Women in Business Series Event

How to Prepare a Fundraising Pitch

At the Pitching to Investors session of the Women in Business series on December 14th, 2016, Tee Plern Suraphongchai, partner at Venturra, a USD 150 million venture capital fund, and previously of Ardent Capital, a Bangkok-based investment fund, discussed how to structure a Pitch and what to consider.

K. Tee started by saying that every investor is different so there is not one right way to talk to them. Some investors are focused on seed funding, while others – such as Venturra – are focused on series A and series B. This affects both the size of the funding they provide as well as the type of information they will be looking for from a potential investee.

Venture investing is a high risk by nature and while you might many startup success stories in the news, the truth is that there are more failures than successes. The environment is very competitive and dynamic and sometimes businesses fail due to external circumstances outside their control. In the US, traditional venture firms expect that about 30% of their investments will fail, 30% will just return the capital invested, and the rest will likely succeed and those will produce their returns.

So what does an investor typically look for in a pitch?

  1. Market Opportunity – How big the opportunity is and the business side.
  • Market size.
  • Business model.
  • Competition
  • Execution
  1. The Entrepreneur – Who are you and where are you going to take it.
  • Experience
  • Team
  • Thought Process
  • Passion

Market Size Here you explain in a very quantifiable way – in dollar terms – how big the market you are planning to serve is right now and could become in the 3-5-10 year horizon.  How can you quantify market size? Let’s say you are in e-commerce. Look at the volume of retail sales in Thailand and the percentage of online retail. That’s your current opportunity. To look at what it might become in the future, look at more developed markets such as China and the US and their percentage of online retail. This is what Thailand e-commerce could potentially grow to. These are the numbers that every investor wants to know, particularly if you are in a niche business.

Business Model.  Even within a certain sector there are different ways that you could make money. Sometimes it’s a subscription service; sometimes it’s a per fee basis; sometimes it’s something else. It’s what you think that makes sense for you and your customers. You should know your numbers inside out when you talk to investors.

Competition. Investors would like to understand who else is in this space, who you are competing against, and how you might differ or resemble each one of them. This is how investors look at managing our risks and returns.

Execution. This varies depending on the stage of your business. At the seed level, if you are doing the idea stage there is no proof of execution yet. When you are at series A or B investors want to see at least some revenues and understand the unique features of your business to make sure that you are able to achieve what you are set out to do.

Experience.  Investors want to know that you actually understand the business and have experience in that particular domain. General entrepreneurship experience could also be applicable. Experience can be looked at through various lenses. For example, you might be right out of college with no prior work experience but you know your market really well, you might understand a certain demographics very well.

Team. Investors want to know not only you as a founder but also who you have surrounded yourself with, their relevant experience, and how you will build this business together. Investors want to see a clear separation of responsibilities and how you complement each other.  Venturra also asks how long the team members have known each other. This is a very high stress, high risk business so if you don’t know your cofounders very well, there is a very high risk that you could have a conflict and split. If you have known each other and worked together for several years, the chances of this happening are much lower.

 Thought process. This allows an investor to understand a bit how an entrepreneur might think. When you are building a new business, there are so many unknowns. When investors ask questions, it’s not really about what the answers are because we know that often you don’t really know the answers. It’s about how you go about tackling those questions. For example, the valuation question – how much do you think your business is worth and what is this valuation based on?

Passion. This is very, very important. Being an entrepreneur is very hard and for us it’s really about passion and how much you are willing to put into it.

 

Make sure you choose your investors wisely

There are many different kinds of investors –angel investors, VCs, corporate investors, etc. Everyone has different interests and goals in mind so you need to understand the peculiarities of every investor you talk to – their interests, what check size they write, what kind of geographical or sectoral focus they have, and how they can help you. VC is a class of investors that have a certain level of expectations. Venture investing is high risk and as result, we look for very high returns. There are businesses that might be very strong but can grow at a slower pace – instead of raising VC, they can raise from a different type of investors that might be a better fit.

