This is a full interview with Langda Chea, a co-founder of Cambodia’s most exciting startup, BookMeBus. This year, the Cambodian startup was awarded the gold medal at Cambodia ICT Awards. Langda’s dream for his startup is to become Cambodia’s main system for reserving millions of bus and ferry trips every year.
Based the startup’s investor (Mekong Angel Investment Network), the evaluation the business is worth up to $100,000.
How did you get into the startup? What did you do before?
Langda Chea: I stepped into startup life because at that time I failed to convince my former boss to approve my proposal (not bus ticketing); thus after a careful thought with a big belief on the project, I decided to quit my job in order to execute my own plan. At that time, I was an IT project manager of one Japanese company. It tooks me a few months to remember my bus ticketing idea (BookMeBus) which was conceptualized since 2013 yet it had been put on hold because of full time job.
What’s BookMeBus? And why?
BookMeBus is a ticketing platform, both web and app, which allows traveller to book their bus tickets within Cambodia and across the borders of our neighboring countries like Thailand, Ho Chi Minh, and Laos.
The naming wise, BookMeBus sounds like a phrase that is “to book me something” so I think it is easy to remember since this phrase is very common and being used in everyday life.
The reason why I chose to start BookMeBus because the way how people buying bus ticket in Cambodia is such a hassle. Passengers have to either call to the bus station to make a temporary reservation or buy over the counter. However, bus counters are often far away from each other, there is central bus station exists in Cambodia. Thus, I think it would be great to have a one-stop shop for buying bus tickets that is to use technology to fill the gap.
How did you first start it out?
I started by building a prototype, a few HTML pages, and show them to my cousins and close friends in order to do the crowd funding. Luckily, the idea is convincing since the other also see the same thing and belief. As a result, I collected $20,000 to legally register a company and set up an office.
What’s the 3 main challenges facing BookMeBus and Cambodia-based startups?
Talking about challenges, there are so many as the internet things, especially e-commerce in Cambodia has just emerged. If I am to choose 3 main challenges I have encountered so far, these are as follows:
It happens on the demand side where there is very little trust given to online things by local passengers. They worry about the E-Ticket might not be as valid as the paper-based ticket that they obtain from the bus company themselves. More than this, they have a stigma that buying things through agent is always more expensive and full of scam. Yet, they forget the point that it is online things that bring transparency, convenience, and cost saving. I think we need to do lots of PR things to build the awareness and trust.
Most of the bus company owners in here are old-school people. All booking are recorded manually on their books (paper-based work) which do not allow them to accept the advance booking from Foreign market. And when we proposed management system to them in order to help controlling their booking well as well as to drive them more sales, they have so many concerns. On one hand, they worry that their left-over seats of each departure are shown publicly to their competitors. On the other hand, they afraid that their genuine sale transactions are being revealed to auditors of TAX department. I think time & result are the medicine of this illness.
Last but not least, Bank’s online payment fee in Cambodia is very high comparing to other neighboring countries’.
How did you manage to raise VC funding? How did you pitch them?
We are expanding so we need intelligent people to help us, to work with us in order to scale up the business very fast. Then, we decided to take investment from angel investors who do not only provide money but also resources and networks.
To pitch to investors is easy but to win their hearts is the big challenge. Luckily, there is a MAIN (Mekong Angel Investor Network) come to Cambodia. In this event, startups are given a chance to be mentored and one-on-one coaching by successful people from different countries. At the end, it comes a pitch event which I am given 5 minute to present my business to investors and only 3 startups were selected among 13 startup to meet privately with respective investors. BookMeBus was one of them.
One of the investors told me that he like my team, commitment, achievement and BookMeBus’ vision that is to become the travellers’ first choice of making every means of transportation bookable in the next 5 years.
1. Yes we aggregate bus lines on our site. So far we have around 30 bus companies in partnership with.
2. The current practice is that in order to buy bus ticket people need to travel to different bus counters which are far away from one another. This is totally a hassle. Since there is NO central bus station in Cambodia, fraud, poor service, and market dominance remain.
3. BookMeBus offers only pre-paid booking. People can pay by VISA, Master, JCB, and some local payment gateways like Wing, Pay&Go, SmartLuy, and E-Money. Currently, BookMeBus is the biggest site who provides variety of online payment method.
4. We have only one competitor which is founded by an Indian. In term of market position, BookMeBus has taken the lead now based on its sales volume which is about USD 40K monthly. What makes us unique is that we are a local brand which have more advanced technology and market understanding. As of now you can either book your bus ticket on the go with mobile app, Kiosk, and some off-line stores available at populated area in the city.
5. Our unit economy is that we are given commission fee from the bus operators for every ticket we sell. Besides, we also earn from providing our SaaS based inventory to our bus partners.
– Who are the investors?
Mekong Angel Investors Network (MAIN) and a group of local investors (successful business people)
– What’s the name of the regional incubator where Bookmebus got accepted?
BookMeBus is in one program of SmallWorld (local) which is called Startup BoomCamp. It is kind of incubator program.
– Where will you specifically spend the money you just raised?
hiring talented people that can help expanding the business and do some digital marketing campaigns
– Is this seed round or pre-seed?
It is seed round