We were introduced to Otter.sg and are fascinated by this idea sparked by a few NTU students. Read on more about their unique business idea.
Words and Photos by: Founders of Otter, Jia Rui and Xien Dong
What inspired you to start Otter?
Jia Rui and I, Xien Dong, started out as recreational cycling buddies for years. However, we live at the two extreme ends of Singapore, with Jia Rui living in the east and I, living in the west. This created a problem for us as we always had to compromise on our cycling locations.
As the traditional bicycles we had were very bulky and hard to move around, we had to go to bicycle rental shops and these restricted the number of places we can go due to time and distance. As casual cyclists, the distance to travel to the various scenic locations in Singapore from these rental shops can be quite a deterrent. In fact, for all the cycling outings that we had, we usually start in the East Coast.
Hence, we conceived the preliminary idea of a peer-to-peer bicycle sharing platform with our motto “Ride a bicycle anywhere, at anytime”.
How would you describe Otter?
Otter is currently a peer-to-peer bicycle sharing platform for cyclists all around Singapore to share their bicycles to others for a nominal fee rivaling that of traditional bicycle rental shops. We set our sights on personal bicycles as these bicycles are usually better maintained compared to bicycles supplied by traditional bicycle rental shops. This is crucial to provide better riding experiences for cyclists all around. Otter also empowers cyclists to cycle anywhere as they wish, as long as there is a bicycle owner renting out their bicycle(s) at that location.
At Otter, we aim to provide the best user experience and enable cyclists to cycle at their convenience. We facilitate and secure the rental procedures to provide a safe environment for owners to share their bicycles to other cyclists on our platform. By subsidising the maintenance costs of bicycles, we provide an additional incentive for owners to rent out their bicycle, hence promoting the sharing economy as well as the kampong spirit of sharing in Singapore.
Can you tell us more about the simplicity and beauty of Otter?
We observe a trend that bicycles are often left underused 90% of the time, with bicycles lying around at home, or parked at bicycle bays at MRT stations unattended. What makes Otter beautiful is its ability to give these underutilised bicycles a new lease of life, by reducing wastage and providing better utilisation of these bicycles, and at the same time, providing passive income to the owners.
With a few simple tap of the fingers, we can instantly see where all the bicycles are located in Singapore, and cyclists can choose from these wide variety of bicycles, something not seen in traditional bicycle rental shops. With an intuitive interface, we aim to achieve a rental process that is as straightforward as renting a room via AirBNB.
What’s more is that unlike bicycle sharing stations, you get to network with like-minded people, who are interested in cycling, as they share with you the exciting explorations in the vicinity.
What do you personally ride?
Xien Dong: As a leisure cyclist myself, I don’t require highly sophisticated nor specialised bicycle. Hence, mountain bicycles are sufficient and decent to satisfy my cycling cravings.
Jia Rui: I generally ride the standard mountain bicycle that you can rent easily from our app.
What’s your favorite cycling route in Singapore or overseas?
Xien Dong: One of my favourite cycling route is in fact in the far west, connecting Lakeside to Joo Koon, and then further down to Tuas. Although it is riddled with heavy vehicles (so have to be really careful), but the peace and tranquility I get cycling on a Friday evening was memorable. It is like a mini-getaway in the west. Sadly, as there isn’t an accessible bicycle rental shop in the far west, I can’t really bring my friends to cycle that route.
Jia Rui: My favourite cycling route is along the Punggol Riverside, where we first spotted some otters! You can enjoy the beautiful scenery and the gentle river breeze all along the route.
What’s a typical day like for you in Otter?
A typical day would be spent on brainstorming and bug fixing Otter for the best user experience we can provide. We also spend our time brainstorming for interesting ideas and ways to engage our users through our Facebook page as well as through our Otter Newsletters. We actively think about promotional materials and rewards we can give to our users such as discounts and rebates by participating in our green revolution.
At this current stage, we are working hard towards Otter Version 2 which would include a smoother interface and sign-up procedures, better user experience and easier controls. The icing on the cake for our current project is the first release for our iOS app! We are insanely excited to present our iOS app to the Otter community but at this stage, we are not ready to announce it just yet.
What’s some of the most unique stories you’ve heard from your users?
One of the most unique stories we have heard is from an 80 year old Indian tourist who came to Singapore to visit his son. We were really impressed to find out that he has been cycling regularly for more than half a century and is part of this group of cyclists in India that travels round the globe to explore the different cycling routes the world has to offer.
What are some of the challenges you faced with the business?
Manpower issues tops the chart for now. As we are a small team of students, we face some manpower issues to work on all the different aspects of Otter from coding to research and marketing. Initially we thought that a 2-man team was sufficient to run Otter as we are a passionate duo. However, as time went by and we started school, we found that we are unable to cope with all our commitments at once. Therefore, we decided to expand our Otter family to provide the best experience to our users.
Another hurdle we encountered was in fact, to manage this two sided market, handing both the needs of renters, as well as owners. You can say it as a chicken and egg problem. And given that Singapore is fairly new to the concept of sharing economy, penetrating the Singapore market on the idea of bicycle sharing is certainly not straightforward.
What’s next for the business now?
As we have previously mentioned, we are currently working on our iOS application for the Singapore community. We have had individuals from overseas coming to us to see if we are expanding our market to their countries and at the moment we are not. However, that is indeed very possible in the future when we pick up more traction and validation here.
Thanks Jia Rui, Xien Dong for sharing with us your Otter.sg business adventures!