Booster shot drives start-ups

Mok (left) with Somsak

Two Asian start-ups which have received’s Booster grants as reported in yesterday’s TTG Asia are driven to scale up their businesses by ramping up marketing and improving technology.

Singapore’s Backstreet Academy, which pitched its case for a grant of 400,000 euros (US$470,029) and got it, is finally able to open a headquarters in Yogyakarta. Its three founders have practically been living in the back streets of countries in South-east Asia for the past three years, although the upside to this is it gave them real insights “to empower those at the bottom of the pyramid” to earn a living by delivering unique experiences to tourists.

From fellow grant applicants to business partners: Mok (left) and Somsak

“These people have so little to live on and their passion for life is to do better. A challenge for the industry is to see how the bottom of the pyramid is a huge opportunity that can be tapped, instead of seeing them as ‘hand-outs’, and how we can empower them to do their own business, not as suppliers but as real entrepreneurs,” said Jamon Mok, founder & CEO of Backstreet Academy.

With the Booster fund, Mok plans to increase business through visual marketing and growing the offline channel.

“A lot of people are interested in, say, knife-making in Laos, but can’t visualise the experience. So we’ll be creating short films to showcase the experiences better,” said Mok. “We will also be building up the offline channel with local hotels, travel agents, etc, so that more are aware of what we do and will book us.

“As well, we need to improve the technology, in areas such as booking directly through Line or WhatsApp and having a 24/7 communication channel – we have had an issue where customers were unable to locate their guide. We also want to expand to more remote areas in the region.”

Local Alike, which has been focusing on Thailand for the past seven years, where it works with 70 villages across the kingdom to deliver authentic experiences to tourists while improving the livelihoods of communities, believes it is time for it to expand to outside Thailand.

Founder & CEO Somsak Boonkam said the company had started to invest in Vietnam with a local partner, currently working with five communities in Hoi An and Danang.

Somsak added the Booster fund would enable Local Alike to expand its source markets to Europe, from just Thai and Asian customers currently.

“We also learnt a lot from on the technology side. We need to redesign our system to make it friendlier.

“As well, we hold 13 workshops for the communities, imparting our knowledge on developing homestays or how to ensure the experience is up to standards. We would like to host this online. By doing this, we will free ourselves and this will enable us to scale far quicker,” he said.

Somsak was particularly impressed by how the Booster programme was laid out. “It was over three weeks (of learning and mentoring in Amsterdam last June). Nobody did that kind of thing for us before, that is, invested so much in us.

“It’s not just imparting the know-how, but they brought us together and we were able to build personal connections and become friends. In fact, Backstreet Academy has also become our partner. As our product is in sync with their philosophy, we will be using their platform for distribution,” said Somsak, which added the partnership with Backstreet would go live soon.

Backstreet’s Mok agreed it was “not easy for start-ups like us to tap into travel industry expertise”.

“Booster gave us access to a lot of experience. We learnt more about marketing, positioning, technology – it was all so forthcoming,” he said.

When asked if Booster would continue to be held in 2018, Marianne Gybels, Booking Cares manager, said an announcement would be made in December.

  • reporting from ITB Asia 2017
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