Paul Kemp: Welcome to another episode of The App Guy Podcast. I am your host, it's Paul Kemp. This is the show where I go around the world and figure out who can help us with their journeys, especially in the space of apps and mobiles and technology.
This is a show for inspired founders, anyone who's maybe working at a corporate job and is thinking of quitting to get into startups, get into doing their own thing. I have literally an amazing guest; the reason is that he has taken a different path in his app journey. He is someone who, firstly, is calling in from Singapore, and he has never worked for anyone else before, he's never had a boss... In fact, he's never even been to university; he's followed a very different path.
So, my guest is Benjamin Yee. He is the founder of EMERGE App, and we're going to find out about his journey. Benjamin, welcome to The App Guy Podcast.
Benjamin Yee: Thank you, Paul, thanks for having me.
Paul Kemp: Okay, so in terms of EMERGE App - let's, first of all, explore the app, and then we can talk about your journey afterward. What is EMERGE App?
Benjamin Yee: EMERGE App is basically a web app that helps any merchant, whether you are selling any products or you are selling services, through a distribution, a wholesale or eCommerce model. You are able to just head to my website, get an account, put your products up, customers up, suppliers up, and start using the app to run your entire business from sales all the way to accounts. That's the view of the entire app itself.
Paul Kemp: It seems like a huge undertaking. So you're actually taking the problem that people have with -- talk about the problem you're trying to solve here, Ben.
Benjamin Yee: Basically, in my domain, SAP and ORACLE come to mind - big enterprise resource planning, CRM software... We are not serving those big companies, those huge multinational companies. We are going way small, to startups, small companies where you have five employees or less, where you really need productivity. Wholesale trading and distribution go way back to the stone ages where people traded stuff, things that they had, in exchange for something else.
Trading and distribution haven't changed. What has changed is how can we help each individual employee in your company become more productive, whether you are a salesperson, whether you are managing an inventory, whether you are doing purchasing, whether you are doing accounts. The entire system links the entire business together. Rather than using spreadsheets to manage your inventory, the quotations, and you're calling your customers and managing your customers' contacts - all over the place.
We are very focused to help small companies make sure that they run their operations much better, more effectively. At the end of the day, what bosses or employers are looking at is basically making much more profit, so once we are able to be more effective, each of your staff is able to be more productive, at the end you will have more profits in your bottom line.
Paul Kemp: What I love, Ben, already is that you're solving a problem for small companies, those 1-5 employees, for example, and yet you have never had a boss yourself. It's interesting that you've targeted the small companies... There's money in that part of the market. It's obviously nice you're not competing with the big powerhouses, but is there money to be made in that very small segment?
Benjamin Yee: Okay, just simply look at it like this - imagine you're going to spend two or three grand even to hire a sales person, or administration person, operation or even an accountant. What is spending 30 dollars more for just one single account? Yes, you may be asking me whether there's enough money to be made if a company only spends a hundred to two hundred dollars per month, but think about it... The trading and distribution business, the eCommerce business is one of the easiest businesses to start. You don't really need a lot of capital if you are doing trading; you can go straight to your suppliers, get a commitment and start selling. Once you sell your product, you can just buy from your supplier and fulfill the others.
Looking at it, the ease of getting into such a business, means we have tons of them. Just look at the World Trade Organization recorded statistics for businesses in this domain; you have at least 15 million such businesses. Of course, not all 15 million will actually adopt a system like mine, but say we're looking at 0,01% - it's a lot more than we could provide with just a small team like us.
Paul Kemp: Yes, I'm going to try to understand a little bit more about the product as well because I'm not quite understanding what it is... For example, if I wanted to sell something - let's just take SquareSpace for example. That's a website that does mobile optimized pages, and also enables you to set up an account and get paid... Is it something similar to that but more from an app?
Benjamin Yee: Okay, so SquareSpace, Shopify - such platforms allow merchants to actually put their product up online, to be able to sell it, like a frontend platform. EMERGE is more like a backend, behind the scenes application. Let me give you a scenario - a new guy comes up from the corporate world; he has been, say, in the machine industry for over 20 years, and he found a couple of suppliers and decided to get into the distribution business of XYZ machine parts.
