Starting today, e27 will be throwing spotlight on the startups from JFDI accelerator. We will be speaking to these innovative startups to know what inspire them and what do they aspire for. Read on for their interesting accounts.
Surawat Promyotin, the CEO and Co-founder of JFDI startup Stylhunt, is an American-born Thai raised with a mixture of western and Thai culture. Originally educated in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at UC, Berkeley, he went on to do Business Administration at Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration of Chulalongkorn University.
With a career spanning Silicon Valley and Thailand, he has held management positions in various domains, from engineering, product management and HR to sales and marketing. In Silicon Valley, he managed strategic marketing in Maxim Integrated Products. He also established a new product line that launched over 20 products into the global market.
Closer to home, he co-founded Groupon Thailand and developed its sales force, serving as its Sales Director. After this stint, he won the National Field Sales Director award at Lyreco, a French company spanning multiple countries, before leaving the corporate world entirely to join the startup sector in the form of Stylhunt.
An excerpt from the chat:
What led you to create Stylhunt?
We wanted to create a search engine that helped people discover online shops, especially those operating on social media (i.e. Facebook and Instagram). These shops often attract shoppers through popularity and trust, rather than advertising. This makes it very community-driven and we felt that we could create a business based around that.
Who are your founders and what do they bring to the mix?.
While I was still with Groupon, I met these young Thai entrepreneurs who were eBay power sellers, selling automotive diagnostic equipment sourced from China in the US and Australian markets. These were Phiraphon Penmas, Pitchapol Penmas and Kongkiat Supagitjongjaroen. They’d met each other at school. I immediately recognised that the team had grit, innovation and passion, so I decided to adopt and develop an advisory role with them. During this time, they also recruited a talented young software developer, Methee Treewichian, to the team. By the end of 2013, I was convinced I could trust and lead this team. In January 2014, I left my corporate career and joined Stylhunt.
What exactly is the concept of Stylhunt?
To be clear, we’re not selling anything. Google doesn’t sell anything, they facilitate e-commerce. So do we. We sell sponsored search results and advertising, based around Google’s business model. We aggregate shops and index them by popularity, trust and categories. Our mobile app is going to be modelled on Tinder. Right now, our MVP (minimum viable product) is a mobile-responsive web front that’s being tested, with the aim of evolving towards a mobile app. Basically, we’re creating a hybrid of Google, Yelp and Tinder. Rather than hundreds of clicks, we reduce it to a single digit number. For example, using Google, it takes more than 500 clicks through search results to find just one of the Top 20 Facebook shops in Thailand.
Through Stylhunt, we can support and empower local e-commerce in Thailand, which is often under-represented and overlooked in Thailand’s tech scene. We make it easier for them to be discovered by millions of online shoppers, many of whom don’t realise that there are more than 30 shops in the clothing category alone, who have 100,000 to more than 1,300,000 likes.
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What are the greatest technical challenges you’ve faced so far?
The challenges are on the mobile development front, since our coder is from a web development background. That’s why we did our MVP as a web front, making it web responsive first. We plan to evolve from there.
What do you think are the challenges in Asian e-commerce?
Our thesis is that e-commerce in Asia is fundamentally different from the West. It’s a completely different culture. Big giants from the West like Amazon don’t just take over. The way people shop is different on the basis of payment, logistics and trust, a cultural literacy that these large MNCs lack. Why do people in Thailand predominantly buy through social media? Their initial exposure to e-commerce was through social media, not online marketplaces, so there’s a divergence. The start of e-commerce is through social platforms, rather than online marketplaces, so there’s a divergence. And the companies that recognise this have a competitive advantage.
What’s your brand strategy?
We’re using the silhouette of a girl with a bow, since most of our products are fashion and beauty. We chose a symbol that balances between chic feminine sensibilities and a strong female identity, which ties into a business model empowering consumers to dictate their own shopping habits. This is crowd-curated vs. merchant-curated shopping. It’s what the community wants vs. what the merchants promote — bottom-up vs. top-down.
How do you plan to export the model and adapt commercially to other markets? We will target developing e-commerce markets (e.g. Russia, China, India) where online shopping has been introduced through mobile phones and social media, in the growing middle class. Many of these markets include highly informal economies built around community. These are well-served by social media commerce, and can benefit from our model.
What are your long-term expansion goals for Southeast Asia?
Naturally, we start in Thailand then move on to Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia. We’re looking at sponsored search content and native advertising, as well as promotions and flash sales, along with selling consumer data.
Are big and established markets like Japan and China on the cards?
Not at the moment, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen down the road.
Could your model work in the Western markets?
I think it would do well in Latin America, as well as emerging Western markets. These are locales that have a strong collective identity, and it is where we feel we have strong possibilities for traction. It’s the whole developing market aspect, as the internet has only recently arrived. Because of this timing, these markets end up looking this way.
Developed economies followed a traditional technology adoption curve, but emerging economies leapfrogged many of the obstacles and entered at a higher point in the curve, when the technology is already more mature and mobile-enabled, with social media networks developed. For developing markets, it’s not a smooth evolution. When services arrive, they come immediately through the fastest and most successful means available: Mobile platforms and social media.