Stefan Lim, CEO, GigOut: Mixing personal with business
For a long time, Singaporean entrepreneur Stefan Lim’s app idea was just two sheets of paper. How did he turn it into a reality?By Elaine Huang 26 Jun, 2014
Ray Bradbury, Steve Jobs, and Paul Graham all said the same thing at one point. Love what you do and do what you love. Of course, the adage does not come without potential perils.
Singaporean first-time entrepreneur Stefan Lim, CEO, GigOut, was fortunate enough to learn this through life experiences. Time after time, he found himself drawn back to music — his first love, even as he tried out other things.
For example, after Lim completed a diploma in Engineering with a local polytechnic, served a bond with the Army, and took up a job as a real estate agent, he flew to Los Angeles, USA, and studied Music Business at Azusa Pacific University.
During his time in Los Angeles, he also worked with the Grammy Awards, LiveNation, Universal Music and some music licensing houses that place music on TV shows like CSI and House. He was also a session percussionist for some singers and bands in Hollywood.
Then, he came home to sunny Singapore and worked as Marketing Manager at local CD franchise Gramophone, where he first came up with the idea of GigOut, and later, at mobile rewards startup Gimmie.
Finally, after a series of events, he was led back to starting GigOut, a concert discovery app. Something he understood and loved dearly.
It all started at Gramophone. In March 2010, he returned to Singapore, and started work at the now-defunct local music retail store. His co-workers would often go up to him and enthuse about the next big concert in the city-state. The next big concert he had no idea about. “Why isn’t there a place that just puts all the concerts together? Even the major sites don’t cover everything,” he told this author.
He added that there used to be a lady who would manually distribute printed flyers of consolidated upcoming acts — both internationally and locally — but that was short-lived. “It’s not sustainable,” he said. Apps were still a relatively new concept then. But Lim thought to himself, “There should be an app for this.”
So, he started drawing workflows. “I didn’t know design. (In 2010), all the apps were ugly,” he said. His obvious lack of design knowledge was never a deterrent. In fact, the self-professed nerd spent his weekends researching in the library, downloading apps and validating his idea.
He said, “I already have ideas for up to GigOut version 10. We’re only at version one. There are a lot more cool features that I want to implement. I have easily downloaded more than 100 event apps to try out.”
Fast forward to mid-2011, Lim, who had left Gramophone in end-2010, received a LinkedIn message from David Ng, CEO, Gimmie. He decided that he should join the Singaporean firm. Since GigOut wasn’t anywhere near being founded or launched, he kept the rough drafts at the back of his mind. It is safe to say that these sheets of paper stayed there for a long time. Long enough that he almost forgot about them.
Until Roy Liu, CTO and Co-founder, Gimmie, and the former developer of Plants vs. Zombies, asked casually if he wanted to work on his “music app”. It wasn’t a business idea then. “(It was) just for fun. I forgot about that,” admitted Lim. Two weekends later, Liu had built him a first prototype. Lim continued working at Gimmie until March 2013.
He shared with e27, “Music is really what I understand. Rewards are great, there are lots of opportunities in Asia as well, but I thought it (music) would be closer to home. … I studied music and I worked in the music in the US. So I decided to venture into my own startup full time.”
In June 2013, GigOut was launched in beta mode. About five months later, the team released a live version, with major ticketing companies as partners. All of a sudden, music concert goers in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Hong Kong were given the ability to discover upcoming shows regionally, and book tickets via an app.
Be a drummer, join a band, tour the world
Once, Lim found himself in the midst of many other fans, watching a band play at Singapore’s Fort Canning Park. As a musician himself (he is the drummer in a local band named The Quartermasters), he saw that the performers were indeed living the life. It wasn’t for the fact that the musicians were in the limelight, or that they had a bunch of supporters. It was something simple. Those people were able to do something they loved, and got paid for it.
He repeated, “I just wanted to be happy. I knew that if I did something I truly loved and got good at it, the money would come later eventually.” Originally, he wanted to become a full-time drummer, join a band and tour the world, but Lim saw that there were bigger problems to solve.
“There are a lot more talented unknown artists and bands out there that really should be discovered. And I want to help,” he added. Marketing an event is no easy feat — unless you are Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift. Hence, instead of going for the musician route, he became the “music-business guy”.
Unlike the drummer, the “music-business guy” has more than 10 hats to wear at any given time. Lim learnt about hiring, managing a budget, accounting, business development, app development and a ton of other things. He had earlier raised an undisclosed but small sum of money to kickstart the business, and is looking to raise another round.
Entrepreneurs in the music business scene, he said, have a harder time than ones dealing with solely e-commerce or other proven routes. “We are looking for great investors who not only believe in the potential of the undisrupted live music market in Asia, but also have the right connections to help open doors to scaling the business,” he said.
The app, which was featured in the iOS App Store in Nov 2013 as ‘Best New App’ in 13 countries in Asia for two weeks, is presently available only on iOS. An Android app is in the pipeline.
He added that the company has a business model with several revenue generating points, one of which is a ticket affiliate model. “Proving value to users and partners is our main focus in the meantime,” he noted.
Going forward, Lim is looking to “figure out Asia”. He concluded, “In the US, it is very easy to find a concert. Europe is simple as well. Asia is very messy. It’s because of the different languages, payment practices and price points. I’m going to fix it. We want to be Asia’s largest concert discovery platform.”