This PH startup fulfills requests via SMS

MANILA, Philippines – Although short message service (SMS) is a staple of Filipino life, few businesses have been built around this form of communication. One of the interesting startups to do so is the recently launched HeyKuya, which was founded by company builder Machine Ventures and began with a simple premise.

Anything you want via SMS

When HeyKuya receives a request, Shabibi says a kuya checks all different options present to the user and then coordinates with different establishments to get him or her what they need in the fastest and easiest way

"Imagine this: You can get almost anything done through text. Sounds crazy right? Well, it is," said Shahab Shabibi, one of the co-founders of HeyKuya, adding that Filipino patrons have simply grown accustomed to bad customer service.

HeyKuya is being positioned as the opposite: If a customer texts an inquiry into either of their two phone numbers – they have one for each carrier – a kuya  (older brother) can help a customer do everything from booking movie tickets or hailing a private car to get directions, and ordering flowers.

Shabibi said that HeyKuya was partly inspired by his own struggles. He would spend a significant amount of his time doing menial tasks, all while holding down a full time job. "I wanted a solution that allowed me to focus on what matters," he said. "HeyKuya was born to make life easier."

They ultimately chose to build the HeyKuya platform around SMS so that it could be accessible to users even when they do not have an Internet connection. The most interesting part of this system is on the fulfillment end.

The ‘kuyas’ behind the scenes

'Attempting to fulfill so many unique requests per day is an operational challenge, so right now we are looking into different partnerships,' Shabibi says

When HeyKuya receives a request, Shabibi said that a kuya checks different options present to the user and then coordinates with different establishments to the client what he or she needs in the fastest and easiest way.

As this could involve anything from customer service hotlines, booking platforms, or delivery centers, the team is always trying to streamline their processes, so they can accomplish any task in faster and faster time.

Shabibi cited fulfillment as the biggest challenge of HeyKuya.

"Attempting to fulfil so many unique requests per day is an operational challenge, so right now, we are looking into different partnerships with other groups that value reliability as much as we do," he said. He added that they are focusing on developing partnerships and training their kuyas to increase the speed of fulfillment.

Although users can ask for a wide variety of requests, Shabibi said that so far, the most common are inquiries for recommendations in terms of what to eat or where to go. In some cases, they ask for a restaurant of a particular cuisine that fits within a certain budget, and is located within a certain area.

"For example, HeyKuya helped a young bachelor pick a perfect place for his date on a Friday night that fit his budget," Shabibi said.

Parcel deliveries have been another popular request on HeyKuya. As an example, Shabibi told the story of a user who wanted a mobile phone that was sold out everywhere he searched, but HeyKuya was able to locate it and deliver it to him within the same day. "Imagine the time that can be saved!" he exclaimed.

Although Shabibi wants to achieve operational excellence with HeyKuya, they are also trying to develop the image of reliability through their branding. He said that they settled on kuya because it immediately draws up the picture of a friendly manong figure whom you can count on. They also chose the term because it is humanizing.

"While many services are digitizing processes, we want people to know that the human touch is not lost yet," Shabibi said, arguing that there is no better way to do so than to make the kuya as the face of their service. It’s so relatable, in fact, that one woman user even asked the kuya out on a date.

Although people might compare HeyKuya to exclusive butler services, which are popular abroad, Shabibi said their platform is fundamentally different.

"Having someone make your life simpler and save you time should not be a luxury," he said. "Kuya is someone that people trust and even love."

According to Shabibi, their goal is to have as many Filipinos have HeyKuya’s number on their phone, knowing that it can help them get something done or find something with just a single text. On a macro level, he wants the service to save people time so that they can focus on what’s truly important to them.

"If we are able to save someone a few minutes a day, I would say that we have accomplished our goal to help the Philippines be an even more productive nation," Shabibi said. –

Rappler Business columnist Ezra Ferraz brings you Philippine business leaders, their insights, and their secrets via Executive Edge. Connect with him on Twitter: @EzraFerraz