Backstreet Academy is a travel social enterprise platform empowering anyone in developing countries to create and sell a tour or activity to travelers looking for a unique, local experience while benefiting the local community.
Launched in March 2014, by Jamon Mok, who personally hates package tours and is always looking for better ways to travel and connect with locals, especially in places where language is a problem.
He got inspired to create Backstreet Academy whilst travelling through Myanmar and seeing how hard the artists have to work to try accessing the tourist market.
Since then, Backstreet Academy has grown on average 39.2% per month, and currently offers more than 300 activities in over 16 cities around Asia.
How Does it Work?
Just like Airbnb, anyone can create an experience, list it on our website and guests can book directly from them. Even people who cannot speak English, access internet are able to do so through our local translator system. Hosts make 50-60% of the listed price, translators take 10-20%, transport operators take 10-15% and Backstreet Academy takes around 10-15%.
Take it away Jamon!
Interview Questions Part One
ENTREPRENEURSHIP: Awakening the Spirit of business
Can you please tell us a little about yourself and your business? What do you do?, how do you do it?, why do you do it and who do you do it for?
Backstreet Academy is a social enterprise travel platform that empowers locals to create their own tour, workshop or activity for tourists, resulting in a very unique and authentic experience and cultural exchange that cannot be found anywhere else. Imagine a boxing class with a local champion, taking an art workshop with a master who practices an art medium that nobody has ever seen before or going fishing with local fishermen on their boats and traditional equipment.
We started Backstreet Academy mainly with the aim of alleviating poverty through empowering local people with the tools and channels to be their own entrepreneurs and access the tourism market directly with proper training and unique activities. We are also avid travelers who are always looking for offbeat experience that allows us to delve deeper into a country’s culture and have a better interaction with locals.
How would you describe your entrepreneurial journey into the world of business? Where there any key incidents or life changing events that inspired your decision to become an entrepreneur?
Richard Branson’s autobiography really inspired me to pursue entrepreneurship and create value for the world and it is only through starting my own business that we could create such impact and innovate to make a difference in the world. CK Prahalad’s ‘Fortune at the bottom of the Pyramid” and MuhdYunus’ books about social business also really guided us in the creation of sustainable and responsible businesses that would not only be profit maximizing but always have a positive social impact.
When you started out in business, what specific idea, purpose or vision was your key driving force?
It was always to empower people in a huge way, and building a platform such as backstreet academy was the perfect idea as it really provided many tools to empower people in poverty to be able to access the tourism market and have a marked improvement in their quality of life.
What is your take on the general notion that entrepreneurs should build a business around what they naturally love to do?
Entrepreneurship is tough, and there are so many factors that can break a business, and loving what they do is a small part of becoming the best at what they offer. Loving what they do does help in getting them in being good at it, but I guess the prerequisite is being good at it. Just loving something, however, is purely a hobby.
What is your personal life mission as an entrepreneur? That is; what contributions do you want to make with your life or what would you like to be remembered for as an entrepreneur through the businesses you create when you die?
I would like to be remembered as someone who made a difference for people and that the world has been a slightly better place because of me. It doesn’t have to be all grand and world changing, a small dent and a real impact in individual peoples’ lives are all that matters. I like to measure my life with the number of people impacted, rather than by wealth.
What would you describe as the purpose of entrepreneurship? That is; what role do entrepreneurs play in the world?
The purpose of entrepreneurship is really to bring resources together, inspire an explosive reaction from what you’ve assembled as a force for good and pushing the boundaries of human civilization for the better.
Interview Questions Part Two
STRATEGY: The unusual execution of business best practices
How do you identify business opportunities and what metrics do you use to measure their viability?
Business opportunities almost always surface as problems. As long as someone has a problem that they can’t wait to get rid off, that’s most likely an opportunity. Then it’s on to finding out how many people likely have the same problem and how much they’re willing to pay for it. That determines the market size and hence viability.
That’s the traditional way of determining the viability and profitability of any business opportunity, but that’s where many world changing ideas and socially impactful ideas get left on the side because they don’t pass this test.
Sometimes it’s not immediately visible as a big market (i.e. a lot of people may have the problem but it’s rather impossible to determine, like when Thomas Watson said there is a demand for only 5 computers in the world). Technology is probably the hardest to imagine the size and reach right at the beginning to justify building something.
Socially impactful products are probably next in line because your customers often cannot afford to pay for what you develop. Socially impactful products thus should be measured by the positive impact to judge their viability. As long as they have significant positive impact, it can happen one way or another.
Do you have mentors, business coach or external consultants that you work closely with to grow yourself and your business? If yes, to what extent would you describe their impact on your business? If no, are there any particular reasons?
No, there are too many moving pieces and intricacies in any business for a coach to actually accurately recommend solutions, unless he is also as hands-on and deep in the business, which is rarely the case. Unless the problem is very very clearly defined, then it makes sense. However, that is again hardly the case.
How do you strategically use your time as an entrepreneur? What key activities would you recommend entrepreneurs use their time for?
Reading widely to keep abreast of developments, reading historically to understand why and how people made their decisions, always learning new skills, and giving generously to whoever might require it.
How do you generate profitable customers for your business? What unusual approaches do you adopt for marketing your products/services?
The core of our approach is to create a magical experience for our customers, making it memorable for people, and that will naturally spread. That’s the best way to market products. We ensure that we’re always attentive, updated and always able to create surprises for our customers.
Many entrepreneurs complain about not succeeding in business due to lack of adequate funding, what is your take on this matter and how do you cope with funding issues in your business?
Funding is always an issue for companies of any size. The best way is to ensure that you turn a profit as soon as possible, and as soon as you don’t need the money, money becomes readily available. It’s ironic, but the logic sits deep in finance, where banks are always there to lend when you don’t need it and never there when you need it.
When starting out a new business, who are the likely possible partners or professional service providers you would recommend every entrepreneur work with?
Probably outsource everything you’re not the best at or things that are not really integral to the success of your product, such as the accounting, incorporation, logo design, etc. These just burns up unnecessary time and effort without doing anything for the viability of the company, and if not done well will actually threaten the viability.
- The pricing of products/services is always an issue for entrepreneurs, what unusual approach do you take when it comes to pricing?
Pricing is never straightforward, especially for new products. The best way is to launch at a pricing comparatively more or less looking at what’s on the market, and provide a signal based on that. If you price more, then you are positioning for premium and if less, then you are positioning for affordability. Always look at what customers are actually willing to pay and then just shift prices accordingly.
Interview Questions Part Three
MISCELLANEOUS: Resourceful Recommendations, tools, books, and ideas for entrepreneurs
Since you became an entrepreneur – someone who solves problems for people profitably; what has been your most outstanding accomplishments in the context of business?
Empowering more than 400 people in developing countries to be able to access the tourism market and directly impacting their lives positively through the income, training and exposure we provide. The numerous stellar reviews we obtain from customers are also something that motivates us the most.
I’m so convinced you had more than you asked for in this interview. But just in case, he missed out something, what more would you like to know about the unusual Jamon Mok?
You can ask him further questions below in the comment section and I will be sure that you will get an answer directly from him.
Also, what did you learn from this unusual entrepreneur? What lessons, what philosophy of his strike you the most? What strategies did you pick up from him?
Jamon has shared his unusual story with you, now is time to hear from you. Can’t wait to hear what you have to say!