January 30th, 2019 / Published in: Interviews
New verticals of opportunity and needs in the travel industry are emerging with innovation in technology and a growing segment of user demographics.
Jonathan Chou is the CEO and Founder of BeeToken, a platform that seeks to reinvent the Home Sharing Economy by building a middleman free, peer-to-peer network of hosts and guests on the decentralized web.
Jonathan is mostly interested in Enterprise travel solutions and Blockchain / Crytocurrency.
Carlos: Hello everyone welcome to one more episode of DojoLive! Connecting experts like you, and as ever joining me from Los Angeles is my fellow teammate nearsoftian Tullio Siragusa our chief strategist so hey Tullio it’s a pleasure to have you here as ever.
Tullio: Good afternoon i’m so glad to be here and I’m definitely glad enough to be in the Midwest, although I feel for those people [INAUDIBLE] depleting weather.
Carlos: Yeah exactly i hear you, ok, and well for today’s conversation and I would like to highlight the presence of Mr Jonathan Chou the CEO and founder of BeeNest which is a platform that seeks to reinvent the Home Sharing economy by building a middleman free peer to peer network of hosts and guest on the decentralized web so Jonathan it’s a pleasure to have you here and an honor, welcome to today’s show.
Jonathan: Yeah thank you for having me excited to be here.
Carlos: Oh likely so are we Jonathan, ok, let’s carry start is, let’s get it this started then, so Jonathan before we get into the topic of today’s conversation can you tell us a little bit about you, your background and of course your company which is BeeNest, tell us a little bit about that please.
Jonathan: Yeah absolutely, so I think blockchain was very hot the last two years and so we’ve been exploring how we could take that type of technology and bring it to a more industry, mature industry like travel, so we’ve been in blockchain for a few years, and BeeNest has been around for about two years and so that’s been a really good learning curve and before starting BeeNest i used to work at uber for about two years and that was so we’ve had a lot of experience building out marketplaces so all of it’s just been a really good experience so far.
Carlos: Thank you so much Jonathan, so and what about can you elabore just a little bit more about BeeNest, how he came about and the idea happened.
Jonathan: Yeah, so one of the main tenants of blockchain is to be able to remove the middleman, imagine peer to peer economies the two largest ones are uber and airbnb and that’s kind of how we landed on seeing like hey can we take something like Airbnb and make it middleman free and that’s been a very interesting journey so far.
Carlos: Thank you so much again, so which you meant well you mentioned blockchain of course and that kind of leads me to today’s topic, you know, for the conversation which is the rise of enterprise and blockchain in the travel industry so I understand that blockchain is a hot thing nowadays, so tell us a little bit about why you chose this particular topic, the rise of enterprise and blockchain in the travel industry as a whole.
Jonathan: Yeah, so i think for us when we’re looking always looking like which type of technologies or which type of trends are kind of next up on the wave and so the two major trends that we’re seeing at least from because we’re right in the middle of it, and probably like these are two topics we care about more our first camel companies are always trying to reinvent themselves by using new technology and it just so happens that blockchain can really save these companies a lot of money depending on how they apply blockchain to their i guess infrastructure and the second is that I think there’s a really large uptick of enterprise activity lately and the fact that a lot of these companies are focused more on serving to businesses rather than consumers it’s becoming a lot more of stable revenue driven model as opposed to like argument to consumer all the way.
Tullio: So I have a question Jonathan, this is an interesting topic, I had it often when you think about blockchain there’s the mention of no middleman right and I think well isn’t Airbnb and uber the middleman there’s always the middleman so but I’m curious what keep birth to BeeNest, like what was that moment you was sitting around and say, I need to solve this problem, what is it that you went out to solve.
Jonathan: Yeah so i think blockchain is supposed to kind of remove the middleman so you can imagine like uber and airbnb are middleman, and one of the main I guess use cases of blockchain would be like alright if we could take a really successful application such as uber, Airbnb and take out the middleman is to have it function then that’ll be amazing, so at some point were like yeah we should probably try this, and that’s definitely been a journey and along that journey we really that like hey it is possible kind of decentralize something Airbnb but is it sustainable in the fact that like some revenue models actually work, if you’re not making any money , so for use we then found kind of enterprise and we realized we could have sustained our free cryptocurrency type marketplace, as long we kind of commercialize on the other side which is more on the enterprise side.
