bemalas Facebook page (which has over 99k likes) on the 5th of August states that due to some technical issues, they are unable to process any requests at the moment; however, since that post, there have been no further updates on their services.
Even before this stagnancy, I’ve noticed that there was a significant difference in the speed of which they were processing requests.
Compared to when they launched, the past several months have been rocky. Suthenesh Sugumaran, the co-founder of Bemalas, shared with Vulcan Post that their service-level agreement (SLA) within operation time is 3-5 minutes per query. They’ve scaled operations to be proportionate to the volume of requests and there will be instances of delay, but they strive to reply every single query.
Despite this, according to a source who prefers to be anonymous, Bemalas took up to 40 minutes to issue a simple delivery quotation (this was back in January 2016). In another user’s case, even after 6 months since the request, Bemalas still haven’t sent a reply.
I’m still waiting for them to let me know where to source for 2 US-based beauty products and how much it would be to ship it over. They said that they will “get back to [me] shortly”. That was mid of February this year.
Other than the issue of efficiency, pricing is another major roadblock.
In the beginning of this year, people were obsessed with food made with salted egg yolk. Jumping onto the trend bandwagon, Bemalas promoted their services by offering to deliver salted egg yolk cronuts.
The delivery of just 2 of those cronuts to your doorstep is a whopping RM51.40. This is the breakdown given to me:
Total item cost: RM22
Delivery charges: RM25
Shopping fee (purchase and handling): RM4.40
I think I’ll just munch on some biscuits from my office pantry.
We’re Just Not Ready
These reasons are some that pushed Bemalas to reconsider their target market. Speaking to Vulcan Post, Suthenesh Maran said that they have scaled down on their B2C components such as e-commerce and concierge services. Instead, they’re doubling down on their B2B platform that they are building with chatbots and will be servicing clients in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia.
“Bemalas will still continue to exist; but as I mentioned, we will no longer be focusing on the personal assistant/concierge, but will be more of an NLP/AI company,” Suthenesh shared with us.
Suthenesh realises that it isn’t sustainable to push their services to users with discounts or promo codes alone. “A subset of Malaysians are okay with the charges, but it still requires the majority to buy in to the concept. The readiness of infrastructure and connectivity made the cost high which affects consumers. It should come to a stage where the fees are negligible.”
He believes that they are a good 3–5 years away from finding a model that would make personal assistants financially feasible for everyone, whilst still being profitable. This essentially depends on network effects (a good or service becomes more valuable when more people use it, like the telephone or the internet), greater access, and better logistical facilities.
On the other hand, Helpr, another Malaysian-based personal concierge startup, seems to be surviving those similar challenges. “Perhaps they could be doing something different and innovative? I wish them well!” Suthenesh said.
When will the Malaysian market be ready? Probably when it doesn’t cost RM51.40 for someone to deliver 2 salted egg cronuts to our doorstep.
Or, when we’re earning enough to not mind paying for it.