Digital technology giant Amazon Web Services expects Asian startups to adapt to the new business environment amid the coronavirus pandemic this year and sustain their operations next year.
“I think that by staying innovative, trying out new ideas and always keeping customers first, startups can move forward with confidence into 2021 and beyond,” says Gaurav Arora, Amazon Web Services head of startup ecosystem in the Asia Pacific and Japan.
Arora says AWS, the cloud computing unit of Amazon, continues to provide solutions to Asian startups and businesses amid the health crisis.
“We have helped many of our customers use the cloud to set up tools and services to help others. For all of these use cases, our customers are moving forward confidently knowing they can depend on the scale, reach, and reliability of AWS to meet any surge in demand,” Arora says in an e-mail interview.
Arora says he is encouraged by how startups and other companies confront the challenges this year. “I think I have one of the best jobs in the world, because I get to work with some of the region’s and the world’s most innovative and exciting companies, and I admire the way the entrepreneurs I work with daily have risen to the challenges of this year to find new opportunities, especially by leveraging technology,” he says.
He says startups have learned to quickly adapt with the new environment. “In the face of a challenge, startups have an incredible capacity to adapt quickly to market changes, try out new ideas, and think on their feet to identify new revenue streams, even when the world around them is changing,” he says.
Arora, however, says COVID-19’s impact on businesses across Asia should not be understated. “For startups in particular, it has been a difficult time, especially for those still building a significant customer base and cash flow. It’s likely that the year they’ve experienced so far has turned out to be very different to the year they were planning. We’re hearing from the startups we work with that they are reassessing their plans and projections to accommodate for the ‘new normal,’ which can present startups with opportunities,” he says.
Arora says startups across many verticals are using technology to transform their industries and solve the problems that matter to their communities. “Innovation-driven by nature, startups are best known for the ability to pivot quickly to meet society’s changing needs, and the COVID-19 pandemic has proven this to be true yet again,” he says.
Among these startups is GAIN Credit, an alternative lending fintech startup in India, which had to close its contact center operations for a brief period amid the lockdown. To continue providing customers with core services, GAIN Credit quickly transformed and implemented AWS services to build a virtual contact center.
GAIN Credit’s team developed a cutting-edge chat application that is highly customizable and configurable for its digital lending customer support needs, and using AWS services, quickly built a chatbot and a voice bot, which collectively handled close to 75 percent of incoming customer queries.
Indian health and fitness startup Cure.fit had to shut its physical gyms but quickly saw they could stay connected with customers by running virtual workout classes and creating personalized online programs. The success of the new offering led to a sudden spike in traffic to Cure.fit’s website, which they were able to manage by leveraging AWS services such as a fast content distribution service that securely delivers data, videos, and applications to customers globally.
Arora says in Southeast Asia, startups solve problems that have never been solved before and address challenging structural gaps in day-to-day life.
“In the fintech space, Philippine startup PearlPay is a great example of local innovation on the AWS Cloud. With more than half the population of the Philippines living in rural areas, most people must physically go to rural banks to access cash and perform transactions. But these banks are often lacking ATMs, debit cards and mobile banking services, which are crucial. Being all-in on AWS, PearlPay offers its cloud-based core banking solutions as SaaS to rural banks, enabling them to digitize their services and reach even those with limited or no access to the internet,” he says.
Meanwhile, Jakarta-based healthtech startup Halodoc has built a mobile app on AWS that connects patients with doctors, and then also with pharmacies so they can order essential medications. Using the latest cloud technology allows Halodoc to launch new app features about 30 percent faster, and improve patient-physician mobile call response times.
In Thailand, telehealth provider Dr. Raksa is all-in on AWS and has built a virtual healthcare consultation app that’s been downloaded by more than 400,000 people, and facilitated over 100,000 doctor consultations since its launch in 2016.
“We’ve also seen new levels of demand for online shopping in the past few months, with so many people around the world spending more time at home. In the ecommerce sector, we work with industry leaders like Tokopedia and HappyFresh in Indonesia, and online fashion destination, Pomelo Fashion, based in Thailand, who are leveraging AWS’s machine learning services to build personalized shopping experiences with recommendation features unique to individual shoppers,” Arora says.
In Vietnam, edtech platform KidsOnline is experiencing rapid adoption by preschool teachers, parents and children. The fast-growing startup is now available in 40 cities and provinces, is used by over 1,200 preschools and has 150,000 parents and 20,000 preschool teachers using it, with 50,000 daily visits.
“No matter what a startup wants to do, AWS has the tools and applications that enable them to do it. With 175 products and services, we have the broadest and deepest set of capabilities of any cloud provider, ranging from basic compute and storage through to advanced analytics and container services, through to pre-built solutions,” says Arora.
Arora says AWS is particularly enthusiastic about emerging technologies like machine learning. “Startups across Asia like Indian insurance marketplace, PolicyBazaar, Singaporean ecommerce visual search platform, ViSenze, and Korean online fashion retailer, Brandi are using AWS machine learning to build and launch innovative features such as language interpretation, image recognition, and product recommendations,” he says.
Early-stage startups also like working with Amazon Lightsail, which is ideal for simpler workloads, quick deployments and getting started on AWS.
Arora says AWS can help Asian startups reach the global market more efficiently. “The great thing about the cloud is that it allows for experimentation. Because it’s so cost effective, startups can easily run tests and experiment without significant upfront investment. Should a startup find success, it can easily scale up usage, and then scale back down again as needed. This de-risks the growth process and ensures startups do not need to invest heavily in anticipation of future demand,” he says.
“The AWS Cloud spans 77 availability zones across 24 geographic regions worldwide, which means our customers can go global in minutes. This scalability is essential to hyper-growth startups as they grow and expand into new regions around the world,” says Arora.