Cambodia’s home-grown tech scene has increasingly faced competition from international players. The Post’s Robin Spiess sat down with Shivam Tripathi, co-founder of online ticketing platform CamboTicket, to discuss his firm’s regional expansion plans and how he seeks to cooperate rather than compete with other companies.
What services does CamboTicket offer, and why did you choose to launch this startup in Cambodia?
Camboticket is a travel ticketing platform. We started by offering bus and ferry tickets at the tail-end of 2014, and then moved to offer inter-city taxi services in 2016 and just recently launched tickets for tours and activities as well. We haven’t added flight tickets to our platform because there are a lot of platforms already offering that. For us, it’s obviously harder to work with disorganized players in order to offer these tickets, but what we’re offering is new to the market.
When I first came to Cambodia several years ago, I saw a lot of opportunities for technology-based startups. The bigger difficulty was brainstorming a concept that would work well in this market. My co-founder, Rahul Anand, and I decided to launch CamboTicket because it caters to both international travellers, who are used to booking online already, as well as a local market that is just getting used to the concept of purchasing things online and starting to use payment gateways
How do you anticipate expanding your services in the upcoming year?
We launched in Laos just last month, and have been looking into expansion into Myanmar. I see great opportunity in Laos and want to expand there. We will launch one or two more services in Cambodia as well; the goal is to make CamboTicket a one-stop ticketing platform in the Kingdom.
We also want to build on our new experience-based options. We started by offering just 20 tours and experiences, and it wasn’t enough to gain the confidence of our users. People need to feel when scrolling through our page that they’ve seen all of the types of experiences that Cambodia has to offer, so they can be confident choosing one from our site.
How is competition in the ticketing market?
There is some competition, both locally and internationally, especially when it comes to bus and ferry tickets which make up the bulk of our profits right now. We are trying to make our potential international competitors into our partners, though. If they try to come to Cambodia and offer these services on their own, it’s such a headache for them to form all of these relationships with ticketing companies for a relatively small market. My philosophy is that we do not have to fight--it does not make sense to close ourselves to partners and make them our competitors.
How do you manage payment collection in a country where transactions are primarily cash-based?
We actually did a lot of hard work when we initially launched to incorporate payment gateways into our platform, even though there were only one or two in Cambodia at the time. It took us about six months to convince them they should let us use their gateways.
Now, we are using payment gateways including Wing and PiPay, we have partnerships with several local banks and we offer credit and debit card payments from international travellers.
We realised we needed to offer cash-based payments early on, so we have cash-on-delivery systems in place as well. People are required to pay in advance, but there are some situations when people who request last-minute tickets aren’t able to pay immediately, so we do a small background check on their Facebook profiles to ensure they’re real people and then give them the ticket without need for payment right then. We haven’t had any issues with this system yet, but as we grow we may need to alter this process.
What lessons have you learned, and what advice do you have to offer other startups in Cambodia?
I think when it comes to tech startups, you’re often going to find there is a lack of skill in your hiring pool, so it’s important to choose employees for attitude rather than skill set. You also need to build your business for profitability in Cambodia, because it’s hard to get significant funding here, so you need to build a model for profitability from day one. And Cambodia is a small market, so you need to make sure you can scale your business, or expand services vertically.
It’s especially important to think about barriers to entry for big, international competition--copying and pasting international models isn’t going to work in the long run if there are no barriers to entry. We are able to partner with our would-be competitors because we have developed relationships with bus and tour companies that would be difficult for international players to cultivate themselves. If it’s easy for an international competitor to enter the market, you’re only going to have a business until they choose to launch here.