So far, we got the opportunity to interview four of the SmartStart’s Top 5, comprising of very inspiring winners such as Prestige Gift, Spare and Go Soccer and Ligo. Finally, after four power-packed interviews, we’ve reached the last leg of our SmartStart Interview Series!
Ending off with a bang for our very last instalment, we at Geeks at Cambodia got the chance to chat with Propey’s Co-Founder and Business Manager, Bolin Prak and hear her share about how her team’s unique journey has been thus far.
Propey is a digital platform dedicated to helping couples plan their wedding through providing various tools such as wishlists, guest lists, checklists, a digital gallery and even a budget planner. Besides that, they offer valuable resources like information on the more qualified wedding vendors and such.
The following interview has been edited for clarity, length and flow.
What inspired your team to come up with such an idea?
Bolin (B): We took a look at what was currently going on in the market. According to The Phnom Penh Post, there are around 11,800 weddings per year, (making it a big market to leverage upon). Also, one of my sister’s friends found it very difficult planning her own wedding due to the lack of information available or not knowing where to find the right vendors. It’s really difficult (to find different resources), especially when it comes to engagement or catering or getting drinks.
Furthermore, most of the vendors use the traditional way of taking down notes, so we came up with this idea to help them as well in going digital; which is easier.
What makes your innovation stand out from what is currently found in the market?
B: We offer the best wedding information and vendors. Before we allow vendors to advertise their services on our website, we have to check the quality (of their services and products) first. It’s not just collected their names, we have to check their overall quality and qualifications.
One big change your team made was its name! Originally your team’s name was Sopheakmonkol; so what inspired the name change to Propey instead?
B: Most people said that our original name was similar to other existing Facebook pages or that it was hard to mention us on Facebook; hence, we wanted to brand ourselves differently (to stand out). Furthermore, there is another wedding platform that has the name, Sopheakmonkol, as well as business model.
The competition started with 30 teams and now you’re part of the top 5, how has the experience been like so far?
B: Honestly, we learnt a lot about through our experiences. First, the Hackathon phase. We learnt how to do prototypes and how to pitch our ideas, especially ‘informal’ pitching. At the Entrepreneur Camp, we learnt how to make our prototypes a reality. However, the biggest experience I had was sharing and learning from the other teams too, despite being one of the winning teams.
Now that you are in the incubator phase of SmartStart, what are you currently working on in terms of your innovation?
B: Since I am from the business side, I am working on the digital marketing and compiling information from various vendors. Currently, we’ve collected over 30 vendors from Phnom Penh, but we plan to collect even more information. We also want to continue promoting ourselves on our Facebook Page and maybe even, wedding magazines.
Also, we are working on our website, which will be going live very soon. So, the technical team is currently working on the backend code for our BETA website.
How is the incubator phase different from the first few phases?
B: In the Hackathon, we only had to do surveys and then come up with ideas. However, for incubation, we actually have to (execute) in real life. The most difficult thing is when some of the vendors call to be part of our platform and promise to send us their information. In reality, when we actually come up to meet them, some say things like they cannot believe in us or they think we are “cheaters”; so it is very difficult finding ways to convince them.
I understand that your team is comprised of University students and it may get difficult to cope sometimes, so what are the other challenges you have faced so far?
B: Time wise, sometimes we do not have enough time to complete our tasks on time. We may have already divided the work, but in reality, we may not be able to complete it. Also, we do not really have a mentor (solely dedicated to our team) because we feel each group should have one mentor. It gets quite difficult when it comes to real business work, not like how we used to think before.
Another challenge was our lack of experience in a startup business. We are just university students so we learn only in theory; but with the SmartStart competition, we have to do it in the real world, which can be difficult. Also, when we did BETA testing for the application; to us, it seemed like everything was good enough, but when we received reviews, people told us it was not actually very good. So, we really had to keep working on it.
What is the biggest takeaway or lesson from this SmartStart Programme as of now?
B: Teamwork is really important. In school, we only have group work and group presentations and that is okay. But working on an idea together for more than 6 months, it can be difficult. It has really been more than what we’ve expected; like sometimes we feel tired and sometimes we face conflicts in the group because of our different ideas. However, we’ve worked until this stage of SmartStart and I really can say that I appreciate my team.
Moving forward, are there any ways you are further planning to improve your innovation?
B: Yes! We plan to get around 10 to 500 customer visits to the website every month during our first year and 500 to 1000 visits by our second year. For the technical side, we hope to improve more and more and for the business side, I would like to scale to also sell beauty products that qualify with good standards.
What you are doing now is definitely something very inspiring to other young innovators, what are some words of encouragement you can give to them?
B: I definitely encourage people to enter the SmartStart programme as it is one of the biggest innovation competitions in Cambodia. At our age, it is a good time to explore something new and especially since a lot of students here study business here, it’s good to branch out beyond just theory and through competitions, you can try out the real thing.
For those interested in participating, do get ready for SmartStart Second Generation! We are here if you have any questions or concerns with the competition; so feel free to ask us since we are the first generation of SmartStart.
From the interview itself, we could certainly see the tenacity and resilience Bolin and her team have when it comes to achieving their innovative dreams; which is truly inspiring to see! We at Geeks In Cambodia wish them all the best in their upcoming website release and hope to see them soar to even greater heights in the wedding sector in the Kingdom! For more information on Propey and to receive updates about their website announcement, you can visit their Facebook page here.
If you want to keep up with Propey and the rest of the SmartStart teams throughout their incubation journey too, follow Impact Hub’s Facebook page to get more updates or check out the Smart for Cambodia Facebook Page. Also, if you want to take a look back on the other 4 instalments of the SmartStart series, here are the relevant links to the exciting articles: Prestige Gift, Spare, GoSoccer and Ligo.
Update (as of 23 January, 6.05pm): Propey’s website will be going live tonight, so be sure to visit their platform at http://www.propey.asia/ then!