Mei Yi Yeap, the General Manager, Asia for Peatix spoke with us about breaking into the world of startups, the challenges of building a team and how to deal with a long tail business model.

Transcript Of the interview

Mei Yi, You didn't start from the beginning in startups, instead you had a very successful career at SingTel, one of the largest TelCo companies in the world. You had an amazing 7-year run there. Why would you ever give that up to go into the startup world?

I started out with SingTel in their first ever management associate program. That was great for me in the sense that I had the ability to go into many different departments, many different functional groups. Throughout my six to seven year career there I've had a progressive change from marketing to channel program manager to sales to business planning. That gave me a very good 360 view of a business.

In a sense, even in my time in the corporate sector, I was already a generalist. In my last two years at SingTel, we partnered with Shopify to try and bring our e-commerce initiative into South-East Asia. I was responsible for launching Shopify into Malaysia.

I loved the startup culture. Being involved in a community, I felt that the startup, technology and community is really driving that change in South-East Asia. I knew that I wanted to work in a startup environment, but at the same time because SingTel was partnering with Shopify and SingTel did not actually own the product itself, I felt that the value, network and partnerships I was creating benefited Shopify but not so much the organization I was working for. I knew that I wanted to work for a company that owned its technology.

When the role at Peatix came along when Peatix wanted to kickstart the business in Malaysia, I felt that was a great fit for me.

Is there anything that you took away from your time at SingTel that you imagine you couldn't have taken from another experience?

Certainly. Not many companies are willing to put someone who is completely inexperienced in a job where you have no idea whether they are going to do well. And that was a very good training ground for me. I was very lucky in that sense.

For instance, when I was put into the position to do Shopify. I had zero experience in e-commerce. I had not worked in Malaysia up until then. In a sense, I had no domain knowledge, I had no knowledge of the local community. It was just based on what I had done before that the management just had the faith to put me there.

Litterally, what they said was: "Ah, you know, we want to grow Malaysia and you're Malaysian right? Just do it."

Could someone read between the lines and conclude: that is something you should do - to get that experience in a broader, bigger, more general corporation and then take that experience to a startup position. Or is it to each their own?

I definitely think that it depends of what your career aspirations are. There are some people who specialize in one role and they do extremely well. You revel and excel in that particular segment. I think that's perfect, if that's really what you want to do. You can be a fantastic engineer or a really good growth marketing person and just focus on that. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

For myself, because I have such varied interests and I think I like being challenged constantly and being put in positions constantly where I feel like I am out of my comfort zone. This is perfect for me.

I like that I have my hands in a little bit of everything. I get to experience different aspects of it. If I connect the dots backwards, in a sense I feel that all these roles that I've done at SingTel, they helped to give me that perspective and help me prepare for the much more general role that I'm in now at Peatix.

Now that we've heard how SingTel has helped you to be a hustler - why don't you tell us what Peatix is and what do you see in the market for a product like Peatix?

I'll tell you a story about Peatix. The co-founders of Peatix, they were the team that started Amazon Japan. Because of that particular culture and background, they have this belief that e-commerce can drive communities forward. Some of our co-founders, they have particular interest in music and they wanted to empower indie musicians to publish their music online.

That business didn't work. But we retained that initial vision of empowering local indie communities. And that's what Peatix is about. At the heart of it, a lot of people look at us as a ticketing platform. But we look at ourselves as a community platform.

We want to go out there and find the underserved segments of the community. These people, they could be using manual ticketing or just manual registration. We believe that technology can level them up. We believe that technology can help raise the profile of what they do.

Peatix is the technology platform that enables these ideas. We want to enable these creative risk-takers to succeed and do well through technology.

Are we right to say then that you're focusing on the long tail? Whereas your competitors focus on mass and just try to push tickets to the masses?

That's absolutely right, we are focusing very much on the long tail. We want to empower those people who traditionally find that the cost-barrier to ticketing is too high. And they decide to do it manually. We want to empower them.

Though we understand you are driving Peatix as a community, from the perspective of many general users, they see it as a direct competitor of Eventbrite. How are you positioning yourself to differentiate?

First off, because we are so community-focused, today, if you go into Peatix, you will see that the first thing that we ask you to do if you want to use Peatix is to create a group. The group then becomes that center for all the activities of that community. Events are then created out of these groups. [Subsidiary to the groups]

Let me give you a scenario. I attend a lot of events. Typically, I get a ticket to the event and I attend the event. At the event, the organizers would then say: if you like what we do, follow us on Facebook.

Now, what is happening here? You get a ticket, which is the event-side of things. And then you have a Facebook group, which is the community. But these two are not integrated. These two are completely separate. We believe that this should be a seamless process.

What Peatix groups do: when somebody buys a ticket through Peatix, they automatically follow your group. When you publish an event, everyone in your group will automatically be notified of this. It's a two-way process. So the more events you run, the more you grow your community. it becomes a snowball effect. We continue to drive that engagement within your community.

As you mention your communities. Can you talk us through your Slideshare [content marketing strategy] and what the return is  of those as well as how they have helped you to grow your community?

