Not afraid to wade into uncharted waters, Melissa Lou and Jacqueline Ye founded Delegate in 2015, an online marketplace that automates the event planning process.
“We wanted to create an Airbnb experience for events,” Lou explained. “We’ve built data-driven algorithms that suggest vendors based on event type and user preferences. We wanted something that was user-friendly and transparent.”
On Delegate, each vendor page includes a gallery of high-resolution images, a portfolio of previous works, downloadable information such as sample menus and floor plans, as well as video and audio plug-ins.
Users are able to compare prices, make enquiries via a messaging system, and even book events through an integrated e-commerce function. In little more than five years, Lou and Ye have built a community of more than 150,000 users and 4,000 vendors, including hotels, venues, caterers and videographers.
Their bread and butter is smaller-scale corporate meetings and the ever-lucrative wedding market.
In 2019, the Singapore-based duo successfully raised US$1 million in funds, with plans for international expansion.
Such plans were put on hold at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, so instead the tech entrepreneurs launched the Virtual Wedding Festival last September.
“We built the platform in two months with a goal to attract 60 exhibitors,” said Ye, who oversees user acquisition and community building. “Instead, we secured 120 exhibitors as well as a major sponsor. We attracted 16,000 visitors across two days.”
The business model was “instantly profitable” and included data capture and tracking to increase user engagement. As well as business match-making between buyers (engaged couples) and exhibitors, Ye said engagement was maximised via gamification, exclusive deals and hourly giveaways.
“On average, couples stayed on the platform for 45 minutes to an hour, and several deals were closed during the event.”
The festival was such a success that Delegate ran another edition last month (April) and is planning a third instalment later this year.
Both Lou and Ye said the closed-loop marketplace experience has garnered interest from corporate brands and event owners. “We are working on white label platforms for clients and ‘plug and play’ solutions for virtual meetings.”
As they continue to test new digital products and features, the Delegate founders believe there is huge potential for the integration of e-commerce into virtual meetings, especially as consumer behaviour shifts and technology improves.
But succeeding in the competitive tech start-up space isn’t easy. “We bootstrapped for two years,” said Lou.
The pair seek regular counsel from advisors and are part of a support group for tech founders in Southeast Asia.
“Entrepreneurship is a journey of self-discovery and a true test of grit,” added Ye. “There’s still stigma attached to being a ‘female tech entrepreneur’, but we try not to focus on inequality, and instead look for opportunities.”
Delegate currently has operations in Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines, with plans for another round of investor fundraising.