First, you need to negotiate with the supplier; once he gets the products that he's going to sell, an an agreement with the suppliers, the next step for him would be having a product database. Once you sign up for EMERGE, what you can do is get all these products inside EMERGE to first manage your inventory, manage your orders and so on and so forth. With the app itself, you can actually go out there, so it's more like a B2B. One motto is B2B, business-to-business. You go out to machine owners and you start selling to them. If they require you to issue a quotation to them, you can use the app itself to generate a quotation and send it to them via the app.
Once the quotation is confirmed, they can convert it into a sales order in the system itself, which records all the sales figures and how well the business is doing in terms of sales, profit margin, cost price that you're talking about for each order... Once that happens, once the order is being confirmed, they can use the system to generate a purchase order from their supplier.
Imagine if he's not using EMERGE, he would first have to use Excel sheets to set up his whole entire business, from having quotations in Excel sheets, purchase orders in Excel sheets... When you fulfill your goods, you have shipment orders, your delivery orders... All these have to conform with general business workflow - documents like delivery order, invoices, quotation have to include certain things that are required to do business in the States, or anywhere else in the world.
That part of EMERGE - the documentation, the linking from sales and suppliers and purchases - helps new entrepreneurs or small businesses in basically digitizing all their business processes. They don't have to actually create all these documents in Excel sheets anymore.
Another problem with Excel sheets is once you get too many of them, you save them all over the place; especially when you're busy running a bar and customers are calling you, you don't really archive them well in different folders, and if customers and suppliers comes back to you again to look for certain things, you actually waste quite a little bit of time to search for all these files that you need to dig out, to actually send them to your suppliers or customers again.
Using EMERGE app, everything is digitized. If a customer comes back and says, "Hey, can you send that quotation to me again that you sent a month ago?", you just have to search (like Google) for that quotation and literally send it out from the app itself. You don't really have to PDF if and then put it in your mailbox and send it out. Most of the time, e-mails don't really reach the users (your customers or your suppliers) and that kind of slows down the whole process of the supply chain. We wanted to make it more effective from a global perspective. For us, once we are able to help these small businesses do their business much more efficiently, the whole supply chain could benefit from it as well.
EMERGE is not a platform that helps you advertise or list your product on the website, it's more like a backend solution for you to manage your entire business flow.
Paul Kemp: Ben, what I want to say as well is that I think that the audience, the appster tribe listening to this can really benefit from what we're learning from you, and it's that you look for an industry that is heavily reliant on Excel spreadsheets, which is something that is from historic ages, the stone age, and actually then build something that solves a problem, which is the overcomplicated use of Excel spreadsheets.
I remember talking on a podcast episode a while back where we were being encouraged to find industries, find niches where you can just do away with Excel spreadsheets and use an app to make the whole flow a lot better, which is what you've done with EMERGE app.
Benjamin Yee: Yes, but keep in mind that EMERGE is not something that is not in the market for a really long time. SAP Oracle has been doing such software for 30 years, but the target for them is really focusing on really huge businesses, for MMCs that can afford tens of millions of dollars to deploy a system within their business operations. But what about small guys, right? For myself, I started my first business selling T-shirts when I was 17 - still in school - so that was my problem... I kind of wanted to get software, software was too expensive, so "Screw it, I'm just going to build a software for myself. At least I have one client." So luckily, if I myself am facing this problem, I'm sure millions of entrepreneurs worldwide would be facing the same issue as well.
Paul Kemp: And Ben, I want to add you to the list of young entrepreneurs that have been on this show. I remember a past episode - and if anyone wants to remind me, they can e-mail me to get the episode - where an entrepreneur started at the age of 14, selling domain names, and here you are, at 17, selling T-shirts.
So I wanna carry on and dig deeper into your journey because I think we can learn a lot from especially those people who are either leaving school, university or perhaps sitting there in a corporate job and wondering what it's like to work for yourself or be your own boss. Just before I do, I do want to just take a minute to re-thank my sponsor, Gummicube... Tell me, have you heard of Gummicube?
