Imagine that you really need a drink or a snack but alas, there aren’t any stores nearby.
Then, as luck would have it, you spy a vending machine filled with all the goodies your heart desires.
You walk up to it only to realise that it’s out of stock, or you don’t have enough small change to buy anything. It’s happened to me a few times, and I bet it’s happened to you too.
But it doesn’t have to be this way, as Evelyn Foo, COO of Vechnology pointed out to Vulcan Post. Her company is building smart vending machines that aim to improve on an age-old design.
Vechnology was founded in 2015 by two starving university students, Lance Ong and Evelyn, who were still studying at University Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR).
Lance, now the CEO, was a serial entrepreneur while Evelyn, the COO, started working in food processing when she was 12 years old as she came from a poor family.
At 18, she became a manager at an event management company before quitting to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing at UTAR at the age of 20, where she also started an organic food business.
At university, they both encountered the same problem: they found themselves searching for food due to the lack of conveniently located food outlets.
Not wanting to starve, they took the initiative to acquire snack vending machines for their campus, a move that proved popular amongst their peers.
They were officially vending machine vendors, eventually taking the further step of importing and selling the machines.
However, they discovered that these imported machines had issues.
“Mostly, the problems were because of the cash and coin traditional payment system which can still be widely found on the streets nowadays. It is the technical recovery needed especially after vandalism, burglary and jammed payment systems,” Evelyn explained.
To solve this, Vechnology introduced their own flagship “unified QR e-wallet” vending machine in 2019.
“Our QR reader is able to read a user’s e-wallet code from different e-wallets without them selecting the type of wallet on screen,” she said.
“This process definitely improves user experience by speeding up the transaction and improving convenience.”
These aren’t your standard vending machines anymore, as Vechnology’s smart vending machines are equipped with their own in-house software, VECloud and VEProUX.
VECloud is a cloud computing system that serves as a “vending housekeeper” as Evelyn puts it.
With this system, owners are able to remotely access their machines in real-time, allowing them to check sales and inventory, adjust prices, fix minor errors and control the digital signages.
It’s easier for an owner to monitor their machines this way, without having to regularly check on all of them physically.
This cloud is synchronised with VEProxUX, an application that gives the machine its intelligence, but Vechnology is not stopping there.
They are also developing facial recognition tech. Using multiple cameras, they aim to be able to conduct consumer behaviour analysis as well as to record a person’s mood, age and gender.
Their machines have already been used to sell a variety of products from snacks and drinks to more unconventional items such as cosmetics, medical supplies and personal protection equipment.
A Glass-and-Metal Storefront
Personally, I don’t consider vending machines a substitute for an actual brick-and-mortar store. I still like the ability to walk through a place and peruse its wares.
But Evelyn makes a great case for merchants to consider using vending machines:
- Lower overheads: The cost of a vending machine is lower than owning or renting a store, and you don’t need to hire that many employees, just someone to do the restocking.
- Mobility: The key to a successful vending business is the location. Owners can always move the machines to higher traffic areas.
- 24-hour operations: Vending machines can be left to operate by themselves.
- Cashless: As mentioned, Vechnology’s machines are cashless, which means you don’t need to worry about the logistics of collecting physical currency.
“FYI, Vechnology have the lowest prices in Malaysia. Compared to imported machines from China, we are the manufacturer so our prices are much more affordable,” Evelyn continued.
For example, one of their non-cooling smart machines can cost around RM9,900. In comparison, buying a new vending machine on average should usually cost you RM15,000 to RM30,000.
With these machines often left to their own devices, I was curious to know if the team worried about potential theft or vandalism.
“Our machine comes with an anti-theft mechanical framework which can reduce the theft problem,” Evelyn explained.
“Furthermore, cashless payments means vending operators need not worry about cash-in-transit as all the money goes directly to their bank account, thus providing maximum security.”
Vending The Future
So far, Vechnology has earned more than RM2.3 million in revenue, after starting with RM150,000 of capital.
With this capital, Evelyn told us that they have had their fair share of challenges, mainly with talent acquisition and product development.
“The early stages of our company started with us acquiring talent through interns who were later converted into fulltime staff. We also use our excess profit to fund our own R&D to ensure our product is competitive in terms of technology,” she explained.
But Evelyn remains determined that in the future they will become the leading B2B vending machine industry player in Southeast Asia with full enterprise solutions that can further leverage the digital ecosystem.
- You can read more about other Malaysian startups we’ve written about here.
Featured Image Credit: Vechnology