Interview: King Yiu Chu

Intro

I know King from back in 2008 when we were both working at Nimbuzz.

What always fascinated me about him was his ability to combine crazy/innovative ideas with a very pragmatic/down to earth attitude towards implementation. I learned a lot from him and very grateful for that. And the best thing: we are still friends after all this time.

The Challenge

In this interview  you will find out how King plans to create a new ecosystem around Social Location Based services.

Without any further do here is my interview with King Yiu Chu (朱景耀).

ME: Hi King, can you please tell us a bit about yourself?

King:
Hey, thanks for having me. Sure.

I studied marketing and I graduated in 1998. Since then I worked in the Internet industry for big companies but also small startups.

In 2004, I did business development for trader.com. Then I moved to Microsoft, as product manager Hotmail and I also worked on Windows Live mobile. At Microsoft I managed the beta of Windows Live Hotmail by rolling it out as a pilot in The Netherlands. After that, I moved to Nimbuzz, where I started as product manager for mobile and later managed the desktop apps and built the monetization strategy.

Next Layer hired me as Augmented Reality Strategist. With Layer I traveled around Europe and Asia to evangelize our AR vision and help agencies and brands to start something in this new field. I was responsible for building the entire ecosystem.

After a year of doing that, I started my own projects, while doing consulting on the side. I always dreamt of doing my own thing and at one point I told myself I need to be serious about it, I need to choose one and explore it. So I came up with beebump.

Me: And that gets us to my next question. Can you tell me more about the beebump?

King:
The app is not yet live but it will be very soon. So stay tuned.

beebump is a mobile app that announces yourself to your friends when you are almost at the meetup point.

The essence of the app is personal branding and is intended for people who are on their way to meet with their friends.  They can share their location in real time, together with a funny image that says: “I’m on my way” or “I am almost here”.

The way it works is quite simple. You open the app, you start a beebump, you select one or more friends and 2 messages (one for when you leave your location and one for when you are almost there) and we will send an SMS (at no cost for you) or a push notification to your friends . In that SMS there is a link (so your friends don’t need to have the app installed) and if they click on that link, they will open the mobile browser where they can see your messages and your location in real time as you move on the map.

It’s a completely new thing. It’s a new market, a new category of apps. Although it’s partly location based this is not the most important thing here. The innovation is in the announcement part, where people can brand themselves.

Our tag line is “Spark a smile before you arrive” and that describes it in a nutshell.

But that is only the start of it. My final vision is to make the map as we know it more social and use it as the canvas of your social feed. A place where users are actually plotting their location, messages, objects or messages about objects on the physical world and where clips and messages will appear when your friends are arriving in that area. But that will take time.

Me: That reminds me a bit of Repudo. Do you know Repudo? I remember I was very enthusiastic about it, but then I stopped using it because nobody else was using it.

King:
Yes, do know it. Actually Michael our developer, used to do freelance work  for Repudo.

The problem with Repudo was that it was not functional and your friends needed to have Repudo installed as well. This creates a chicken and the egg problem. Plus… you needed to run Repudo on your phone 24/7 which means battery drain. Beebump will place messages on the map in the future as well  but again that is all too much right now and we need to start with something simple, functional and entertaining.

Me: From all ideas, why did you pick this idea?

King:
When you have an idea you need to write it down on a piece of paper. By doing that it starts to materialize and you will envision the space you are in  and the ecosystem of the whole thing starts to come alive.

This will help you think it through and see what type of qualities you or your team needs to have. Also, as you define your ideas you will also find out more about the strengths that you as an entrepreneur need to have.

I started with four ideas and going through this analysis I dropped 3 of them. I dropped them because these were things I am not really good at or I am not passionate about.  For example, one of my ideas had to do with the B2B market. Although I have experience in this market  I’m not really excited about B2B apps so it was an easy decision to take it of the list.

ME: So part of the selection process was a strength analysis. You wanted to be sure that you could take this idea and make it reality.  

King:
Yes, that’s true, but the most important part is that you need to love the project.

I really love beebump. It’s an entertainment app, it’s B2C, I have a lot of experience to see it through and it’s building a completely new market.  And if I do it right I know I can get a huge market share.

I really believe you need to love what you do and be really motivated.  Otherwise you won’t be able to see it through.

Me: So what inspired you?

King:
I believe that the SOCIAL Location Based services market has a bright future. Maps and navigation are already successful. But the SOCIAL part is yet to be figured out. It seems very obvious to me.

 

Me: And how did you fund the project?

King:
Well … my story is not that complicated but that doesn’t mean is not a tricky process.

These guys were sitting at the table listening to my concept and they texted each other “shall we invest”?

I got the money through a friend of a friend.

Once a year, my University colleagues and I organize a meetup (we call it a business club) and we go out grab some beers.