Also, raising equity is not a one-sided relationship. You might be giving up a substantial portion of your business and you are typically in for the long-run – an equity investment is like a marriage.  Just as investors are going to do a due diligence process on you, you should also do a due diligence process on them.

 

How long does it take to raise venture capital?

Depending how much money you are raising, it takes a different amount of time. If someone is writing a USD 200-300,000 check, it doesn’t take the same amount of time as if someone is writing a USD 2-3 million check. We recommend allowing at least 3 months for a seed round and at least 6 months for Series A.

 

When should a business start raising capital?

If you have the option to bootstrap, that’s fantastic because not many people have that on the table.  When you are looking at bootstrapping versus taking outside money, you should look at it as a trade-off – how much control you are willing to cede versus how quickly you can scale and accelerate your business. It also depends on the nature of the business. In some sectors, there is a lot of advantage to speed. If you are in a relatively new sector, where you know a lot of competition is going to come in the next few months or a year, maybe it’s better to raise now because time is an important factor.

It’s also a matter of what kind of capital is available to you – who the investors are and what contribution they can bring as well. Losing the control is not a huge deal if you can grow the piece of the pie and if you have the right investors because they should be on the same side and make sure that you maintain a certain level of equity as well. People always think that it’s a zero-sum game between a company and investors but I don’t think it’s necessarily true.  For me, I don’t want my investors to get too diluted because otherwise it’s a case of misaligned incentives. If you have too small of a piece of the pie, you are not going to work as hard as I need you to.

 

What do you offer in addition to capital?

We help our investees with anything and everything. Generally, if we take a pretty big lead position we sit on the board. Other than that, we help on a lot of other things that they might not have expertise in. We don’t micromanage – we invest in an entrepreneur because we believe they have the ability to run and build their business but there might be certain areas where they might need support – fundraising, for example. We also help them a lot with introductions, either to other investors for future rounds or business partners as well. We also help with hiring and finding key personnel. And this is probably one of the key challenges for startups – how to find key people as you grow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Women’s Entrepreneurship Day 2016

A weekend market to celebrate the talent & creativity of Thailand’s women entrepreneurs

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Connecting Founders is hosting a Weekend Market at theCommons Bangkok from 19-20 November 2016, to celebrate Women’s Entrepreneurship Day in Thailand.

A variety of locally produced goods, fun activities and interesting workshops will be on offer during this event, to showcase Thailand’s businesswomen and their achievements. Companies represented at the market will include only companies that are at least 50% women-owned and managed.

Some of the companies that will join the weekend market:




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WORKSHOP AGENDA  & AGENDA FOR EVENING EVENT (Coming soon)

 

For more details on booth rental fees, please contact MIDAS PR agency at 0803048870

Marketing for Start-ups – a killer marketing & PR strategy on a budget

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Pattamon Mekavarakul

Cape Dara Resort

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Abir Abdul Rahim,

Asia Women Circle

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Sarah Lorraine Chen

Corporate Investor

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Karin Lohitnavy

MIDAS PR

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KEY TAKE-AWAYS

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Opened by his Excellency, Mr. Karel HartoghAmbassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Thailand , we discussed Marketing for Start-ups – how to craft a killer marketing strategy on a budget with: Pattamon Mekavarakul, Vice President of Cape Dara Resort; Karin Lohitnavy, Founder of MIDAS PR; and Abir Abdul Rahim and Sarah Chen, co-directors of Asia Women Circle (Lean In Malaysia).

Our speakers shared tons of tips and practical advice from their personal experience building 5-star resort Cape Dara and Lean In Malaysia, and MIDAS’ many years of experience supporting Thai and international companies communicate with success. Presentations are available here.

Welcoming us to the Dutch Embassy, Ambassador Hartog expressed his support for the event and the importance of sharing experiences and supporting each other to see more women entrepreneurs succeed it and make it big. When that happens, as a society, we all benefit from it.

