In between fielding our questions, the president of Element Inc stops mid-sentence, lowers her chin, and tilts her head in attempts to decongest. It’s not an elegant sight, but she does what she needs to, even if it might seem strange to others. Such as becoming a tech entrepreneur even though she studied real estate in university. Such as exiting the e-commerce industry when she was at the top of her game, to enter the completely unfamiliar territory of artificial intelligence (AI).
Goh started All Deals Asia with her younger brother in 2010, when she was 28. Both active deal-seekers, they wanted a way to fi nd the best promotions, without having to trawl multiple deal sites. Within a month, they were getting paid by other discount portals and independent merchants to list promotions on their site.
“By 2012, we facilitated about $10 million worth of transactions that originated from our site and was completed at our partners’ sites,” she says. All Deals Asia was acquired by Lippo Group in 2014.
Commenting on why their site caught the attention of the Indonesian conglomerate, she says: “We were the No. 1 deal aggregator in Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines, in terms of traffic and subscribers (450,000) at that time. What set us apart was our first-mover advantage and localised content in each country.”
The site was also an early adopter of e-services such as online customer support. “In 2010, when live chat was still not as widespread on websites, we provided customers with real-time help,” recalls Goh.
In the next three years, she helped Lippo Group to build from scratch Indonesian e-commerce site Matahari Mall. While it might look like yet another online shopping site, Matahari Mall presented a new concept for its time – Online-to-Offline, where customers are drawn from online channels to physical stores.
“Matahari Mall was conceptualised to bridge the online and offline world,” says Goh. Under her watch as founding member and chief product officer, Matahari Mall – dubbed the Alibaba of Indonesia – grew into one of the country’s largest e-commerce sites.
Despite having studied real estate, she admits that e-commerce now runs in her veins. “My passion is in learning something new, be it working as cashier at my parents’ roast meats stall when I was eight years old or learning about stock markets through newspapers. From young, I’ve taken steps into new environments – and every time I do that, something good happens.”
Now that she has excelled in e-commerce, her next move is to tap the potential of AI. “With increasingly more data available for analysis coupled with rapidly improving computer speeds, AI is finding more applications in daily life,” shares Goh.
At Element Inc, an AI company providing mobile software solutions for the health-care, banking and telecommunication sectors, she is looking into how AI can be applied to solve problems, especially in developing countries.
“In countries where people lack formal identification documents, NGOs are able to use electronic devices loaded with our biometrics application to identify aid recipients. This helps in the distribution of resources such as food vouchers. Powered by AI, the app’s algorithms are able to process and learn from data collected, thus sharpening its accuracy in identifying human features,” says Goh.
“We are also working with banks to authenticate mobile transactions with a user’s face or palm, in place of passcodes sent via SMS.”
Not one to keep still, she is leading the way for change. “At the companies I’ve co-founded or am co-leading, I emphasise three things: to keep reinventing ourselves to stay relevant, experiment constantly, and collaborate widely. When you put people from diverse backgrounds together with the same goal – good ideas happen.”
President of Element Inc
YEARS IN OPERATION: 5
THE TECH: Mobile software solutions, powered by artificial intelligence and biometrics,
for the health-care, banking and telecommunication sectors.
IN 60 SECONDS
I always imagined that I might be doing the unimaginable. Intimidation happens when you are faced with too many unknowns. As I make more uncertain things known, it becomes easier.
A habit I’d like to adopt is to think big, which I don’t think I am doing, still.
My antidote to a bad day is my husband, Carlos Banon, an architect and assistant professor at Singapore University of Technology and Design. He is one of the many people who inspire me.
This story was first published on The Peak on Nov 1, 2017.