I interviewed Arnout Mostert, a Dutch entrepreneur who lives and works in Singapore. Together with Frank Bomers he founded Conference Bay. This is a service that aims to make visiting, organizing and speaking at conferences a more pleasant experience. They do that by offering innovative online services to conference organizers, delegates and speakers such as an online bidding tool for tickets and an online booking application. They’ll soon launch a speakers section where speakers can create their own profile page. Check out their blog here.
How did you come up with the idea of Conference Bay?
“When I was working in Marketing for Shell in London during the the late nineties, I got the chance to join a new business that was set up to investigate the opportunities that new media could bring to a company like Shell. I attended quite a few conferences at the time and was amazed how often I would get calls or emails from the organizers offering me the ‘exclusive’ opportunity to bring a colleague for free, which basically is a 50% discount. One day I was sitting at a particularly boring conference and after finishing off the Mentos we sketched the idea for Conference Bay on a napkin. Basically, we borrowed the Priceline model where people can name the price they’re willing to pay for something.”
What was your biggest challenge during the development process?
“Like everybody we have faced all the usual start-up problems but now we are being recognized as a serious player instead of just another start up. But the technical development of the site is probably the hardest thing we struggled with because neither me nor my co-founder Frank Bomers has technical/programming experience. The initial site was developed by a company in Australia I used to work with before, and they did a great job but it would have been better to have someone in the office. These people are hard to find in Singapore (the world?) though so we are now working with a firm in India. If there is a talented developer out there reading this who wants to come and live in sunny Singapore, please contact us!”
Can you describe the Singaporean start-up culture compared to Silicon Valley?
“To be honest, Singapore does not (yet) have much of a start-up culture. Most talented people here are snapped up by – believe it or not – the government, which offers very good salaries and in a lot of cases overseas postings or scholarships at prestigious Universities. When we hired 5 students last summer to help us start up we found that it took them some time to get used to the fact that we had no rules and when we took them for a beer after work the first time they thought we were joking. We almost had to drag them out of the office.
The good thing about Singapore is that the government is very focused on innovations and bringing new business ideas to the next stage. For this reason the Singapore government has various grants and schemes that can help start up companies grow. You also see that they are working on various ideas to promote entrepreneurship amongst young people.”
What will be the influence of your start-up on the next web?
“We think we can change the pricing model of the conference industry, which is badly needed. Just like the airline and hotel industries have perfected their pricing models, we believe that conference organizers will become more flexible in the prices they charge their customers. We can help them do so by managing their ‘discount’ channels while they focus purely on the full price model. We also think that a professional overview of conferences around the world is badly needed in this time when people rely on aggregators of information when making purchasing decisions. And finally, we are working on some ideas to help delegates to extend the networking experience of the conference to the online world.
“What developments do you have in the pipeline?
We are working on a service in which we become the booking agent of all conferences for companies. The company benefits from lower prices overall, negotiated and guaranteed by us, one contact point for all their conference bookings, and we invoice them once a month for all conference related expenses. This is in line with what has happened with travel related expenses such as flights and hotels, for which companies already often work with third parties. The benefit for employees booking conferences is that they do not have to fill out shady fax forms or negotiate with a call center operator about the price. This service is in line with the general idea behind Conference Bay which is to make organizing and visiting conferences more pleasant and save money at the same time.