What does it take to win at Echelon?
Taamkru won ‘Echelon 2014 Launchpad Most Promising Startup Award’. But was it smooth sailing? CEO Wicharn Manawanitjarern shares the startup’s journeyBy Wicharn Manawanitjarern 18 Jun, 2014
To my non-tech startup friends, this is the highest and most recognised tech startup awards platform in Southeast Asia. Winning it gave us the bragging rights to call ourselves ‘the hottest startup of Southeast Asia’.
I still remember when Premy Thienprasiddhi first introduced Keerati Oil Inochanon and I to our chief editor Tuta Shompoo Kaotoo Mootae in late 2012. We decided to form Taamkru within our first meeting from the mutual shame that our country (Thailand) ranked eighth out of the 10 countries in the ASEAN region in education. We knew we had the best team to disrupt pre-school education. We didn’t know how it would turn out, we just knew we needed to do something. Fast.
We started user validation, crunching out prototypes, iterating features before we have even heard of the lean startup methodology. Taamkru was first launched on Jan 16, 2013 (Thailand’s Teacher’s Day). We hit the top 10 parenting websites within the first three months. After selling out ad space in the first six months, we started to look for business expansion to other channels. Around the same time, the mobile trend in Thailand started to explode. We saw our website being visited by mobile users, growing consistently at 30+ per cent every month. Most importantly, our free online test saw an average of 15+ min time spent per day (5x the industry average).
We decided to jump into mobile app development with Keerati, Tippatai Pattanapairoj and Wichet Manawanitjarern having zero experience in iOS app development. On the content side, Ajarn Shompoo and Sirikul Usubanun also had no experience in Adobe Illustrator. But we had a very clear mutual goal; to be the #1 education app in the Thai App Store by early 2014! Krating Poonpol joined us in late 2013 as Advisor. We created a lucrative marketing plan to meet our even more lucrative metrics. Premy and I started to visit countless kindergartens to test our product with hundreds of children.
We discovered that the nationwide pre-school competition we ran to boost in-app usage time turned out to be the largest kindergarten competition in Thailand. It was the first time that as a team, we fully relied on each other to complete the assigned tasks back-to-back to push our MVP out. Everyone was tired, everyone was overworked, but no one complained (at least not to me). We successfully released the product on time. We executed as planned and beat our goal! Our tiresome nights and days have been rewarded with landing #1 Education App and #1 Kids App at the same time! We were unstoppable!
I started the fundraising process without even knowing it. We got invited to several regional pitch stages and even to Silicon Valley! Each pitch stage gave me valuable feedback to improve my pitch every time. Our first major win was from Channel News Asia’s The Start-UP reality show in Singapore. It showed how much non-Thai kids like playing with our app and verified that we were making a global product. Come to think of it, we made it to the final round in every single competition we ever applied to attend.
Echelon Thailand was our next big win, which only reconfirmed that our business is attractive enough to VC judges. Back then, we didn’t know what to expect. Heck, Premy even left before they announced the winner, making me walk up the stage alone to receive the award.
Everything started to fall into place. We began to receive more praises during Q&A sessions and my pitch got closer and closer to perfection. App traction also improved over time and kids seem to enjoy our later versions much more. We executed the final plan successfully just a few days before Echelon final stage. We wanted to unveil a surprise on stage and blow everyone’s mind, especially the judges. What could be more exciting than being #1 Education App in a country with arguably the best education system in the world? How about replicating Thailand’s success by landing #1 in two categories (kids and education) at the same time!
Then came the big day! I was nervous when I first saw the room full of audience. It was by far, the largest stage I have ever pitched on. The energy of the crowd was almost overwhelming and incomparable to the empty room during rehearsal the day before. Competition was fierce since every team was a winner of its own country. It was the final showdown of 10 teams from 10 different countries! And I couldn’t begin to explain how rewarding it was to hear that Taamkru won ‘Echelon 2014 Launchpad Most Promising Startup Award’. The sleepless nights, and all the endless efforts we put in, have finally paid off! BIG TIME!
I can never thank the whole Taamkru team enough. Keerati, Premy, Ajarn Shompoo, Wichet, Tippatai, Sirikul and even our latest member, Poom Krit! You guys are awesome! I’m so proud and honoured to travel this journey with everyone! We just proved to the world that a product with an un-sexy Thai name like Taamkru can be world-class too. On the second day at Echelon 2014, everyone could pronounce it! The thank you extends to your family members who put up with our crazy hours, yet managed to support you guys to be with us this far and I can only hope that they will continue their support (for the rest of your life!).
Krating, you are the real man behind our success! You are much more than just the member of the Board of Directors or Advisor. You were there for us when we needed you the most, all the uphill battles behind the scenes, all the pain we went through, the mistakes we made together. But most importantly, we are so proud to have you with us when we made it!! Like I have said many times, we learned everything from you. Bros for life man!
To the over 100 people in Thai tech community who cheered for us in Singapore, you guys rock! The perfect timing of the cheer that we orchestrated helped lead the audience engagement. It lit up the room dramatically when we needed it. We just proved to whole of SEA that Thailand still produces the hottest startups in the region by winning at two Echelon events in the past three years. Thailand FTW!
To Elaine Huang, Saiyai Sakawee, Oranuch Lerdsuwankij and all the media people who rooted for Taamkru regardless whether you are a Thai national or not, we are so grateful to have your support. Every article you published about us to keep us in the loop of tech community, got us closer to winning Echelon. Thank you so much for believing in us all the way.
To Disrupt University community back in Thailand, we are at the forefront of tech startup community of this region. Believe it or not, what P’Krating taught us beat any accelerator programme in Thailand. So far, Disrupt has produced the most number of successful graduates in Thai tech community, hands down. It’s time to show the world what we’ve learned and make our dreams a reality. If any startup from Thailand is going to be a contender to win Echelon 2015, I’m sure it is going to come from us. Disrupt rules!
To those that I cannot openly name yet, you know your contribution, and we are more than grateful to have you as part of our success. The time to reveal your names will come soon and we will make sure that all the credits will be given when its due.
Last but not least, to all doubters… you actually play a massive role in our success. You kept us motivated when we were down, you made us stronger and hungry for winning more than ever. You beat our team morale, yet boosted our teamwork. And we will make sure Taamkru will continue to prove you wrong!