Duo has built a cool edtech startup and got funding

After finishing his schooling, Singapore-born Jack Soh enrolled in the University of Melbourne for a Bachelor’s Degree in Commerce. During his stay in the Australian city, he opened a Chinese restaurant where he got an opportunity to meet numerous mentors by chance, and they shared valuable knowledge with him to manage his business better and became friends with him.

Unfortunately, he had to sell the restaurant two years later and return to Singapore as his visa expired.

Back home, he was thinking about his meetings with different mentors at his Melbourne restaurant, and this sparked a business idea in him.

“There are many people in the world who are in need of knowledge and information but don’t know how to or whom to reach out to,” Soh tells me. “They are in search for mentors and coaches, preferably friends, who can share knowledge in a systematic and efficient manner. I realised an online platform that connects learners to sharers will be effective, and that is the most organic way to learn.”

And that was the beginning of Kalpha.

Founded in 2018 by Soh and his college mate Jaden Teo (a graduate in Business Management from Singapore Management University), Kalpha is a mobile app that enables individuals to discover, connect and meet up to learn and share skills, experiences, and knowledge on a 1-to-1 basis. The app was launched in January 2019.

Kalpha is the abbreviation of ‘knowledge’ and  ‘Alpha’. Alpha is a term used for a superior strategy or performance in the finance parlance. Also, it is the first letter of the Greek alphabet that signifies the beginning of a journey. “Hence, the name Kalpha — where sharers often incorporate personal experiences and life stories into their sharing sessions which often are invaluable to learners,” says Soh, describing the story behind the brand name.

Here is how the Kalpha app works: Sharers (of skills, knowledge and experiences) can register themselves on the Kalpha app to share what they are willing to impart, their availability, as well as their preferred location. Interested learners can then contact the sharers in-app to arrange for a convenient time and date to meet up. Both sharers and learners can view each other’s profile before commencing further. When the sharing session concludes, both parties can acknowledge their attendance through the app to enable reviews and testimonials.

“Kalpha users to share what they know at no cost to willing learners. However, sharers are free to charge up to a maximum of S$80 (US$59) for their session. The idea behind the price cap is to ensure that sessions always stay affordable,” says his business partner Teo.

A free-to-use platform, Kalpha can be used by anyone in any part of the world as learning is an evergreen industry. However, it primarily targets people in the age group of 16 to 45 years. “You can tap on the connectivity of Kalpha as a social platform to share your stories of success or woes to inspire others, while at the same time increasing her self-confidence. Sharing could also hone your ability to teach and educate others,” adds Teo.

“You could also potentially earn a stream of income by interacting with others. In addition, you can also utilise the app to understand an industry before switching jobs. There are many practical applications you can use on Kalpha,” Teo continues.

By converging social elements with learning, Kalpha aspires to become the next social media giant — a go-to platform to enable one to learn and share any skills, knowledge and experience in a personalised manner.

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Rejections from everywhere

The beginning of the company was agonisingly painful for the pair. Their friends and even family members outrightly rejected their idea, made fun of them, and questioned its viability. Many even persuaded the duo to discontinue the idea.

“Our pitching sessions for funding with government agencies and private investors were the most difficult part. We were even insulted by funding agencies, when we were actively seeking funding, who said our idea would never work. However, our understanding of the market and the ability to manage risks pushed us to making Kalpha into a reality,” Soh says, narrating his bitter experience.

“But to tell you, our foundation is built on pure grit, brute toiling, indomitable spirit and endless hours of hustling. Perhaps, with massive leaps of faith as well for the founding team,” Soh says.

Other challenges

Alpha started without a technical founder, and it was extremely challenging. “Starting Kalpha without a technical founder was an enormous hurdle to overcome. Exploring for technical expertise and talent was a tedious and excruciating process, as many joined us and left immediately. I believe incompetence and the tough nature in a environment are the reasons for their departure,” reveals Teo.

As for competition, home-grown Tigerhall is another app in the knowledge-sharing segment but it is slightly different from Kalpha’s business model. This app enables people to achieve their career, business and lifestyle goals by learning actionable skills from Asia’s most successful people, through original Power Reads, Podcasts and Events from experts with real-world experience.

A few days ago, the Tigerhall raised US$1.8 million in seed funding from investors like US-based strategic learning firm WDHB Inc, Singapore-based asset management firm Paladigm Capital, and a private individual.

Geographical expansion on the anvil

With a 11-member team currently, Kalpha is looking to proliferate throughout Southeast Asia by 2023  staring with Vietnam and Myanmar during the second half of 2019.

A few days ago, Kalpha secured an undisclosed sum in investment from Nest Tech, a Vietnamese VC fund focusing on seed-stage startups.

How did this Nest Tech deal come about?

“Our marketing strategy to onboard users is to participate in as many events and conferences as possible. And whilst exhibiting in Marina Bay Sands, we met numerous VCs who were keen to invest in Kalpha. However, Nest Tech was one of the many VCs that we found to have better synergy with us, as their goal for us is to venture out to other bigger markets where learning is generally considered a privilege. After multiple rounds of meetings and email correspondences, we signed a deal with them in February,” says Soh.

Lessons learnt

Kalpha also taught the co-founders a few basic startup lessons. Both learnt the value of being prudent, as very often cash flow is a common issue faced by most startups. They also learnt that leadership and people management skills are essential to the success of any organisation.

“Lastly, the ability to negotiate and persuade relevant parties to collaborate and form a synergy with a young startup is the most crucial skill a founding team should embody to materialise an idea to reality,” Soh shares.

For the duo, the startup journey has been exceptionally fruitful intrinsically. Despite experiencing multiple emotional setbacks and living minimally due the lack of financial resources, the team is zealous and driven to take Kalpha to the next level.

“The biggest takeaway from our journey so far is to always stay resilient. Whatever happens, stay logical and continue to press towards your ambitions,” Soh signs off.

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