In the second installment of “The SmartStart Journey,” Ny Chanphicmean, Co-founder and Chief Brand Officer of parking mobile app Somjot, explains her motivations, challenges and plans.
One of the Top 5 winners of the second cycle of SmartStart young innovators, Somjot allows users to pay for their parking ticket by scanning a QR code when leaving the parking premises, in order to help speed up parking services, and remove the frustration of misplaced parking tickets. Somjot is currently piloting their mobile application at universities in Phnom Penh, and hopes to expand their venture to shopping centres before taking it outside of the capital.
Geeks In Cambodia had the opportunity to sit down and better understand their business model, opportunities and challenges faced through the 3-months journey thus far.
The following interview has been edited for clarity, length and flow.
1. How do you feel about this win, and how has the 3-month SmartStart journey been?
NY Chanphicmean (NC): After all that we have been through, it is very satisfying to see us here today. We have learnt a lot along the way, from business and technical skills to communication as a team. Smartstart has not only helped me find the right team to join*, but also taught my team to communicate clearly and effectively. The 3 months at Smart have been very beneficial for us as we validated our idea, got the chance to speak to industry experts, and received guidance from mentors. It has helped us to improve our product and business model.
*Note: Three members are studying together at the Kirirom Institute of Technology, Chanphicmean joined the team after their meeting at SmartStart Cycle 2.
1. What inspired your team to come up with this business idea?
NC: The idea stemmed from our co-founder. He often loses his parking ticket and finds it very inconvenient and unsafe to put his driving license overnight [as collateral]. That was how he came up with the solution to solve this inconvenient problem.
3. I understand that all of you are currently studying in university, how do you handle both SmartStart and school concurrently?
NC: It was very tough but time management is the key. We acknowledge that all of us are students with several other tasks at hand to complete, not just Somjot. We understand that we cannot spend 100% of our time on Somjot, but when we do spend that 20%-30% of time, it is focused and productive. We have a Facebook messenger meeting every week to recap our deliverables to make sure they are completed. It is not easy to communicate through social media but we make it work. Everyone can reach out to everyone and there is no hierarchy in our team, everyone is equal.
4. How has the 3-month programme shaped Somjot into the mobile application and business idea it is right now?
NC: Before we started the programme with Smart, we just had an idea about how the application of Somjot is going to look like. But after we went through the 3 months with Smart, our business idea became more tangible. We have documents for the business model, financial sheets etc. The programme was a platform for us to document and test our concept, something essential when growing our startup. With all the tangible documents, it finally feels like we have a concrete plan.
5. How different is the incubator phase from the first few phases for your team?
NC: The incubator phase drives the project deeper in both technical and business aspects. We define our application’s database, connection, technology, and target customers. There are also many things that we need to learn which is both exciting and scary. We are a young startup that lacks experience, skills and technical abilities that can be improved on, that’s why it is both exciting and scary.
6. Which is your favourite phase of SmartStart Cycle 2 and do you have any plans to further develop SomJot?
NC: Each phase was what helped built our application to what it is today. For future plans, we hope to expand our team. But for right now, the tech team is currently building the application while the business people plan to breakthrough the market and establish more partnerships.
7. What were some challenges you faced as a team and how did you overcome them?
NC: One big challenge that we faced was communication. It is difficult to communicate or meetup because the three other members rarely come to Phnom Penh. They come only on the weekends so it is not as easy to meetup in person and communicate.
Another challenge would be the difficulty to talk to potential customers, especially the parking space owners. They do not know much about technology and have little insight about how technology is beneficial to them.
8. What were some concerns raised by the judges that you are working on and looking to solve?
NC: One of the concerns raised were what if the phone battery dies and users are unable to access the app. For this, SomJot has come up with a “sign-in and sign-out” feature so users can access their account on their friend’s phone.
9. What is the biggest takeaway from SmartStart Cycle 2?
NC: Teamwork. Like Smart mentioned that everyone has a skill that they are good at. Without the technical people, we cannot win and same goes for people who handle the business aspect of the startup. Every single person in the team is valuable and without one person, we will not be able to achieve. So, teamwork is very important, to have a strong commitment, similar vision and strive for the same goal.
10. Lastly, do you have any words of encouragement for aspiring innovators?
NC: Innovation starts because of inconvenience and problem. There are a lot of problems to solve and analyse, it is up to you if you can identify it (the problem) and turn it into an opportunity. If you choose to solve a particular problem, make sure it is something you love and will keep motivating you to keep going when you feel dejected. Have a clear purpose. Like my team, we found out that the parking ticket situation is very inconvenient and so we came up with a solution to solve it. We love it and we do everything to achieve it.
From everyone at Geeks in Cambodia, we would like to wish SomJot all the best as they strive for excellence and continually improve and develop their mobile application during the incubation phase of this journey. Learn more about SomJot and stay up-to-date with the latest development on their Facebook here!