Tullio: Great, what does BeeNest do for the audience.
Jonathan: So Beenest.
Tullio: What are you selling or offering.
Jonathan: Yeah, so BeeNest essentially is like go-to platform for small medium sized business to book their business travel, and it’s all powered by blockchain technologies under the hood.
Tullio: Cool, so you mentioned something interesting before that made me think, the decentralized web more focused on b2b, is this safe to saying that what blockchain could become is really the b2b Internet, is that the intention long term?
Jonathan: Well I think b2b internet is definitely one type of way you can manifest, I would say that most people are a little bit more focused on like getting to everyone so it would definitely be more c2c but I think in the interim the early adopter will definitely be enterprises, these are people with the resources and the curiosity and after the business have figured out it will probably spread to be more of c2c play after this era basically.
Tullio: Ok, but so you’re in a very fast-paced environment i mean, your world is moving so fast, it used to be could plant think six months now, three months now, now it seems like it’s weekly, but how do you go about maintaining a competitive edge related to your platform.
Jonathan: Yeah well, I think for our platform we’re in between two industries cryptocurrency and travel, so we constantly have to be at the top of both of them in order to continue going, I think the cool thing about the travel spot is we’re kind of agnostic to whether were like more like an Airbnb or omre like a hotel and for some reason this seems to be like a very interesting curve because Airbnb is trying to figure it out how to deal with hotels and expedia booking our very new to the home sharing vacation rentals market so it give us a good edge that were like we’ve kind of been sitting in the middle of both and we have a good idea supply from both, whereas like neither of the two made like biggest booking platform really have it’s as a clean experience yet.
Tullio: Alright so you found a gap and hows the adoption coming along for you two years in, how’s that coming out.
Jonathan: Yeah, so I would say it’s a little slower than expected for sure, we have about 20 to 50 bookings a month so it’s not bad but we’re definitely looking to turn up the lever, and I think the main focus was we were focused on too many places I want at once, I think we really need an limited it down and just go out for like three or four cities, that will probably be the best that, that’s kind of our game plan, going forward the next months.
Tullio: Are there any specific uses in for, either trap box or anything that you´re doing, that’s enhancing the customer experience.
Jonathan: Yeah, so for us right now we’re still gettin to parity with the other OTs right now, so we’re nothing, not doing anything too crazy but definitely AI and chatbots are something I´m really looking at right now, but is something we are going to implement, yeah.
Tullio: So how do you go about validating new ideas and features, like how do you prioritize their methodologies you guys use, can you walk us to a little bit of that?
Jonathan: Yeah, so I think most of it is just conversation with other because we are building a b2b product we constantly just talk to other businesses and see what they think, see what they news if we can I kind of make our product, like one step better than theirs.
Tullio: Okay so you have a user group that you kind of check in with, to validate some ideas, that’s awesome, speaking of being in the b2b space are you looking to sign up some partnerships and if so what would be ideal partners for you guys and why?
Jonathan: Yeah for sure, so we’re always looking for really good inventory on the home side as well as hosts outside, so if anyone has those we’d love to talk and kind of hel make those quality and on the demand side we´re always looking for more SMBs between 20 to 200 people to kind of reach out and introduce our products.
Tullio: So ok, so you two years in platforms out, you got bookings happening you have some partnership you’re obviously trying to look to add more inventory what’s on the horizon in terms of your roadmap for the next 6 to 12 months , what’s like keeping you up at night or keeping you excited.
Jonathan: Yeah I would say just really making sure that we get the top three US cities down strong as opposed to just like it’s functional just really make sure that when you land in like San Francisco or New York that it’s, this is like the perfect experience accommodation experience, they could possibly get, everything is very consistent as opposed to just like all these inconsistencies, in the market.
Tullio: Do you have those cities down or you’re still considered kind of evaluating?
Jonathan: So right now we have about 50 properties in each of the cities and we definitely want to get to like 500 before we feel like it’s pretty saturated I guess.
Tullio: What are the cities you focused on?
