Posted by: conferencebay | October 30, 2007

Conference Bay’s second conception

I met William at the Coffee Club on Raffles Place in Singapore. It was early 2006 and I was working (quite happily) in a boutique advertising firm as a regional business director for one of the largest global banks. I wanted to meet with William because the idea for Conference Bay had never really left my mind. Especially during my MBA at Insead it had popped up ever so often (especially when I had to start thinking again about finding a job afterwards). William had been a classmate of mine and had successfully built and sold an Internet start up before attending Insead.

After we had ordered lunch, I sketched out the idea for Conference Bay – not on a napkin, they are hard to come by in Singapore – and waited for his reaction. While he suggested I’d keep the day job for a while, he was clearly enthusiastic and saw the potential of the idea. Since he had at that time been active as an angel and private equity investor for quite some time, I valued his advice a lot. He told me to do some more work on the business case and find some potential partners in the industry.

Ever since that lunch the idea of starting Conference Bay has never left me – all the way until the day it all came together. But let’s not jump the gun on that one…

I started doing research again, just like we had done in London. I collected hundreds of websites from conference organisers, magazines, newspaper clippings, conference flyers, the works. I also started speaking with people in the industry: a friend worked at a large convention centre in town, others had friends who worked at conference organisers. And last but not least, I convinced very good friends from an Internet company in Australia to give me a hand with the development of the first concept of the website.

The plunge came in March 2006: I left the agency where I worked and for the first time since I had started working, no salary would be deposited into my bank account at the end of the month. The mobile phone bill would not be picked up. Doctor’s appointments (admittedly very few) would have to be paid in cash.

The first days were bliss: I took the laptop out to the pool and would pretend to be working, only to accept after a few hours the fact that this was in fact not working. Fortunately, there was enough to be done well away from the (attractive) poolside. I met with conference organisers and people working in venues and recruited a couple of students to help me with the data collection. This proved to be much more work than expected, which I saw as a good sign; if it was this difficult to get a good listing of conference organisers, surely there must be a demand out there for a portal bringing it all together. I also flew to Australia, where I worked for a week with my friends in the Adweb agency to develop screenshots of the ideas that so far had just resided in my head. This support would later on prove to be instrumental in getting Conference Bay off the ground.

All this while I was also on the lookout for a business partner, as it had never been my intention to work on this on my own. I know my limitations well enough to realise that without a partner I would most likely never get the business off the ground, or if I did it would probably be a short-lived affair. One of my best friends in Holland, Marcel, had always been interested in the plan and came to Singapore in May to discuss it further. Over (quite a few) beers that week we decided to give it a shot. Our skill sets were completely different (good) and we knew each other quite well (also good). However, Marcel was living in The Netherlands and had to consider a move to Singapore with his wife, who had a good job as well.

Marcel and I recruited a group of 4 MBA students from Insead to help us develop a compelling investor presentation.  They were so enthusiastic about the plan that they asked us if they could participate with it in the annual Business Plan competition at Insead. We didn’t see much harm in it and worked with them to further sharpen the proposition. We could not know at that time that we would meet our angel investor at that competition in Fontainebleau.


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