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Alvin Singh is a quintessential engineer; he sees problems, and he solves them.

After letting his tax slip for the past few years, Singh thought it was time to get on top of things. Excel wouldn’t do. Singh wrote some software which could scan his past bank statements and show where and when he’d spent money. After showing it to some friends, Singh realised he could build his tool into something which could be used by others.

A few weeks later Pocketbook was born. Between May this year and now, Singh built the platform, pitched at SydStart, and launched a private beta.

“I wanted to see if it was something people wanted,” says Singh.

“People started talking about it. I put the word out on my blog, and it spread through Facebook and LinkedIn.”

You may have heard about some of Singh’s other creations. In 2009, he upset CityRail with Transit Sydney, a timetable app he built for iPhone. At that time governments hadn’t yet cottoned on to the benefits of opening up data for people to code with. The app took just three months to build, was downloaded more than 100,000 times, and reached the Top 10 in paid apps in the Australian App Store. He has also created a Fijian classifieds site and a number of other mobile apps.

Pocketbook founder Alvin Singh pitching at SydStart (Image: supplied)

User security: on building trust

Re-assuring people that their banking data is safe is a challenge with any financial product. It’s been no different with Pocketbook. With constant media about the latest fraudulent email purporting to be from a bank, it’s no wonder. Singh says he is trying to following the example set by Mint.com in the US. They now have a positive reputation, and people trust their platform. Their strategy was been focussed on building user engagement; and as a result, trust.

“It’s a trust exercise with the user. You need to make sure there is a face; that people know it’s Alvin.”

Mint provide tips on thinks like managing your money, picking financial advisers, and how to improve your credit rating. Mint also reaches out to its audience on Facebook and Twitter. Singh says by providing useful information they build a relationship with potential users.

Aside from having the best security measures in place (there’s a page with security information on the site), Singh says it’s really a confidence game. Singh says people trust well-known brands. People are more likely to trust ANZ Money Manager, for example, because it has the backing of one of the ‘Big Four’ banks.

“Some users are quite risk averse and wouldn’t ever want to hand over their details. They’re not our market.”

He’d like to partner with the banks, but getting to them is difficult. It’s hard to find the right person and even harder to get in touch with them, says Singh.

Beta testing: keeping it simple

The beta testing consists of activity testing, monitoring user analytics and collecting feedback on the site and through user interviews; being conducted by Bosco Tan, previously CEO of GetListed (check out our recent story on Tan), who is now working with Singh on Pocketbook.

Singh says things have to stay simple. When he receives user feedback, he asks himself whether it fits in with the DNA of the brand. That is, does it keep things simple and make the product better for all users?

He is using currently tools including Google Analytics, MixPanel and MailChimp to provide information on user behaviour.

There are no agreed benchmarks for what constitutes an engaged user. Singh disagrees with Facebook’s definition of an ‘engaged user’ as someone who logs in at least once a month. He says Pocketbook wants users who will be using the tools once a week; whether they are logging in to check transactions or opening an email update.

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