Catching Up With Codingate: Interview with Co-Founder, Sopheakmonkol Sok about SokhaKrom App

Just recently clinching awards for the Best Life Sciences and MedTech Startup, Founder of the Year and Startup of the year at the Asean Rice Bowl Startup Awards 2017, the SokhaKrom Mobile App is easily adding on to its long list of steady achievements for this year.

A project embarked on by Codingate, a web and mobile development company in the Kingdom, this participatory healthcare platform focuses on serving the medical needs of Cambodians through the provision of important and trustable health information. This is all in line with their aim of improving medical services in Cambodia, addressing financial barriers that limit the access healthcare services and most importantly, restoring truth back in Cambodia’s medical services. For more in-depth information, read our previous article on the application here.

Following their fast-paced startup evolution and success, we got the opportunity to sit down with Codingate’s Co-Founder and CEO, Sopheakmonkol Sok, to learn more about all the achievements SokhaKrom has accumulated, the app’s future plans and his personal stories that have helped to impact the company one way or another.

The following interview has been edited for clarity, length and flow.

As compared to when you first released the SokhaKrom Application, has there been any added features or improvements to the app?

Monkol (M): There have been numerous updates and new versions. At the start, we only had the mere medical information listed, such as locations, listings of medical providers and professionals and the kind of herbal ingredients put into the medicines. We then moved on to adding information about how we can take care of ourselves through our eating and sleep routines and so on. These are all the basics.

Now, we are trying to make our features more effective through geotagging all the locations via Google Maps, so it will be easy for users to find the nearest pharmacies, hospitals and clinics.

Since the launch of your app, what difficulties have you faced and how have you learnt to overcome them with your team?

M: For this project, we are very lucky that we have a very dedicated team. The challenge for us is mainly not being able to put in every resource all the time as we are a self-funded social innovation project. Also, a lot of research and testing needs to be put in to make this app work. HealthTech is really new in the country and in Cambodia, healthcare is seen as a good topic to be blamed, so you cannot just be like, “This (feature) is cool, I’ll implement it now!”. Social innovation technologies are not as simple as other kinds of commercial technology. However, we learnt to overcome these challenges by working smartly and dealing with the right people to make our technology more relevant to the people and change the existing culture towards medical information here.

You recently just got back from the United States after a 3 week long stay along with 6 other innovators; how was that and what have you learnt during your stay there?

M: The trip itself was under a programme known as IVLP,  International Visitor Leadership Programme in full. This programme is one of the most prestigious programmes by the US Department of State and the focus for each programme changes each time. For my trip, it was focused on accelerating tech entrepreneurship and SME development and the full purpose of the visit was to learn how the tech ecosystem in the US works. When we were there, we went to 4 states: Washington DC, North Carolina, Ohio and San Francisco. Through this, we wanted to learn and see how it was possible for this country to form such a solid and mature tech entrepreneurship development.

Sopheakmonkol, along with 5 other Cambodian Tech Entrepreneurs, embarking on their IVLP adventure Source: Impact Hub Phnom Penh Facebook Page

Sopheakmonkol, along with 5 other Cambodian Tech Entrepreneurs, embarking on their IVLP adventure
Source: Impact Hub Phnom Penh Facebook Page

For me, (this trip) was eye-opening to see we actually overestimate how hard it is to get established, especially for the new wave of tech businesses where technology is in every part of the business process. We learnt how the government works, about the culture, the tech scene and we even went to visit different organisations, such as government agencies, co-working spaces, incubators and even private companies, to learn how they helped to support small businesses.

The most interesting part for me was during our last destination, San Francisco. As the location for Silicon Valley as well, this is where all the big tech companies like Facebook and Google. Upon visiting these big companies, I feel one thing we should learn from them is Culture, where a company can grow to a big size in a competitive industry, but are still able to keep their employees happy and are able to retain their talents.

Following this trip, have you gotten any sort of inspiration or lessons there for future or current projects?

M: I did! One of the inspirations I came across was a company called InstaCart, which is an online grocery platform, and they do things differently. They only use very simple technologies, but they were able to get established through getting the right partners and entering the right market, helping them to grow the company to a big size and scale around the country.

Another area of inspiration is simply, once again, the culture of how people think in the US. All the people there talk about very big dreams and how they want their companies to earn billions; but the different thing about them is that they have the facts, figures and real data to back them up and not base (their dreams and goals) on assumptions. So, after coming back from the US, I really feel that to have a sustainable business in Cambodia, businesses need to have proper way of managing their business information; so when the company grows, it would not be restructured too much. With a proper structure, more talents would want to come in and work for the company. Also, for people in the US, once they have their mind set on something and have a planned route, they just go on with that plan; giving them proper structure. We also learnt about some business models there too and we can apply them here (in Cambodia).

