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SHENZHEN-BASED Singaporean entrepreneur James Tan could easily come across as just one of countless serial entrepreneurs in this tech-fuelled world who have founded startups with the fancy dream of developing the next killer app.
But nothing screams "let's give him the benefit of the doubt" better than the fact that his big dream to turn his firm Moxian China into a giant integrated online to offline (O2O) social marketing platform, is backed by China's in-your-face population dividend, the bedrock of billion dollar startups such as Alibaba, Xiaomi and Tencent.
"We could be the next Alibaba in the making," said the 52-year-old diehard technology enthusiast, who is chairman and chief executive of Moxian.
Mr Tan controls Moxian which is traded on US's over-the-counter market with a market value of some US$1.2 billion.
He is visibly charged up over his firm's big takeoff next month - a complete revamp from being merely a social engine to a mobile service app that provides customers with personalised and location-based services, and eventually, with its own virtual coins and game engine to boot.
This in turn is expected to spur offline sales of merchants that sign up with it for US$1,200 a year as they get to tap the much-vaunted data analytics of users of Moxian to better market their products.
Simply put, think Uber but not just for the taxi business; it could cover a wide range of services such as car wash or repair, hair dressing, handymen, cleaners, grocery stores, bars, restaurants and the list goes on.
Having forked out US$10 million to redevelop a mobile technology app that was originally brought to him by "two young kids" from Malaysia and China two years ago, Moxian's sweet sell is that it could widen the customer reach of brick and mortar retailers, whose businesses have suffered in the online-centric era.
"The online platforms are killing the brick and mortar businesses, particularly the small and medium enterprises. For example, less people go to bookstores these days.
"If that continues, it would be disruptive as it could impact jobs, sales and even property prices," said Mr Tan, formerly chairman and chief executive of Singapore-listed Vashion Group. Mr Tan was also chief executive of another Singapore-listed firm Vantage Corp during a time when the firm was caught up in a lengthy tussle for Nasdaq-listed PacNet back in 2006 and 2007.
Enter the wonder of the big O2O, a huge pie in the e-commerce space that appears to be relatively untapped. "It would seem that the only commerce we perform is e-commerce (these days). But for all the success e-commerce has had, it merely represents 10 per cent of all retail purchases in China and the US in 2014," said Mr Tan, adding that it leaves a whopping US$7.3 trillion still being conducted in physical stores in the US and China.
Shenzhen may be fertile ground as Moxian's starting base given that it's one of the most crowded cities in China with a population of over 12 million.
Moxian now has a million users and 30,000 merchants who have signed up. In three years, he expects to draw 100 million users and over five million merchants. It also expects to break even in one to two years' time.
In July this year, Moxian entered into a private share placement exercise with Beijing Xinhua Huifeng Equity Investment Centre to raise US$8.2 million. "Our game plan in the next three years is to cover all of China and eventually, go abroad," he added.
If Moxian succeeds, it would be the big break that Mr Tan has been holding out for since he left Singapore for China in 2009 to prove his mettle in the "big, big world".
"In Asia, there are only two places where you can really do something big - India and China. I picked China," he says.
He spent the ensuing three to four years sussing out opportunities and set up an advisory firm 8i Capital Ltd to help Chinese firms seeking to list in the US, Hong Kong or Singapore. He eventually stumbled upon Moxian, a "brilliant idea" brought to him by youths who "had no clue what to do with it".
"We grabbed the concept . . . we thought that if we can turn it around to become a "Facebook" for the shops in the world, it would be exciting," he said.
The app was overhauled by a team assembled right here in Singapore. He added: "I feel very nationalistic that our team in Singapore worked on this. Singapore has wonderful products, but it's a small market and there's a whole world out there. You just have to hit the right place."