An exclusive interview with Benjamin Yee, CEO & Founder of EMERGE App, a cloud-based inventory management solution for small and medium-sized businesses around the world.
Tell us about yourself?
I’m a Dreamer and Believer all rolled up in one. I have a serious case of wanderlust and my current role as CEO and founder of a software company allows me to live an enviable digital nomad life while exploring the dusty backroads of the world.
I dream of making the world a better place by solving tricky and time-consuming problems that businesses have with managing inventory. I believe I can do this with the right people, investors and support from my customers.
How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
I was actually running a brick-and-mortar t-shirt printing business when I stumbled across the idea for a software startup. I was making decent money with my t-shirt business while at school but addressing my own business pain points with my software got me thinking about how I could help other small and medium-sized businesses out there.
I then spun out this in-house solution as the standalone software that you see today as EMERGE App. Ironically, my brick-and-mortar business slowly faded into the background but it’s still profitable today!
How much potential market share can you achieve in the next 3 years?
Three years is a long time. My software is two-and-a-half years old and already we’ve made significant inroads in over 40 countries on 5 continents. World domination would be nice in the next 3 years.
Seriously, the only remaining obstacle for customers to pay for my inventory management software is language. It’s understandable that business owners in Europe, South America, China and India want the user interface in their own native language. Once I have my software internationalized, we’re easily looking at well over hundreds of millions of business users in these countries alone.
What was the best book or series that you’ve ever read?
Recently, I just finished “Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing” by Roger Dooley. I’m in a sales and marketing mood now and this book left me with a deep impression about adopting a scientific approach to marketing.
In particular, I was intrigued about how the art of neuromarketing tweaks our brain to respond to cognitive and sensory marketing stimuli. And we don’t even realize it! It’s also written in a short and digestible way, perfect for someone like me who is always fidgeting.
What are the best and worst purchases you’ve ever made?
Some of the worst purchases I’ve ever made were for various airline tickets in the early days of my travels. As a startup, I’m very careful and thrifty about spending money on flights. So I go with the cheapest available fare, though I now limit my stopovers to one at most. Two or more stopovers and I’m regretting the decision very much!
Likewise, the best purchases I’ve made were for various bed and breakfasts in South-East Asia. I don’t stay in hotels as a rule because of budget constraints. But I do enjoy long stays in B&B lodgings. These aren’t fancy Instagrammable properties but simple homes and villas with clean sheets and decent coffee in the morning.
What takes up too much of your time?
To tell the truth? Sleep! I need a minimum of 6 hours sleep to be functional the next day. So you could say that I wish I could claw back the 6 hours that I spent sleeping. I’m a workaholic by nature and in the early days of my startup, I was selling and supporting users in opposite time zones.
What three pieces of advice would you give to college students/new startup business owners who want to become entrepreneurs?
Firstly, are you honestly cut out to be an entrepreneur or business founder? Or do you just want to make some money quickly? Well, I can tell you that you won’t make money and you won’t make it quickly. Some people do. They’re the headline stories that you read about but there are many, many more startups that fail miserably along the way.
Secondly, you need to believe in what you’re doing. And it would be good to have domain knowledge or expertise in the area that you want to disrupt and innovate. Don’t dip your toes into an industry that you can’t talk about in front of investors or convince strangers about.
Thirdly, get your MVP right first. There’s little point in making unsubstantiated claims or marketing fluff if you have no product or service to show for it. Go into stealth mode to gauge your competitors, built a better product or service than anyone else, and then shock-and-awe the market.
Who has impressed you most with what they’ve accomplished?
It would have to be Jeff Bezos in our time. It’s hard to believe that Amazon only started in the mid-1990s in someone’s garage. Now it’s one of the world’s most valuable tech companies and an undeniable force in e-commerce retailing. It’s worth far more than several old-world businesses added up together!
The beauty about Amazon is both its B2C and B2C businesses. It was pure genius how their B2B products and services were launched once their B2C business model was perfected. Who would have known that businesses around the world would be interested to piggyback and pay for use of Amazon’s data centres, scalability and know-how?
Tell us about something you are proud of – about your greatest challenge.
EMERGE App has well over 1,000 users and I’m proud to have touched and visited many businesses that use our software. It’s satisfying to have built something that others find useful and would gladly pay to use. To me, it’s like cooking a dish that delights your customers and keeps them coming back. I now have high standards to maintain and regular customers to please.
My greatest challenge was picking a country to start my business. As always, startup funds were limited and I could not afford to hire and keep an office in my home country. Also, I didn’t have access to a contiguous market like the European Union or a vast market like the United States. So I had to go abroad and seek countries with strong English-speaking skills, a young workforce and the right know-how in technology. I eventually founded my software development office in Vietnam.
How should people connect with you?
You can connect with me on LinkedIn.