But before that, we gather at office of one of our colleagues and introduce our businesses or business ideas. So at one point when I was working on BeeBump, I presented my concept to the other guys. Interestingly enough, my friends brought in some friends who saw the concept. These guys were sitting at the table listening to my concept and they texted each other “shall we invest”?  At the end of the presentation they asked me how much money do I need and what percentage would I give away. I told them that and they said OK, let’s do it.

Simple as that. Of course, I also had a pretty good presentation. At that time I was working on the idea for a year so I knew my story really well. I repeated many times and I was very confident.

 

ME: Do you think you were lucky?

King:
In retrospective, it was quite easy, but I would not say I was extremely lucky. It didn’t just happen to me. If I had never attended these meetups and didn’t prepare the presentation so well, it would have been a different story.

I think timing was extremely important, not luck. I mean there is always a bit of luck.  In Dutch some people say: “Je kunt  geluk afdwingen”, which translates into something like  “You can make your luck yourself”.  I really believe in that.

Many people think that they don’t have luck, but in many cases is because they are pessimistic and don’t work on their future goals. I always thought that every person you meet in this business could come in handy, every thing you do could come in handy.  You have to realize that and maximize every single opportunity. Focus on the positive part. Always learn and don’t stay too long in your comfort zone.

Am I lucky I have a lot of contacts with investors? No, I worked hard to build my network and now I can use it.

 

Me: So who developed beebump and why?

King:
This is also an interesting story. Since 2008 I am working with mobile apps so I am always in contact with mobile developers. The question was how to choose the right person. Eventually I want to move everything to San Francisco, so I needed someone that would move with me to the Valley.

Because I wanted someone with an international focus I started with the tech meetups in Amsterdam.  There I stumbled upon Michael profile, a French engineer and iOS developer with over 14 years of experience in the industry.

I didn’t had money yet but I told him I want to hire him 😀

I met with him and I asked him to do a project with me. I didn’t had money yet but I told him I want to hire him 😀 . We talked about the project and he said he like it. I told him that I don’t have funding yet but we can do three things:

  1. Hire him at the half of the rate and he gest a small stake take in the company
  2. Hire him at his hourly rate
  3. Pay him nothing, become a partner and when we get funding he gets a basic salary

First he said he was not interested in the last option, but funny enough his wife convinced him to go for it. She loved the concept and she told him that he was looking for a long time for an opportunity like this.  So…. he went with the last option. I was very surprised and very happy in the same time.

So now he gets a salary. I don’t  😀

 

ME: Are you happy?

King:
I am really happy. He is a really good developer. But it was a big bet at the time.

Well, we did set up a contract, which I think is extremely important for any entrepreneur. You really need to think about all the possibilities and prepare for them. You don’t want people to own part of the company and then do nothing while you grow it or the other way around. So it’s important to stipulate that if any party leaves or stops working, then it will sell his share to the other person at a small price.

 

ME: Did you ever want to stop?

King:
I never considered stopping.

Were there roadblocks? Of course there were roadblocks. Take last one. We wanted to launch on December 1st, but we didn’t because there we found critical bugs in the app.

 

ME: So what is your attitude when you hit a roadblock?

King:
Deal with it. Don’t cry about it; deal with it.

I think that if you hit a roadblock and you get super demotivated then there might be something wrong with our project. If you really believe in the your project you will find a way to deal with it. I am sure!

 

ME: You mentioned you want to want to go iPhone first. Why is that?

King:
We want to launch the first beta version of our app only in The Netherlands, only for iPhone. There are two reasons for that:

  1. The size of the market. It’s small and easy to test here.
  2. iOS is cheaper to start with (fewer screens sizes, less issues, less time to develop if you compare it to Android)

 

Me: I know you have an extensive experience in both a marketing and mobile product management. Also you know how to launch apps and services, I mean you rolled out Hotmail … I can definitely see a how your background helped you, but is there anything you want to add to this?

King:
Well, my background was indeed very important. I always liked to work with the newest technology.  Every single company I worked for was doing super innovative stuff at that time. Trader.com, Hotmail, Nimbuzz, Layer all of them were challenging the status quo.

And now I am working again in a very innovative space, building a market and an ecosystem for the Social Location Based services.

 

ME: What kind of skills you wished you had at the beginning of the project?

King:
Well, at the very beginning I didn’t know how to set up a deal with VC/investors. But what I did was to read a lot of books on this matter and also VCs blogs. I read about 6 books and I spent a lot on blogs, forums, comments trying to understand what are the trick and tips for dealing with VCs.

But even with all this reading I had to learn how to talk to investors the hard way. When I was in San Francisco to pitch my idea, the first conversations were terrible. My pitch sucked. Even though I knew my story inside out I had to change it and adapt it to what they needed to hear.

 

ME: So what exactly did you have to change about your pitch?

