Posted by: conferencebay | October 30, 2007

From conception to birth

At the Insead Business Plan competition in June 2006 our team of students performed admirably but did not end up winning the first prize. One of the judges later told us over drinks not to be too discouraged by that: he had found that there was an inverse relationship between winning competitions and plans becoming economically viable business. Marcel and I drew courage from that and then moved on to chat with one of the other judges who we knew also lived in Singapore and also was of Dutch origin. He told us he liked the plan and that he would be interested in helping us with some angel funding, provided we could find other investors. This was of course great news and once back in Singapore we met up with him several times to get to know each other better. Our “angel investor” had successfully built several businesses already and was a very well connected resource for us. In the months leading up to Christmas we worked closely together with him and his network to get the business plan further sharpened and the financial assumptions tested.

Singapore has several government departments focusing on stimulating entrepreneurship and angel investment. So called “matching schemes” encourage entrepreneurs to find an angel investor and strike a deal after which the government simply matches this deal on the same conditions. The angel investor basically does the due diligence and keeps an eye on the progress of the company, safeguarding not only his own but also the government’s investment. After we struck a deal with our angel investor we applied and received funding from SPRING in June 2007, which gave us the chance to get the business off the ground.

By this time, Marcel had decided not to relocate to Singapore and I had found a new business partner in Frank Bomers. Frank and I met during a company visit to the Philips steam iron factory in Singapore with the local Dutch business association, in October 2006. Although this of course was a riveting occasion where we learned all there is to learn about steam irons (and there is a lot to learn!), we did find some time to get to know each other (over a cup of mineral water, as Philips did not provide the usual alcoholic beverages that attract most people to these visits). Frank had just arrived in Singapore with his girlfriend who had been posted to Singapore by her law firm.

In May, we had found a great office space in Mohamed Sultan Road, just above the Martini Firm a cool bar full of day-beds (a pure coincidence). We hired a team of 5 summer interns to help the business get off the ground in the initial phase so that we could figure out which resources we would most need. It soon appeared that getting in touch with conference organisers would be a time consuming task: not only are there hundreds of them in Asia Pacific (where our initial focus lies) but they also were not easy to get hold of! Scott and Piotr spent many hours chasing them and in the end we decided to visit those who were avoiding us most effectively with boxes of chocolates. This proved to be a very successful method as no one refuses a free gift in Singapore, especially when it is food related.

Aside from tracking down conference organisers, we worked hard on getting the website up and running. For this we worked with Adweb, a Melbourne based agency which I had worked with during my time at Shell. In May, we flew to Melbourne with Jazlyn and Shili, our 2 IT interns. This proved to be the trip of a lifetime for them (one had never before been on a plane…) and over the week that followed they took an estimated 1500 pictures (many of them of the food they had!). Apart from having the best hamburgers in the world at Grill’d and “Spuds” at Spud Bar we worked hard and fleshed out the framework of what would ultimately become the Conference Bay website.

Finally, on September 6, we had the official launch of the website. Mr Edward Liu from SACEOS and Melissa Ow from the Singapore Tourism Board were present as our guests of honor as were around 100 conference organisers and other partners. Conference Bay was born!

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