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“Promoting female entrepreneurship is a key priority of the Dutch government. The position of women in Thailand is very strong. Half of entrepreneurs are women; Thailand has the highest number of women CEOs in the world, and Thai women were the first in Asia to get the right to vote in 1932. But it remains a man’s society in many ways and you have to work twice as hard to reach the highest levels – regardless of whether you are self-made or are born into a business family. I commend you for sharing your knowledge and your experience and for supporting other women that are still at the beginning of the journey.” – Ambassador Hartogh

 

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1. You need a powerful brand message.

Do your market research and figure out what is the problem that you want to solve – why you do what you do – and craft a unique, powerful story that will connect with your audience.

“Our problem was that too many women drop out of the workforce in Malaysia and never come back. We wanted to make sure that women make informed choices about what they can do. It’s important that our message is in line with the culture and does not touch sensitive issues” – Abir Abdul Rahim of Lean In Malaysia

“We tell our story as if Cape Dara was a woman, a mother diva that speaks of Pattaya in the old days” – Pattamon Mekavarakul of Cape Dara Resort

2. Product quality is the basis of everything.

“Word of mouth is the most effective media and the cheapest one. So if people use your product and are satisfied with it, they will brag about it – they will tell at least 4 people. If they don’t like it they will tell about 9 people and each of the 9 people will tell another 4 people. Now with social media, it goes to thousands of people very quickly. So you can lose a lot of potential customers just because of a negative review.” – Pattamon Mekavarakul of Cape Dara Resort

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“I always tell every client that comes on board that PR is a team effort. We help you communicate the message but you also need to walk the talk. For example, if we get people to come in to your hotel but the service is bad, they are not coming back. The PR can be as god as it gets but if the product is not good, people are not going to use it anymore.” – Karin Lohitnavy, MIDAS PR

 

 3. For Marketing and PR to be effective, you need to pay attention to every aspect of your brand image.

“We have to play with the 5 senses – hearing, sight, touch, smell, and taste. The sight must be beautiful and appealing; the smell needs to be very pleasant so we have our signature smell, which is vanilla and mint. My staff are also trained to treat everyone as if they were relatives to make sure they will be considerate and concerned about the wellbeing of all our guests” – Pattamon Mekavarakul of Cape Dara Resort

 

4. There is a lot you can do at no or little cost.


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    Start with Family, Friends, Acquaintances. We looked at our strengths and weaknesses. Our weakness was that we didn’t have financial resources. Our strength is that we were very well networked. We knew lots of people and that’s how we started” – Sarah Chen of Lean In Malaysia

  • Look for Brand Ambassadors & third party endorsement – people who can talk highly of your products or services. Nowadays, people trust bloggers less than in the past because they know that some get paid for their reviews but a good review from a well-known blogger is still very relevant.

“We sent messages to celebrities and tv shows on Instagram to invite them to shoot at our hotel at no charge. We had 8 drama series shot at Cape Data and that brought us a lot of people and magazines wanting to feature the resort” – Pattamon Mekavarakul of Cape Dara Resort

 

“Before the important thing was how many print articles you get featured on. Today it’s about influence: it’s the key opinion leaders; it’s the bloggers. They count the most. Brand ambassadors are very important. You don’t need to spend money on advertising, these opinion leaders talk for you.” Karin Lohitnavy, MIDAS PR

  • Co-promotion & Bartering. To create brand awareness among a large number of people in a short period of time, one way is to target group databases through credit card companies, member loyalty cards, hospitals, etc. All
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    major malls in Thailand have member loyalty cards – for regular users and “VIP users”. Bartering – paying with some of your products rather than cash – is a well-accepted way to pay for advertising. Expect quite a bit of negotiation.

