Came, coded, conquered: Meet Clarence Chan, the man behind Bandwagon
Founders need to be gung-ho, do whatever it takes to get a biz ‘ramen profitable’, says Bandwagon’s solo founder, who chose to have no Plan BBy Elaine Huang 28 Jan, 2014
It was a cold day in Helsinki, Finland. With some free time on his hand, Clarence Chan, now the 27-year-old Founder of Singapore-based startup Bandwagon, an online live music gig finder, figured that he should head out to a jazz club. He went on Google, searched ‘Jazz Club’ and picked the nearest and most reliable looking venue. Just as he was about the leave, there was a knock at his door. Standing outside was a blond German lady. She asked, “What will you be doing tonight?” Chan told her about his plans to visit the nearest jazz club. She was more than excited to tag along.
After a bus ride and a long walk which took about 30 minutes, the duo found out that the watering hole had not only been shut down, but was converted into a fishing shop. So, in subzero temperature, he apologised to his friend and felt deeply embarrassed.
His experience in Finland, as part of a student exchange programme, merely proved his point about discovering live gigs via the internet; according to Chan, a typical event website has sparse information about shows and venues. It isn’t reliable and probably isn’t the sort of material you should trust when heading out to see a live band.
During his time at Singapore Management University, Chan played the keyboard in an alternative rock band. The double major in Economics and Business Management would ask his friends to head down to a live gig to watch the band perform, but the turnout would be dismal.
“Out of 10 people, maybe only one would be interested. But out of that one person, sometimes only 0.5 would actually turn up. So maybe one out of 20 (people we ask) would turn up.”
No Plan B
“My startup story is probably one of the saddest ones you could ever find,” said Chan, as he searched for an image of the first website he ever built. He told e27 that he couldn’t find a co-founder, and it wasn’t for lack of trying.
He recounted, “I met a technopreneur, who told me, “If you’re really serious, you really need to learn how to code. To me, if I want to start a company in Japan, I better learn Japanese. If I want to start a web company, I have to learn.”
One random Wednesday afternoon, he then mustered up some courage and walked into Hackerspace, a co-working space for the hacker community to gather and learn. He had some mock-ups ready, and presented his idea to his geeky counterparts. Fortunately, a senior member of the space took notice of Chan and became a mentor to him.
He told e27, “I wanted to find a technical co-founder but couldn’t find one. No one wanted to join me. …I read this website that said you don’t find a co-founder, you earn one. I thought that was quite true.”
That means that people might not want to join you, especially if they do not resonate with the idea, and you’re just a greenhorn in the startup field. You have to prove it at some point. They are not going to do it over some random idea which doesn’t interest them.
He claims it is very important for a web entrepreneur to understand a certain degree of technical skills. “Even if you have a co-founder, I think you need to understand because sometimes, you have to deal with databases and different arrays. If we want to go into different countries, we have to think about how the database will work.”
But not having a technical co-founder did not stop him from chasing after this dream. “I tell myself I have no Plan B,” he said. “Before I left (University), I asked myself, ‘If you can get any job in the world, what would you want to do?’ – that is assuming everything was available. But, by then I wanted to start Bandwagon, so it was quite clear,” added Chan.
When there’s no plan B, you have to find a way to succeed. If you have to tweak your business model and your site, just tweak it and do whatever you need to get it ramen profitable. If I wasn’t optimistic, I wouldn’t be an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs need to have some kind of ‘gung-ho-ness’ and just do it, he shared.
Ramen profitable is a phrase coined by Paul Graham; it refers to making enough profits for cheap instant ramen noodles. At the moment, Bandwagon generates revenue through advertising spots on its website and partnerships.
Without any luck in the co-founder search department, Chan took it upon himself to do almost everything — from marketing to sales to accounts. However, he does work with an external agency to develop the website and hopefully, a mobile app should be released later this quarter.
“I interact with music lovers, find out what they like; talk to venue owners, find out what are the things they value in a site like ours, so I can give feedback to the development team,” he shared.
At the moment, his team comprises two other staff members and about 20 editorial contributors. Within a couple of months of operating the editorial site of Bandwagon, Yahoo Singapore’s Entertainment beat had started syndicating its content.
Bandwagon also works with Spotify, the music streaming service, to supply curated playlists. In return, the startup is given an official account and a custom header image within the app.
“When you focus on a certain area, make it your domain expertise. For us, it’s music. We’re familiar with the concert scene in Singapore. We know what the pubs are offering; some pubs have asked us to manage their schedule and curate it well,” concluded Chan.