ISSUE #59 – Interview with Carrie Nooten, Founder, Ux and Narrative Designer, TopoTogo
TopoTogo is a suite of city discovery Apps that help different segments of users fully experience a city. With TopoTogo in hand, visitors can navigate curated paths, understand their exploration, access to local retail offers or book services. TopoTogo Mobile Guides are also distributed through hotels and retail networks.
Why did you decide to launch a start-up in Singapore?
Singapore is an entrepreneur-friendly city and, considering its reputation, it is surprising that it is not more developed in internet start-ups. Blk 71, Singapore’s answer to the Silicon Valley, was launched only in 2011. In comparison, Beijing was already booming in 2000 when I was
working there in a start-up. So last year, we saw a great opportunity: it would be easier to establish our company in Singapore, compared to a crowded West Coast or within the FrenchTech.
Currently, there still exist a few challenges here: a lack of versatile developers, a cultural aversion to risk and an undeveloped start-up funding network for a techoriented market. But this is changing quickly and development is a good skill in many neighbouring countries – the great success of the like of PropertyGuru, Luxola, Carousell, or Reebonz show that the potential is here.
What is your strategy, then, as an Asia-based start-up?
Rather than replicate for the Asian market ideas that have already been developed elsewhere, we have decided to start from here and address a global problem: how to visit a city smoothly, with a great cultural experience. Weirdly, there is no app that has yet replaced Lonely Planet on the international traveller’s smart phone. TripAdvisor and other crowdsource-based platforms are showing their limits and the need for a great tool to explore a city is still there.
We believe that a clever app should provide top offline quality content, access to great services that are available, such as booking a car, a table in a restaurant or a ticket to an attraction, and bridge the language gap you might face when travelling.
No need to enter the museum address in Japanese in Uber, TopoTogo will do it for you. Not too sure how to go about booking a table in Shanghai? Local service Chope through TopoTogo will do it for you. The city’s businesses can also reach tourists in their own language and offline; indeed, targeted mobile advertising is the way to go and it is still underdeveloped here.
Our offline city discovery platform will be out for summer 2016, with audio guides in four languages: English, Mandarin, Japanese and French. It will be distributed through seven partner hotels (with a total of 630,000 guests per year) and via unique physical/digital engagement as concierges will unlock the app for their guests, something for which we have received support from the Singapore Tourism Board.
This won’t be your first product. You’ve just released Singapore Topotogo for kids & parents, a bimedia mobile guide…
Lao Tseu said, “The Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”: the kids and parents segment is our first step. We have created a unique 2-in-1 app: half of it is a travel app for parents, who can guide their family through Singapore with tailor-made directory and trails; the other half is an edutainment app for children, so that they understand their visits through 150 little stories and interactive features, including 50 minutes’ worth of audio guides in each language.
With this app, grown-ups can expect to save time: it usually takes me two days to prepare a seven-day trip with my two kids. It is also a great tool to practice the language and embrace the culture of your temporary country if you are an expat.
As always, we believe digital products should be accessible from the physical world, so TopoTogo K&P is available with an activity guide and a map for children at partnered retail shops.
We are using a technology that enables you to buy the app from the shop itself – you don’t need to buy it from the app store afterwards. In three months, we have already distributed 1,200 TopoGuides through a network of 45 retail and museum shops. Also, we found that we could use the interactivity between screen and paper to tell additional stories… and children love it!
Interview published in the FOCUS Magazine “The Enterprising Spirit” – Issue #1 2016