 

 5. Engage your customers on social media and don’t over commercialize your feed.

Social media is the bulk of most small businesses’ marketing strategies because it’s not expensive, everyone uses it, and it can reach a large audience – domestically and internationally. A few rules to make the most out of it:

  • Engage your customers. It’s by engaging people that you get real followers. Content is key.
  • Videos are really important. Images and videos are more important than words because words take a long time whereas videos are quick and fun. If the message in a video is clear, you can understand it right away.
  • Don’t oversell. “Your goal is to sell but customers don’t want to hear that all the time so your feed should be a mix of promotion – the hard sell – and highlighting the beauty/features of your product – the soft sell”.

 6. There are many PR tools to choose from.

  • Roadshows, Booths in malls, Promotional Events, Press visits, etc.
  • Press releases are still relevant in Southeast Asia but need to be shorter and contain hyperlinks.
  • If you have already made it – press conferences, feature in big name media such as Tatler, Prestige, etc.

7. You can do a lot of PR on your own but once you pass a certain threshold, you’ll likely need help from professionals

 8. What to expect from PR:

  • Need to walk the talk and make sure your product/service is good. If you are experiencing an issue, it’s better to be honest. Everyone can make a mistake but you need to be honest about it.
  • Be patient – don’t expect to become an overnight success

“PR is like a snowball. The more you roll it, the bigger it gets. It starts small but as it grows, you get more exposure.” Karin Lohitnavy, MIDAS PR

Welcome by Dutch Ambassador Mr. Karel Hartogh

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“Promoting female entrepreneurship is a key priority of the Dutch government. The position of women in Thailand is very strong. Half of entrepreneurs are women; Thailand has the highest number of women CEOs in the world, and Thai women were the first in Asia to get the right to vote in 1932. But it remains a man’s society in many ways and you have to work twice as hard to reach the highest levels – regardless of whether you are self-made or are born into a business family. I commend you for sharing your knowledge and your experience and for supporting other women that are still at the beginning of the journey.” His Excellency Mr. Karel Hartogh, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Thailand at the Women in Business meeting, 17 Aug 2016.

 

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Branding & Storytelling – How to Craft your Unique Message

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14 JUL 2016 – The 2nd session of the Women in Business Southeast Asia series was all about Branding & Storytelling. We discussed how to craft a powerful message and how to tell your story so that customers will remember you and your products or services.

We had three fantastic speakers:

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Nantanuch (Nanta) Tangudtaisak, Managing & Creative Director of Anyallerie, a custom-made, fine jewelry brand. A third generation jeweller, Nanta’s creations are inspired by nature and combine precious gemstones with intricate craftsmanship from the family’s workshop.

Oranuch Lerdsuwankij (Mimee) is the Co-Founder & CEO of Techsauce Media, a community for tech start-ups, and Co-Founder of Thumbsup Media, a digital marketing platform focused IT and business.

Shradha Dudeja is Strategy Director at global creative agency Havas Worldwide. Her expertize lies in brand positioning, new launches, brand extension, and sustainability initiatives. Her sector knowledge extends from FMCG to Telecom, Entertainment, Automobiles, Information Technology, and Global Initiatives.

 

How do you go about creating a Brand strategy when you are starting out or when you are expanding your business?

You need to understand why people buy your products and what you are giving to your customers. It’s about asking the right questions and coming up with the right answers.

Get to your Human Truth: Ask yourself “Why am I doing this?” five times until you get to something deeper than if you had to stop at the 2nd or 3rd ‘why’. You will arrive to a human truth, something that is true regardless of nationality and deeper than your cultural sensibility. For example, mothers might raise their children differently around the world but all of them will do whatever it takes to protect their children. That’s a human truth.

Make sure your story is built on product truth: “Communication and marketing overall have become a bit more complicated now. Your consumers end up knowing more than some of your sales people because so much information is available everywhere so it becomes really important that the story that you are telling is grounded in reality and truth. Consumers are more demanding. You can’t just tell a great story and then your product doesn’t deliver. It doesn’t work like that anymore”, said Shradha.

