Memom: A conversation on pivoting, hiring, and incubating at Blk71 in Singapore
The elemental crux of a business is to provide something of value that people are willing to purchase, and one classic way to succeed is simply admitting that your customer is always right: you have to intimately and sensitively understand what they desire, and find ways to deliver it to them so that they keep coming back for more.
Waki graduated from INSEAD aspiring to introduce a line of baby safety products in Singapore. She specifically wanted to sell a portable child seat designed in Japan, however, she eventually learned that the head company did not want to export this product to the overseas market.
The closure of this business door was disappointing, but the door remained open to the customer segment she cared most deeply about: mothers with children. Her frequent and close contact with these families unbolted another idea. “I spoke with parents and discovered another problem: they take so many photos of their children but don’t have time to organize them even though they have the desire to do it. So I decided to work on a solution for them.”
Together with a technical cofounder, Waki set to work creating a mobile application called Memom that spins the mountain of photographs sitting on our phones into delightful timelines. How did she come up with this concept? “Basically when I grew up, our parents put together our photobooks with their film camera, as it is natural to have chronological photos. Timelines are important to show the development of babies and young children, and it gives us a good feeling.”
Coming up with ideas is a joyful indulgence — what some scholars might refer to as “armchair theorizing” — but getting into the field to execute and test the idea is where the labour begins. Waki has spent considerable time testing different versions of her app and adjusting the price-points so that it makes sense to consumers. Like art reflecting reality, the complicated details of social life — such as family conflict — have influenced some of the important features on the platform:
“Memom is a private social network where you can share your photographic timeline with others. However, some people told us that their parents are divorced and the mother and father don’t want to speak to each other — yet, their comments are showed to everyone who sees the child’s photo. So we are providing a feature that allows people create groups so the conversations are retained in their own circle. If your father is in Group A and your mother is in Group B, the conversation is separate.”
Hiring a committed technical co-founder was a rocky path for Waki, but you can only learn from trying, and the experience has cast a strong light of illumination on her recruiting strategies: “At first I was primarily focused on their technical skills, but I learned that they also have to love the customer segment! I discovered that the previous candidates didn’t care about family and kids! You have to look out for more than just technical abilities.”
One amazing thing about incubating at Blk71 is being surrounded by people who are sailing along the same wind-whipped ocean of exploration. “If you have to work from home, there is no one to speak to and it is hard to keep things going.”
No matter what question pops into Waki’s mind, there is an entrepreneur with an answer. “If I have a question about technology, I can ask the guy next to me, or when I want to hire people, I can ask Tushar from Plugin@Blk71 because his startup is about hiring technical people. When I have questions about law, I can ask the guy whose app is about legal things. There is so much knowledge that we share with each other.”
The ease of human contact provides an enormous feeling of synergy and camaraderie. Why does Waki feel so comfortable approaching people at Blk71? She credits the sense of community and familiarity in the environment. “I know the person next to me is probably a friend’s friend, so we can break the boundary to connect easily. Everyone is pursuing their own startup with a different background, and people here are serious about running a serious scalable business.”
As the saying goes, surround yourself with people who inspire you to reach greater heights! Waki is currently based at the INSEADERS incubator which is also in Blk71.
Thanks Waki, for the wonderful conversation! (www.memom.me)