Lost and Founded Series - Lester Kang

PandaBed's Lester Kang wants to enable more people to turn their lives into an adventure - just like he did.


Author: DBS BusinessClass, Administrator of DBS

Lester Kang sincerely believes that what's his is also yours. And vice versa. The resilient co-founder of Pandabed, a home sharing platform that's been lauded as the Asian 'Airbnb', dreams of building an eco-system of Asian homeowners who share their homes with travellers. A self-professed thrill-seeker, Lester's tireless search for new homes to add to his current database of 10,000 residences has taken him on the most extraordinary sojourns – some to locales as far-flung as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. A modern day adventurer-nomad in every sense of the word, Lester once endured a two-hour bus ride, then embarked on a 30-minute hike, before finally mounting a horse in order to source for a Mongolian yurt owner who would be willing to rent out his dwelling to travellers. (That's why he now secretly yearns for a private jet, we speculate).

People say you are "Lester Kang, Co-Founder of PandaBed". Who do you say you are?

I am the SPARK between Asian homeowners and travellers looking to participate in the home-sharing eco-system!

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.  

A heartfelt story was when James and I met a retired elderly lady who lived by herself with in a big house where all her children had moved out. She complained that she hardly gets any visitors and was considering downsizing due to the increasing expenses of maintaining it, yet was unwilling to as she had many fond memories raising her kids in the home. She was also not keen on renting out the room for longer period as she occasionally has friends who visit her and stay in her home.

When we shared with her that PandaBed offers flexibility in rental duration, like all first time hosts, she was unwilling and reluctant to have strangers living in her home. When we probed further, she candidly shared that she preferred to host someone who is Christian and more mature. We immediately setup her guest preferences and since then she has hosted over 100 nights on PandaBed. She also shared with us that she was able to use the earnings from PandaBed to partially support her retirement and not have to downsize to a small house.

What secret did you hide from your co-founder or partner or parent for the longest time? Why?

I've secretly always wanted to own a private jet. Once I own one, I'll retire!

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 am a risk taker. I love high adrenaline sports like snowboarding, downhill mountain biking and kite boarding. I usually select the sport that is the most dangerous. When I travel, I never go to the standard tourist spots and would travel alone. My most recent trip was to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan where I exclusively stayed only in homestays.

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!

The hardest moment was the transition from my cushy job at DBS Wealth management earning a regular pay and going into a start-up environment where I knew that for the next 2-3 years I would be surviving on savings.

To survive, I lashed my monthly credit card expenses from $4000 to $1000. And what drove me each day was the passion and vision to build a healthy eco-system of Asian homeowners sharing their homes with travellers.

What are you up to today? What gets you up in the morning?

Seeing that we are constantly growing our home supply network across Asia (now at 10,000 homes) and whenever we get happy customer emailing us about how they enjoy their localized and authentic travel experience.

How do you keep yourself physically and mentally fit for start-up life?

You need to be physical and mentally fit for this job and this is not a desk bound role. I often travel to meet new homeowners and photograph their home in 2nd and 3rd tier Asian cities with poor transport infrastructure. I remembered I visited a Mongolian host where I had to take a 2 hr bus ride, hike for 30min and then jump on a horse to get to his ger tent especially made for travellers.

Offer a life hack (or two) to a young founder.

If you never shoot first, you wouldn't know where to aim. So shoot first and don't always try to aim for bullseye.

Favourite quote.

WHAT'S MINE IS YOURS – Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers

Who and what inspires you?

This TED video by Rachel Botsman on collaborative consumption got us started. 

Tell me about Lester Kang in 2030.

Most startup founders would reply that they would cash out, retire and sip beer by the beach. My partner and I have a long term vision for PandaBed. We believe that this is just the start of the new sharing economy that is growing in Asia and there are many more new opportunities in this sharing eco-system for both individuals and corporates to contribute. Lately, we have been approached by big developers wanting to learn a bit more about our business model. We have also learned that European car manufacturers are experimenting with a business model where customers can rent/subscribe a car instead of buying it from the showroom.

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