Our Slideshare initiative is rather new, but I love it because it is driven by one of my teammates - she's like a 21 year old, really young, but incredibly talented - she looked at our content marketing and she said: I can add more visual elements to this.

I encouraged her to drive that initiative. What she's done, is very simply use a lot of the great blog content that we have and repurposed them into Slideshares. We started publishing them, a few Slideshares a week and some of these - without a lot of promotion - have already attracted more than 600 views per slide.

What's the return you're seeing on those so far? Did you set an objective on this beforehand?

There was a short term and a longer term goal. For the short term, we set objectives for click-through, numbers of respondents to the call to action, how many people tweeted this, engagement rate. We definitely measure all of these metrics.

At the same time, we have a longer term vision where we want to put all of these resources together and at some point create a Peatix resource center that covers everything around events. [The idea being] everytime you look for resources for events, you come to this resource center. That would be the longer term plan.

You just used the word visualization. Do you think that is the main part behind driving more users and engagement to the community? Because now you're rehashing your blog which is written content.

I would say they play complementary roles. Written content is also good for SEO. SlideShare is a little bit of an experiment. We know that there are some people who post Slideshares and they have extremely high engagement rates on those. We wanted to test how that would work for us. So far, that has been great for us.

The thing with the long tail though is - it's so much work [tailoring your content to each of these niches]? It's a much longer customer cycle. How did you make that work and is there a philosophy to make that customer cycle much shorter. How do you play into that?

We see it as a two-pronged approach. Number one, we look at people who already know they want to leverage on technology. These groups we try to reach out to our growth and marketing effort, through our content, we educate them by saying this is how you can do events better, this is how you can improve on, let's say, growing your sponsorship etc.

These groups, we know we can reach out to them, via our online initiative. There is another group that hasn't really given thought to ticketing. Or, they haven't really thought about leveraging technology very much, because they have always done things in a more manual way, and that's served them well.

With this second group, a lot more on-the-ground work is required. We have more business development type work with them, we partner with co-working spaces for people who want to host events in their space, we can offer [Peatix] as a tool for them to leverage. To drive more traffic to them.

We also consciously reach to people who do events, that are not tech-driven. For instance, music events or theater events. We reach out to them and say: give it a try and you might be surprised. One particular example is where we worked with a music promotor, and they own a huge eatery in Malaysia and run a series of concerts, which they always sold at their cafe and a few other cafe-affiliate partners.

I approached them to sell online. There was some back-and-forth and they decided to not do it 'this time around'. I said: "You know, you really have nothing to lose. Just set up a page, if you sell, you sell, if you don't, you don't." Turns out that within that one week that they set up a page, Peatix helped them sell far more than any of the other cafes that they were selling in for months.

The organizer says: "I'm so glad you convinced me to do it." That was brilliant, because it was exactly what we want. We want to empower people who have not thought of doing things in a different way to benefit from it.

Was it that personal connection that made it happen? Was it the free-trial possibility? What do you take away from that?

That face-to-face connection has to happen a bit more with that second group that I talked about. They need a bit more, not convincing, but education in how things like Peatix can help them, but once they experience the power of it, that is when they become converts.

You meet a lot of businesses which you're trying to convince to switch to Peatix or use Peatix as a ticketing platform. What are the biggest challenges you encounter in trying onboard someone?

I have been dealing with the Malaysia market a lot. The challenges in the Singapore and Hong Kong market are different. In Malaysia, the biggest challenge is really the education-part. A lot of people say, I don't need a ticketing service, I can do it myself.  It's about convincing them of why Peatix is better for them.

In Singapore, we have different segments of users. The top-tier type users, those who run like a 'Mariah Carey-type' concert, we don't go after that segment. A lot of people in Singapore, in the mass-market, they ask us how we compare with say, Sistic, which is the incumbent there.

We have to explain that we are a different model and that this segment is not the one we are after. We want to serve the underserved segments.

You mentioned this 21 year old in your team, this initiative that she took to make all of this happen. A lot of people in the region are struggling with this Confucian culture. This culture of 'tell me what to do and I'll do it'. But especially in a startup culture, you need to have initiative coming from anybody in the team. How do you as a general manager, instill that culture and how do you look for people to build on that culture?

The very first step, is hiring the right people. We really take our time to find the right candidates to join us. For instance, we were looking for someone to join us in Malaysia. We took close to a year to find someone who fits the team. There are obviously a few things I look for: I want to hire someone smarter than me so they can do more work and I do less *laughs*

Truly, we want to find high-caliber people, people with the right attitude, because at the heart of it, we are there to support communities so you need to have a very willing, can-do attitude. Being willing to dirty your hands and roll op your sleeves. That's a second criteria for me.

The third one is that we find someone who can fit within our company dynamics. We have a very good team with a good dynamic. Whoever we hire, we want that person to add to that. So far, that's been the criteria that we look for.

When you meet someone, what's the trick question or what's the one thing that gets you to appreciate a candidate? 

Then I'll be giving away my trade secrets *laughs* To be honest, I've interviewed so many people and I actually have a spreadsheet[, not one trick question]. Guiding me into desired answers and specific follow up questions. We're very intentional and purposeful about every question I ask. 

I try to be as systematic and scientific about it, so I remove any personal bias I may have.