Here is a typical startup scenario. A company — with a team of three — suddenly finds itself with a dilemma nobody has the skill-set to solve. But it is also clear the problem is a one-time issue.
For example, immigration during hiring. It is difficult to imagine that a three-person startup can afford an immigration lawyer on retainer. Or, a short-term UX design improvement probably does not justify an additional employee.
In some countries, the obvious answer is outsourcing, but in Thailand, it actually presents a pain point.
“In Thailand there are a lot of SMEs, a lot of businesses, a lot of professionals, but they don’t match well together. The problem we are solving is [of] that matching. We connect demand with supply, we are like Uber for professional services,” ProMandate Co-Founder and CEO Patrick Monaco-Sorge tells e27.
A local alternative to the network giants
Started two months ago, ProMandate sees itself as offering a more efficient Thai alternative to the networking giants.
According to Monaco-Sorge, LinkedIn is the perfect B2B tool, but it is expensive and not overly popular in Thailand. Other social media platforms like Facebook rarely translate into employment opportunities.
“Our customers can be individuals, entrepreneurs, startups, SMEs and we are starting to have corporates as well,” he says.
With 10 employees, the service works by having customers (companies) fill out personalised forms. They will then be connected to qualified professionals to fit the need.
ProMandate says it will connect companies with five workers in 48 hours. The supplier (worker) will then offer a quote and the company can make decisions based on that information. Finally, there exists a review process to better help curate the service.
The service is free at the moment to get people on board. But future revenue will come from tokens potential employees spend to offer suppliers a quote. For example, to post a web design quote would cost five tokens while desktop repair would be two. Once ProMandate starts to charge, each token will cost THB30 (US$0.84).
ProMandate is a product of the Inspire Venture Labs incubator. Notable companies in Inspire’s portfolio include aCommerce, Deliveree and Page365.
Monaco-Sorge is optimistic about the service, and shares success stories that have come via his platform.
“We had an accountant at a big firm who suddenly had a lot of demand for her services. In less than one day, there were six job posts completed and we were able to connect her to six customers,” he says.
On competition and marketing
As one of the few job matching websites in Thailand, ProMandate has competitors in Seekster and Rigzone.
But, while with similar ideas, all three marketplaces cover different niches. Seekster focusses more on the service economy like beauty technicians or maids (with one crossover being UX/Web design). Rigzone is highly specialised towards the Oil and Gas industry.
For its part, ProMandate focusses more directly on professional industries — highlighted by the company’s initial four verticals of IT, tax and accounting, web and design as well as legal services. Popular offerings include visa and work permit services, trademarking and graphic design.
“In terms of the sector that is most requested, web design is leading the way at the moment. But, now, the demand for the four verticals is starting to be balanced. First is web design, then it is legal and accounting and IT is a bit less,” says Monaco-Sorge.
As ProMandate starts to take off the runway, Monaco-Sorge explains why the marketing strategy has to be different in a B2B as compared to a consumer-driven model.
“You can try to do a bit of Facebook here and there, but in the end it is about getting quality leads and finding people who have an urgency. There is a lot of offline effort that is required,” he says.
And…we have liftoff
To get the company off the ground, the team spent three to four months figuring out if the idea was actually a pain point.
“It was a long process. I’m a big fan of lean startups and I’ve done a lot of validation before. This means interviews with customers, going through foreign services, online services, going to events and, in the end, getting a lot of input about the pain point,” says Monaco-Sorge.
Next came six months of planning the business model, getting the website correct and educating/onboarding suppliers.
Moving forward, ProMandate is looking into regional expansion. When asked where he wants to be in a year he says,
“I would like to be established strongly in Thailand, which remains the priority, then in Vietnam and Indonesia. These would be the three countries in 12 months. B2B business requires time and relationships and it’s not like a consumer business where you can go with good funding and marketing into different countries. What is important is developing good relationships.”
He also says ProMandate will integrate more verticals like digital marketing or personal improvement.
Challenges for ProMandate
Every company faces challenges, and for ProMandate, the challenge is ensuring the matching process is of high-quality.
“That is why we always start with the customer when they post a job. And we are always talking to our suppliers. So we have segmented the supply point in a better way to better fit the need of the customers. So that has been a challenge, of course,” he says.
And when he asked if there is anything he wants to say in conclusion, the CEO finishes with a nice little learning:
“What is great is I am a foreigner and all my team is Thai. I think this is a great match. We try to have this good [mix] between a Western atmosphere in terms of the structure and process. Then with business development, [we have the] enthusiasm and ability of Thais to sell things. It is a pretty good match and the atmosphere of the team is great. So, yeah, that is pretty cool.”
Disclaimer: aCommerce is an Ardent Capital portfolio company. Ardent Capital is an investor in Optimatic Pte Ltd, the parent company of e27.