We met Sully in his office, ideally placed in Yangon near the Kandawgyi Lake and above a fitness park as a nod to his startup. In a room full of diploma and awards, Sully took the time to tell us about how he managed to create Flexible Pass from scratches.
- Can you tell us a bit more of where you come from and what you did before Flexible Pass?
I come from Yangon, but I moved to Malaysia where i did my high school. Then I moved another time to Australia to do a Bachelor in Brisbane. When I came back from there, I knew I wanted to become an entrepreneur. I also knew I wanted to go in a field which has not been disrupted yet, so I thought about health and sport.
- And what was the key element which makes you shift to entrepreneurship?
At this time, Phandeeyar was creating a program called the Founder Institute. Phandeeyar is an incubator and this program is meant for entrepreneurs who have almost just an idea and nothing else. This is inspired of the same name program from the Silicon Valley. It’s a three months intensive program with weekly evaluations. You are graded from 1 to 5 but you cannot have 3. So you have either a very good or very bad grade and you need an average of more than 3.5 to go to the next steps. These evaluations are weekly pitches with some assignments in parallel. Many people dropped out of this program because of their grades or because of their motivations. I applied for it and was selected and I finally graduated from this program in April 2017.
- So what was your idea at this time ?
I would say that the vision I had was already similar of the one I have now. Flexible pass is born because I identified a specific pain of sport clubs members. This pain is that you don’t have any flexibility on your membership: this is a monthly subscription and either you go twice a month or each day you pay the same price. My idea was to reduce this price by creating a more adapted subscription where you pay only when you go. The other pillar of my project was that you could access a maximum of sports clubs with only one subscription.
- What have you learned from this program?
A tons of things in every sectors. They helped me create a MVP (minimum vital product), test my market and have feedbacks from potential customers. I also gained a friend and mentor which is still with me and became a board member. I was followed by the structure and challenged every week. When I graduated from the program I already had a product, few partners and customers. I also worked on my idea because at first my idea was to offer a certain number of sessions in each sport club. So you can go three times by month to each club and then you change of club. But there was no market for this idea as people wanted to be free to go on the same club if this one is two blocks away from their job or home. So I shifted to a more flexible service.
- What was your biggest difficulty at the beginning?
I would say that this was not a difficulty in particular but more a difficult period of time. The first six months were very hard as I had to clearly understand the customers needs and at the same time I needed to shift mentalities for they to trust me with online payments. In Flexible Pass you have three possibilities for 30, 50 or 100 USD payments which are converted in points you can use on the app. So that’s why I kept the possibility of paying by cash, with the others possibilities which are paying by bank transfer of by credit card. At first 90% of my customers paid by cash and I needed to go and collect it, now the tendance is inverted and I would say that 90% of people are paying online either by bank transfer or credit card. I think that they began by cash also because they needed to trust the app before put any money with online payments.
The other difficulty I met at the very beginning is that I needed to gain the trust of sports clubs. They did not see the added value of my app until I had a solid base of clients.
Finally I also struggled to get the right team with me but it’s part of the job and training.
- Were you funded and how?
At the very beginning, I only had my own money but when I began to have some traction I have been funded by three VC funds in two rounds of six digits. These VC funds were the same in the two rounds and are also helping me as consultant whenever I ask. They are very available and proactive, It’s a pleasure to work with them.
- Who are your type of clients?
I would say that 35% of them are expat and the rest is in majority active people from 18 to 40 years old.
- How does it work with your partners which give you space for your subscribers?
For each partner I negotiate a price and a number of booking per month that I pay upfront. Then I have in the same time a limit of booking per hour to let the partner have space for its own members. It was hard in the beginning to do partnership with them to deal with them in the beginning as they don’t reallly know how Flexible Pass works and how the partnership can benefit them They see us like a competitor which will take their clients and I need to reassure them that this is not the point and that they have something to earn from this partnership.
- Could you give us a picture of what is Flexible Pass now?
Flexible Pass has really grew up especially because of two fund rounds of 6 digits. We have plenty of partners and among them hotels in Yangon and are also in Mandalay. We have partners in 25 different activities. The gym activity is still representing 70% of my business but I am now diversified in sectors from well-being to rock climbing and have now around 15 employees.
- What is the next challenge of Flexible pass?
The next challenge is linked with the diversification we want to achieve. We are always researching new partners in new activities. Our goal is to diversify Flexible pass in the wellness sector with activities like spa. But it is very different from activities like gym. You can book a gym session and go fitness classes easily as you it is a shared space. However as our partners are still to a pen and paper solution to write who booked and how much spa available it remains, it’s more complicated. So you need to verify when somebody book a spa at this time if there is actually an available booking left at that spa, and for that you need to call the partner. So I am working on a new solution to digitize this process through a solution called FlexiFastBooking. It is a solution for our partners to register the bookings online. When somebody call to book a spa instead of writing it on paper, you plug it in the online portal . This solution is still in beta testing, so for now this is free for our partners but it will next be a subscription.