Interview with Guyi Shen: How LobangClub got 38k users, and more
March 23, 2012 by Terence LEE
For those who’ve been following the startup scene lately, it’s hard to miss Guyi Shen, co-founder of Singapore-based LobangClub, a price comparison app.
He was a supposed “victim” on the Dragon Den-like reality show Angel’s Gate, where the angels offered him a year’s worth of mentorship in exchange for ten percent equity — a proposition many find ridiculous (read his side of the story).
But more than that, his app has gained quite a decent amount of traction in Singapore, at 38,000 active users in a city of five million since its launch in September 2011. His challenge now is to expand to the region and generate enough revenue to sustain his business.
We caught up with him recently via email to see how’s he doing.
SGE: So what are your plans regarding expanding regionally? Where are you looking to at the moment?
Guyi: We are looking very closely at philippines right now. It’s english speaking, has a 100 million population, and the iPhone is exploding in the country right now. It’s demographic is super connected and social, and Pinoys love a deal even more than Singaporeans. In fact, I am emailing you from Manila right now.
SGE: It’s probably tougher for a startup like yours, that utilizes network effect, to go from zero to 38k, than say an utility app. What advice can you give to startups that cultivate communities and rely purely on user-generated content?
Guyi: I feel like this is by far the most important question for startups in this region. To be honest, there are lots of ideas done by startups in the region that have the proviso, “this would work, if you can get enough users…”
People here in this region look to the Valley for thought leadership on all things startup, and pretty much verbatim execute the “best practises” they see overseas. However, distribution is a very local thing, especially given the different Internet ecosystems that exist in this region, and copying stuff that works in the U.S does not necessarily work locally.
For user-generated content and community sites, the advice is pretty short and sweet, do whatever it takes to make your first users happy, usually this means doing things that don’t scale; for us, we spent a few months manually seeding the data with everything we could get our hands on, so that the very first user had a good experience when they scanned something.
SGE: On Angel’s Gate, it was mentioned that you’ve had three failed businesses over eight years. Could you tell me more?
Guyi: I wouldn’t exactly call them failed businesses (that was an AG embellishment); one was in ecommerce, one was in lead generation, and another one was in financial services. My role in all of them was user acquisition and online distribution, so I cut my teeth in extremely competitive online markets doing user acquisition.
SGE: How do you bounce back each time?
Guyi: It’s in my DNA to be an entrepreneur, so I don’t really bounce back, I just move onto the next thing.
SGE: It must’ve been tough on your wife and two kids? How do you rally their support?
Guyi: I met my wife while doing my second startup, so my wife has known me as an entrepreneur all along. I believe in the concept of full immersion and engagement, so the days I do work, I work non-stop till 2, 3am, get up at 10am and continue working. On weekends, I spend all my time with family and give them my full attention, that’s why I rarely attend any events that happen on weekends.
SGE: Can you highlight some key lessons from each of your previous business, and how you would have done things differently on hindsight?
Guyi: For my first startup, the key lesson is to pick your founders carefully; the business didn’t reach potential because of a difference in risk profiles on the founders.
For my second startup, the key lesson is that overnight successes are usually more due to being in the right place and the right time rather than any inherent skill on the part of the entrepreneur, stay humble and work hard to maximise your luck rather than think you are smarter than you really are.
And for my third startup, I learnt that you are never good enough not to give 100% of your focus to the business.
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About The Author
Terence LEE - Editor
Terence writes mainly about technology trends and startups in Asia. He believes in crafting smart content: Not just a regurgitation of text, but well thought-out pieces that serve the reader using a combination of data, design, narratives, analysis, and visual impact. His articles have been published on Venturebeat, Yahoo!, Straits Times, Today, and The Online Citizen. He also co-founded NewNation.sg, a satirical news site covering Singapore affairs. Engage him on LinkedIn and Twitter.Read other posts by Terence LEE