Bootstrappers EP#03: Follow your heart, says Jerome Chan of Ideas Incubator

Don’t forget your passion, and build a strong core team, advises Chan of Ideas Incubator and Petfie

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Two weeks ago, we brought you the chat we had with Ian Tay (Pixaroll), and last week, we spoke to Kyaw Lin Oo (EventNook). Both entrepreneurs had started their companies from scratch without a single cent of external financing. This week, we have Jerome Chan from Ideas Incubator, who talks about following your heart and allowing passion to fuel your idea forward. Say Hello to Chan, the Co-founder of Petfie, a social network for pet lovers.

If you liked the podcasts, let us know in the comments section below!

Here is the full transcript (edited for grammar):

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 Jerome Chan, who is also the Founder of Petfie and Ideas Incubator. Hi Jerome!
Chan: Hi there.

Elaine: Jerome, in a nutshell, what’s Petfie and Ideas Incubator all about?
Chan: Ideas Incubator is one of my brainchildren. I started this with a friend three years ago. It’s an advertising and PR agency. Just not too long ago, about a last year, we decided to build an animal-related app. As an animal lover myself, I’ve always liked the idea of building something in which I have an interest in. So, we started (work) on Petfie, a social networking site for pet owners and their pets. However, to do so, we’ll be building a community for pet lovers, animal lovers, animal-related organisations, as well as government agencies and businesses together.

Elaine: Is this on mobile or web?
Chan: We’re planning to release it on iOS first, following which we’ll release it for web and Windows phone.

Elaine: Petfie isn’t launched yet, right?
Chan: We’re still in the internal testing phase. We should aim to see Petfie in the market and on the App Store by late-May or even June.

Elaine: Okay, great! Is Petfie under Ideas Incubator, or is it another company altogether?
Chan: My plan is to incorporate a separate company to keep these two accounts aside and intact, so it’ll be easier for accounting purposes.

Elaine: And up till now, both companies are running bootstrapped?
Chan: Bootstrapped, yes.

Elaine: And what were you doing before you founded Ideas Incubator?
Chan: Before I started Ideas Incubator, I was still a student. I was doing my degree in accountancy at NTU. It started from my experience and interest in designing and copy writing. One day, I walked into a restaurant and felt that I could improve on their collaterals, designs, and tagline, which gave me the inspiration to contact the business owner. From there, I got a client. After I got the client, I decided to start my own agency.

Elaine: You actually studied accountancy! It’s a totally different field for you.
Chan: I was one of the few oddballs in the class. In accountancy, most of them would want to get into audit or banking roles. I was the only one who during class introductions would say that I’m starting my own advertising agency.

Elaine: You mentioned that you founded it with a friend; at this point, how many people do you have in your team?
Chan: Currently, I’m working with a full-time staff, and three part-time staff members.

Elaine: You know, Jerome, I’m interested to know if you considered other forms of funding? Say, government grants…
Chan: Currently, for my advertising agency, I understand that it’s not a very innovative model — it’s a tried and tested model, and in that it should work. That’s why I don’t see how government agencies would fund it. However, for Petfie, I’m exploring some forms of funding, and we think that our app can pilot in the direction of social causes, and that’s why we might consider government funding in the near future.

Elaine: And one of the most important things startups have to think about is their burn rate, which is the amount of money they spend every month. So, what was your burn rate in the initial few months when you started Ideas Incubator?
Chan: I started Ideas Incubator as a new entrepreneur — lean and mean. I did not have an office at that point in time because I was still studying. The burn rate, for me, would be the cost to outsource some of the work to freelance designers to provide quality work to my clients. At the start, the burn rate was less than a thousand every month, and that was the only expense incurred.

Elaine: What about for Petfie?
Chan: It’s mainly for development cost. We’re currently self-funded, and I’m using my own money to pay for these developers to develop this app. At the moment, we have spent up to S$8,000 (US$6,366) for this entire app till date.

Elaine: In your mind, are there certain milestones you want to hit in terms of revenue when you roll out the app?
Chan: For our app, it’s a social networking site and just as other social networking sites, users are the new currency. It’s not the merchant. For a social site to be successful, it should aim to focus on building and growing a user-model, following which, the merchants and revenues should come in. So our KPIs and milestones are more centered towards gaining a user base.

Elaine: I see. And were there any considerations that factored into your decision to go bootstrapped? Say household expenditure, rent, did you have to think about such things when you were thinking of funding the business yourself?
Chan: Both of my parents are retired with a good income, so they do not need to rely on me for income. For now, I’m comfortable with setting my own expenses.

Elaine: What were some challenges you faced then?
Chan: During the initial ideation phase of Petfie, I talked to various people such as my course mates, my professionals, my parents and my friends. All of them had different concepts of Petfie — how it should be, how it should not be. For entrepreneurs, it is essential to listen to your heart, to know what you want out of this, what your purpose of building an app is, what your purpose in the business model is because this internal passion will be the one fuelling you forward. Throughout your hard times doing business, it is this passion that will sustain everything. You can listen to advice, but do listen to your heart.

Elaine: Were there any financial challenges that you faced when you first started three years ago?
Chan: Back then, I was running my company lean and mean. I only incorporated the company when I secured my first client. I’ve always tried to balance the expenses with revenue, so even when I started off then, I managed to balance it quite well. There was rarely an instance where we were in the red.

Elaine: And you shared with me earlier when I first talked to you that you’re studying and doing your Masters, right?
Chan: Yes, I’m doing my Masters in Science of Innovation at SMU.

Elaine: You’re really studying! First, you studied accountancy and then you’re doing advertising, and you’re studying Sciences?
Chan: (It is) Masters in Science of Innovation. Actually, it’s skewed towards business management roles, where they incorporate innovation ideas and entrepreneurship.

Elaine: Did you have to convince your co-founder that starting out without any funding was a good idea?
Chan: It was initially a tough idea because for iOS apps, the development cost is one of the biggest factors out there. As for my co-founder at Petfie, he’s also an animal lover himself, so I guess that solves a lot of problems between us.

Elaine: Are there any lessons you learnt from bootstrapping that you can share with our listeners today?
Chan: It’s essential to follow your heart, because it’s passion that will tide you through the entire journey. In addition to that, it’s good to build a strong core team because people with different breadths, different depths, will be the one to provide you expertise at the end.

Elaine: That’s all the questions we have today. Thank you so much, Jerome, for coming down, and sharing your experience bootstrapping.
Chan: No problem, thanks.

Elaine: Jerome, why don’t you let our listeners know where they can find you on the internet?
Chan: I’m available on Instagram and on Twitter: @thejeromechan

Elaine: 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:

Twitter: @_osculate
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lainhuangsj

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!

Next week, we’ll listen to the last of this series of Bootstrappers with the two co-founders of Lensy! Can’t wait!

Elaine Huang

Elaine is a fervent believer that if there ever is a zombie apocalypse, we will all be snapping away at them with our phones and posting them onto Instagram. A Mass Communication graduate of Ngee Ann Polytechnic's School of Film and Media Studies, she enjoys writing about technology and entrepreneurs. When not hashtagging her way through all sorts of trouble, Elaine is probably contemplating how to write in the third person.

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