Benjamin Yee: No, unfortunately not.
Paul Kemp: Okay, well here you go then. Gummicube, they've been sponsoring my show now for years and they really were spearheading the whole of the app store optimization trend. They help increase downloads by helping find your audience within the app store; they will help you determine the best keywords to focus on, and then get those keywords to be the ones where anyone typing in on the Apple app store will see your app. And you know how important it is when someone types in a word, say, like "productivity", if EMERGE App pops up when you type in that keyword.
App store discoverability is really hard, it's really one of the big challenges for developers now and anyone with an app. What Gummicube is doing that's slightly different to others is that they do actually pull the data from the app store, so all the data they have is not being scraped off the web, but is app store data, which makes a big difference.
Gummicube.com is where you go, and if you are listening to this and you're interested, I can also introduce to the founder, Dave Bell, if you want to get into the inner circle of people that work there. So that's Gummicube.com. Thanks, Gummicube, for supporting the show.
Ben, the fact that you've never worked for anyone else I'm very envious of... You don't know what it's like to work for an awful boss. You've never been to university as well, which is a really different course. How have you learned your trade then, if you haven't gone to an establishment like a university? Where do you learn from?
Benjamin Yee: I guess in a nutshell it's just to make mistakes. You make mistakes, but not lose too much money making mistakes... I guess that is kind of like the most important part about not having somebody or having a mentor around you that can actually help guide you through. But it's kind of good as well because if you haven't really started off in a corporate career, you can kind of like write your own playbook; you do not need to conform to a certain way of doing things.
If you are in a big company for a really long time, you tend to feel that you have to do things in a certain way. I'm not saying all this to downplay people from big corporations and that are trying to become entrepreneurs, but what you have to realize is once you're an entrepreneur, it's your own playbook, it's your own rules. You don't have to listen, you don't have to have your past way of dealing with your business... You can just do everything at your own pace, your own rules.
That is the huge benefit for me - I don't have a standard, I don't have a baseline to start with. Everything else is you make mistakes, you learn from them and you grow from there.
Paul Kemp: Ben, one of the things I was thinking, as you are living in a very expensive city, there are others around the world who equally are living in expensive cities, and I could imagine it was really tough when you decided that you were going to go down the root of starting your own thing. Have you got any advice for us on what it's like to start up in actually quite an expensive place to live?
Benjamin Yee: Okay, if I may, I should say that Singapore -- okay, I would like to beg to differ for this case... Many reports say that Singapore is one of the most expensive cities to live in, right? I do agree, to a certain extent, because for a Singaporean (born and bred in Singapore), most of us have a house - our families, our parents... Singapore induces home ownership, so our government housing is actually heavily subsidized.
Most of us grew up with a home, so basically we do not need to worry about paying for rent, or stuff like that. And food is really cheap. The reports that came out actually took more restaurant prices, so that's food at a much higher scale, but most Singaporeans do not really frequent restaurants that much. We have things like hawker centers, food courts where you can even get a decent meal for 2,50 Sing Dollars, so that is about 2 U.S. Dollars.
Paul Kemp: Wow.
Benjamin Yee: Yeah, so in fact, Singapore is kind of like a great place for locals to start their business. It's just that in Asia we don't have a good ecosystem for starting businesses... Parents always tell us to study hard and go to a big university and get a big corporate job when you grow up; don't take on the risky, entrepreneur route.
So my advice for entrepreneurs that are starting up in expensive cities, I guess find a way to have extra streams of income. When I've started off, early on, luckily, I was still being kind of fed by my parents, because I was still in school. I started off early, so that was a bonus, but for the rest that starts later on, I guess the advice is to find other streams of income, things that you may do on the side - maybe becoming an Uber driver for 3-4 hours a day, or maybe even selling domain names, or writing blogs to earn some advertising dollars from there.
Find a second income, if possible, to subsidize everything else, so you can continue to basically work on your dream. That's my advice.