“Telling a good story is not enough in the tech industry”, said Mimee. “First and foremost, you need to think about your value proposition, what is the value of what you are delivering to your customers. If your value proposition is good enough, you are going to generate revenue and credibility for you business in the long-run”.

“Sometimes you can create an emotional connection not just by telling a great story but also by creating something that really meaningful. This is what Skype did”

HOW TO BUILD A STRONG BRAND?

1. Think beyond common knowledge to create something truly unique. Challenge some of the truths that we have inherited. For example, in the Food & Beverage industry, most people focus only on taste. But before the food reaches our tongue, it gets consumed by our brains, eyes, nose. If it’s coffee, we first smell it and we make decisions based on that. If it’s a fine dining restaurant, we make decisions based on how the food looks like on a plate. Before muffins, not many people would have thought of having cake for breakfast. Starbucks changed that assumption by reducing the cake size and making it a “breakfast cake”.

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2. It’s not about being better than the best. It’s about being the only one who does what you do. Come up with a tweak, an angle that makes you the only one that does what you do. For example, LINE started out as a chat platform but has now gotten into mobile money with LINE PAY and a gift shop.

Anyallerie is in a very crowded industry, as gems and jewelry are one of Thailand’s top export products. Their differentiator is that they produce custom-made pieces that make full use of colorful precious stones and are inspired by nature and very feminine, so quite different than what traditionally sold in Thailand. All while using high-quality stones and relying on some of the finest craftsmanship, developed over 3 generations. “All our lines are custom-made and custom-designed for each individual customer. That’s why customers feel that everything they buy from us is something unique and special to them.”

3. Sometimes you don’t have to capture the whole journey, just the purchase. There are many aggregator sites where you can go and book hotel accommodation – such as booking.com, agoda.com, etc. – and at some point many hotels were bleeding because no one was making direct bookings with them. A campaign that Havas ran for Accor hotels highlighted the unfair advantage of making direct bookings with aggregators and as a result, many customers ended up doing their research on aggregators but concluding the purchase on the hotel sites.

4. Look for deviations and capitalize. Look at what are the unexpected things that you can bring together to create a product or a service that brings value. For example, Tinder has combined Google Maps for location and dating and created a unique benefit. Uber is another example. It’s based on the barter system where people exchange something for something else they need. It’s not new but they just added technology to it. Someone has a car to give and someone needs a ride.

 

In a time where people are bombarded with so much information, how do you make sure that your voice and message get heard?

A lot depends on the story that you tell. That’s why it’s so important to go through the exercise of asking yourself “Why” five times to reach the core of why you do what you do. You could stand out by taking a unique tone of voice, extremely emotional or humoristic – something really exaggerated, extremely memorable. Or you come up with a character to symbolize your brand.

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Evian was losing business in 2009 during the economic slump so they had to do something that would generate attention. Their message was that their mineral water was purer than others. How do you translate this scientific fact into something that customers can easily relate to? They found a metaphor for it. Something that we immediately associate with pure is babies so they created the Roller Babies ad, which ended up reaching over 100 million views.

The key is to translate the benefit you are bringing into something that the customer wants to hear and can easily relate to.”

Starbucks distinguished itself not by listing where their coffee beans were coming from – which is what most other coffee companies were doing – but by emphasizing the whole cultural experience of drinking coffee and offering a unique experience to their customers: “the third place” between home and the office.

“It’s all about finding a new angle to the same thing. If you are able to think differently about what everyone is seeing, that’s where a unique story telling is going to come.”

Turn Your Idea into a Business

Do what you love, what you are good at, and what inspires you. But remember that your idea and your business also need to be sustainable and make money.

• Do your market research before you launch and also throughout the journey – keep a constant eye on your performance.

