Alvin Yap, CEO of Singapore consumer technology startup TheMobileGamer (TMG), admits that he has always been a dreamer. I am pretty sure that, at some point, he must have dreamt of being a successful entrepreneur. Having studied entrepreneurship as a business student in Singapore’s Ngee Ann Polytechnic, he had always wanted to start and run his own business.
“I enjoy looking at business opportunities and analyzing them,” says the 23-year old web entrepreneur.
Try and Buy Mobile Games
Asia Pacific-based TMG‘s flagship product is GameMo, a free mobile application that allows users to find and try games for mobile devices before buying them. It also works as a kind of social network for gamers – score updates, challenging fellow gamers etc – which, of course, encourages them to play (and pay) more. GameMo targets, as Alvin puts it, users of “the under-served Nokia, Samsung* and other full-featured phone users who are not pampered with apps like the iPhone”.
“We found that currently, when (users) wish to purchase a game, (they) have to pay S$4 to S$7 before trying it or knowing enough about it. With such a set-up, it is no wonder great games do not get downloaded enough,” Alvin explains. “Like all quality content, users should be able to trial it before making the purchase decision.”
Refining and Restructuring the Idea
The idea for TheMobileGamer (TMG) started when he was serving his compulsory national service in the Singapore military. He roped two partners and enrolled in Start-Up@Singapore, where they emerged as youth champions.
“After that, we started fund-raising and that is where we met our current investor (Nicholas Chan of Azione Capital),” recalls Alvin. At that point of time, Alvin was also running Fusion-Ads, which deals with mobile advertising through the delivery of in-game advertisements within free games. “He commented that our original idea would stretch the business too thin. We reassessed our situation and decided that we would pursue separate directions, with me focusing on mobile advertising with Fusion-Ads and my other two partners continuing with TMG.” That later changed when his other partners had to juggle their studies alongside their work at TMG, so Alvin was again pulled back as its full-time CEO. The company now has a young team of six – aside from Alvin, there is COO Vincent Wang (23), CFO Casper Peh (23), CTO Chua Khim Teck (25) and systems architect Leong Yew Wai (25).
TMG took some six months of “gruesome” R&D before GameMo is finally ready, and will release its beta later this month. “Developing the product and business model has been no small feat. We may not be the most cutting-edge techology around, but we are solving a very real need… we had to constantly review and restructure out plans and product to serve those needs,” Alvin explains.
Funding and Growth
TMG was initially funded through Media Development Authority (MDA) of Singapore‘s micro-funding scheme since August 2008 as well as some support from Azione Capital. Prize money won from a couple of business competitions were also put back into the business.”Our team started on this once we’ve graduated, hence we are a little thin of savings,” Alvin admits, adding that MDA has been very supportive.
“The current economic landscape has definitely affected us one way or another,” he laments. “Funding-wise, it is hard to get money these days and our cost control has had to be highly efficient. We have to squeeze the most out of every dollar, yet in a way, I think this is good because it forces us to grow and be more creative.” TMG is currently looking toward SPRING Singapore for its next funding round.
Like most consumer web startups, TMG is looking at social media marketing and word-of-mouth to help grow awareness and member subscription for GameMo. TMG recently participated at UnConference 2009, showcasing GameMo at the startup-focused event to build initial interest. Despite it not even being launched yet, regional expansion is already in the works – TMG has planned collaborations with partners in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Taiwan, amongst others.
Views on Entrepreneurship
“Entrepreneurship rocks,” Alvin exclaims, his passion evident. “It’s great to see young people taking a step towards fulfilling their dream and overcoming obstacles while doing so.” He believes that entrepreneurship will be the true driver to job creation and help pull the economy out of recession.
Alvin has been extremely active in the youth entrepreneurship scene, regularly giving talks to students (such as Startup Story at the upcoming BlueSky entrepreneurship festival) and encouraging them to strike out on their own. He shares three pointers with young aspiring entrepreneurs:
1. Get started. “Do not wait for things to happen. Entrepreneurs are self-starters. Start writing your business plan, start doing your research and start meeting people. Get yourself going.”
2. Get a mentor. “We all have something to learn. Get someone who has been there, done that and is willing to share with you. What to look for in a mentor? Find someone who will tell you if you are wrong!”
3. Get your feet wet. “Go to trade shows, get an internship in your industry, start learning critical skills. The faster you get deep into it, the faster you will learn and the more prepared you are when opportunities strike.”
Finally, Alvin adds that aspiring entrepreneurs should not be afraid to fail. “I always believe victory makes you a winner but recovery from setbacks makes you a true champion.”
It would seem that Alvin is living his dream.