Calixto Tay (BSc (ISM), 2013) not only has the brains, he also has the heart for the common man. Graduating with top honours, Calixto put his Information Systems coding knowledge and entrepreneurship skills honed at SMU to good use, creating an app called BusLeh meant simply to help commuters have a better experience in planning their daily commutes more effectively and easily. For all of his desire to improve the lives of people who rely on buses, Calixto won the "Most Innovative Solutions" award at LTA's Land Transport Excellence Awards 2016, a biennial affair that recognises individuals and organisations who make a difference in Singapore’s land transport scene. Now a Managing Director & Co-Founder of Originally Us, a mobile app development consultancy, Calixto continues to create beautiful things and is a proud father of a baby boy.
(Calixto and son above)
You graduated from SMU with a Summa Cum Laude in BSc (ISM) in 2013. Congratulations! How was your SMU experience and was your entrepreneurship spirit cultivated in school?
While I originally chose SMU for its unique Information Systems Management curriculum which combines business management and Information technology in a single degree, I felt that the area where I benefitted the most was exposure and opportunities that SMU made available to budding entrepreneurs like myself.
There are multiple courses on entrepreneurship which undergraduates can take, and these courses focus more on arming undergraduates with practical entrepreneurship exposure and experiences rather than theories and academics. For example, the Technopreneurship Student Mission to Beijing gave me an opportunity to visit successful China internet giants like Baidu and the well-regarded Tsinghua University Incubator.
The SMU Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship also rendered valuable assistance in terms of mentorship, seed funding and incubation space when I decided to found my first start-up in Year 3.
Tell us about SG BusLeh app and the inspiration for its creation.
As a commuter, I often rely on existing bus apps that provide estimated arrival timings of buses to plan my journey. I remember finding existing apps too cumbersome to use, requiring many steps just to access the information I needed. Also, bus apps during that time only provided arrival estimates for the next two buses, which made it difficult to plan your journey beyond 15 or 20 minutes ahead.
As a techie who loves building stuff that make an impact, I took it as a personal challenge to build a bus app that is not only easy to use, but can also provide additional crucial and useful transport-related information for commuters like myself to better plan our commute.
SG BusLeh became the first bus app to provide a third bus arrival timing, display the physical location of upcoming buses, and even tell you if the coming buses are single-deck, double-deck or bendy. With a unique blend of Singlish humour that was unheard of at that time, SG BusLeh eventually became one of the most popular bus apps (on Android) in Singapore with over 300 app uses every single minute – something I never thought could be possible.
What led you to you winning the award “Most Innovative Solutions” in the Land Transport Excellence Awards by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) in 2016?
Many at LTA were already aware of my app, SG BusLeh, which contains multiple innovation that pushes the bracket of what bus apps can do for commuters. We are the first bus app to introduce a third bus arrival estimation, display physical locations of upcoming buses and even inform the commuter whether the upcoming bus is a single deck or double. To further provide useful information and tools at the fingertips of our local commuters, we even built in functionalities such as checking of realtime PSI pollutant levels, an experimental SMRT train arrival estimate as well as an EZLink balancer reader. SG BusLeh became a solid contender for the “Most Innovative Solutions” award because of our pioneering work. I feel extremely honoured and thankful to LTA for their support and recognition as the Land Transport Excellence Awards is a biennial affair that recognizes individuals and organisations who make a difference in Singapore’s land transport scene.
(Calixto Tay, extreme left, receiving his award for "Most Innovative Solutions" at the LTA's Land Transport Excellence Awards 2016)
Creating an app benefitting society as well as maintaining profitability must not be easy. What were some of the challenges faced? How did you overcome them?
I didn’t create SG Busleh to generate a profit. The goal was simply to share our innovations with commuters, hoping that this makes their daily commute experience better and more enjoyable. I genuinely wanted to make a difference for the general commuter who does not have the luxury of driving a car.
Eventually, we ran into issues as our server infrastructure was unable to cope with the extreme user growth rate we were seeing – we were doubling our server capacity every month but that alone wasn’t enough to cope with the increased traffic.
During that period, our app would often stop functioning during morning peak hours and SMRT breakdowns (due to increased bus commuters). We received many angry emails from users during those periods. It didn’t feel good to see some of the harsh feedback from users, but we take it positively and interpret that as a sign that users really value our work and can’t live without it.
The whole incident also taught me a lesson in sustainability – while we didn’t set out building BusLeh for a profit, we do need to generate revenue through BusLeh in order to constantly improve its infrastructure and cover the costs of constantly innovating and improving the app.
The revenue allows us to continue to grow the app and provide value to commuters.
With myriad bus apps out there, how does SG BusLeh distinguish itself over its competitors?
While all local bus apps out there use the same bus arrival data set provided by LTA, we go one step further by performing a combination of machine learning, running through our own computations and algorithm to provide commuters with additional meaningful insights that can help with their daily commute.
What advice would you give SMU students and fellow alumni about making meaningful impact in today’s society?
Many people think that creating social good is about giving away free things or working for free. But we can’t shy away from generating a revenue or profit. I think that it is a necessary “evil” to keep us going.
If we didn’t set out to monetize SG Busleh, we wouldn’t have been able to cover our rising operating expenses and may end up having to shut down the app. When that happens, we would not be able to continue providing our innovative features to local commuters.
My advice is: do try to make an impact on society, while looking after your bottom line at the same time so that you can keep going.
Last updated on 18 Jan 2018 .