BEAM is a start-up born to make life easier to other start-ups. They organise events, have a free online platform to speed up collaborations, offer all kind of training courses for new entrepreneurs and let start-ups flow through their wide network of VCs and influencers in Japan, Singapore and Malaysia.
BEAM is the third start-up we interviewed in Malaysia and the last one for a while (since we have an exclusive about the fourth one that can’t be disclosed yet). I met two of the three founders of BEAM in a mall on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.
It’s funny the way this interview happened, I signed up for BEAM’s online platform to better connect with start-ups in Malaysia and suddenly, Kenneth one of the founders, welcomed me to the platform. Although I thought it was an auto-reply I still answered. From there, we started talking, found our respective projects interesting and arranged the interview.
Now that we know how the Ambitious Tracks-BEAM relationship started, let’s discover the secrets behind this start-up.
Who is behind BEAM?
There are three founders of BEAM, Wallace, Kenneth and Benjamin (from left to right in the picture), all from Malaysia and in their early thirties. They told me a little bit about their backgrounds.
“I (Wallace) studied mechanical engineering in Malaysia and after finishing university I did an internship in consultancy. After a year there I left and joined a friend in another company, an architecture & design firm.
I couldn’t find my passion there… I was in charge of business development and project management but I didn’t feel that I was bringing real value to my customers so I left. I was thinking about other options to do until I met Kenneth in a stock trading course.”
I (Kenneth) grew up in Malaysia but when I was 16 years old, I went to Japan. I have always been pretty involved in online marketing and computers stuff. When I graduated from university, I went straight into businesses starting a company about financial education. I did that for two years and although it went ok, I didn’t like where it was going so I sold my shares and left.
Then I was Angel investor for a while with the money I got from selling those shares and I failed in all the investments. I had friends that wanted to start something, websites and so on, so I thought, ok why not? Let’s put some money here and here… and it went pretty wrong.
I met Wallace and since we liked investing in start-ups and start-up ecosystems, we decided to start our own startup. This was in 2013.”
From GAPTION to BEAM. How the seed was planted
“Gaption was the start-up we started together. It was a social media platform, pretty similar to Snapchat but unlike on Twitter or Facebook, it was possible to monetise your activity, the more you created content, the more money you could make.
To be honest, the goal was to do it pretty much like Snapchat and then sell it to them, but that never happened. We didn’t manage to grow fast enough. We raised $150.000 dollars in a first funding round but we couldn’t get a second one. At the peak of Gaption, there were 100.000 users, but they were dispersed all around the world and a lot of them ended up leaving the platform.
Towards the end of that start-up, well, it’s still alive so let’s say towards the end of our focus on that start-up, we created an event in Kuala Lumpur to bring together entrepreneurs and friends from the startup scene. It was a panel session with popular people from around the country and about 80 people attended (we didn’t expect more than 40). They really liked the event and asked us when the next one was going to be. It was December 2015 and that’s how BEAM started.”
I found it very interesting to see how a random choice suddenly became the seed of what would be their next start-up. Let’s see how they turned that event into a profitable start-up in one year.
From an event to a cross borders platform for entrepreneurs
“After that, we felt we had brought value to these people. They all looked happy and were asking for the next event so we thought that we could start a community of entrepreneurs. We decided to copy part of the technical part we used in Gaption and bring it to the business world, creating a business social media platform, which is BEAM today.”
Business social media platform? I guess you have heard about this before. So I asked Kenneth and Wallace: what’s the difference between LinkedIn and BEAM?
“The positioning is totally different. If Facebook is on the left, we are on the right and LinkedIn is in the middle. We focus on making it very easy for people to collaborate and talk to each other, but with the emphasis on businesses so that users can create start-ups, invest in them or find partners much easier.
Moreover, we complement this online platform by organising events. We usually invite around 4-5 popular people to these events and interview them.
Our goal is to better support people who do business. They need a lot of support at the beginning, education on how to sell, how to acquire leads, how to raise capital, how to hire a good developer, so we use events and training to help them in these topics.”
I try to challenge the guys from BEAM a little bit, suggesting that there is no revolutionary breakthrough or a big innovation in what they do and asked them where their core value is.
“I (Kenneth) totally agree that what we do is nothing special if you just look separately at the activities and services we provide. The online platform is a chat with content and the events are just events, better or worse but the concept isn’t revolutionary.
The great thing about us is how we combine all our resources, how we combine and leverage the online platform, with the physical events, with the training and with BEAM’s network of entrepreneurs and VCs.
Our value proposition is that if you work with us, you are going to succeed much faster than working without us. If you want to build a startup you’ll do it much faster with us too. We are able to drive a lot of growth right from the beginning, which is the most difficult thing when you are starting.
