“Reactor School planted the seed of our startup journey, and we’ve continued to leverage their support ever since.”
We often hear of incubators and mentors helping accelerate a startup’s growth. For Jing Jie Huang, engineering student turned entrepreneur and now CEO and co-founder of Novocall, this was Reactor School. Reactor School is a vocal entrepreneurial education (EntreEd) group based in Singapore, designing programs for students aged 13-24. YCombinator finalist Novocall is a conversational sales automation software based in Singapore. Today, they supply their technology to more than 2000 companies in 42 countries.
Reactor School will be debuting in Vietnam with EntreCamp, their flagship 3-day bootcamp. EntreCamp will be delivered in partnership with Fulbright University Vietnam at their new Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) on November 8-10, 2019. (more information at the bottom of this article)
Catalyzing a passion for entrepreneurship among students
In 2017, Jing Jie Huang and Amos Choo, then 22 years old, were pursuing their B.A.s in Electrical Engineering and Information System and Technology Design at Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). There, they attended a workshop facilitated by Reactor School at SUTD’s Entrepreneurship Center.
Engineers in training, neither of them felt equipped nor ready to start an entrepreneurial journey. Little did they know that this workshop would be where they laid the first foundations of what was to become a very successful company.
“At the time we were very clueless about entrepreneurship. I was expecting a bunch of theory, but it was actually a very hands-on approach. We brainstormed ideas using sticky notes, had these same ideas challenged during critique sessions, and learned to build a very early minimum viable product (MVP). Reactor School also introduced us to the startup scene and its inner workings.”
Shortly after Reactor School, during an internship at Singtel, the largest telecom company in Singapore, Amos realized that the typical customer service experience was often a frustrating and irritating affair: Wait times were excruciatingly long, and the technology powering the experience was archaic, complex, impersonal, and inefficient.
”One of the main takeaways from Reactor was the mindset of problem solving and building, which really made starting a business a possibility to consider.” Jing Jie and Amos felt that this was a problem worth solving, and knew that entrepreneurship was the way to do so. They developed a marketable software solution called a Visual Interactive Voice Response, a support platform that guides inbound callers to a web-based support experience. This attributes calls with minimal input, improving responsiveness and user experience.
Novocall — Lift off
“In our early days, we pitched our solutions to big organisations and enterprises, and got rejected by all of them. This happened because we were fresh graduates, and yet we wanted to build an enterprise level solution. We lacked the credibility to justify our ability to deliver to enterprises at scale. So we got back to work.”
Although they faced challenges, Jing Jie and Amos drew upon the lessons they learned from Reactor School to plough ahead with Novocall.
“At Reactor, we learned the tenets of a Minimum Viable Product. This taught us how to focus our efforts, and how to iterate fast. We quickly realized that we needed to change our strategy. So we pivoted, and began targeting small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs).” Jing Jie and Amos were still passionate about issues with traditional and outdated phone calls but knew that they had to target a new type of client. Their Reactor School training provided them with 3 important steps: validate customers to identify their needs, build a minimum viable product, and iterate quickly.
And so they spoke with many SMEs in Singapore, to find that their original Visual IVR solution was not suitable for their needs, as it is typically only implemented in larger scale companies. Instead, SMEs they interviewed were more concerned with engaging more directly with prospective customers, identifying a clear need for shorter response times on the part of the business.
Armed with their experience designing automated call systems, they focused on capturing website visitors, prototyping click-to-callback plugins, before improving on user experience and functionalities.
Jing Jie and Amos’ system became a highly automated call platform, helping SMEs personalise, schedule and qualify calls, incorporating traditional phone calls into the digital journey, reducing response times and drastically increasing conversion rates. Novocall was born.
“The theory we went through was very applicable. Looking back, all the things that we learned at Reactor kept us moving forward. But more than that, the ongoing support Reactor has continued to give us to this day has been invaluable.”
A program that keeps giving
Reactor School aims to not only provide early entrepreneurial education, but most importantly to build a strong ecosystem of startups, founders and investors. They accompanied Novocall on their journey and continue to help them through each stage of their company’s life cycle.
“Ideation and iteration is crucial early on, but then the focus shifts to introductions to lawyers, construction crews and venture capital firms, fundraising, among others. Access to Reactor School’s network of professionals really helped us scale up our company.”
Last year Novocall made it to the final round of interviews for Ycombinator, the renowned seed accelerator that invested in Airbnb and Reddit, among others. “This would not have been possible if not for Reactor School’s introduction to another YCombinator founder, who shared his experience of the process and helped us prepare.”
Novocall is the current recipient of the Singapore Founder Grant (~$22,000), as well as the Business Improvement Fund from the Singapore Tourism Board. Recently, Novocall launched a crowdfunding campaign on a software listing platform, Appsumo, in a bid to market their product overseas. The campaign was a major success, raising more than $150,000 in revenue.
After going through an acceleration program by fintech accelerator “The Finlab”, the company is also incubated with Singapore Management University’s Business Innovations Generator (BIG) and National University Singapore’s “Block 71”.
“Reactor School is bridging a gap within the start-up scene, the lack of support and exchange, locally and regionally, whether through mentorship or information sharing. The startup scene in Singapore is active, but, perhaps similar to Ho Chi Minh City, tends to be too superficial, limited to fixed networks within the confines of coworking spaces. Reactor was instrumental, continuously providing us with introductions.”
For more information on EntreCamp: http://bit.ly/ReactorInfoDeck
To sign up for EntreCamp: http://bit.ly/ReactorRegistration-Open
For more information on Novocall: http://www.novocall.co
Igniting the entrepreneurial spirit in Vietnam
EntreCamp at Fulbright
Fulbright University to Launch Innovation Hub
”One of the main takeaways from Reactor was the mindset of problem solving and building, which really made starting a business a possibility to consider.”