[Feature image: (L-R) Kalpha Vietnam’s co-founders Jaden Teo and Tri Nguyen]
By the SMU Social Media Team
For many people, the past year of travel restrictions has meant getting used to staying put. For SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business alumnus and entrepreneur Jaden Teo, however, the year of no travel meant learning how to grow his business and broaden his horizons, all while staying grounded.
At the start of 2020, just before the pandemic struck, he had arrived in Vietnam to launch Kalpha, an education start-up where users can share skills, experiences, and knowledge with one another through a mobile app, thus enabling them to connect with mentors and coaches. Jaden had co-founded this business in 2019 in Singapore with long-time friend Jack Soh, and they had identified Vietnam as their next market.
“We theorised that Vietnam would be an ideal market for Kalpha given that the median age of the population is 30.5 years,” Jaden explains. “That meant the domain knowledge and insights, life experiences and networking which Kalpha advocates would be so relevant and applicable to the population’s day-to-day lives.”
Indeed, he had gotten the idea for this business during his own student days, when he was trying to find out more about careers in the banking and consulting industries. He found himself looking for people in his social circle with relevant experiences and advice, and this led him to think about creating a platform where users could get guidance on life decisions.
Kalpha co-founders (from left) Jaden and Jack Soh
Kalpha had done well in Singapore, winning accolades such as the ASEAN Rice Bowl Startup Award in 2019 and ORIGIN Innovation Award 2020. Preparing for the company’s next chapter, Jaden arrived in Vietnam with just a backpack, planning to execute the launch and then head back to Singapore, returning to check in every few months.
Then, Covid-19 happened. At that point, Jaden decided that instead of returning home, he would stay in Vietnam and see things through. The decision paid off—since its launch there, Kalpha has garnered strong traction, attracting more than 50,000 users within six months, accumulating a total of 80,000 users in both Vietnam and Singapore.
“I’m grateful that my SMU overseas exchange experiences have equipped me with the necessary skills to survive and live overseas”
“I’m grateful that my SMU overseas exchange experiences have equipped me with the necessary skills to survive and live overseas,” says Jaden. As an SMU student in the Bachelor of Business Management (BBM) programme, he completed his Overseas Community Service Project in Thailand and an overseas exchange programme in Kazakhstan. During the latter trip, he also took the opportunity to visit neighbouring countries like Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Russia.
“These overseas experiences strengthened my cultural sensitivity and adaptability. In my view, as an entrepreneur, we must be very versatile and be able to adapt to different situations and environments,” he believes.
For instance, expanding into a new market meant that Kalpha had to explore new ways of courting users. Having learned that the Vietnamese were avid users of social media, the team tapped into Key Opinion Leaders (an alternative term for influencers) to market Kalpha through social media channels.
“It helped that our co-founder in Vietnam, Tri Nguyen, is one of the top influencers in Vietnam,” Jaden reveals. “We also collaborated with several local partners to ensure that we quickly shorten the learning curve and adapt our product to the local market.”
Kalpha Vietnam Team
In Singapore, as well, Kalpha pivoted swiftly to adapt to the new challenges thrown up by the pandemic, implementing a live call function so their users could connect online for advice instead of meeting up in person. Still, there have been challenges, including potential investors withdrawing funding due to the riskier operating environment.
However, the team plans to stay the course by keeping expenditure prudent, and “steering the company towards being a more virtual-oriented meetup platform”, says Jaden.
In the meantime, the impact of what Kalpha can achieve is keeping him motivated. When many companies were cutting their headcounts to stay afloat in the past year, one of their users was retrenched from her job. Thanks to connections she made on Kalpha, she was eventually hired by a tech company.
“Having the ability to effect change in our society is something I’m super proud of.”
In October 2020, the team got to chat with a top user who had met over 50 people through Kalpha over the span of one month. “We learnt that he was having suicidal thoughts,” Jaden shares. “Fortunately, he connected with other users on Kalpha via an acquaintance, and started sharing life experiences. That actually helped him to successfully overcome his situation and rediscovered his purpose of living.”
These are just some of the many positive experiences the Kalpha team hears about every day, he says. “Having the ability to effect change in our society is something I’m super proud of.”
(From left) Kalpha co-founder Jaden, Nest Tech VN founder and managing partner Soe Moe Kyaw Oo, and Tri Nguyen
The edutech start-up announced in December 2020 that it had closed a six-figure seed extension round, led by existing seed-stage investor Nest Tech, with participation from several undisclosed angel investors. For now, Kalpha, will be focusing on extending its offerings on the B2C vertical where institutional course providers can list their classes, workshops and seminars to its platform.
[All pictures courtesy of Kalpha.]
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