Jonathan: San Francisco, New York and LA
Tullio: Ok, good markets for sure, and how are you going about sort of what made you pick these three cities, is there something specific about them that stood out and how did you go about doing that was their analytics evolved or just help us walk us through how you decides these three cities.
Jonathan: Yeah, I think the reasoning here is a little bit less logical it’s just that we feel like they’re the three largest cities and that’s kind of where we’re starting first, yeah, nothing not as cool my answers is probably we shouldn’t should be giving but, that’s kind of.
Tullio: Well I mean they are big cities, you can’t go wrong, I was just curious if you guys were doing some kind of analytics on how you got there, but there’s nothing like experience, all right so if you were an advisor to your own company looking from the outside in you two years in right, so what would be some of the advice you’d give yourself.
Jonathan: Yeah, definitely say always focused aggressively and constantly on growing both sides of the marketplace it’s always like a make-or-break type thing for sure
Tullio: And what keeps you up at night?
Jonathan: I will definitely say just always thinking of ways to keep the quality of our platform high, while also expanding very quickly and making sure that we get through as many of these partnerships as possible to kind of up our supple while also maintaining the quality to be very high.
Tullio: Ok, is this your first startup by the way, or you´ve done something.
Jonathan: No, first startup.
Tullio: Ok, so a lot of our audience or engineers CTO some of them work for well established companies some of them are mid-sized companies and a lot of them are often sitting on the fence trying to kind of do, get my feet wet in the startup world, any word of advice that you might have in terms for anyone who’s kind of sitting there thinking about it like what was it for you to decide, i’m gonna go down this path of building a startup and work, you kno2, 40 hours days, tell us about your path and what would you encourage the audience to do.
Jonathan: Yeah, I would say definitely it’s a very large self-discovery journey, when you push yourself hard, you definitely realize a lot of new things about yourself and maybe your team members so I would say, yeah it’s definitely unless like you know it’s really hard to make ends meet, or you have to take care of family on something it’s definitely worth trying once just to see what happens when you’re kind of like the one calling the shots for yourself.
Tullio: And what’s been some of the lessons, but before I go to the next question, Carlos is it time to open it up to the audience, I think we’re halfway to that point.
Carlos: Yeah, actually yes, and actually I have a comment or a was , she was commenting with me here internally on Slack and right now she [INAUDIBLE] sort of turning it into a question, ok, so let’s see, Jonathan, this is about, I have a question from one of our teammates Sandra Vasquez, she’s been the one who there’s a lot of traveling by the way, and she’s asking specifically about adapting and pivoting in tech so, and she says, as new technology evolves a new information is found in the hunt for product market, tech entrepreneurs need to adapt their technology and pivot their plans to better match their target consumer, in that sense how do you accomplish this in a streamlined or seamless fashion?.
Jonathan: [INAUDIBLE] Right
Jonathan: I think here it’s just making sure that the market you’re going after is big enough so that when you if you do succeed you have a big enough pie to basically justify will be it warm up, and I would say you need to meet yourself of that and then work backwards, to see where you want to pivot, because if you think about the three to five to even longer year, all on and you work backwards that you understand what should or should not be done for you to reset plan.
Carlos: Ok, thank you so much, and that’s Sandra if you’re watching while you have have your answer, so back to you Tullio.
Tullio: Yeah, just if anybody is watching or anybody who wants to submit a question there just watching at DojoLive!, twitter live, you know what to do, submit your questions, were happy to get him over to Jonathan, so I wanted to get an understanding of what your journey’s been like as the first time entrepreneur, first time startup CEO what are some of the lessons you’ve learned along the way through either some failures or successes if you could share those that would be fantastic, people always love to learn from you, from other people’s success or failures, someintes the fail is a great story too.
Jonathan: Yeah, I think the biggest learning curve was just learning how to fundraise, I think like engineers think all right given X and while we’re to create Z but Westers were kind of work backwards they’re more like all right i want Z, tell me how you’re going to do X and Y , so by default they’re kind of, that one, I want, one second one second, give me like two minutes.
Tullio: Hey, there´s always the first.
Jonathan: Must be random, it’s a mail or something, sorry
Tullio: [INAUDIBLE] Pony show, ok.
