When he found the way to save his enterprise, Ragde Falcis had unknowingly created an answer to the hardships of online merchants a year before COVID-19 exploded.
As the first anniversary of the pandemic rolled into yet another quarantine, social messaging apps like Viber and Facebook Messenger continue to bridge the widening gap between consumers and would-be entrepreneurs.
Brick-and-mortar stores shutting down demanded that sellers transition to alternative ways of reaching their customers. Before he knew it, Ragde Falcis, CEO of ChatGenie.PH had struck gold after two whole years of hard work.
ChatGenie is a mini selling app integrated into Viber and Facebook Messenger. In just a couple of clicks, anybody can access a seller’s online store with the additional convenience of speaking to and transacting with them within said messaging apps.
Established in 2018, ChatGenie started out as its name implies: a chatbot platform. Unfortunately, AI at the time was deemed too simple to handle the variety of customer responses, proving to “be a friction point because [ChatGenie] was providing incorrect auto-responses,” Ragde said.
Searching for a way to save the mini app was daunting, but determined to make the enterprise work, Ragde had stumbled upon an economic trend in China which “dominated the e-commerce inside social media apps via WeChat mini programs.”
“I thought ‘Well, this could work in the Philippines’…but Filipinos prefer Facebook Messenger to WeChat,” Ragde said.
Even as early as 2019, Ragde and his co-founder, Rolando Nicomedes Jr., envisioned the utilization of social messaging apps as sales channels to be the future of Philippine e-commerce. As the pandemic hit a year later, the future turned out to be coming much faster than they might’ve thought.
With the help of Rolando who had plenty of experience with online selling tools such as Shopify, ChatGenie’s second wind was able to go off without a hitch and immediately became much more valuable to the average merchant eager to get their feet off the ground in the midst of a pandemic, or the veteran restaurant owner unsure of how to proceed after their stores had closed.
“A lot of merchants are looking for solutions…We will not charge you, that’s something [online sellers] are looking for. They don’t want to pay for an additional online channel in this pandemic,” Ragde said. “We only charge a P10 convenience fee.”
Since its rapid ascent in 2020, ChatGenie has partnered with PayMongo, GCash, and BPI in addition to a multitude of household names to better streamline their payment process and make it as convenient as possible.
On the seller’s dashboard, merchants can easily determine existing transactions while setting up the more intricate details of handling an online business, such as detailing existing shipping methods, citing permitted delivery areas, and setting valid pay platforms. Showing a customer what payment methods are available is as simple as turning a setting on or off.
By directly embedding itself within the social messaging apps of everyday life, ChatGenie becomes an end-to-end platform by which entire transactions can be made from the confines of a single app. “We do it by combining the accessibility of Facebook Messenger, PayMongo for payments, and then Grab for delivery. It’s all in just one channel,” Ragde said.
With PayMongo, the full fruition of a seamless transaction came to light as the entire payment process can exist within ChatGenie itself, compared to “other payment platforms where you have to link out,” Ragde said.
Features within ChatGenie worked well in tandem with PayMongo’s own, Ragde also said. ”If they highlight PayMongo and ChatGenie, they have complete view of the transactions via their PayMongo dashboard and complete view of their orders via the ChatGenie dashboard,”
As of now, the mini app has reached over 1,500 merchants in addition to processing over 45,000 unique transactions and generating P100,000,000 in GMP.
With the pandemic showing no signs of letting up, ChatGenie emphasizes the importance of an omni-channel strategy, the act of diversifying where customers may view and buy your products, in the face of an increasingly ambiguous future.
Ragde said: “These days, it’s not enough to have your own ‘Brand.com.’ It makes sense for you to sell everywhere. If your customers are hanging out on social media platforms all the time, then sell inside those platforms. If your customers are used to selling inside mobile wallets, then sell inside wallets. The vision that we have for ChatGenie is to be a go-to platform for businesses that are looking to launch sales channels on unconventional ecommerce platforms, like social media or the ones I just mentioned.”
That doesn’t mean to say that one should be spread so thin, however. To this, Ragde provided a personal experience with the company. “When we launched last year, we had a very shotgun approach. We were marketing to retail brands. We were marketing to people who just sold whatever they wanted. And then we identified the merchants that stuck, 95% of them being the ones who sold food and beverages,” he said. “When we saw that, we homed in on them.”
Ragde emphasizes the importance of perseverance to those eager to enter into the local technology industry. While it is an industry that remains underfunded and where many are underpaid, it booms with competition as e-commerce becomes commonplace in all parts of the country.
ChatGenie was not immediately successful, nor immediately what it turned out to be. Before the founding of ChatGenie.PH, Ragde had since fought for two other major business ventures which turned out much differently. He had to really love what he was doing to continue.
“If you identify areas that you’re passionate about and you think you can work on it, even not getting paid industry rate, then pursue it. If it’s something that you really want, whether it’s a for-profit or a social enterprise, pursue it,” Ragde said.
*ChatGenie.PH and PayMongo, along with CloudEats and Kalibrr, are on the inaugural list of the Forbes Asia 100 to Watch list, a selection of small companies and start ups in the Asia-Pacific region making significant strides in various industries despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.