• You need to know when to call it quits. You need to have that number in mind. If you pass that, it’s time to refocus and pivot.

The important thing is the quality of your product and services, not the packaging.

 

On June 22nd, 2016 we kicked-off our second series of Women in Business Southeast Asia, a training and mentoring program for women-led startups and aspiring entrepreneurs. This first session discussed How to Turn Your Idea into a Business – validating your idea, marketing research, and business planning through the experienced of three seasoned women entrepreneurs:

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Nikki Assavathorn, CEO of Infinity Levels, an awards winning games studio recognized for its unique games and beautiful artwork. She previously founded and sold MeetNLunch a dating company for Thai professionals, to Lunch Actually Group, the largest dating company in SEA.

Chatkeo (Moss) Srisuwan, Founder of Mosstories, a fashion brand well-known for her handmade custom jewellery, women’s wear, footwear and accessories. Operating out of Bangkok since 2006, she exports regionally and internationally.

Allison Morris, Co-founder of Project Hub Yangon, Myanmar’s first incubator for entrepreneurs. Project Hub Yangon provides entrepreneurs with workshops, coaching, and the resources they need to build successful, sustainable businesses and has supported the launch of over 13 start-ups since its founding in 2012. Allison also launched a consulting business in 2012, M&S Consulting

1.Do what you love, what you are good at and what inspires you but remember that your idea and your business need to be sustainable and make money.   
Do something that you are good at and that’s different from what’s already out there. If you are not good at something, don’t force it and try doing it anyways. Look for someone else in your team that can do it. You can’t do everything yourself.
If you want to have your own business, it has to sell. You need regular customers and sales volume. You need to spend time developing a good product and focus on what’s special about your business. It’s ok to start small and grow bit by bit.

‘Set achievable targets, learn from your mistakes, and don’t expect success from the very beginning.” Moss Srisiwan, Mosstories

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“Figure out how to make money and how much money you want to make. It’s really important to think about that from the beginning.” Allison Morris, ProjectHub Yangon.

This is something that many entrepreneurs neglect at the beginning because they get carried away with their idea and their passion. But ultimately a business needs to generate cash to survive.

2. Do your market research at the beginning and keep collecting and analyzing data as you you’re building your business. Make sure you keep a constant eye on your performance and that both your business as a whole and each product individually are performing well.

You need to know your customers really well – who they are, what they want, and their preferences. Market research is not only being behind your desk and collecting data. It’s about going out there and talking to your potential customers. Try to find out as much as possible from the beginning but accept that there will always be things you won’t know until you get there.

“If I knew everything from the beginning, I wouldn’t have dared to start.” Nikki Assavathorn, Infinity Levels

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In some industries or for certain specific products, there is very little data available so sometimes you have to build your own data. This is the case, for example, in the mobile games industry. Or when ProjectHub Yangon wanted to set up a co-working space in Yangon, there was no data available on potential demand from local entrepreneurs because it was something never done before. So they rented a small space and piloted it the idea for a year to build data.

Keep analyzing your data as you build your business and use it to understand customer behavior and preferences: why they might like certain products and dislike certain others; and when it’s time to discontinue certain features, full products, or pivot your business model. Use the data to support your decisions – why your customers are not happy and how you can improve.

You need to know when to call it quits. You need to that number in your mind. If you pass that, it’s time to refocus and pivot. If you fall, get up again. You don’t need to stick to one single idea all the time.

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3. The most important thing is the quality of your product and services, not your packaging.

Marketing is important but the most important thing is the quality of your product or service. Word of mouth is still the most important form of marketing whether it’s done the traditional way or through social media.Word of mouth is still the most important form of marketing whether it’s done the traditional way or through social media so you need to make sure that you are always offering the highest possible quality. If people don’t like your products or services they are not going to come back and you are not going to be able to sustain your business.

