Klook Co-Founder Reveals Challenges of Starting Travel Business – Fast Fish Swallow Slow Ones

Klook, Asia’s largest travel activity booking platform based in Hong Kong, offers up-to-date information on preferential rates and access to tourist attractions and services in major cities in the region.

Since it was founded in 2014, Klook has raised about US$96 million, including US$60 million from a Series C funding round in October, led by Goldman Sachs and Sequoia Capital, according to tech database Crunchbase.

The Hong Kong Economic Journal recently sat down with Klook co-founder and chief operating officer Eric Gnock Fah to discuss the challenges in the journey to startup success.

HKEJ: We know that you were born in Mauritius, an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, then studying abroad in the US, and worked in Hong Kong under an internship. Why did you choose to start your business in Hong Kong?

Eric Gnock Fah: My mother is a Hongkonger, the city has become another home to me. I was raised in Mauritius and pursued my university education in the US.

I was not a frequent traveler before, but I have had more chances to travel around the world since I came to Hong Kong, as the city is well-connected thanks to its airport. I can take a short trip to Taiwan during weekends, with the flight merely an hour, and there are lots of budget airline options available. That’s how I understand that to Asians, travel is not a luxury, but an attitude toward life.

As an online travel booking platform, we want to be the go-to place for tourists, so on Klook, we ensure that we always provide favorable pricing and quality service; we want to create value for tourists and reshape the industry.

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And honestly, we are not the first company running on this model [in-destination travel services booking platform]. We have seen companies with similar business model in Europe and the US when Klook first started in Asia.

But in Asia, there was not anyone doing this before us, and in the region, Hong Kong becomes our choice of starting this business, considering the enormous amount of tourists visiting the city.

Q: Klook has closed a couple of successful funding rounds, and the company seems running smoothly as it scales. Did you face any challenge in the journey?

A: I feel I was stubborn before, desperately determined to try and launch new things that I expect to work. I thought if my friends and I are interested in a new product, that product should have the demand in the market. but I finally knew that I need to listen to the market, and learn to look at the big picture with an open mind.

For example, in the beginning, all we want is to focus on offering travel activities in unpopular countries among tourists, like Nepal and Latin America, where I love to visit. And everyone got so excited when I said we offered these products. But in reality, who can easily spend two weeks on a trip to these countries?

Eventually, we learn that we have to plan our product offerings using data analyses based on the behavior of our customers, instead of relying on a marketing “gut feel”.

Another example is launching Klook’s mobile app. Initially, Klook was entirely website-based and only available on desktop and laptop computers, and it’s merely because I used to search for travel information using the desktop.

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After a while, when we were launching Asia-based travel products, we found that a mobile platform was indispensable for the Asian market, and we put a large amount of human effort into developing Klook’s mobile app.

Q: For a startup like Klook with huge financial backing, do you burn money quickly?

A: There is a saying in the business world, “Big fish swallow little ones.” To me, I would say in the era of new economy, fast fish swallow slow ones. Funding is required for a startup to grow faster. No matter how well you have done, you can’t move fast without enough funding.

On the other hand, we need sufficient supply to drive demand. Among our suppliers, there are large corporations in the travel industry. If we get to team up with these big guys in Hong Kong, we are able to build an impressive partner portfolio for the potential partners and clients when we are extending our reach and presence in overseas markets, say Japan.

And one more thing we need funding for is marketing and promotion. What channel do we use to reach our target customers? Also, we have to educate the market and drive our target customers to our product and services.

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