Full-time Data Analyst, Part-time Entrepreneur

Our ShopBack Human Resource Associate, Angelica Chu Zhouhui, did an interview with me regarding my part time project on Facebook Messenger Chatbot. She published the following great article on ShopBack’s company page and I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who supported me in this project in and out of office.

There has been much debate over chatbots being the ‘Next Big Thing’. Is it really? In order to find out for myself, I took the time to have a quick chat with Aung, a fellow colleague at ShopBack who created a Facebook chatbot providing movie showtimes in Myanmar. This was how the interview went.

Where did the idea of creating a movie chatbot come from?

I have always been a big fan of movies. In my search for good movies in Myanmar, I realized the lack of an appropriate platform to do so (with the exception of YoteShin, the only mobile application that provides movie show times in Myanmar). With all the relevant data and skills at hand, I thought, “Why not try to fill this gap?”

In the midst of developing such a tool, I identified two potential issues:

  1. Internet in Myanmar is relatively slow.
  2. Creating a new mobile application is difficult. Many are reluctant to download new applications as it takes up precious storage in their smart phones — especially so if they do not intend to use it frequently.

How did you work around those issues?

The key was really to create something that uses little Internet bandwidth and is light in storage. At that point of time, Facebook coincidentally just released the technology to create a chatbot. Thus, I decided to leverage on Facebook Messenger, a platform that is extremely popular and readily available in Myanmar, to launch a chatbot.

So… Does a chatbot solve those problems?

Compared to mobile applications, chatbots are much lighter and easier to ‘consume’ — hence providing a viable alternative for users. Instead of trying to replace similar applications that were already in place, I sought to complement them and offer a greater experience for movie seekers altogether.

What was the process of creating the bot like? Was it tiring? Exciting?

It was an arduous journey, having to work after office hours, late into the night. The process of creating the chatbot and launching it took me approximately 3 weeks, but that was just the beginning. The more time-consuming part is the process of continuously fine-tuning features of the chatbot based on user feedback. It was challenging, yes, but definitely enriching as well.

I learnt to be resourceful. Instead of gathering data from a single site, I looked into collecting data from multiple platforms. Following which, I assembled all the essential information into a central database. By writing a Python code, I managed to set up an automatic updating process that allowed movie show times to be renewed periodically on their own. Thus, I could leave the chatbot to run independently. Recently, I even had a chat with the CEO of YoteShin app and he was very open to sharing with me his API for the movie and showtimes data. He also generously shared valuable insights and lessons from the industry.

What features do the bot support?

Cinema lists, movie lists and show times are some of the basic features that my chatbot offers. I have also introduced a rating feature to encourage users to rate the movies they watched — a move that has evidently been attracting repeat users. The new sharing feature also allows users to forward any relevant movie details to their friends and schedule movie dates together. After all, we enjoy watching movies in groups, don’t we?

Recently, I even secured partnerships with several restaurants to offer exclusive promotions and cost-worthy deals to my chatbot users. By spending above a certain sum at the respective cafes, users could enjoy discounted dining options.

Are you planning to launch more features?

Certainly. One would be incorporating multiple languages into the bot, beyond just English or Burmese. Setting of reminders or alerts on the chatbot is another function I am looking into.

Any tips or lesson learnt that you would like to share?

  1. Have a bias for action

Ideas are great, but they will forever remain as ideas if not implemented. A key takeaway for me would be to not leave these ideas unexecuted and see how it realistically works out for users. Initially, I had many ideas and thoughts that I imagined would turn out great. However, after launching, I realized that the breaks in the system prevented users from even discovering those amazing features. Trust me, the best way to validate an idea would be to test it out.

2. Find the right channel.

Go for low-hanging fruits first. It is easier to roll out features on a ready platform. Since many people were already on Facebook Messenger, it was much easier for me to gain a solid consumer base for my bot.

3. Never stop exploring.

Before this movie chatbot, I also experimented with an SG weather chatbot. By trying your hand at various ideas and channels, you get to test out new technology and also improve your skills along the way. For all you know, it might open another door of opportunity as well.

4. Create a closed feedback loop.

What keeps you motivated to continue this project?

Two of my friends have recently joined me in this venture. Our vision is to create positive impact by bringing great weekend entertainment options to the table for movie seekers. Better user experience motivates me to continuously innovate.

To us, business and making money is secondary. Making our users’ lives better is primary.

“Own the Change You Seek” is one of our ShopBack values. If you are looking for a startup that supports new ideas and encourages employees to take up new challenges, look no further. Here, we boast a self-driven and entrepreneurial “A” team. Check out our careers page at http://careers.shopback.com/!

This article is first published on ShopBack’s Linkedin Page and shared on my LinkedIn too.

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