From freelancing students to digital empire, the story of Softinn
PETALING JAYA: Jeeshen Lee and Caren Tee were still in university when they discovered that the Seri Malaysia and Tabung Haji hotel chains were among the largest in the country.
Ten years down the line, Seri Malaysia and Tabung Haji are among the 266 hotel brands the couple serve in Malaysia and Indonesia with their specialised software for hospitality properties.
“Back then, we were studying and taking up freelance jobs to pay for our tuition fees. So, when we heard there was a business competition with a RM10,000 cash prize, we knew we had to enter,” said Lee.
The competition, organised by Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), required participants to submit a business plan. On top of the cash prize, there was also a follow-up grant to be won.
“Our idea was for a hotel software system,” Lee said. “We came up with it because a friend of ours spoke to us about the challenges he faced running his hotel.”
As part of their pitch for the MDEC competition, Lee said they had to come up with a list of possible clients. They included Seri Malaysia and Tabung Haji as they had among the largest inventory of rooms.
“We didn’t win, we got second place. But we didn’t give up, and what started as a means to win a cash prize evolved into a labour of love as MDEC sent us to conferences and pitching sessions.
“This helped us grow into entrepreneurs, and in 2012, we founded Softinn with a paid-up capital of RM5,000, mostly to rent servers.”
Softinn offers hotels software for check-in, reservations and front office operations, at prices affordable for small and boutique hotels.
“A five-star hotel will have the infrastructure, expensive IT systems, a digital marketing set-up and loyalty programmes.
“But for four-star hotels and anyone smaller, this would be too costly. That is where we can help.”
Essentially, Softinn provides their clients with the infrastructure and platform to improve productivity and operational efficiency while creating large savings.
What started off as a company comprising just Lee, Tee and two other employees to serve fewer than 30 customers has since grown into a team of 15 serving 1,267 customers.
“In the first two years, Tee and I did not draw a salary,” Lee said.
But in just eight years, Softinn expanded its empire from a single client, a three-storey shop lot hotel in Muar, Johor to over 1,000 properties including chains in Malaysia and Indonesia.
“We provide hotels with a website and a booking engine that allows travellers to book their stay directly with our clients. The travellers get a better deal and our client does not need to pay a commission to online travel agents.”
Lee said the system, which costs 80% less to run than international systems used by larger hotels, can help hotels save up to RM1,000 a month on commissions paid to agents.
The system also allows hotels to gain insight into customer behaviour, patterns and opportunities which can be used to refine their marketing strategies and optimise sales.
Lee said businesses have to embrace and unleash their digital potential.
“It’s not just about software, it is about what data can do for business. This is something which in the past may have been a luxury for smaller hotels, but not anymore.”
As for Softinn, Lee said they have not forgotten what MDEC did for him and his wife, adding that they were still working closely with them.
“We are collaborating with them on their SME Digitalisation grant to offer a 50% matching grant for boutique hotels to digitalise their businesses.”
Commenting on the success stories of local SMEs like Softinn, in conjunction with the launch of #SayaDigital Month, MDEC CEO Surina Shukri said: “The idea is for MDEC to empower businesses to take the digital leap to thrive in the era of the 4th Industrial Revolution, and to achieve shared prosperity for all Malaysians.
“MDEC will continue to support businesses via digital empowerment platforms such as the highly successful SME Digital Summit, which has just concluded. This is our first in a series of events in conjunction with #SayaDigital Month, which aims to accelerate a digital society in Malaysia.”
The month-long campaign aims to expand digital skills and adoption among Malaysians and local businesses, empowering them to successfully navigate the new normal.
The first two weeks of the #SayaDigital movement will focus on empowering digital businesses, while the second half will provide opportunities for Malaysians to learn and enhance their digital skills.
First published on Free Malaysia Today
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