Small-to-medium businesses with their tiny marketing budgets typically struggle with their advertising and promotion efforts, especially when it comes to the Web or mobile marketing. It’s a space that mobile location-based marketing service startup Chlkboard is interested to fill.
Singapore-based startup Chlkboard is founded by Saumil Nanavati and Bernard Leong. Both co-founders have known each other for a long time and have been looking for a project they can work on. Co-founder Bernard, Chlkboard‘s CTO, is a familiar name in the Singapore technology startup scene (he helps manage community site SGEntrepreneurs and is also a partner in Thymos Capital). He has been most recently working on the area of social networks and mobile web applications, and Chlkboard is a natural transition. CEO Saumil previously ran a successful pan regional digital media company as president of Sydus, and prior to that was based in Silicon Valley with Epicentric, Scient and Motorola.
Small Medium Entreprises – An Untapped Market For Mobile Services
The idea for Chlkboard came about when Saumil and Bernard realized that most small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs), unlike large brands, do not have large marketing budgets to promote their products and services. Considering that in many developed countries SMEs represent over 70 percent of total businesses, there was a real opportunity for a location-based mobile and web service that catered to this segment. “We’re focusing on an under-served market,” he adds.
Chlkboard is a surprisingly simple concept. Retailers sign up and send their promotions via SMS or Twitter to Chlkboard, who then pushes these promotions to consumers’ mobile devices within a certain range from their stores. “(It’s a) balancing of consumer acceptance versus edgy innovation for a location-based service,” Bernard explains.
Bernard shares that Chlkboard’s business model revolves around two key features – real-time media and location via GPS. “We want to deliver value for businesses who are constantly seeking real time information on their business performance and at the same time giving ability to retailers to send their latest promotion in real time, as many times as they wish via SMS to our number or via their Twitter account.” He adds that being location-specific also adds relevance for consumers and retailers, with a retailer’s promotion accessible within a range from their outlets, whilst consumers can view promotions within a range around them.
A tribute to the speed of startups, Chlkboard took just two months to conceptualize and only 21 days from idea to actual product before launching on 15 January 2010. In two weeks since its launch, Chlkboard has acquired over 30 advertisers, including Standing Sushi Bar, Otaku House and The Arena at Clarke Quay, and hitting above 10K impressions on the mobile – purely via word-of-mouth marketing.
“We worked hard to get our first 30 listings with 10K impressions,” Bernard says. ” We are now focusing on product development for the publishers and getting more sales done.” He says that their key challenges are to get more advertisers signing up on their platform directly and the monetization of their products, and at the same time, increase consumer awareness of their web and mobile applications.
The closest competitor, Bernard says, will be mobile advertising network Admob (which was recently acquired by Google). But given their approach in targeting the smallest retailers which are currently unlikely to employ mobile or internet advertising, they aim to be collaborative rather than competitive. “There are indirect competitors in the form of local ad-networks, but we believe that there are exist potential opportunities to collaborate with them rather than compete against them.”
Bernard says they have a three-pronged approach to move Chlkboard forward. Firstly they are looking to work with publishers to deliver promotion on their platform. “We are in the process of a beta product testing on our own end and we will speak to the publishers we have identified and work with them to use our system,” he says. In addition, they are looking to sign up more advertisers by working with government agencies like SPRING who want to promote SMEs (small-to-medium enterprises). Finally, to continually iterate the product through customer feedback and scale the service regionally.
Chlkboard is purely bootstrapped and currently self-invested, but is open to any additional capital injection.
Views on Entrepreneurship
Bernard relishes the part of an entrepreneur, versus his other roles as an investor or industry observer. He shares a story on how he and Saumil were going around Haji Lane, trying to convince proprietors in the area to sign up as advertisers. “We were at one shop and were about to be rejected by a shop owner. One of her clients – a total stranger – persuaded the owner to let us pitch, believing that our service will help the owner’s business. We managed to get the owner’s buy-in.
“Subsequently, that same client also sent an SMS to her friends immediately, informing them to try Chlkboard out on their iPhones!” Bernard says such moments make them continue to believe that their idea may actually work. and focus to make it work. “Being able to see on the ground how people react to your products and services is a rewarding opportunity which I don’t get to see in my other roles.”
Unbeknowst to many, the main driving motivation to why Bernard is an entrepreneur is the desire to set up a foundation to fund research in theoretical sciences and humanities in Asia. Bernard says his views on entrepreneurship can be summed up by this quote from Scott McCloud in his TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talk about understanding comics – “Learn from everyone, follow no one, look for patterns and work like hell”. It’s a mantra he uses everyday, he adds.
“The most important lesson I have learnt is that you need to make a sustainable and scalable business. We know that a great idea is only an idea without break neck execution,” Bernard elaborates. “The other thing is to learn from our mistakes and fail fast, as both Saumil and I have learned from the mistakes in our past start-ups.”
“Every failure I encounter in life, I take it as a lesson, move on and come back stronger.”
“It is important that you really like the idea behind the start-up and put all your passion and effort to build it. Chlkboard provided me that excitement and passion once again.”