The journey is especially lonely, said Kyaw, who has bootstrapped since 2010. He talks about the value of friendship and side projects
Is this thing on?
Last week, we announced that e27 has entered the audio space with our very first podcast series Bootstrappers. We loved our chat with Ian Tay, Co-founder, Pixaroll! To recap, he spoke about how entrepreneurs who are on the path of self-funding should find a market and understand how to make money before anything else. This week, we are rolling up our sleeves with Kyaw Lin Oo, a Burmese entrepreneur in Singapore who has founded EventNook. Here he talks about the value of friendship when working alone, and importance of side projects.
Here is the full transcript (edited for coherence)
Elaine: Hi, I’m Elaine Huang and you’re listening to Bootstrappers, a podcast all about entrepreneurs who chose the path of self-funding. In the studio today, we have Kyaw Lin Oo, who is also the Founder of Singapore-based EventNook. Kyaw, what’s EventNook all about?
Kyaw: EventNook is a self-service online event registration and ticketing platform, where you can set up an event website in five minutes, and you can launch the event immediately and sell the tickets online.
Elaine: You founded the company during end-2010, but EventNook only really came about in early 2013. What happened in between?
Kyaw: Well, when I decided to start a company in late 2010, it’s (EventNook) not the first idea that came in. I just wanted to start a company that I really wanted to work for. I thought, “Okay, maybe I can create a company that I would love to work for, and also provide a good value to customers”.
I was really thinking of a Software-as-a-Service company at that time. But after I started the software service, I realised that it is very tough in Singapore; I’m not really a sales guy, I’m just a developer.
Around this time, I came across Founder Institute and I went to the Founder Institute incubator programme.
Elaine: Oh, okay.
Kyaw: (I started in 2010 and graduated from Founder Institute in November 2011). During that time, I also went to a lot of events and I was exploring a few ideas, but those ideas were never realised. At the same time, I thought I wanted a service where I could find all the events in one place.
I explored creating an event recommendation engine. When I talked to a lot of conference organisers, (they shared) they wanted a registration solution. Existing ones were not suitable for their requirements, in terms of features, and some sort of support and pricing. So, I took this opportunity to start a registration software.
Elaine: Your technology is actually web-based, right?
Kyaw: Yep, web-based.
Elaine: And what were you doing before you founded the company?
I’m a programmer (and held) different roles working for a few companies in Singapore. One of them was Microsoft — I worked as a developer. At that time, I built an e-commerce website for Microsoft to sell its software online. So, that has helped me a lot when I did the registration (read set up EventNook), because I already understood things like payment, etc.
Elaine: That’s true. How large a team did you start the company with? Was it just you?
Kyaw: Yeah, there was only me.
Elaine: Okay. Were there any other forms of funding available to you at that point, you know, say, government grants?
Kyaw: So far no funding. It’s all my own savings and bootstrapping.
Elaine: But what about angel investors — there are a lot of them in Singapore.
Kyaw: At the moment, no funding.
Elaine: Were you in talks with them?
Kyaw: I talked to a couple. I think my pitch is not convincing to them, so they’re not interested. I’m not good at pitching.
Elaine: You started the team yourself, but did you have to convince, say, your family that bootstrapping was a good idea?
Actually, I didn’t know what bootstrapping was — (I only came to know of the concept later).
Elaine: But did you manage to convince them that not receiving funding, and starting with your money is a good idea?
Kyaw: My family is really just my wife. My parents — I think they’re okay. They’re in Myanmar and they know I’m doing good. I should be fine. But my wife and I — we were quite scared before I jumped in. It was going to be living without salary. I thought, “Okay, maybe I can try six months and go back to job after that”.
Elaine: But it has been many years…
Kyaw: … It takes a long time to understand. But along the way, I managed to survive and find a way to make some income even though it’s not a lot.
Elaine: You mean, freelancing?
Kyaw: I did some freelancing. It’s not freelancing, it’s more like consulting for software. I did a few projects. Those covered the operation costs.
Elaine: Were there any challenges you met? There were some ups and downs you mentioned to me earlier.
Kyaw: Most of the time, it’s being pessimistic. Time is limited. We all think, “What will happen if I cannot make it after I spend so many years and there’s no more time to turn back.” There is a kind of worry, when it comes to age. You worry about opportunity cost. You could have made more money working for a company. But at the same time, when you compare the learning process, it’s tremendous. I would never (have) learned if I had continued in my previous career.
Elaine: So, one of the most important things startups need to think about is their burn rate, which is the amount of money a startup spends every month. What was your burn rate for the initial few months?
Kyaw: For company cost, it was really nothing. Most of the time, office was free and I worked in Starbucks or a free office space the first year. Usually, my cost went towards MRT spend, transportation, meeting with clients; software I can build it myself. Maybe a thousand dollars. I had to spend for hosting and some stuff.
Elaine: Okay. And this is my last question to you. What are some lessons learnt from bootstrapping that you can share with our listeners?
Kyaw: Actually, bootstrapping can also be lonely. But I think bootstrapping – you have your own authority. If you do it wrong, it will all be your fault, but if you do it right, everything is your own. I think even though I am alone, I’m not really alone. Even though I didn’t get any money, I met a lot of friends who have helped me. It’s more than the money, because they introduce me to my customers. Even my first customer — I wouldn’t have got without friendship. Jeffrey Paine from the Founder Institute introduced me to my first customer. Along the way, many friends helped me with introductions.
One thing is that we have to keep costs low, otherwise there are a lot of things to worry about. If your company is spending a lot, you will stress more. Keeping the cost low is a pretty helpful tip. At the same time, when I undertake a few projects that make money, they covers (the cost) and give me more confidence as well. Side projects can be a distraction, but they can also help gain confidence.
After some time, when you work alone, without making money, you can get depression. When you make a little bit — even if it’s just a little bit like a couple of thousands — that can help you gain confidence because you still feel valuable. Sometimes, the downside of the initial couple of months or years for the first time entrepreneur is that (he/she) hasn’t seen the full cycle, so sometimes they feel quite lonely. Making small (amount of) money helps a lot.
Elaine: Okay, that’s all the questions we have today. Thank you so much Kyaw for coming down and sharing your experience bootstrapping with EventNook. Why don’t you let our listeners know where they can find you on the internet?
Kyaw: I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can follow me at @kyawlo on Twitter.
Elaine: Okay, great! And you can find me Elaine Huang. I’m a correspondent with e27 — a platform for technology and innovation in Asia, but if you want to hit me up on Twitter or Facebook, my details are all in the description section below:
This Bootstrappers series is part of the Launchbyte podcast. You can check out the main show at launchbyte.com. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading/listening to this episode of Bootstrappers! Do let us know what you think and what you would like to hear!
Last week, we spoke to Ian Tay, Co-founder, Pixaroll about generating revenue as soon as possible. Next week, we will be interviewing Jerome Chan of Ideas Incubator and Petfie! Stay tuned!