There’s a Waffle for everyone
Some like it drenched in maple syrup, while others prefer a side of fried chicken. When you order it in Singapore’s pasar malam, or night markets, you can even choose from a bewildering spread of blueberry sauce, peanut butter or Nutella. Or you can simply have it plain.
Waffle is that confectionary delight where versatility seems embedded into its symmetrical square pockets. And it is this adaptability that the NUS Class of 2020’s Zames Chua and Auston Quek hope to bake into their creation, suitably named Waffle Technologies.
This year-old start-up produces point-of-sale and customer loyalty software for F&B outlets, and it wants its tech solutions to appeal to all types of retail needs.
“Do you want it to be part of your accounting system? Or you prefer to integrate it with your inventory? Every F&B business is different and we want to make it such that anyone can work with our software,” said Zames.
After only five months, they are already smelling the sweet aroma of Waffle’s success. Its programmes are used in 42 locations in Singapore, including well-known brands like Barcook Bakery, Tea Tree Café and Lee Wee & Brothers.
Their mentor, Professor Francis Yeoh from the NUS School of Computing (SoC), is excited about the start-up. “I was very impressed with this initiative – they are taking start-up advice to heart. Auston and Zames are high energy, enthusiastic, yet humble and eager to learn. And they are having a great time too! We have high hopes for this company!”
Waffle, the business, not the food, got its start in NUS. When Zames and Auston met at the orientation of the NUS Overseas Colleges programme, they hit it off quickly. Zames was the quiet geek who loved to code from SoC and NUS Tembusu College, while Auston was the loquacious extrovert who studied Communications and New Media at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and stayed in NUS Kent Ridge Hall.
But they were both keen to get into the start-up scene and decided to be housemates in San Mateo during their year of study and internship in Silicon Valley.
“NOC really was a life-changer and an eye-opener!” enthused Auston.
“Meeting founders from amazing start-ups, getting soaked into the whole start-up scene there via conferences, meetups, talks – these got us excited to dare to try, and solve a problem that we were passionate about. Being in Silicon Valley was one thing, but the NOC program also puts us through a rigorous entrepreneurship curriculum, and meaningful courses to hone our skills to get us ready for this challenge.”
It helped that food was a common denominator.
“We are both huge foodies,” shared Zames. “We must have visited hundreds of F&B outlets, from bubble tea shops to crepe cafes.” One of their favourite haunts in San Mateo was, you guess it, a waffle shop.
On one of their particularly long food sojourns to Los Angeles, they entered a café, gave their orders to the cashier, and were impressed not only with the double tablet point-of-sale devices – for both cashier and customer – but also the efficiency in which the orders were processed by the baristas.
When they made payment, the device was also able to identify that it was their first trip to LA and immediately generated an e-receipt to their e-mail addresses, recalled Auston.
“Wow, it was like 10 years ahead of what we were used to back home,” he said. “How did it know it was our first time in LA?”
Conquering the offline space
They wanted to recreate their experience in Singapore. On their return, they found an F&B retail scene which remained stuck in the past when it comes to point-of-sale.
“We saw big clunky machines that still ran on Windows 95, a ton of wires, most of which were not integrated at all,” shared Auston, who graduated in 2020 along with Zames.
Back in their fast-paced home, they found ironically point-of-sale systems which did not fit the speed of lifestyles. “In Singapore, people like to buy and go. We are not interested in having a chat with the cashier or the hawker,” said Zames. “So we found customers lashing out at the poor cashier aunty because she was a little slow.”
To solve this, Waffle Tech produced an easy-to-use app on a double tablet system, allowing the customer to also see the transaction experience when purchasing food and drinks. With the help of Prof Yeoh’s network of contacts, the pair launched their business during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To adapt to the local context, they ensured their app could work offline since many hawkers and even retailers struggle to get consistent and strong Internet connection.
“Many of our clients are located in the basement of shopping malls, where the connection is weak or patchy – such as Changi City Point,” said Auston, who termed them “the B1 people”.
Looking to the future
Having come so far, Zames and Auston credit the nurturing start-up ecosystem at NUS. Other than the NOC programme, which helped them kick-start their dreams, they received support from NUS Enterprise and The Furnace at SoC.
“Getting incubated at The Furnace was super amazing, there are tons of resources out there like an office space and Amazon Web Services credits that are super helpful for a small company like ours,” said Zames.
The community support, including learning from real founders and mentors such as Prof Yeoh, has also been invaluable.
Waffle Tech, who has five full-timers including the pair, is moving to its new project. It is looking to integrate loyalty systems into its point-of-sale software. This, they hope, will help their clients obtain more sustained sales.
The aim is to become the “Shopify of offline businesses”, said Auston, referring to the online business platform. “When you start a brick and mortar F&B shop, we want you to think of Waffle first,” he said.
And you can have it any way you want.