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My startup builds home-shopping networks for the TikTok generation. Here are 3 lessons I’ve learned about life and business

My startup builds home-shopping networks for the TikTok generation. Here are 3 lessons I’ve learned about life and business

Kenneth Tan, the co-founder and CEO of BeLive Technology
Kenneth Tan is the co-founder and CEO of BeLive Technology [Image: Courtesy of BeLive]

By Kenneth Tan

Hi, I’m Kenneth Tan, co-founder and CEO of BeLive Technology. We build easy-to-install video players that allow e-commerce brands like Grab, Zalora, Bukalapak, and Trendyol to broadcast interactive videos on their websites and mobile apps.

Video accounted for a whopping 86% of global internet usage in 2022, and consumption is growing exponentially. Most businesses now have video marketing strategies in place, but it’s estimated that only one percent of the world’s 12,000 e-commerce websites have video players installed. 

As a result, retailers have no choice but to upload videos on “walled gardens” like TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube. They lose control of the customer experience and are unable to collect first-party data that can help them make better sales decisions.

Every e-commerce website and mobile app needs its own video players to attract and retain shoppers, and that creates an estimated US$320bn market opportunity for companies like BeLive.

It hasn’t always been a smooth ride, however. Over the past seven years I have faced many challenges as a startup founder. I’ve also learned plenty of lessons along the way. Here are three of them.

Avoid Sunk Cost Fallacy

When I was a young student, I used to expect that x amount of hard work would translate to x amount of result or reward.

This mindset almost cost BeLive millions of dollars back when we were still a B2C livestreaming platform. Our competition was catching up and we were losing our best content creators and users to them. I believed that we could just hold out instead of adapting to change. Classic sunk cost in action. 

During this time, I received a LinkedIn message from a Rakuten executive who wanted to white-label our platform. I resisted at first. We are not a B2B company, I told myself, and we had invested too much to share our platform with a potential competitor. Fortunately, one of my most trusted mentors, Francis Lee, persuaded me otherwise. Launching Rakuten Live in Japan was the first step in BeLive’s transformation, and we haven’t looked back since.

Rakuten Live in Japan
[Image: Courtesy of BeLive]

Similarly, when we applied for IMDA’s Accreditation programme, we were about to launch an exciting new product. We were so sure it would disrupt the market that we were channeling all our energy into it and sidelining our core product.

The programme’s due diligence forced us to rein in our enthusiasm and review our business model. We realized that demand for our core product was still growing and shouldn’t be abandoned. To this day, it is a key part of our lineup. We would have been lost in our tunnel vision had we not been challenged to look at things from another angle.

We all need a little guidance from time to time, and if we’ve been lucky enough to receive it, we should be prepared to pay it forward.

Be a Mentor

Entrepreneurship can be brutal. I’m fortunate to have partnered and combined strengths with other startups I’ve met during BeLive’s IMDA Accreditation journey. I also value my relationships with seasoned tech leaders whom I’ve connected with through IMDA’s panels and networking events.

The conversations and founder war stories I’ve swapped with these peers are precious because we’re sometimes too reliant on the wisdom of Silicon Valley, when we should be writing and learning from our own stories in Singapore.

To that end, I try to support budding entrepreneurs whenever I can. I've shared my insights and conducted workshops for ITE East, Nanyang Polytechnic, and NUS Business School. It makes me happy to think that my story may play a small part in helping them decide how to carve their own paths.

Workshops for ITE East, Nanyang Polytechnic, and NUS Business School
[Image: Courtesy of BeLive]
That said, there is only so much that the guidance and wisdom of others can teach us. The rest is up to the individual. Which brings us to: 

Stay Balanced

I once had a life-changing chat with VEGA’s Tomokazu Ukishiro, whom I deeply respect. Our chat lasted ten minutes at most, but really changed how I think about life. 

He told me that our appetite for success and failure stretches like a rubber band. 
After we achieve a great success, we tend to chase new highs to relive the buzz and lose our appreciation for the ‘smaller’ things like a nice meal and time with our families. I make a conscious choice to cherish the time I spend with my loved ones. They give me strength and I know that with them, I will always have a safe harbour to come home to.

The opposite is true after we experience extreme lows. Sometimes when we fail, we feel like we can’t bounce back and that it’s the end of the world. But that is not the spirit of entrepreneurship. Failure can help us build mental resilience and learn not to beat ourselves up after smaller setbacks. When a new obstacle arises, I like to compare it to the tough times I’ve weathered in the past. That always puts things back into perspective, and then I get to work.

As both I and BeLive evolve, I remain grateful to my exceptional team, mentors, and partners who have helped me throughout the highs and lows of my journey. 

We have some exciting new projects in the pipeline and will be working with major institutions on live digital events that will give more people access to Singapore’s rich culture and heritage. 

Being a startup founder is a constant work-in-progress, but it’s a challenge that – seven years in – I remain eager to embrace every day. 

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