If you could go back to when your first started…

“I would worry much less about competitors. It was useless and a waste of energy” Allison Morris, Project Hub Yangon

“I would hire better people” Nikki Assavathorn, Infinity Levels

“I wouldn’t worry so much about unnecessary things, about décor and packaging, and just focus 100% on product development”

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Southeast Asia’s Female Founders talk openly about Business Failure & How to Learn from It

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Kalaya Kovidvisith

FabCafe

Click here to watch the video

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Artima Suraphongchai (Kimmy)
iflix
Click here to watch the video

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Dr.  Kanittha Navarat

Nava Education Company

Click here to watch the video


KEY TAKE-AWAYS

A packed room of entrepreneurs and professionals ditched office parties and other end-of-the-year festivities around Bangkok to listen to three female founders talk openly about their experiences of business failures at the 3rd Women in Business Southeast Asia event on December 17th, 2015.

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Research shows that women tend to fear failure more than men and this acts as a real deterrent. It stops many women from either setting up their own business or from growing them to their potential. This is why we felt it was important to tackle this topic. And while there is a lot of pressure everywhere to just talk about successes, the truth is that failure is a reality for many entrepreneurs. There are many stories of failure and lots that we can learn from them. So much so that a network focused entirely on events discussing failure has actually emerged out of Mexico a few years ago and grown to 100 cities around the world. We essentially put together an all-female version of it.

We invited three women entrepreneurs to share their experiences. Kalaya Kovidvisith, co-founder of FabCafe Bangkok, a digital fabrication café that doubles up as a local creative community for people to gather, mingle and connect, took us through the challenges of her previous venture, FabLab, which eventually had to be shut down after 7 years of operation. Kimmy Suraphongchai, the Country Manager of iflix Thailand, shared her experience with Freebie by Echo 360, a media platform with mobile voice advertising that failed after reaching over 300,000 subscribers in less than a year. Lastly, Associate Professor Dr. Kanittha Navarat opened up about what forced her to close her NAVA Education Company despite booming demand and after launching several franchisee language schools throughout Thailand.

What Happened & Why?
Kalaya Kovidvisith, studied architecture at Chulalongkorn University and digital fabrication at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “I wanted to use technology – digital fabrication – to improve the way of constructing buildings in Thailand. Also,

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architecture is a man’s world but technology might make it easier for women to work in this industry. That’s why I tried to bring this knowledge back with me to Thailand. I set FabLab, a fabrication laboratory, at Thammasat University under the guidance of my MIT professor and with initial funding from the Thai government to buy machinery and essential fixed assets. We tried to develop knowledge locally and to appeal to factories and other firms that might want to use this technology. But we quickly ran into financial issues, as there was no recurrent budget to cover operations and no budget to hire anyone. I had to do everything on my own and convince all professors to have my curriculum into the university’s standard classes. I survived for 7 years but then due internal changes, I had to close it.”

Freebie, founded and managed by Kimmy Suraphongchai, let subscribers make free voice calls after first listening to a short voice advertisement specifically selected for them. “Thailand has about 70 million people and 90% of the population has pre-paid phone. The average phone bill is 200 Bath and the average person tops up about 4 times a month, 50 Bath each time.” There is always a need to talk more but many people don’t have enough credit on their phone. Freebie allowed registered customers to make up to 3 calls per day for up to 2 min per call.

“We set up in mid-2012 and launched after a year of research developing it. At its height, we reached 350,000 subscribers with

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about 100,000 calls made every day. But 2-3 months after launching, street protests started and went on for 6 months. The economy shrank for 1.5 quarter and the advertising market went down from +10% to -15% in one year. We had 300,000 people wanting to make calls for which we couldn’t find sponsors and 50,000 people on the waiting list to join the program. At some point we couldn’t sustain any longer because it was eating into our reserves so we had to shut Freebie down in February 2015. It was a very sad conversation with our employees.”

