Since the introduction of smartphones in Southeast Asia, the mobile market has rapidly expanded and taken on a new form. In Thailand, with limited access to internet connectivity and lack of infrastructure, more people find it more convenient to use a smartphone as the first go to device. While ecommerce is still in its infancy, many startups are rushing to gain a foothold in the largest untapped market in Asia. Mobile commerce is growing rapidly and we can see this by the purchasing behavior of consumers using mobile apps like Facebook, Instagram and Line. Stylhunt, corporate base in Singapore with operations based in Thailand, stands ready to take advantage of the mobile commerce phenomenon with its mobile app that is designed to address the unique shopping behavior of women in emerging markets.
I caught up with the CEO and Founder of Stlyhunt, Surawat (Sam) Promyotin, last week for an exclusive interview on Stylhunt at the Sasin Entrepreneurship Center.
Sam worked in Silicon Valley for many years before moving back to Thailand. He has had management roles in sales and marketing, product management, engineering and human resources. He has industry experience in e-commerce, semiconductors, office supplies and music. Some of his notable achievements include: strategic marketing for a $100M global product line in Silicon Valley, Co-Founder and Sales Director of Groupon Thailand and winner of the Sales Director Award in global league of a 27-country MNC.
Stylhunt JDFI Demo Day in Singapore – (Left to right) Kongkiat Supagitjongjaroen, Methee Treewichian, Pitchapol Penmas, Surawat Promyotin, and Phiraphon Penmas.
What inspired you to start Stylhunt?
“I was inspired to start Stylhunt because I found an exceptional team. Actually, they found me while I was Co-Founder at Groupon Thailand. We then proceeded to do ‘Founder Dating’ for a long time until we were mutually convinced that we had strong chemistry. For me personally, I saw that the timing was right in terms of market and ecosystem growth in Thailand and the region. I had a passion for developing people and processes, this time truly from the ground up. “
“The team had domain experience as successful eBay Power Sellers and they identified pain points for local online sellers in general. In addition, they discovered a growing trend of social, crowd-curated shopping in the US by companies like Fancy, Wanelo and Polyvore.”
How far are you willing to go to see your idea become a success?
“Very far. We’ve worked without salary for more than 18 months and invested a significant amount of our own assets.”
Are you doing a seed round?
“Yes. We are in the process of closing.”
Can you tell us about your co-founders?
“My Co-Founders are absolutely instrumental. They started as two twin brothers and a best friend. After graduating from college, they became successful eBay Power Sellers. They eventually recognized systemic pain points for online sellers in Thailand, and decided to address them. They then recruited another friend who had several years of coding experience, and then they found me through another friend who happened to interview with me while I was co-founding Groupon Thailand. Beyond the domain expertise, the secret sauce to this team is that they get out of the office to conduct 100’s of usability and customer development interviews, are data driven and able to let go of emotional attachment to product iterations and assumptions, and have enough ego to disagree, but not enough to damage trust and communication within the team.”
Who are the key people that have helped you turn this project into a reality?
“Too many to give an exhaustive list, but the most significant is JFDI – Asia’s #1 Startup Accelerator. Less then 2 months after joining my co-founders, we were shocked to learn that we made the cut for the less than 4% of global applicants who apply. Folks like Meng Weng Wong, Hugh Mason, Peter Browne, and the veritable army of world-class mentors made a tremendous contribution to our progress. “
What value do you feel that you can provide as Stylhunt company’s CEO?
“Active listening, coaching, simplification, process, customer focus, and trust.”
What is your current vision for Stylhunt?
“STYLHUNT will serve the mass, online shopping market in Southeast Asia that is below most people’s radar simply because its behavior is so foreign to more developed markets. By the time the market matures, we will be well-positioned to lead its migration to a more westernized UX and shopping behavior.”
Any suggestions for upcoming startups?
“Talk to customers. Invest (time) heavily into customer development and usability testing. Learn to use cohort analysis – especially for retention. Keep your team together through trust and communication.”
Who are your competitors and what strategy have you used to disrupt their market?
“We respect our competitors and don’t want to name names. You can see from nearly all of our other answers that the key is in the prioritization, art, and science of talking to customers. Its through this activity that we’ve identified the winning opportunity and strategy – and at its heart, the strategy is simply to listen to the large, under served market and actually address its pain points.”
What are the challenges in industry of your start-up?
“In our industry, which is operationally based in Thailand, some of the top challenges are supply of qualified app developers, English speaking skills, and the amount of local VC funding.”
What is the marketing strategy?
“Our complete marketing strategy is quite comprehensive, and too much to list here, but I would highlight the following as one of the most critical (and yet often most overlooked and misunderstood) aspects of a startup’s marketing strategy – Distribution Hacking.
Distribution Hacking is what Khailee Ng (500Startups) describes as “systematic paid marketing.” The problem is that too many startups make the mistake of thinking that paid marketing is bad, and instead base their strategy solely on PR and Non-Paid Growth Hacking. The underlying principle is to experiment with the key components of paid ads – the ad image, headline, audience targeting, etc. – and systematically optimize through rigorous A/B Testing.”
How did you validate the idea?
“We started with performing customer development using the fastest MVP’s we could imagine – existing, competitive products. We simply tracked down 50-100 people who were already using these apps or websites in Thailand, and we asked them a bunch of questions. From that exercise alone, we quickly discovered a list of key pain points unique to our market. “
“After that, we quickly cycled through Build-Measure-Lean (a la The Lean Startup), making sure that each “Learn” included both quantitative and qualitative feedback. In parallel to this, we also we ran around doing cold interviews with 100’s of women in front of shopping malls, universities, and office building. We just kept repeating all of the above and iterating our product accordingly. Without this validation process, we could have sat around perfecting a product that no one would ever want to use.”
How do you plan to scale the business?
“We will scale in Thailand first so that we build up a more mature and robust system. Subsequently, we’ll likely expand to Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia.”
Do you have any projections?
“I can’t comment on those at this time, but I can say that we plan to raise Series A in 18-20 months.”
What problem their product or concept is going to solve?
“More than 70% of online shoppers in Thailand (and similar proportions in several other emerging markets) shop for fashion and beauty products almost exclusively through social media (Facebook and Instagram) – but the way they shop presents 2 major pain points: Trust and Discovery. “
“Trust is an issue because transactions entail bank transfer before the product is shipped. For this reason, shoppers rely on social proof – community Likes, Follows, Reviews, Comments, etc. – to reduce their purchase risk. STYLHUNT helps them by ranking and sorting these shops (there are more than 35,000 in Thailand alone) on the basis of this social proof. “
“Discovery is an issue because shoppers have no effective means to find new shops that are relevant to their tastes. For a variety of reasons, search via Facebook, Instagram, and Google are all ineffective for this use case – and we’ve verified this through extensive usability testing. The STYLHUNT discovery UX is designed to address these issues and enable shoppers to find and visually bookmark relevant products more than 50x faster than the alternatives.”
What platform was STYLHUNT designed on?
“We started on desktop web, then moved to mobile web, then mobile hybrid-app, and finally native app on Android first. The reason for Android was Facebook audience analytics clearly showed that more than 50% of our target market was on Android, and it was also better aligned with our developer’s background at the time.”
As mobile technology and commerce continue to improve, it would be unwise to ignore what is happening in Southeast Asia. Both entrepreneurship and the level of innovation are reaching new heights. It is quite possible that the next wave of disruption will come from this part of the world.