A record-making Cambodian startup company BookMeBus (BMB) broke even in the fourth-month and has been continuously expanding its market to make both domestic and international travelers’ traveling experience much more convenient and awesome than ever before. As a travel lover, you may have experienced first-hand that booking a bus ticket in some countries can be a huge pain. Sometimes everything is written in a local language, or sometimes a local phone number is required to accomplish the booking. Or more frequently, such an online booking system simply does not exist at all.
As a result, travelers have to go to the station in person to get their tickets booked hours before their departure. Nonetheless, no seat is guaranteed until it finally comes to your turn. Many are left no choice but change his/her itinerary or go for a more expensive option like taxi especially in the high-season. This is not a tragedy that only shared among foreign backpackers but also local Cambodians that hours of queuing ends up in vain due to a lack of real-time ticket booking system.
The birth of BMB is a breakthrough to solve this problem for travelers in Cambodia, by creating a centralized ticket booking website where people can reserve a seat in advance after comparing different bus companies’ prices and departure times from BMB’s partner bus operator list. Popular destinations in neighboring countries such as Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok are also selectable from this single website.
BookMeBus, A Centralized Ticket Booking Website (bookmebus.com)
In July 2016, the company recorded a monthly sales of 38,000 USD with approximately 2,300 tickets sold only nine months after launching the service. Behind the remarkable growth, the founder and CEO Langda Chea (27) did not have any clear visions unexpectedly until the product turned out to be a big hit. Seeing a great opportunity in the online booking market, Langda, as a tech-guy, shared his point of view on technology and business with us. What is his belief in doing business and where does he want to lead his company to?
Yusi: What is BMB and why are you doing this?
Langda: BMB is an online bus ticketing service. Some people call it a platform or whatever, our mission is to provide online bus booking service that helps people to get their ticket easier and more convenient than ever before. The reason why we came up with this idea is because in Cambodia people only had two ways to get their bus ticket booked. The first option is to go to the ticket office and buy a ticket directly from the counter. The second option is to call bus companies one by one to check seat availability and time of departure. Once it’s confirmed, you have to go to the office one hour before to make the payment. Unlike other countries, there’s no centralized bus station in Cambodia and different bus companies are located in different places. So in order to reserve a bus ticket, people have to travel very far and of course it takes time.
As a tech-guy, when did you start thinking about contributing to the society by increasing convenience for others?
Actually, I was a person with no goal. I used to survive day by day without thinking about the future. I didn’t have any goal when I decided to major in IT. But one year after the course, I started realizing that technology can change the world. It can solve any problems in this world. I gradually started to see opportunities where we can help people and their business by making management easier. At that time, I had been so depressed by the manual work in hotel, restaurant and money exchange place etc. People wrote down every transaction in a notebook. I thought “That’s stupid. There’s Excel and it’s more organized and secured.”
We learned that you recently gave a lecture on combining technology and business. Why you chose this topic?
I met a lot of people who stick to their computers writing codes. But do they like this? They don’t get anything. Life is much more meaningful than that. I shared my experience that every single code they write, it’s worth a million dollar because it solves problems. However, it only happens when you come out, meet people and learn new things. Only when you utilize the knowledge and theories at school in the real market, it will be stored in your brain permanently. You need to know the logic of business in order to provide the best solutions to your client. That’s why I encouraged them to learn how business is processed. Code itself does not mean anything if it doesn’t solve problems.
You said you used to be a man without any goal. But did you want to become an entrepreneur from early on?
Speaking of motivation, the trigger was my previous employment experience. Although I got a high salary and a high position as an IT manager, I wasn’t happy with that. I found it not challenging enough so I quitted the job. My mindset is that I have a skill and I’m young, and I can take any risk I want to because I can restart again and again. Running my own business helps me a lot to learn the real world, which opened the window of my life. With an employment, you just need to follow the order. The company wants this, so you just sit down in an office and do it. That’s it.