Jonathan: Apologies, yes, I think, sorry well yet?
Tulliov: We’re asking about lessons learned from you know, being a first time entrepreneur, things that you’ve learned, how you’re growing, you share your experience.
Jonathan: Yeah, I think that’s the largest part, just thinking from an investor, quite a view, is like did you just want to build something, investors want to return look, we’re kind of bridging that gap, has been a very valuable skill to learn because I feel like one you’re able to raise money, kind of fill in a lot of the other blanks.
Tullio: It’s interesting how they´ll want you to show them the money before they give you the money, so what was that like for you guys, I mean did you, you know are you do you have like three months six months sort of deliverables you’re constantly working tours, or where you which you’re are you at series A or you seed money level, where are you guys.
Jonathan: Yeah, so we were somewhere in between like seed in series A because we’ve raised money through an ICO which is the currency stuff basically so we’re somewhere in between there and I would say that usually we kind of pivot every like two to three months to stay on top of the industry to make sure that or iterating and continuing to serve the market in a niche way, so it’s always changing and overall the focus is still the same long term but short term if definitely has a lot of chips.
Tullio: So speaking is that that’s a very agile way of working, speaking of keeping up or is there methodologies you guy have adopted in terms of how you build a product, how you code, is are you an agile shop scrum shop or Kanban, what kind of methodology you guys using.
Jonathan: Yeah i think we use a standard agile we thinks it’s if our needs pretty good.
Tullio: And tell us a little bit about the culture, what is what kind of culture you’re creating, how do you typically attract engineers or employees, any specific values, your state, you’re kind of standing behind that you could share with those watching.
Jonathan: Yeah, the three cultural values we share our being transparent being accountable and being curious and those have been pretty good for us so far.
Carlos: I have another, yeah, I have another question, and actually, hold on a second, let me just go back to my slack here, given the other question is coming from Misael by the way one of our guys here, also he says,said given that these centralized nature of the blockchain where do items like stability and security rank in the travel technology industry.
Jonathan: Well I don’t know they were a hospitality company so those are very high, and I would say that a lot as a camel company really can’t compromise with a lot of these thing just because you’re using crypto credit or just because you’re sugin bulk shaders in fact.
Carlos: Thank you, there you have it Misael, so ok, back to you Tullio.
Tullio: Yeah it was just reels of great values in terms of cultural values, can you expand on those a little bit, like what does accountability mean, everybody’s got a different version of them, curious about your companies, you know, what does that mean to you guys.
Jonathan: Yeah, I think the thing is we just because there are not we’re about 10 people so everyone is going run things and so it’s important to get that one thing done rather than makes like household things fall through the holes.
Tullio: So you guys a little bit a self-managed is that a fair assessment
Jonathan: Yeah, there’s definitely a little bit of piracy a lot but minimal.
Tullio: Cool, we’re all for that obviously as a self-managed company ourselves, ok, so we’re coming up on time sono but i’m curious to learn about what’s the end goal here, you know, you guys going, you got this gap that you’ve identified in the marketplace, where do you see the opportunity once you capitalize on these three marketplaces is this there a goal to go international and why would I care as a consumer, why is that, why does that matter to me.
Jonathan: Yeah exactly, so I think it goes two ways, it’s basically, it’s basically, from [INAUDIBLE] we’re looking for mass adoption and the enterprise net we’re looking for a sustainable business revenue model but we´ve seen business to be a lot more open, to I guess basically a fee that’s been very helpful, so I would say both it’s like let’s get the technology and everyone’s hand on the previous slide and make a long stable revenue model on the b2b side.
Tullio: Speaking of the b2b experience, how much ever you guys putting into the design or the interface that the consumer has, are you noticing any challenges there in terms of adoption or how do you addresing that.
Jonathan: Yeah, I think for the consumer the most important component is just to feel safe to make sure that the´re well taken care of if i’ll say how you decide to do that on your website to create that type of feeling is probable the most important.
Tullio: But the actual experience itself beyond that are you guys putting effort in design, are you doing some design thinking, how do you guys had rest that.
Jonathan: In general we´ve just built a pretty straightforward site, nothing too crazy to a point where what do you give out a lot maybe further dump someone, we’re thinking more in terms of functionality right now.
