“Surround yourself with positive like-minded people. Most businesses are not overnight successes. It’s a marathon not a sprint.”
– Socialwalk founder Tham Keng Yew
Serving businesses (B2B), Socialwalk connects suppliers to buyers. Just in their second year, they’ve definitely gained significant traction. Hosting 300 exhibitions a year throughout Asia, this B2B network is serious with over 9 million trade buyers and sellers a year. Founder Tham Keng Yew works hard and works seriously noting that “playtime” is for home.
We had a chance to speak to this driven startup founder about his vision for Socialwalk and where it’s headed in the next 5-10 years. Here’s what he shared with us:
What’s your company about?
Socialwalk is like a dating website, except we serve businesses. Specifically, we match up buyers and suppliers. For a supplier or manufacturer looking to export, we connect you with potential buyers and distributors globally. When we connect, its not just about dropping an enquiry. We ensure that proper introductions are made, and even face to face meetings that happen in one of our 300 exhibitions held around regional Asia.
Why is it better than the competition?
Our advantage comes from our previous business that we pivoted from. We provided business-matching services to over 300 exhibitions and tradeshows in 6 countries. We maintained excellent relationships with our tradeshow network and today, we offer the business matching service for free in exchange for access to over 9,000,000 trade buyers and sellers a year.
How’d you come up with the name for your company?
It’s just a catchy name!
What was your first computer?
Ever since I was exploring the internet as a child. I saw a lot of potential in the network effect of the web. I was the generation of kids that started out with GEOCITIES, ICQ and MIRC. So I’ve always wanted to create this platform that connects people with a purpose. It took a (very) long time for this dream to materialize, but here it is.
Today, Socialwalk is the platform that connects people for business. So think of it as a dating website, not men and women, but for business people.
What time do you usually start work each day?
As an entrepreneur I think we work at all hours of every day. We’re a little bit more settled in today, office hours are 10-6 everyday, but for me and my core management team, we work all the time.
When’s the last time you went on vacation and where did you go?
We are well integrated with the exhibitions tradeshow network, so we travel ALL the time. Sometimes we get to sneak in a day off! The last trip was to Bangkok.
What’s the very first thing you do at work every day?
I talk to my core management team.
When do your best ideas come to you?
I live eat sleep Socialwalk. Ideas come whenever they please. I serve at their convenience.
How many people did you start the company with and how many people work for you now?
We started out in 2010, and its been an exciting 2 years. I recruited most of my partners along the way. Most of my partners today have known me for quite some time, they saw me grow the company, and they saw that I wasn’t just talk and ideas. I made things happen, one step at a time. Today they are a part of that growth. We have about 20 staff today.
What gave you the confidence to actually go after your idea?
It was never really a big decision because NOT doing it was never really on my mind. There was only HOW and WHEN? Never an “if.”
Remember the early days of starting up? Describe the struggles you went through.
Being the new kid on the block (both in terms of Socialwalk as a business, as well as our young founding team) our challenges are often along the lines of trust and track record. The good news is that this is a challenge that is only going to diminish over time as we build our brand and our reputation as one that delivers consistent good results.
How do you handle frustration?
I de-stress by playing real-time strategy games. I play Starcraft 2 alot. It is surprisingly very similar to running a startup. Resource management, time management, strategy and direction.
What’s your office environment like?
We focus on the work. That’s all. Play time is for home.
How do you picture your company in 5 years?
We should be either growing rapidly to cause a bigger incumbent to get scared and buy us out or growing AMAZINGLY rapidly and in 10 years, I’m going to buy them out.
The Voice of Socialwalk, COO Eileen Feng
Who or what inspires you?
My partner Eileen Feng. She is my partner and my mentor. She has achieved amazing success for someone so young. She demonstrates the qualities that I would like to have as a leader and as a person.
How’d you fund this venture?
We self funded at first, but today we are VC backed.
Got any great bootstrapping tips for the lean startups out there?
Even though we bootstrapped at first, I’m not suggesting it’s the right path for all startups. If I had to do it again, I would seek financing ASAP. It’s all a question of acceleration of growth. Bootstrapping teaches you many lessons, so does fundraising. I am looking forward to playing the other game now.
What other advice do you have for other entrepreneurs struggling to get started?
A lot of first timers don’t know this, but your first year is not a business challenge. It’s a psychological challenge. Having to explain to your family, your spouse, your friends and peers, why you quit your job to start a business that they either don’t understand or have no faith in. 6 months down the road, having to further listen to them about how this is not working out, how you should get a real job. It’s tough.
Also, surround yourself with positive like-minded people. Most businesses are not overnight successes. It’s a marathon not a sprint.
What would you do if you had a year off and $500,000 to spend (on something other than work)?
I would start another company that synergizes with Socialwalk.
Do you consider yourself a successful entrepreneur?
I’m not successful yet. I am measuring this today, purely on the money that I’ve gotten from my business Socialwalk. To be truly successful, I need to exit, of course!
Number 1 country you’ve always wanted to visit but haven’t yet?
I’ve done my share of travelling before I started Socialwalk, so none anymore.
Please share some specific numbers (funding, revenue, visitors) that highlight your growth.
We serve 50,000 businesses in terms of connecting buyer to supplier. We have facilitated over USD432M worth of trade by connecting over 25,000 matches.
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