Patai Padungtin is one of the well-known entrepreneurs in Thailand. He started an uncoventional tech business in Thailand way back in 2005, and achieved significant success and scale. However, Patai comes across as a really humble and down-to-earth entrepreneur with a deep domain understanding of construction business, the sector he is aiming to digitize with his startup Builk.Below is his story with many downs and many more ups displaying the true spirit of entrepreneurship.
From civil engineer to IT entrepreneur
I am a civil engineer. I worked as a contractor for three years before I started my own tech business in 2005. While I was a contractor, I always thought about how tech and IT can improve my construction business. In 2005, I hired a friend of mine to develop ERP system for my construction business; that is when I realized the true potential of technology.
Initial challenges, time of pivot, the genesis of Builk
When I started, I did not know anything about tech. All I thought was, doing tech should be easier than doing construction. We entered this business with absolutely no idea of what we were getting into. The first year in business was very hard. In second year we gained some traction, but however we were hit by the political instability of 2007-08, construction industry went through some road blocks around that time, so it was a very hard phase for us. Around that time, we tried to enter Vietnam (our neighbouring country), but we failed at that because our ERP was very complex at that time and implementation was taking time and support. So we figured we cannot expand to overseas market with our existing solution, that is when we thought of SaaS model. Thus Builk was formed. Today we have many leading Thai construction businesses using our product.
The product is free to use
We could have charged the construction companies on a monthly usage model. But however my passion to help better the construction industry. So we let construction companies to use the product for free. In 2010 our SaaS product came out all free, with advertising support. However, it took us 1.5 years to get some revenue off this stream.
On not giving up
It was so hard that I thought about giving up multiple times. But I kept going because very often we hear from our users about how Builk is helping them run their businesses better. What we are doing has a lot of meaning for many small businesses. I believe if your users are loving your product and you are able to help them, you will always be able to figure out how to make money at a later stage.
Last year we broke even and made some profits. Today 2000 companies use Builk. We have got a huge contract from Tata Steel which is an Indian company. We recently received 400,000 USD funding from Project Planning Service PLC. I strongly believe if you do good to customers, good things will happen to you.Expansion
We just launched in Indonesia last month. We are looking to expand in Asean. We are also talking to some potential partners in Australia. We are very excited about Australia, as this would help us figure out if our model will work in developed markets. We would like to change the construction industry worldwide. Starting with Asia.
Apart from advertising, market research is also a revenue stream for us. 40% of our revenue comes from market research. We do not share raw data with anyone, but by analyzing the usage of 2000 companies, we come up with market research for cement, raw materials etc - which is very useful for the industry as a whole.
Message to younger Thai entrepreneurs
Right now the market in Thailand is ripe. Internet and mobile penetration is growing rapidly. My business is an example that in any industry (even the ones as hard as construction), you can build a new business and scale.
In Thailand, it is the time for tech startups right now. We do not have many B2C startups here yet, but some good B2B startups are emerging from the area. Do not be afraid to fail. Failure provides a chance to improve. Fail faster, and success comes sooner.
More about Builk