Tullio: Right, ok, so focusing on simplicity right now, obviously figure that out as you gain more traction and more consumer, cool what are some of the leapfrog moments you’re most proud of so far, what are some of those that you would like to accomplish any sort of like I wish we could get there, what’is on the horizon for you.
Jonathan: Yeah, I think this constantly hustling and getting more customers is always a great thing and I think that always something that we would woish happen sooner than later, so I think that’s always been enjoyable to just go out and go for that.
Tullio: Are you getting customers now, it’s what’s the process for you guys.
Jonathan: Yeah, we use a lot of social media like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook these type of outreach channels, we find them very effective as well like email for sure.
Tullio: So more like influential kind of marketing approaches.
Jonathan: It’s always good to, but I always buy [INAUDIBLE].
Tullio: Ok, so how much of your time you spent doing administrative work versus the you know actual, you are engineer by trade?
Tullio: [INAUDIBLE] today as the CEO.
Jonathan: Yeah, so I spend about 10 percent of my time on administrative task, i spend about 20 to 30 percent just on general market trends, as well as I catch you up with other investor and what not, and then usually I work for about ten hours a day just like one on one different types of meetings and I’ll kind of go to networking but after.
Tullio: Sounds like the life of a startup CEO, alright so quick question you had to do anything different again and what would that be if you with what she know, we rewind two years ago, what would you do differently.
Jonathan: I would say in the beginning I would have focused more on fundraising rather than just doing it with other task equally.
Tullio: Ok, I’m sorry it broke up for me, I sure if it broke up for Carlos.
Jonathan: Definitely prioritize fundraising because back then I prioritized it along with a lot of these other components equal you know, promised in tech and whatnot, well I would say right now fundraising has like become a lot more bren lat I would say suggest people who are getting into kind of go for that first.
Tullio: Ok, I’m that’s a pretty big task for a lot of CEOs constantly making sure that the lifelines coming into the company for sure, so , what’s next, you’re going to focus on getting traction in these three cities what are some of the immediate plans beyond that.
Jonathan: Yeah, I would say well that’s like go to more cities and eventually go international.
Tullio: Very cool, can’t think of another question right now, Carlos she got set up for him?
Carlos: Not really , well the only thing left me would be, anyway, do you have any final words of wisdom for our audience be it current or future one?
Jonathan: Well I would say I would say, just keep trying to self discover I think it’s always a learning experience for everyone no matter where you are in life.
Carlos: There you have it folks, ok, self-discovery.
Tullio: I did have a final follow-up, sorry Carlos we do have a couple minutes, you said curiosity was one of your tenants in your culture and I’m curious but intended what does that mean to you guys, everybody got a different definition, what does that mean to you guys.
Jonathan: I think one of the hard parts of a startup is itrs pretty difficult ad if you’re curious then you’ll learn how to solve a problem, if you’re very rigid it will be very hard for [INAUDIBLE]
Tullio: So are you guys like actively reading stuff participating at conference how do you feed that curiosity.
Jonathan: Conferences in social media.
Tullio: Ok, cool, well I appreciate you taking the time to talk with us today, we wish you a lot of luck it sound like you’ve got plan for these three big cities and you’ve cornered a potential gap in the marketplace let’s keep checking in with you and stay in touch see how this progresses but thank you for taking the time today.
Carlos: Well the only thing left for me to do Jonathan and Tullio is simply to thank Jonathan for having being with us today, Jonathan we really appreciate it and I’m sure that the audience is going to find your insights and you input also very valuable, and without being said Jonathan thanks again be heartfelt I think it goes out to you and to the audience let me just, before let you go, let me just make a quick announcement, this is about next week by the way, and next week, we are, let’s see well, we’re gonna be speaking with we’re gonna be speaking with Mr. Deepak Anchala the founder and CEO as a company called Slintel, Slintel is a marketing automation tool and I don’t have the topic yet but I’ll have it soon as soon as I have it it’s right, there gonna be on the website on the DojoLive! Website, again it’is 192.168.100.8/dojo that being said Tullio thank you as ever and of course our guest Jonathan thank you so much we wish the best of luck in your endeavors and to our audience, thank you for watching see you next time.