This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition in Sept. 2014.
Dating is a serious business in Hong Kong. In an era of online dating and mobile matchmaking apps, every day thousands of single men and women in the city are busy searching for prospective partners through dating services. But what about those who have found true love and want to keep hold of it?
Enter the Butlur – an online gift-giving concierge service that describes itself as “helping discerning men delight women who have everything”.
“Guys don’t like to have too many options when it comes to finding a gift. And this is a quick, stress-free way to help men find one while maintaining thoughtfulness and creative control,” says Butlur co-founder Brian Chin.
Chin was inspired to create Butlur after struggling to find gifts for women he thought had it all. Last year, he took the idea to Jessica Lam, a fashionable former classmate from Columbia Business School’s MBA programme, and the two soon quit their jobs to pursue the start-up in Hong Kong.
Finding a Butlur-tailored gift begins by filling in a brief questionnaire on your intended female recipient. From her lifestyle preference to your desired price range, the information is then processed by a proprietary algorithm and recommends three gifts out of a possible 20.
The algorithm, unique to Butlur, uses the principles of big data – even sourcing Facebook data – to deliver personal recommendations. These vary from romantic classics such as jewellery to experience-based gifts such as yachting and home-delivered cuisine.
Gift-giving partners are able to add a personal touch to the gifts through customised features such as engraved packaging and opt-in extras.
Derrick Chan reached out to Butlur in February for guidance on a Valentine’s Day gift for his partner of three years.
“We’ve been in relationship for a while, and every year it gets more and more difficult to come up with a gift. The challenge to find a new one every year ramps up because all [my] creativity was used on the previous years,” Chan says.
The Butlur algorithm recommended a candlelit home-cooked dinner for two, which included the meal ingredients already measured and washed, coasters, place settings, a linen cloth and champagne.
Chan says it was this detail-oriented approach – with his involvement – that made the experience a success. “I didn’t want to completely outsource the gift process… but I never would have thought of the additional items for our dinner.”
Butlur depends on word of mouth to help fuel sales. In the six weeks following Valentine’s Day, Chin says, their clientele increased by almost 30 per cent.
Chin and Lam also plan to target female executives to buy gifts for female friends. Butlur’s gift recipients will remain women, but Lam says it’s a shopping behaviour they’re targeting – not gender.
The founders are planning to expand their portfolio eventually to male gift recipients, but this requires additional research. “Women are more engaged in shopping and the selection process. So we need to do additional research,” Lam says.
Butlur also hopes to branch out to other markets – and New York is the first port of call. “New York is a bigger version of Hong Kong. People are busy, the city is more diverse and there is a big financial industry,” says Chin, a native New Yorker.
“We’re going to continue to test the idea in Hong Kong and then expand. In terms of what comes next – operating in New York or developing a site with male-focused gifts – we’ll just have wait and see,” Chin says.