If you need funds, BEAM is the place to look for it. We work with over 100 investors nowadays, mostly from Singapore, and if you need training, we will provide it too.
We could be seen as a baby-sitter as well. The baby is the start-up and the parents are the VCs. They can’t always be there so they need someone to take care, support and educate them.”
After this crystal clear analogy (I love these kind of analogies), I asked Kenneth and Wallace about the current situation of BEAM.
“We are now running events in 3 countries: Japan, Malaysia and Singapore. We run them quarterly and have a major event once a year with more than 1.000 attendees.
We launched the App for the online platform in June 2016. We have now over 12.000 registered users from Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia and Japan (in that order from more to less), mostly start-ups, entrepreneurs, professionals and investors. The reason why Japan isn’t that big is because the platform is still not in Japanese, our presence there it’s relatively new.”
I had already used the platform and saw that there is no charge to sign up, so I ask them what their revenue model is.
“Part of the money is coming from the events, we charge around $15 per event with food and drinks included. Other sources of revenues are sponsorships and trainings. We have immersion programs too, where people pay around $2.000 and are introduced to startup ecosystems like the Japanese or the Singaporean ones.”
As always, I’m pretty interested in the challenges they had to overcome to get where they are right now.
“We didn’t have big problems starting BEAM. We had many small problems but not a big one. While starting a company most of the problems are internal, solving conflicts and so on. In our team everyone is committed and they know what to do. It’s very important to stick to the vision as well when these little problems arise.
We don’t have a competitor, we are already making money, we are a profitable company so the need for funds would just be for expansion, we haven’t had people suing us yet, nor people trying to take us out of business, so it’s being all pretty “smooth”.
The challenges are more about the market, would it accept our proposition? Are we giving enough value to our clients? Those have been our main concerns.”
Where is the initial funding coming from?
“We are a venture funded company. They came to one of the events in Malaysia and they liked what we are doing. We liked what they are doing too and we got a deal. We raised enough money to run the company for a year thanks to a generous valuation.
We are looking to raise more money now, we have enough so far but we don’t want to think about it once we are about to run out of funds, better to do it now. We are interested not only in money but in a strategic partnership along with the investment, so that in the near future we can expand to other markets.”
What are the big plans for BEAM in the future?
“We want to consolidate our presence and operations in Malaysia and Singapore, grow in Japan, and start in the Philippines.
We will double the team size in 2017. We are looking now for 3 people, one person to handle all the expansion programs, another one to handle the operations and events in Japan and another one to do so in the Philippines. They will be in charge of beginning the operations there and building the business.
Today we are at a point in which we have a business model that works. We just have to replicate it in other places.”
I’m interested in knowing how they choose which market to go into first. Kenneth gave me some insights about that.
“We go first to markets where we know people. We attend events, join Facebook groups and try to network as much as possible to see what the possibilities are. For example in Japan, we knew some investors from Gaption plus people I met when I was living there.
It was the same in Singapore, when we were running Gaption we met more than 50 investors and VCs. We have kept contact with them, which has been critical to expand BEAM in that country.
Then we have to be aware of the necessities of each market and get adapted to that. For example, the start-up ecosystem in Singapore is more mature than in Malaysia. So they don’t need to be taught how to raise money, they already know how to do this. They are interested in more practical things like, how I can quickly grow my user base or how to expand into other markets since theirs is pretty small.
However, in Malaysia it’s still more like, how it is to work for a startup or what a startup needs to get investment. Japan is like Malaysia or even newer and the same for the Philippines.
In South East Asia, people are still learning about this. Singapore is more advanced than any other country in the region but still not at the level of China or the States.
One good thing about Singapore is that there is a big concentration of start-ups. Silicon Valley is huge but the size is huge as well. However, Singapore is a small country so everything is very concentrated and therefore the opportunities of networking are countless.
There is an area, called Block 71 in the west side of the main island where you have more than 500 start-ups in one spot. That makes the speed of connections and collaborations extremely fast. You just have to knock on the door next to yours.”
Any piece of advice for other entrepreneurs?
Wallace dared to give it.
“Advice is a big word… so let me call it a takeaway from the entrepreneurial experience. Speed of execution is more important than anything else.
Ideas can come cheap but the market changes fast and competitors too. The ability to find a market fit and execute it as soon as possible is the way to stay relevant in the market.”
Concise and straight to the point, move fast or die. With this wise piece of advice we concluded the interview.
Thanks BEAM for the great lesson on how to reutilise the knowledge and network from a previous failed start-up, clearly showing that whenever a door closes, a window might be opening somewhere else.
That’s all for this week! We have something big prepared for next week so sign up below if you don’t want to miss it! 😉