Air-Con Cleaning? Private Detective? Party Clown? Get-It-Done App Toby Has It All

By Lauren James

Jason Zheng, co-founder and CEO of services marketplace Toby, explains why customers must always come first and reveals his business wisdom for all

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Jason Zheng, CEO and co-founder of services marketplace Toby
Cover  Jason Zheng, CEO and co-founder of services marketplace Toby

In the What Matters To Me series, a Gen.T honouree describes what they do, why they do it and why it matters. 

From sourcing magicians to hiring plumbers, there are few needs that aren’t catered for by Toby. The online platform, founded by Jason Zheng in 2016, takes the stress and hassle out of booking services, and connects vetted and skilled professionals with customers. Zheng started his career in investment banking before turning his hand to tech startups. Here, he reveals why he always felt that entrepreneurship was his destiny.

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Toby solves the issue of trying to find qualified local service providers. Finding a handyman or cleaner is [traditionally] a hassle. So we built a platform where you submit a request for, say, a handyman, and handymen on the platform are notified and can submit a quotation. We have about 400,000 registered users and get about 1,000 service requests a day. Service e-commerce was affected by Covid. But there were positives as well: people saw the benefits of booking in advance for categories like hair salons.

The biggest contributing factor to Toby’s growth is being customer-centric because the biggest value-add for merchants is helping them find customers. We simplify our product and provide the best merchant account services possible, so that they’re sticky on our platform, and they know how best to use it to gain more business. We also help them accumulate reviews, which helps users make better hiring decisions.

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Accessible via app or desktop, Toby connects customers with trusted service professionals
Above  Accessible via app or desktop, Toby connects customers with trusted service professionals

I was born in China, in Guangdong province. I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. My dad’s company manufactures seawater desalination equipment. All my uncles hustled in some way. So I was taught early on that working for yourself is the right career path. When I was ten, I moved to Canada. I studied finance and economics before entering investment banking in Hong Kong. Around my second year, an opportunity came knocking. My mentor, a private equity investor and entrepreneur, asked whether I wanted to join him in starting a tech company. It was the excuse I needed to get into this field, so I hopped on immediately, despite resistance from my family, who worried about me leaving banking.

That company was Boxful, a door-to-door self-storage service. After a year, we realised that Hong Kong is so small that we’d have to expand into other categories. We found a lack of good products in the market, so we decided to launch a new company and this is how Toby came about. Now, I’m been in Shanghai trying to build a new company in health insurance. I may have overdone this entrepreneurship thing.

Starting a business is about being able to start small. If you set a gigantic goal, like being the next Uber, you’re never going to find your first batch of customers and your product is going to be too big and unfocused. If you have small goals initially, there’s a bigger chance of you having a more successful product, expanding your market size and taking it to the next level. Start small and accept failures.

See other honourees from the Technology category of the Gen.T List 2021.

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