A few months ago, I wrote an article about the sharing services millennials want to see implemented in Singapore.
Although many of the ideas shared are valid and feasible, two particular ones struck out to me – powerbank and umbrella sharing.
These two items are everyday essentials, and I figured that it would be useful and convenient to have a service that lets Singaporeans rent these items on-demand.
Following this article, I found out about Sharella, a free umbrella-sharing initiative conceptualised by four Republic Polytechnic students.
And later on, the sharing services article received a comment from a fellow Vulcan Post reader, who kindly tipped me off about NOMO, a powerbank sharing startup in Singapore.
I went on to reach out to the founder and CEO, Foo Jiarong, to learn more about his highly-anticipated business venture.
An Engineer Turned Entrepreneur
This 31-year-old Malaysian, who is a permanent resident of Singapore, holds a degree in engineering but never really pursued a career in the lucrative field.
Instead, he took an opposing turn and worked as a croupier (dealer at a gambling casino) at Resorts World Sentosa.
Currently, he runs a mobile accessories shop at Lucky Plaza – a mall located at the heart of Orchard Road – selling powerbanks, cables, mobile casing, and the likes.
Although business was relatively good, Jiarong wanted to branch out and dabble further in the mobile arena.
“I got into this idea of doing on-demand powerbank sharing when I was chatting with a friend of mine back in April last year. I had told him that quite a few people have been coming to my shop to borrow powerbanks – and these people have all bought powerbanks from me before!”
“That’s when we both figured that it would be a good idea to start up something, like a powerbank renting vending machine.”
We All Suffer A Certain Degree Of NOMO-Phobia
Banking on this ‘need’ to constantly have a charged mobile phone, Jiarong and his business partners pooled in an initial capital of $50,000 to start up a powerbank sharing service in Singapore.
Called NOMO, the name stems from the word ‘nomophobia’, which is an amalgam for ‘no mobile phobia’.
Reiterating the viability of his business idea, Jiarong said that in this modern and technologically-advanced day and age, most people own at least one mobile phone.
These mobile phones need to be charged at least once a day, and more so for heavy users.
“Most us tend to be very reliant on our mobile phones so it’s important for us to ensure that our phones stay ‘alive’. As such, it comes across as normal to have anxiety when our phone’s battery falls lower than a certain percentage,” said Jiarong.
With NOMO, Jiarong aims to “solve users’ last bar of battery problem”.
“If you step out of the house forgetting to charge your phone, or bringing a powerbank out, you need not worry because you can simply rent one to help solve your battery woes.”
“Moreover, if you bring your own powerbanks out, you have to remember to charge it and bring the phone cable out with you,” he added.
How It Works
NOMO enables the ease of powerbank rental with the use of a mobile QR code.
Users simply need to download the NOMO app from Apple’s App Store or Google Play Store.
After registering for an account via the app, users have to add a credit or debit card, before paying a “minimal” refundable deposit to deter device abuse.
“Users can then start scanning the QR code on the NOMObox. The initially-locked powerbank will then be released, so users can simply grab and charge on the go.”
Powerbanks are charged to at least a 70% capacity, and they come with multiple cables that can cater to all smartphone models in the market.
The fee is based on a pay-per-use model. Users are charged S$1 for a one-time usage, and they have to return it within 24 hours. Otherwise, they will be charged an additional dollar.
NOMO members however, can enjoy unlimited usage for a first-time fee of S$2. Thereafter, members can enjoy a cheaper rate of S$3.90 per week, or S$9.90 per month.
This whittles down to only $0.55 and $0.30 per day respectively.
NOMO is also introducing new benefits for its members. By this year, members get to enjoy a discounted rate when they rent from partnering merchants.
Currently, NOMO has tied up with over 30 merchants in Singapore and Malaysia, including hotels, malls, restaurants and pubs.
Jiarong said that his five-man team is in talks with other potential merchants regionally, and targets to have 3,000 kiosks across the two countries by the end of next year.
“We are also closing some deals in Vietnam, Taiwan, and even China to enable cross-country return and borrow for users,” he added.
In other words, renting and returning need not be at the same location for NOMO users. It’s actually possible to rent the powerbank in Kuala Lumpur, and return it in Singapore.
NOMO also has a separate programme under WeChat that supports rentals from China users, who can use the messaging app to scan the QR code to rent a powerbank without having to download a separate app.
“Currently, payment is only available in Renminbi (RMB) currency as this feature aims to cater to China tourists. But Malaysians and Singaporeans will soon have the chance to also use our service via WeChat as we are looking to launch an in-app Ringgit wallet by this year.”
Going Beyond Singapore And Malaysia
While powerbank rental is relatively new, the increasing trend of bike-sharing has helped familiarise consumers with the concept of the sharing economy, noted Jiarong.
Since its soft-launch in Singapore in November last year, NOMO has garnered over 600 registered users and a corresponding number of orders in total.
Spurred by this encouraging response, Jiarong has decided to branch out to Malaysia last month.
“Our user base is growing everyday, and we’ve more than 40 stations deployed around major cities in Singapore and Malaysia.”
Thanks to the high mobile penetration rate in both countries (over 147% in Singapore and over 139% in Malaysia, according to Jiarong), he is confident that his service will continue to gain traction.
“Our plan to expand WeChat wallet’s expansion this year is definitely one of the catalysts to provide a seamless powerbank rental experience to our users, similar to how users in China leverage on WeChat Pay and AliPay to transact offline payments.”
“We have the first mover advantage in Malaysia, and we are projecting to deploy more than 500 stations within this year.”
Moving forward, NOMO plans to target other countries with high mobile penetration.
As this expansion is still in the pipeline, the startup will focus on conquering the local markets in Malaysia and Singapore for now.
NOMO has recently secured $100,000 funding from angel investors in China, and Jiarong said that this new funding will help it boost user acquisition, as well as hardware and software development.
“We are looking to add more features to our powerbanks, such as hotspot-sharing, in the near future.”
“Market validation and constant improvement of our products are the key focus metrics to ensure that we are targeting the right group of audience with a high retention rate.”
Featured Image Credit: NOMO