An Interview with Vincent Kok, founder of VMO.Rocks

2022-02-10 /09:02 pm

by BEAM Team,

When was the last time you booked a venue for a casual event for family, friends, or colleagues? Whether you like it or not, the current process of booking a venue for an event like a birthday party or a company dinner is still very manual. A hotel booking can be made online, so why can’t we do the same for event venues or services? BEAM had a chance to interview Vincent Kok, founder and CEO of VMO (pronounced as vee-mo).

What is VMO about and why did you decide to start it?

VMO is an instant booking platform for event venues and services. We started VMO because back then we had a problem to solve. Back then, we were organizing workshops on a regular basis and we found it a bit crazy that we could make an online booking for a hotel rooms stay but not for a meeting. We thought this was certainly a market that was ripe for a disruption.”

How long has VMO been around and how has the response been like?

“We launched VMO in October 2014 and put it through several months of beta to see what the user response would be like. Back then, we just put it out there and see whether people would use it. At the end of March 2015, we saw there was a fair amount of usage of VMO and by April 2015, I decided to be engaged in VMO full time.

In May 2015 we received the first cheque for a booking made through VMO. It was the booking of a hall for a music recital. We made RM400 for that first booking. And from then on, we have just added one booking after another.

Today our users use us to plan their weddings, annual dinners, corporate parties, and birthday parties. Booking amounts vary from RM1,000 to RM50,000. But we are averaged over RM4,800 per booking from May 2015 to Dec 2016.

Our team today is made of 3 employees (including myself) but we have 3 very active shareholders as well, namely Tham Lih Chung, Teoh Hoay Ming, and John Lim. They have helped grow VMO through their network and reach. They are my 3 unpaid employees and their contribution has been priceless.”

You recently raised RM500,000 from ECF. What made you decide to choose ECF as the platform?

“It was a meet up that we had with Fundnel of Singapore back in 2015 that opened up our eyes to the possibility of crowd funding as an avenue of fund raising. While we had initially planned a fund raise in Singapore, since all of our business is in Malaysia, Fundnel actually suggested that we do the raise in Malaysia instead. That’s where CrowdPlus came into the picture. CrowdPlus was headed by Bryan Chung, someone with whom I was familiar with and that gave me comfort to proceed with them.”

What do you think made VMO an appealing investment to investors out there?

“Some of our investors are actually the operators on our platform. I believe they see the value that we bring to their businesses and that gave them the believe to invest in us. The other retail and sophisticated investors could see the potential of what VMO after having been spammed by me for two years on VMO’s development. I think I can thank Facebook being a conduit to tell others about how VMO was growing.”

Who is currently backing VMO, and why did you choose them?

CrowdPlus introduced VMO to Cradle’s attention and after reviewing the business extensively, Cradle decided to co-invest in VMO through an ECF Platform. This is the first time that they have done so, through ECF.

Cradle is a wonderful addition to the investors we have in VMO because they have had such a great track record in helping nurture start ups and take them on to a higher level.

Rhombus Food Holdings came in before the ECF campaign (Sep 2016). They were among the top operators of F&B outlets and naturally came in as a strategic investor for VMO.”

What sort of obstacles did you face in building VMO in the beginning as well as when raising funds?

“Like all start-ups, the initial challenge was bringing in operators (hotels, restaurants, cafes, etc) on board. Not many came on board then because we were not proven yet. “How sure are you that VMO can bring us event inquiries?,” they would ask us. We slowly won them over by bringing them 1 inquiry, then 2, and more. And as these inquiries turned into bookings, the confidence grew and more operators came in.

When we first introduced Instant Booking and asked them to put their event menus online, they were skeptical at first. “My competitors can see my menu and people will compare our prices,” they said. “Let them call us” But with users today, they want to see the available options prior to calling-in.

Today, we have more than 270 bookable operators out of 860 listings.”

What’s next for VMO? How will you bring more value to both users and investors?

“Obviously expanding our footprint beyond the Klang Valley is key for us. We stated that we would use the funds to grow to Penang, Johor, & Melaka and that would be in our immediate plans. Offering more options to users. Of course, with the funding, we are now able to scale up on advertising and that will give our operators an even greater reach. Our early investors have seen a nice growth in the valuation of the company.”

What is the greatest highlight in this journey of yours in building VMO

“There have been different highlights along the way. But the latest is the way the funds were raised. RM250,000 raised in 4 days to match Cradle’s RM250,000 fund was something that overwhelmed me. We had not done an extensive public pre-launch of the campaign, it was a relatively low key affair, but investors started coming in from Day 1. The investors came from near and far, one from Singapore & another from Vietnam. By the end of Day 4, we had reached 100% of our funding goal and just before CrowdPlus managed to end the campaign, one more investor managed to squeeze-through the very last minute and elevated our ECF campaign as Oversubscribed.”

What sort of advice would you give for entrepreneurs seeking to go down the path of raising funds via ECF?

“Find a company that will walk alongside with you and wants to help you grow. We understand that it’s in the interest of an ECF company to raise as much funds as possible. After all, they are paid on success fees. More monies raised, more monies earned for them. We chose CrowdPlus because in Bryan Chung, we found someone whom we believe would help us raise the funds while balancing our need to not over-dilute ourselves too early.”