When I visited Hong Kong last year, I was lucky to meet two great entrepreneurs, Maggie Lau and Anita Chan. They are the founders of Sam the Local, a platform connecting people to locals. I had a great time learning more about them, the city and how they started the business. Here's my interview with Maggie Lau:
Hi Maggie, can you give me a bit of background to yourself?
I am originally from California but moved to Hong Kong at the end of 2011. Previous to working on Sam the Local, I did graphic design and event marketing. I'm a huge foodie and love to stay active through various kinds of sports such as boxing, running, swimming, and basketball.
What is Sam the Local?
Sam the Local is a P2P platform that connects people to locals for customized, interest-based Outings. Our vision is to enable people to experience the world with a human touch.
Where did the idea for Sam the Local come from?
My Co-Founder, Anita, and I both moved to Hong Kong at the end of 2011. Being centrally located in Asia, we had the opportunity to travel around the region. We have also generally been lucky enough to know someone everywhere we went. Before we headed off, we would consult our local friend for recommendations on things to do / places to eat and see if they were available to show us around. We loved that this allowed us to get below the surface level of the city and see what it was like to live a day in the life of a local. We were also able to ask them various questions we had along the way.
On the other hand, people would do the same thing to us when they came to Hong Kong. So then we thought, “what if people didn’t have a local friend everywhere they went?” They would miss out on a HUGE part of why people travel in the first place – learning about other cultures. So we want to provide a platform for people to have a local friend anywhere they go in the world.
How did you meet your co founder?
I met Anita through a mutual friend in Hong Kong. The funny thing is that we were previously at the same event in California, but we didn’t talk to each other. We have a picture of us together from that event too. Ironic, huh?
What have been the biggest challenges you faced running Sam the Local?
Our biggest challenge has been converting people into paying customers. We don't have an issue getting eyeballs on our content, but the struggle is then conversion.
What has been your best achievements?
Aside from our consumer clients, we've signed our first corporate client and we have partnerships with Cathay Pacific and Air France. We're now nearing 20 Locals listed on our website who cover 11 languages, 8 interest categories and 6 countries from all over the world.
What was key to getting your first few users?
Just talking to enough people. Word of mouth has been very powerful for us. Once we explain our idea, people have been very willing to tell their network and refer them to us.
So, what is the business model?
We charge a service fee to both the customer and Local for each transaction.
and what's the plan going forward from here?
We are focusing on user acquisition by seeking brand ambassadors, gaining media coverage, and leveraging partnerships as our distribution channels. We are also going to start aggressively growing our set of Locals in Hong Kong to ensure that there is someone for everyone.
Finally, what advice would you give to first time entrepreneurs?
Just get out there and start shouting your idea to anyone who is willing to lend an ear and listen to their feedback. That’s the only way you’ll find out if people need your product.
Thanks for sharing your story Maggie. It was a pleasure meeting you in Hong Kong!
Learn more about the Hong Kong Startup scene.