Post-TC50 chat with Ming Yong of Socialwok

I was hoping to do this with Ming after he gets back from the US, but it seems his trip kept getting extended, thanks to the many ‘good stuff that’s going on’.  Still, it’s a good problem to have for (arguably) the hottest start-up in town right now, as the team rides the TC-50 inspired waves of their new-found fame.  I decided not to wait, and instead caught up with Ming over Google Docs.

Ming Yong of SocialwokMing, before we begin, let me congratulate you and your team for the DemoPit win on TC50’s second day.  Socialwok really brought some much-needed sunshine to the start-ups back in Singapore.  I do hope more entrepreneurs follow in your team’s footsteps and strike boldly beyond our shores.  Daniel covered most of your experiences at TC50 a while ago, so let me complete the sharing session with a few more questions of my own.

What did you guys do well? And not so well?

We executed very well on the second day of TC50 at the demopit.  Because of our execution, we were able to win the demopit award and go on stage to pitch.

TC50 Demopit

Aisle of the TC50 Demopit

I bet there were some teeth-gnashing moments during the event – what were they, and how did you guys deal with some of the more difficult/challenging moments?

Honestly, things were happening so quickly during the last day that we had very little time to be worried or fearful.  We did not know that we were going on-stage till only 2 hours in advance.  We were notified that Socialwok won the TC50 demopit for day two around 3pm, and by 3:30pm we were backstage where we did a few run through of our presentation with Nik Cubrilovic of Techcrunch.

Apart from the publicity, in your opinion, what were some of your most tangible benefits in making the trip up to TC50?  How much did it cost you guys?  Would you recommend it to other local startups, and at what phase/stage would it be ideal?

TC50 has definitely helped Socialwok in terms of publicity.  We were covered by MG Siegler of Techcrunch as well as ReadWriteWeb.  We also saw the TC50 effect where our web traffic went exponential.

Winning TC50 demopit has given us some credibility and talking point when meeting both investors and corporate people in the valley.  When we were on Google campus, there were several occasions when random Googlers would come up to us and congratulate us on our win (we were wearing the Socialwok t-shirt).  TC50 also provides great opportunity to network with influential bloggers, investors and other entrepreneurs.  I personally got to meet the Barney Pell (CEO & co-founder of Powerset that got bought by Microsoft), Satish Dharmaraj (ex-CEO & founder of Zimbra, got bought by Yahoo), Yossi Vardi (“Super Angel” of Israeli startups), Ron Conway (“Super Angel”) and Reid Hoffman (founder of Linkedin).

We also got to meet Robert Scoble at TC50; the renowned tech blogger in the Valley.  Robert Scoble went on to write a review of Socialwok titled “How Microsoft Office 2010 will be locked out of my toolbag?”

What were your team’s other key takeaways from this trip?

I am very proud of the team’s achievements.  We have executed way beyond our initial expectations.  We got all the meetings we wanted.  The responses from users, potential investors and corporate partners have been outstanding!

Some have poo-poohed your service offering in the light of Google Wave.  What are your views about this?

At Socialwok, we use Facebook quite effectively to keep in touch with all our friends globally.  Yet at work, we observe that group communications is still inefficient where people still had to cc or bcc co-workers multiple times in a day.  In addition, we observed that there is a large population of 18 million Google Apps users who are yearning for a social layer to integrate the different Socialwok components like Google Calendar, Google Docs and etc.  Because of the above factors, Socialwok is a feed based group collaboration service that aims to be the missing Social application for Google Apps users.

Google Wave on the other hand is focused on live collaboration and less about the social aspects of group collaboration.  During this trip, we were also able to meet the Google Wave advocacy team as well as attend a few Google Wave meetups (http://www.meetup.com/sfgwmg/).  Google Wave has a lot of potential as the defacto live collaboration protocol.  In particular, Google Wave has a lot of value in specific user cases such as live customer support or live document collaboration.

For a more detailed analysis of Google Wave, see Robert Scoble’s article.

Where do you see Socialwok in a year’s time?

For the next 6 months, Socialwok is focused on executing on our freemium model.  We are fanatical about growing our free user base of small medium businesses.  It is crucial for us to find and simplify the “hooks”; what are the key features that our user’s use Socialwok for?  Once we are comfortable with the free user growth trajectory, we will focus on rolling out and tweaking our paid subscription packages to address the conversion pain points of our free user base.

It’s every city’s wet dreams to be able to emulate the success of Silicon Valley.  Many have tried and failed.  What are some of the aspects that you believe Singapore could do better in, be it from a government or private sector perspective, when compared to the Valley?

The most pressing issue right now is to address the gap in funding and mentorship for seed & pre-series A Singapore start-ups (US$100k to US$1mil).  There are over 200 funded iJam companies with around 800-1000 hackers/startup entrepreneurs.  In my opinion, some of the ideas and followed up execution are quite impressive – I see them as the green shoots for a vibrant startup ecosystem in Singapore.  It will be quite sad to see a significant number of these hackers/entrepreneurs being forced to close their companies due to a luck of follow-up funding.

Do you have anything you’d like to say to your fellow entrepreneurs back home?

Know yourself and keep trying.  Choose your team members very well.  Be clear on what pains you are trying to address and for whom.  Focus on distribution.

The Socialwok Team - Vikram, Ming and Navin (left to right)

The Socialwok Team - Vikram, Ming and Navin (left to right)

Photos courtesy of Vikram

About James Chan

James Chan is an entrepreneur, investor, geek, photographer and husband/father based out of Singapore. Apart from frequent travels to Vietnam, Myanmar and Indonesia for work, James can also be found online via his trusty 15" Retina MacBook Pro or iPhone 6+.