It’s been a long journey for BOOQED. It started in 2017 as a digital marketplace helping connect companies needing short-term space to work or meet. Fast forward to today and you’ve still got a company that’s transforming the real-estate industry with their passion to help organizations step into the new era of work, but something’s a little different this time!
We speak to David Wong, BOOQED Co-Founder and CEO, and Charles Oh, BOOQED Co-Founder and COO, who reveals their top tips for creating a successful startup and how they pivoted their business offering to not only survive, but truly thrive, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
CO: COVID was really a blessing in disguise for not only us, but also various other proptech companies that dealt with the physical built world. Whether certain companies want to accept this or not, COVID forced the world to reckon with certain realities that were either ignored or pushed back 5-10 years into the future.
Companies of all sizes are now dealing with ways to provide safe work environments with enough flexibility to deal with the changing uncertainties that will not be going away any time soon.
Proptech companies that provide ways for customers to better utilize or provide superior options in managing their existing and future real estate are primed for growth. Digitization and scalable solutions are now must-haves vs nice-to-haves.
CO: Just to clarify, QUBIC is a hardware and software solution created to help companies transform their space. In short, it is a standalone pod that can be customized as a quiet space for any number of uses.
The concept of QUBIC began during the worst of COVID.
Pre-COVID, fresh off our fundraising round, and despite the 2019 protests in Hong Kong, 2020 looked to be our year to conquer as we were one of the market-leading platforms in Asia for short-term meeting and workspaces with customers and suppliers ramping up for all of 2019.
COVID essentially took that away in a matter of months as the pandemic started to ravage through APAC with our core business severely impacted by the travel and local lockdowns. The third quarter of 2020 was a time of extreme introspection for myself and the team, where we questioned every part of our business, canvassed our stakeholders and customers in Hong Kong and Singapore, and assessed where we can provide value to our customers.
CO: The research yielded answers to two questions that I felt were crucial in developing the initial concept for QUBIC:
1) what are the new pain points that our suppliers and customers are currently facing and will confront in the near future; and 2) can we leverage our existing technologies and platform to address those problems quickly and effectively?
I remember in September 2020 where I sat down and drafted the initial specifications and product idea that ultimately became QUBIC. All of us spent the next two months performing user research and getting feedback to flesh out the idea, and by December 2020, we began to finalize what the MVP (minimum viable product) of QUBIC would look like. As QUBIC was dealing with hardware, which was a first for us, the first quarter of 2021 was purely focused on working with our OEM partner and quickly iterating the QUBIC software.
Fast forward to today, we now have multiple pilots launched in HK and SG, with a significant backlog of QUBIC orders. All in all, it was one of the most intense yet gratifying experiences in my personal startup journey.
DW: There have been pages and pages written on this, but for me, I’d focus on a couple of things (in no particular order):
1. Team – I don’t want to sound trite here because everyone says team is important. But team IS important: their approach to problem solving, their passion, how they support each other. A great team that can execute well on a mediocre idea has a better chance of success than a mediocre team with a great idea that executes poorly.
2. The idea – What problem are you trying to solve? Is it scalable; and
3. Timing – This might seem a bit random, but many start-ups became wildly successful partly because of right timing. For example, AirBnB was launched during the recession when people needed extra cash. The SARS outbreak in 2002-2003 helped Alibaba grow as consumers stuck at home turned to the Internet to order items.
DW: Techstars is a 3-month startup accelerator with a global reach. Our introduction to Techstars came about through an intro by one of our advisors to Matt Kozlov, one of the Managing Directors. He was sharing more about this amazing new Proptech-focused program that was going to be rolling out in Toronto.
Our first reaction was to be a bit skeptical. After all, our business was in Asia, and the idea of the co-founders spending 3 months in Toronto was a concern. But we applied and were accepted against, what we found out later, was a lot of competition.
The program itself was very transformational for us. It provided a global perspective of how technology was impacting real estate. We met a huge number of co-founders, mentors and contacts in global real estate, many of whom we keep in touch with to this day. It was also a great platform to allow us to focus on those ‘existential problems’ that every start-up faces in their journey.
DW: Our focus for the next 12 months is on growing QUBIC. It’s only been a couple of months since we launched our first pilot, and we already have contracts and deployments of QUBIC worth approximately HK$400K. We have some ambitious growth targets for QUBIC over the next 12 months in how we grow it internationally and how we integrate it back to our original BOOQED app.
In Part 2, David and Charles will share their views on the current state of the real-estate industry and the main megatrends they expect to impact the industry. Stay tuned!