Furthermore, the ecosystem there (was very inspiring). I was initially confused by it and I talked to my friends about it saying, “For some reason, things don’t move as fast in the US…”, but in Southeast Asia, things are moving so fast with competitions so it is very aggressive. In the US, I don’t feel that way; so this could be contributed to the fact that they have a more mature ecosystem thus it’s more efficient and we can learn from that.

Moving back to the month of September, you actually had the chance to participate in the 3rd Sankalp SouthEast Asia Summit in Jakarta. Under the Health sector, your SokhaKrom App managed to place in the top 10! How did being part of the top 10 finalists feel like?

M: At first, I just thought it was a good opportunity to meet and learn from other startups.  However, looking at the other finalists, I did not expect it to be competing against some companies who have been there for 6, 7 years already and who are doing amazing things. It was then I was felt like being in the top 10 was a privilege and is not just based on luck! This just shows us that though we are only 1 year old self-funded project, we have been making impact in Cambodia and we hope to be a model to others in the industry.

Furthermore, we got to connect with regional players for possible expansion of our technology; so if we ever want to open this app in, let’s say, Malaysia, we know who to approach.

CEO and Co-Founder, Sopheakmonkol, pictured at the 3rd Sankalp SouthEast Asia Summit in Jakarta Source: Cambodian Young Entrepreneur Awards Facebook Page

CEO and Co-Founder, Sopheakmonkol, pictured at the 3rd Sankalp SouthEast Asia Summit in Jakarta
Source: Cambodian Young Entrepreneur Awards Facebook Page

During the summit, you also got to meet other like-minded innovators involved in the health sector and got to hear what others thought of your own innovation. So, what is your key takeaway from the summit?

M: I learnt that sometimes when we embark on social innovation-related technologies or projects, it can be very challenging because we may not be able to gain investments easily as investors are looking for big returns on investments (ROI) and there is not a set avenue where we can gain access to funding or support. However, through this summit, we actually got the opportunity to meet the right people and get access to the community where everyone has something in common. This is really important because if we are doing social innovation projects, we do it for social good; so we need to hang out with passionate individuals to continue to drive this belief and together we can actually make a big impact in society.

You also took part in The Cambodia ICT Awards (CICTA) back in early-August and won the Startup category. How was that experience like too?

M: That award for us was very big because it was a national-level award. Also, the people who participated were from very high and qualified companies; so to be able to be the best startup company amongst them is really a privilege. We have been working very hard and we are committed to what we do, so this was very important for us as it just gives us proof that our technology works and people are confident in the impact our product can provide.

The SokhaKrom App gaining recognition as the Best Start-Up award in the CICITA 2017 Source: Codingate Facebook Page

The SokhaKrom App gaining recognition as the Best Start-Up award in the CICITA 2017
Source: Codingate Facebook Page

Winning various awards and placing top in various events is definitely something very encouraging! How does it feel like to have your innovation recognised through so many competitions?

M: They both have different kinds of benefits and experiences in a way. For CICTA, it makes known to the public that we are one of the MedTechs or HealthTechs in the country’s market right now. But for the summit, it helps us to be known more regionally and there is some national pride in that because we are representing Cambodia’s innovations!

Talking about future plans, is there anything you would like to add in or work on in relation to the SokhaKrom Application or is there anything those interested in your app should look out for in the future?

M: Besides hoping to work with more medical and healthcare providers in the industry, we hope to implement an appointment booking feature in the next 2 or 3 versions.

Also, for interesting features, we have a backend system called the Patient Management Record and we are working with clinics. The clinics themselves can follow-up or create a document in an online form, instead of paper, and the doctor can refer to this, especially when the appointment booking system is up. This will also automatically link to the patient’s phone. This means that in the future, we will also have a signing in system because at the moment, the users do not have to!

Are you planning to join any other competitions in the near future or have you been nominated for any awards recently?

M: Actually, yes! It’s not about the prizes or rewards, but it’s for us to be recognised by the public for our innovation. We have been nominated to be part of the ASEAN ICT Awards on 29 to 30 November held in Siem Reap. There’s more pressure on us because we are from the host country; but we are hoping for the best!

It was certainly a pleasure chatting with Sopheakmonkol and learning about him and the dedicated team behind him, who put in the hard work and long hours, just to make the SokhaKrom App available to the people of Cambodia. Furthermore, they have a lot of passion and enthusiasm in what they do and this is the kind of positive mindset that will surely make their startup flourish. We at Geeks In Cambodia wish them all the best in their future endeavours and are excited for what is to come!

If you are interested in learning more about Codingate, you can visit their website here or take a look at their Facebook page. For more information on the SokhaKrom App, you can visit their website here, Facebook page or even download the app, which is available in both the App Store or the Google Play Store.