King:
I started thinking seriously about beebump in July 2011. The thing is that when you work on something for such a long time you have a certain story that you create over in your head, but this is not necessarily the best one for VCs.

You have to keep in mind that investors don’t have a lot of time so you need to keep it extremely short and really focus on the essence of your app. My mistake was that I started my pitch talking about locations based services, even though in my mind I wanted to tell them about the announcement part, which was really THE THING. But after my first three pitches I changed it and focused on announcement idea.

Also I had to learn a few things about the legal part of creating your own business. But other than that I had pretty much all the skills I required to set this in motion.

 

ME: And how do you think your location (city/country) influenced the project in any way? 

King:
I would say that The Netherlands has its advantages.

The first thing is that The Netherlands is a small but representative country for the Western world, which is a perfect for testing your MVP (minimum viable product) version.

I don’t think that if I were in US I would think about this. Probably my first market would have been US or simply release it in all App Stores.  Also if I launch it here and I make some mistakes, there are small chances to get a lot of negative publicity. There are not many people speaking Dutch, as opposed to other languages like English, Spanish or French.

But it’s not all positive here. Looking at the startup scene in the Valley I would rather prefer being there. You cannot compare the environment from there to the Dutch one.

ME: But why do you want to move so badly there?

King:
The ecosystem. All the developers have meetups there and share knowledge. If you want to launch an innovative concept you have to learn constantly. There, everybody is learning from each other, everybody is helping each other. Even when they close the office door, the discussion continues after work because everyone challenges them all the time. And that I like very much!!

Also, we need a lot of cool content for our app. In the future we want to build a system where third parties like brands, advertising agencies, ecommerce shops can add content to our app.  But where do you find go content to start with? Movies, music?  Simple, in California. More specifically Santa Monica (I discovered this by talking with the investors). Apparently there is a growing startup scene there because Hollywood is in need of tech companies. Personally I am not convinced that I will move in SM but is definitely an interesting place to be.

 

ME: And how do you plan promote beebump?

King:
In its essence beebump is a viral product.  But we need to seed it of course. To start with we will focus on around 8000 high school kids and promote it there. Unfortunately I can’t tell you a lot more at this moment :D.

 

Me: Do you have a motto or an inspiring quote?

King:
I don’t have an inspiring motto, but my personal belief is that you always need to do what you like.  If it’s a job, voluntary work or a business you start you should like what you do.

That’s it!

 

Me: Where do you get your news and what type of news do you read?

King:
Of course I read the usual suspects VentureBeat, Mashable, GigaOm. But I don’t read them every day.

I also check the Google developer site and the Apple developer site quite often, to be up to date with all the updates. I even read the complete SDK of iOS7, to find out more about iBeacons, not because I had to but because I am really passionate about everything location based. And these details you can’t really read from a blog.

Sometimes I also get my inspiration from the LinkedIn feed. I don’t go there for the news but I often find interesting articles shared by my contacts.

ME: And talking about inspiration sources. Was there a blog, a book a Ted talk that inspired you as an entrepreneur?

King:
There is this old book I read, the Clue Train Manifesto by David Weinberger and Doc Searls. I read it in 2000 when it was published.  He explained that the voice of the consumer will come back, much like in the public squares of Middle Ages and that to me was a very inspiring idea.

Also I recommend Idea Virus by Seth Godin, you can get it for free at the Ideavirus.com. Is very easy to read. This inspired me a lot on building viral products. What Seth says is that if you want a viral product you need to start with ideas that are viral in essence.

But besides that … I don’t know. I do get most of my inspiration by using a lot of apps and just listening to people.  I think that is the best source of inspiration. I talk to so many people and all have needs/problems.

ME: Do you have a lot of competition? And how do you feel about it?

King:
Announcement apps are currently non-existing. But there are some location sharing apps in the market. For me that’s not an issue while we focus on the announcement part. The personal branding part. Still, I think competition is good. It makes you sharp and focused on your ideas.

Key learning point

 

ME: What would be the most practical advice you could give to someone that would like to do something similar? Something that he or she could apply from tomorrow.

I think that the most important thing is to focus on a need. If you came up with a brilliant solution and you think: “this is it!!” and if you can drop that solution, focus on the need and still be enthusiastic about it, you will have a great chance to succeed.

Why? Because your solution will eventually change and if you focus on implementing a specific solution instead of answering a need you will have issues staying motivated.

I am not saying you have to throw away the solution. Just don’t make it the center of your business.

 

– The End –

 

My startup lesson:

One of the best parts about my interview with King is that now I have an extra argument about why we should always focus on the need instead of the solution.

It is indeed obvious that if you put all your energy in building a solution instead of solving an issue, whenever you will have to change that solution you will also lose your enthusiasm, if that was your only motivation.

Thanks King.

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Interview: King Yiu Chu, 3.9 out of 5 based on 7 ratings

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