Sometimes being eccentric could be the very reason why your startup gets acquired, so says Lee Jun Kiat the Co-Founder of Ticktok.
Author: DBS BusinessClass, Administrator of DBS
Lee Jun Kiat, the co-founder of Ticktok, a web based queuing and reservation system, believes that his eccentricity is one of the keys to his startup success. His cheeky self-introduction is testament to that. The "made in Singapore" entrepreneur is a foodie at heart and wants to alleviate the frustration of queuing for his fellow food lovers. He talks to himself while working, cannot hold on to a thought for long, and swears that he has never shed a tear throughout the startup process. We catch up with this funny man as he recounts his entrepreneurial journey.
People say you are "Lee Jun Kiat, Co-Founder of Ticktok, recently acquired by Chope". Who do you say you are?
I will first say I'm Lee Jun Kiat, Co-founder of Ticktok, recently acquired by Chope to start. Cheeky/ Guai L*n, I know.
Now that that is addressed…
I'll say I'm the true-blue opportunistic Singaporean that ended up turning the desire to solve a very Asian problem of queuing, into a business.
Best moment in your startup life. It was so good you wanted to fly BusinessClass somewhere with someone, and pop open the most expensive bottle of champagne there.
Being the scrooge that I am, I don't think anything can really convince me to part with money on a plane ticket and wasting that precious champagne…I'll gladly still fly on budget economy and spend that money on food glorious food.
But happy moments are aplenty. One of these moments was right at the beginning when we signed our first customer after being rejected three times because the earlier product we had previously just didn't cut it.
But we decided to try it out anyway, and for two to three months we were standing outside the restaurant as a host, pouring water and getting scolded by customers just so we can really test the effectiveness of our product. We were so good as hosts that we even knew how to manage the point-of-sale and memorised their menus! Every week, the restaurant owners would tell us that they are sorry this cannot work out and would ask us to bring back our system. After every night we would debrief and start working on a new improved version only to return every other month to the restaurant with an upgrade addressing their issues and to beg for another chance. We only nailed the product to something close to what you see today after being rejected thrice!
I remember looking at my co-founders outside the restaurant and said: "We finally got it right this time."
I thought that was THE MOMENT.
What secret did you hide from your co-founder or partner or parent for the longest time? Why?
I remember this pretty clearly. So it was dinner with my parents after we had an internal review meeting between myself, Junguang and Zi Xin, my beloved co-founders, with regards to our finances after we rolled out our initial product (the Ticktok you see today was a pivot born out of this meeting).
So it was over dinner that the casual talk happens and my parents asked me the usually most dreaded question a struggling entrepreneur would like over dinner: How was the business doing?
I remember telling them that it was doing fine with a potential new development that was really exciting. Truth was that I actually came from a meeting where we reviewed and found that we only had a little more than $5,000 in the bank. We would have gone bust if the Ticktok did not work out.
Thankfully it did.
What's the most eccentric thing about you? If VCs found out, they won't have signed the term sheet then. But hell with that now.
I would actually like to think Chope signed the term sheet with us because we were eccentric! You have to have a certain level of weirdness to think you can even survive in the F&B tech space that's dominated by very strong incumbents.
I think I have a mild attention deficit and hyperactivity, because I tend to have to multiple thoughts in my mind and occasionally jump from point to point. That has kept me excited with thoughts that challenge norms and fundamental ideas.
Besides that I also tend to talk to myself while I work. A lot.
It's therapeutic and helps me clear my thoughts.
Have you ever cried? Or what was the lowest, crappiest moment in your start-up life. You wanted to give up everything. You wanted to kill someone. (During your startup career of course) Tell us more!
*cross my heart* Never cried.
Ironically, the crappiest moment in my start-up life was probably the most enlightening and meaningful phase.
Our first app was a very different product from what you see today. Before we rolled out our app, we asked our friends and people around us about the app and its features, they said they liked it and would definitely need something like that.
When we launched, it did reach the top 20 lifestyle apps and stayed there for a month or two. In the third month, we had less than 10% active usage. That was when sh*t hit the fan.
Certainly one of the lowest period. Not only did we spend a lot of time and effort, it was a case of failed validation and perhaps even proving that we were only hearing what we liked to hear.
Seeing low usage rates is like injecting a lethal dose into a struggling start-up.
Did we give up? Nope.
It's the moment where all of us went back to the drawing board and really looked into the root of the crappy situation we were in and asked ourselves tough questions on the viability of what we had.
It was the most enlightening and most meaningful phase because it was something that all three of us worked towards with such laser sharp focus. I guess dire situations bring out the best potential in people.
What are you up to today? What gets you up in the morning?
Busy at work of course! We are now rolling out Ticktok to Chope's network of merchants with our integrated best of class products.
Its always exciting to know that you can now beat the queues at your favourite restaurants and that you are helping diners queue and restaurants reserve smarter everyday.
How do you keep yourself physically and mentally fit for start-up life?
I play soccer, dance and shoot…on my PS4. That's about it for the physical part. Perhaps I try to walk when I have meetings nearby.
I'm a bit more active on the mentally part!
I enjoy doing dinners/lunches/drinks with fellow like-minded entrepreneurs from different fields where we engage in perspectives and ideas.
When I'm stressed at work, I take a break at home and become Chef Lee where I whip up some dishes and discover new flavours, a hobby I discovered after watching too much Masterchef and talking to too many restaurant owners. Alternatively, I remind myself that a good restaurant is just a button away.
Offer a life hack (or two) to a young founder.
Cash is King – Slap the you that says "I'll get the users/downloads first then monetize later". Plan a business that can give you a good cashflow to get you through within the first three months of your business. Words/downloads are not your product's best validation, cash is.
Be Thick Skinned – Do not take "No" for an answer. Exchange it for a "Why" instead. It's easy to get sulky and defeated when your customer says no. Don't let emotions or eagerness to sell take over you. Ask why and commit to improving so that you can get that second or even third chance to try again. Being thick skinned works.
Movie or song that best describes you
3 Idiots by Rajkumar Hirani
I relate the growth, development and fun the three main characters have in the movie with the experiences I have with my two other co-founders.
"Just try, I support you" – My father.
He says that EVERYTIME when I share my ideas with him, no matter how crappy or silly they are.
Who and what inspires you?
Restaurant Owners, their crew and their customers continue to inspire me in business and ideas.
In life, I seek inspiration from my friends and family around me who are really amazing. One person I seek great positivity and spirit in is a close friend of mine, Job Loei.
He's the most motivated person I've ever met who puts others above all and leads life with such warmth and greatness. He challenges the norms and perception of most people and guides people around him through actions. Recently, he completed his Master's degree, ran a marathon all to raise funds and awareness for fellow kidney patients.
Tell me about Lee Jun Kiat in 2030.
Lee Jun Kiat in 2030 will hopefully be not much different from Lee Jun Kiat in 2000 or 2015, I wish he would be a lot slimmer. He will continue his eccentric ways and continue to talk to himself as he works. That's only probably because he's still working on cool ideas/businesses to challenge the norms.
Name 1-3 startup founders in Singapore you'll like to hear answer these questions.
Arrif Ziaudeen – CEO The Chope Group
Our First Customer Joshua and Dylan - Saveur Group of Restaurant
Clarence Chan – Founder, Bandwagon
Published Date: 19 January 2015