TODAY’S LEADING WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS IN CAMBODIA: WAPATOA

Sokcheng Seng is the co-founder of Wapatoa, a bilingual online platform where quality and relevant content is produced for young Cambodians. She is a role model and inspiration to many young Cambodians, and was motivated to start Wapatoa by being unable to find interesting and factual news on the internet. Both Sokcheang and her co-founder were so motivated to start Wapatoa that they quit their jobs to devote themselves to the project.

Geeks In Cambodia had the opportunity to learn about the trials and triumphs of her journey in starting up the business, and her experiences of being a female entrepreneur in Cambodia.

What motivated your startup?

Sokcheng Seng (SS): Even with a lot of growth in the tech sphere of Cambodia in recent years, I have seen an acute lack of ‘meaningful’ local content up in the net – namely content that is research-backed, original and aims to improve the audience’s quality of life through analysis, tips and stories.  I have benefitted from English blogs and websites to find ways to improve aspected of my live, to find good books to read, or even for movie recommendations. And I think it’s about time there’s a website that does exactly all these, in both Khmer and English so that audiences can choose to fill their net-surfing hours with information that is actually fun, engaging, and beneficial. I saw there’s a need for a place where individuals who are doing amazing work, such as researchers, artists or just an impressive layperson, can share their insights to others in a fun and casual manner.

How does the phrase “entrepreneurial spirit” shape and motivate your startup?

SS: To start something, especially something relatively new needs a lot of courage. After the ideation of Wapatoa, I had absolute faith in its concept. But the courage to finally start it took me a while longer, one year to be exact, before I nourished the “spirit” and gathered enough courage to take the plunge. Amelia Earhart once said, “The most difficult thing is to decide to act; the rest is merely tenacity.” It’s one of the truest phrases I’ve heard. After gathering enough courage to start the project on December, 2017, we merely worked at it through thick and thin to see it move forward.

How do you deal with the uncertainty, doubts and fears that you have faced along the way?

SS: I’d like to pretend I was independent and untouched by fears, but that’s very far from the truth. Actually, having a team, in my case a co-founder, was a huge help. Alix Feschotte has been more than half of the brain and operations of Wapatoa. We had periods of doubt and fear that Wapatoa might not be received well, or that it is all fruitless — all these deep dark insecurities. But we always managed to pick each other right back up. No matter the challenges that cropped up, it’s a matter of changing our path, not our destination.

What was the one greatest victory and challenge with Wapatoa?

SS: We want to bring something new in terms of spirit, tone and the type of content. Fortunately, people liked it tremendously and we received positive remarks and comments – which has really been the best reward. It goes to show that our audience is really starving for good content and being able to reach that expectation has been one of the sweetest motivators for us to keep on working.

The biggest challenge so far is to have young people understand that they are in charge of what they learn, read, and watch. There is a dilemma: as a media platform, we naturally want to reach as many people as possible, but we also wish to get the right attention from our audience, not just a “thumb-up” or something superficial. But we are convinced there is room for a local and “slow media” in Cambodia. We have already seen more visits to the website and greater time spent on the site. Young people are undoubtedly hungry for information, guidance and uplifting role models. The “knowledge” and information we provide is part of what this new generation wants and deserves.

What were the three most important lessons that you have learnt while building Wapatoa?

SS: Firstly, take good care of your energy. Burnouts are very common when you’re too passionate and work too hard for too long on something. Secondly, don’t try to control everything, as lots of good stuff actually happens from luck, chance encounters or a good word someone put in for you. Thirdly, learn to keep your focus. It’s very tempting to diversify after launching and receiving suggestions and ideas from well-meaning people. For us, before we can diversify, we have to be able to properly accomplish what we set out to do – which was to create thought-provoking educational content that is both fun and engaging for our target audience.

What do you hope to see in Cambodia’s women entrepreneurship scene, say 5 years down the road?

SS: Even now, many women have started businesses of their own. I’m very optimistic for the future. In fact, I hope to see many more meaningful and needed entrepreneurial projects down the road, many of which should be founded by women.

Lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring women entrepreneurs?

SS: Find your mission and believe that you can create and bring something useful to people. Then put it out there and test it in the real world, even if it is not perfect. Our mission in the first place was maybe a bit vague and idealist : “To answer what makes life meaningful.” But it was so exciting and relatable to people that we found a way to deliver on that promise through the inspiration of the people, art, stories and life hacks we feature and share on our platform.

We’ve also received much uplifting and useful advice. One is from Cheryl Houser, who directed the documentary Generation Start Up recently screened in Phnom Penh. She told us that “throwing ourselves into building a content platform, finding your way as you go is the only way to do things, especially in a place and space where so much of what you are doing is new. But that is also what makes it all the more exciting. You are not limited by how people expect it to be, but more by what your gut tells you it should be. And trust your gut and your heart. That is when we make the best decisions.”

As Sokcheng and her team continues to touch and inspire the youths of Cambodia, we would like to wish everyone at Wapatoa the very best. Read more about Geeks In Cambodia’s handpicked Leading Female Entrepreneurs of Cambodia here: Lida Loem, co-founder of SHE Investments, and Sokneang Neng, Treng KuyChheng and Bunnary Bour, the three founders of Kokopon.