The way Jacqueline Ye tells it, Delegate was born out of illicit Kopi dates. Ye was a woman who knew what she wanted. She wanted to start her own business and she wanted Melissa Lou as her Co-founder.
The Kopi must have been pretty good (or, more likely, Ye was just persistent). Three years later, the duo’s company is a growing events-based marketplace that boasts 70,000 users and 1,700 vendors.
“This is the most functional relationship the both of us have had in our lives. We basically have a child together, but there is no romance, so there is no incentive to want to stay together except for the business. A lot of the skills in managing relationships I’ve learned with my relationship with Mel. And vice versa,” said Ye in a conversation with e27.
Today, Delegate announced it has raised a US$1 million pre-Series A from an unnamed family office and Yang Bin Kwok, the former CTO of Zopim (one of Singapore’s most visible startup success stories).
The money will be used to expand into the US and Australia and improve its PRO SaaS product.
Delegate is a platform for people to find vendors who may be a good fit to manage their event — be it a big celebration like a funding party, or a special night to propose to a loved one. This, in turn, makes it a good place for vendors to advertise their services.
Delegate takes five per cent from every transaction and its freemium SaaS product, PRO, is a subscription service.
The goal of Delegate PRO is to help vendors manage their business online. It offers services like lead generation, customer relationship management (CRM) and a payments platform. Ye and Lou are also flirting with the idea of building a calendar and installment payment services.
They also try to incentivise customers with deals and preferential prices. For corporate clients, the company has a concierge service to manage the relationship with vendors.
Finally, Delegate is also dabbling with blockchain. Ye and Lou were very clear about not pursuing an ICO, but they do want to use the technology to improve the rating/review infrastructure for vendors.
“A big problem vendors have is that they have an issue with qualified leads and they get spammed a lot. [We want to] build something that could be embedded on any marketplace, a reputation and rating system,” said Lou.
The perk of the blockchain is the reviews are immutable, which would help quality companies see fair rewards for their good work.
Raising from family offices
One of the interesting quirks of this round is Delegate provides another data point on a notable trend: Startups are looking beyond venture capitalists to raise funds.
Every startup is unique, and they have their own specific reasons for raising funds from whomever they chose. But it seems, in 2019, avenues that were once hyper risk-averse are now proving to be reasonable avenues for fundraising.
For example, Delegate had a strict hard-cap at US$1 million, which almost immediately eliminated a portion of the VC industry. They were less desperate to raise money, so the funding was never going to involve a pumped-up valuation or a large slice of equity.
“We didn’t need a big chunk of money, we needed less than what [VCs] would be willing to put in,” said Lou.
“We feel our product has reached enough maturity to need a sum of money to provide a good company structure. To hire the right expertise to grow and scale the product.” she said.
In 2019, it will be interesting to watch the source money for startups.
The next big challenge for Delegate is expanding into the US and Australia. The team chose those countries because — in the event space — the markets are similar to Hong Kong and Singapore. Delegate recently ran a product-market-fit experiment and discovered it was receiving a lot of queries from Los Angeles and Austin, Texas.
Obviously accomplishing this goal will not be easy, but, when asked what they want to be telling e27 in a year, Ye blurted out “We made it in America!”. Then the burden of the tape recorder led to an awkward chuckle.
In reality, the long term goal of Delegate is to be a place for people to regularly visit. The issue with the events industry is that people really only use the services when it’s an important moment: be it a wedding, a corporate anniversary or a gigantic money-maker like Echelon.
Lou said she hopes Delegate becomes more of a “household brand” and that it will be a go-to place for smaller scale events like birthdays, house parties and even romantic moments with a loved one.
“I want Delegate to be a household name like AirBnB is for alternative accommodation,” she said.
Not bad for an idea born out of some illicit Kopi dates.
Siew Dai please.