People normally value salary more than other kinds of stuff. They think getting 2000-3000 USD every month is quite big. However, my experience as a freelance web designer during my school years helped me understand that I could earn money without being employed. When you come out to the real world, you will realize that you can earn more than that, and there are many opportunities waiting for you.
Talking about entrepreneurship, I think people tend to think too much before they start. Thinking a lot does not inspire you because you only see problems. Not thinking too much means that you are positive about your idea. You will see new chance and solution afterward through the process. If it doesn’t work after you tried fixing it? Just give up! Sometimes ideas don’t work. Just drop it and adopt a new one. As a young generation, we have to learn this.
BMB turned out to be a great success, but what were/are the biggest obstacles?
Currently, our main income comes from foreigners. There are not a lot of Cambodian users as this e-commerce thing is very new to the country. Cambodian people feel insecure to pay online and postpaid is much preferred to prepaid. As for the bus, people want to pay on board, which is easier for them in terms of flexibility. Now we are working to find a solution to adapt our service to this culture. We also want to change people’s behavior by penetrating the benefit of paying forward such as securing the seat in advance helps you prevent from missing your bus on an important appointment day, for example.
Speaking of missing a bus, I didn’t experience myself but caused another guy to miss his bus last week. I was waiting for my breakfast at my hostel’s bar before leaving for Kampot (a province in Cambodia) that morning. Then a staff suddenly came up to me and said I’ve got a tuk-tuk pickup for free, so I took it. When I came back to the same hostel 2 days later, however, the staff told me that the pickup was for another guest who reserved a different bus company, and who unfortunately missed his bus…
Do you have any plan to extend your service to other transportation as well?
Haha, we are also thinking about working on pickup service. We hope that every time you think about traveling, you think about BMB.We will extend our service to train, flight, boat and taxi where travelers can get everything in one place. We also wish to help small transportation companies that care a lot about their services to be seen and recognized by the public.
What are your 5-10 years future prospects?
Since I started BMB, I have a big goal to make this Cambodian product compete with other countries in Asia and Europe. I don’t feel inferior in terms of technology as long as we believe in ourselves, our product, and the fact that we fix people’s problems. This is where supply meets demand and the chance to make money. There are loads of opportunities for us to implement for two reasons: technology and the team. Our team is very good at solving social problems the gap. So once the demand has been identified, it means there are opportunities, and this is where technology comes in and helps.
We learned that there is another online ticket booking website in Cambodia, but your attitude towards your competitor is very positive.
Yes, we would be happy if other companies provide similar service. Our objective is to make Cambodian people adapt to new technology. So having more rivals means that others will help us to promote how convenient online booking is, and teach people how to use online booking with their resources. So competitors are much welcomed.If we were to compare our solution/tech to similar products/services nearby, we see the strength of ours and there are more we can do.
Langda Chea, Founder of BookMeBus
Langda Chea enrolled in BA Information Technology at the Royal University of Phnom Penh and BA Education at the Institute of Foreign Language in 2008. In year three, he started working as a freelance web designer and realized that it was much more profitable to be independent than being employed. After experiencing a few jobs including one as a manager, Langda established his own company in 2015 and launched BookMeBus (BMB) in October the same year.
BMB offers a centralized platform for booking bus and ferry tickets. It connects popular destinations national wide and also several international cities in neighboring countries, enabling both foreign and domestic travelers to get their tickets easier and smoother. In February 2016, the company hit the break-even point only four months after the service release. The rapid growth is grabbing the attention of international investors.
A truly friendly sharing of Langda’s philosophy of business taught me the essence of being a startup company. For Langda, decisions are fun to make and nothing should be called a failure as long as you learn from your mistake and swiftly adapt to the market. According to him, the company already earns 10% of the sales transaction. Yet it only accounts for 0.004% of the total market of the bus ticket sold in Cambodia on daily basis and more growth is expected. Although Langda did not have any goals before, BMB is definitely one of the hottest services from Cambodia. With opportunity as the prime directive, you will definitely sharpen your sense of business by working with Langda and his team!
Work with Cambodian Entreprener
Work with Visionary Entreprener