As Cambodia’s young entrepreneurs seek to harness technology to achieve success, they could benefit from taking a look at local ride-booking service BookMeBus. The Post’s Hor Kimsay sat down with the company’s 28-year-old founder, Chea Langda, to talk about his personal journey and the technology startup sector in the Kingdom.
What was your major at university, and what did you do before running your own business?
I studied Information Technology at Royal University of Phnom Penh and graduated in 2011. I also studied English Literature at the Institute of Foreign Languages, where I graduated in 2013. In fact, I started to earn some money from IT skills when I was in year three by creating websites for businesses, creating point-of-sale systems for retail businesses and designing logos. After graduating in 2011, I worked as a programmer at a Malaysian company. After working there for two years, I changed my job to a Japanese company as IT Project Manager. At that time, I had a salary of nearly $1,000 a month.
What motivated you to start your own business?
After working for a new company for a year, I felt little enthusiasm and it was not challenging. I was bored. I decided to quit and started working on what I loved. I wanted to go on an adventure and start my own business. I had some ideas back then, and I was thinking about creating an IT professional team to be an outsourcing company for IT projects. Another idea that I was interested in was developing a software program to solve taxi-related issues or bus tickets.
When I worked at my old job, I had to go to many provinces and had a hard time buying bus tickets. If I wanted to ride a taxi, it was a mess, and they had to chase people on the street to get passengers. So, I decided to create bookmebus.com, a place where travellers can book bus tickets online.
How much did it cost you to start a new business, and how did it work at first?
We set up the company in 2015 with initial capital of $20,000 and four shareholders. In the beginning, we had only a few employees, while three other shareholders worked part-time because they had full-time jobs. Within three days, we got the first customer who booked a bus ticket through our website. In the fourth month, we earned enough money to cover our costs. At that time, all the shareholders came to support us full-time. In the first few months, we received about 10 transactions per day, and now we have about 300 transactions per day. We currently have 17 staff.
How does your company earn money?
We receive a commission fee from bus companies when a passenger buys a bus ticket through our platform. Additionally, we also provide consulting services for bus companies, helping them with marketing strategies on social media to reach out to more customers. We are in the process of expanding operations. When we receive income, we use that money to expand and invest in ourselves, such as strengthening our technology infrastructure.
What were the challenges of launching the company at first?
We had a hard time meeting with owners of bus companies to explain to them and get them to cooperate with us. They did not understand the benefits of collaborating with us. Some of them looked down on the value of technology programs created by local companies like us.
So we needed to try to find out their problems, and then find solutions to those problems using the technology we created. We had to try to explain to them and try hard to get them to spend time with us. Gradually, some of them understood the benefits of our service.
What services are available now and what are your expansion plans?
We reserve bus tickets as a basic service. Currently, travellers can buy local bus tickets, as well as tickets from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh, Bangkok and Laos. We have basic services such as boat tickets to Koh Rong, as well as private taxi services. Soon we will offer tickets for a shared taxi service, as well as a pickup service that will take guests from hotels to car terminals, or from car terminals to hotels.
How do you foresee the evolution of Cambodia’s startup sector, especially in the technology sector?
We have seen a lot of new innovators in services, such as online shopping and food delivery services. But we have yet to see a prominent success. Laws regarding e-commerce in Cambodia are not yet available, which is a challenge in attracting foreign investors to come to Cambodia. However, we see the creation of co-working spaces, which support the innovation business. We are encouraged by government institutions through the creation of ICT Award Competition. And some telecommunication companies, like Smart, have created a fundraising program to partner with potentially innovative businesses. I think new businesses will grow, and there are many potential companies for future growth.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.