K. Kanittha Navarat was an English professor and served as president of the Association of English Teachers of Thailand. Encouraged by several friends and investors and her own desire to raise her kids in an English-speaking environment, she decided to open NAVA Education Company with a business partner in 2000.

The school offered English courses by native speakers for both adults and children and was the first one in the country to accept kids as young as 3. Around that time English became a compulsory subject starting

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from Grade 1 in Thailand and many Thai banks were acquired by international banking groups. Demand for English classes went up and NAVA soon opened additional branches in Bangkok and later in several major cities throughout Thailand through franchisees. “We had a concept where I would train teachers, design courses, and sell franchises. I managed to sell and open in several major cities and it went very fast. Looking back, there was a lot of demand but a short supply of teachers. It was difficult to recruit good native speakers and keep them engaged in the provinces. Some stayed 6 months and then wanted to move on. There were lots of cross-cultural problems between my franchisees and the teachers we supplied. And many franchisees didn’t respect the rules of the agreements; sometimes they undercut salaries and many didn’t pay royalties on time. We ran into serious cashflow issues and I had to sell two pieces of land to pay for operational costs.”

What did I learn from it?
“After having to close FabLab, I cried and complained a lot,” shared Kalaya. “Then I talked to my friends from MIT who had opened FabLabs in other countries and had also failed, and we decided to leverage that experience to build something better. So we changed the business model to diversify our revenue streams, leverage more partnerships to cut down investments costs, and changed the name from FabLab to FabCafe. We also operate as cafes and we run workshops for adults and kids as young as 3. We are a network of friends in different countries and we support each other so I am not on my own as I used to at FabLab. We don’t know where it’s going to go, but for now it’s going well and we are happy. I wanted to change the way we construct and now we are starting to use digital fabrication in Thailand so that goal is partially accomplished.”

In the case of Freebie, the very difficult external circumstances were probably the main factor that contributed to its failure.

For me, as long as you did your best, you put 100%, then there are no regrets. If it didn’t work out and you learned from it, then put more effort into the next one.

But not the only one. “I think we took to long to launch Freebie. We were trying to make it perfect”, said Kimmy. “Now we follow a concept called Lean Startup by Eric Ries: “Build, Measure, Learn.” If you launch something and you are not embarrassed by it, then you have launched too late. If you take too long to complete it, then you have lost too much time. You have an idea, quickly build it, get the data, measure it, and fix it.”

“For me, as long as you did your best, you put 100%, then there are no regrets. It’s still better than do it halfway and you still fail

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and you end up saying, ‘I wish I did this, I wish I did that.’ If it didn’t work out and you learned from it, then put more effort into the next one,” advised Kimmy.

“We probably expanded too fast,” said K. Kanittha. “I should have closed some departments and some branches and laid off some staff. I hired my friends, my students, my colleagues, which was a terrible idea. I should have hired professionals and hired a legal advisor to know what to do with the franchisees. But even though I lost a lot of money, I have still benefited from it. I gained a lot of self-confidence, became a strong negotiator, and definitely had my kids learn excellent English, which is why it all started. And I learned that a business failure doesn’t mean it’s a personal failure.”

“A business failure doesn’t mean it’s a personal failure.”

The Women in Business Southeast Asia Series
The Series was born out of a desire to both celebrate the successes of women entrepreneurs in the region as well as to leverage this talent to nurture the next generation of entrepreneurs. It’s about encouraging women to collaborate and support each other more and getting businesswomen to share more of their experience, wisdom, and lessons learned to inspire others. It is also about women becoming more comfortable dreaming big and being in leadership positions where they are still underrepresented across industries.

How to Build & Market your Brand

Hundred women entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs joined the packed-out second event of the Women in Business Southeast Asia Series to hear four successful businesswomen share their candid experiences on how they built and market their brands. The Series, organized by Connecting Founders, the US Embassy in Bangkok, and MOXY, is a “for women entrepreneurs by women entrepreneurs” program of events Read more

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