Paul Kemp: I'm sure that many people listening are having these same worries... What was it like when you first told your parents - I'm assuming you were living with your mom and dad at the time - how difficult was it...? Because I can imagine it's quite a challenging conversation when parents and the older generation expect us to do certain things - they expect us to go to university, and they want us to get a career, and become a doctor, or some established profession. And actually, looking at the future, we know that a lot of those professions are going to fade and they may be taken over by AI, robots... Who knows? So to start a startup and know how to develop your own streams is very important. But how did you overcome that? It must have been a challenging conversation with your parents, to tell them that this is what you really wanted to do.
Benjamin Yee: The majority of my friends and people around me had that problem when they were at the start of doing their own entrepreneurship, but for myself, I was lucky that both my parents were doing business when I was young, so the resistance was not that much. If my parents are doing business, they'll kind of encourage me to do business as well, so coming to another point, I guess your environment, especially your parents, do play a huge role in whether you take risk or not, but it's not necessarily true for everyone. I could speak on behalf of my friends and family around... It's really tough.
Paul Kemp: Actually, Ben, can I just jump in? Because I remember... One of the themes I think I've had from all these 500+ episodes over the years is the theme that entrepreneurs do come from entrepreneurial families, and it seems more often than not that that's the case. So I would encourage anyone who's got maybe an entrepreneurial family - mother, father, uncle, auntie or whomever it may be - to maybe stay close to them and try and learn from them, because maybe that's what's driving you. What do you think?
Benjamin Yee: That's definitely true, and also it really depends... If you are so buy-in into entrepreneurship, you could even find support groups, you can find entrepreneurship groups. Every city in the world has them; you can just do a Google search, join those groups and find like-minded people that share entrepreneurship dreams with you. We are who we mix with, right? If you spend most of your time with people that are encouraging, people who are already doing business, the chances for us to become a successful entrepreneur, or even start becoming an entrepreneur are much higher.
If you're going to be mixing around with friends and people around you who are in big corporations and focus their life on stability, then it could be a lot tougher for you to actually make the leap into entrepreneurship.
Paul Kemp: Yes. So Ben, just before we say goodbye to you then, the final thing is that people listening and reading our transcript - I wanted to know what type of person is ultimately going to download and use your app... If you can just re-explain the sorts of people that should actually be going and downloading the app now.
Benjamin Yee: Sure. So if you're a merchant, you are already an entrepreneur, if you're selling a product, say T-shirts, coin pouches, soft toys - any physical product that you are buying from a supplier or manufacturing yourself, that you are selling on an eCommerce platform, selling business-to-business to retail stores, business-to-business to any industrial business, industrial domain, get it now. Download it and check it out. It's free for the first user, so we make it really simple, really easy for entrepreneurs that really use apps before, haven't really tested apps before this, to kind of test the system and find out to what extent it could help your business.
For us, we've helped hundreds of businesses around the world increase their productivity, and the next one could be you.
Paul Kemp: Yes, and I'm guessing as well that it's not just the founders or the entrepreneurs running those companies, but anyone in the company who is putting in data into a spreadsheet that's got supplier or customer information or purchase orders or anything, then they should be using EMERGE app.
Benjamin Yee: That is absolutely right... Not just for small businesses - even for larger businesses as well.
Paul Kemp: Yes. Ben, you've been so inspiring to talk to... I've loved walking through your journey, and I would like to know, if people are inspired by your story, how best can they get in touch with you? What is the best way of connecting with you?
Benjamin Yee: The best way is to look for me on Facebook or drop me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will reply to your e-mail within 24 hours.
Paul Kemp: Wonderful! Ben, ever so nice talking with you, and all the best for the future of EMERGE app.
Benjamin Yee: Thank you very much, Paul, for having me.
Paul Kemp is a podcaster and app founder. He's appeared in multiple publications, such as Inc.com and he's behind the launch a #2 chart topping recipe app, and a #1 music app on Apple’s App Store. Paul's latest video app is endorsed by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. He’s probably best known for hosting “‘The App Guy Podcast” which is in its forth year and has over 500 episodes with founders and app entrepreneur guests from around the world. Subscribe at http://TheAppGuy.co (for free) if you are interested in the app startup scene. You can also subscribe to receive new episodes using these links: