Who is the team behind Sam the Local? How did this idea come about?
Co-founders, Maggie and Anita, both moved from California to Hong Kong in late 2011 due to their love for the city. During their time in Hong Kong, each would explore and learn more about the city and realized that many of the places they discovered and the stories they heard were through locals, such as relatives and friends. When they traveled, they were fortunate to have friends in each of the cities they went, and further cemented in them that local people were key in discovering hidden places and stories about the cities they visited.
They thought, “What if you didn’t have a local friend?” From there, Sam the Local was born. It allows people to take the knowledge they already have, whether its interests, their profession, or the area they live/work/know well, and share this knowledge with people looking to learn more from these locals.
Tell us about your strategy for launching and growing the company.
We have started with a launch in Hong Kong first. Our goal is to ensure that when customers are looking to book an Outing with a Local, that they have a wide variety of people of varied interests and backgrounds to select from. To further ensure higher quality of each of our Locals, we vet each of them before they come onto the platform with a 15-minute phone call followed by a 1-hour trial Outing with us. This allows us to look for the qualities that make a good Local in each person who wants to join the platform. As we grow further we have plans to replicate this model and expand into other cities in Asia. This would allow people to have these local experiences in every place in the world.
Who should be using your service and how big is the market in HK/Asia
People interested in getting to know more about Hong Kong and the stories behind different types of people here could use the service. This could include people looking to explore beyond areas where they live/work, trying to find new activities for the weekend, or learn a new interest or hobby, including photography, abseiling (rappelling down a mountain), and discovering hidden waterfalls.
What were some of your biggest challenges in launching this business?
Some of our biggest challenges include knowing who or when to ask for help. When we first started out, we tried to figure everything out on our own, but gradually realized that there were questions we had but weren’t sure who to ask. With that in mind, we gradually built up our network of people with different expertise. Then later on, we had questions but weren’t sure when to ask for help. As we worked through different scenarios we gradually sorted out in what stage help was needed. We’re thankful that those we reach out to have been able to give us advice and guidance, but also didn’t force their opinions on us and allowed us to come to decisions on our own.
What is your most memorable moment so far?
One of our most memorable moments was working with a corporate partner about a collaboration. We thought about our ideal scenario and went about the phone call. What they proposed to us on the phone call was beyond what we expected. After hanging up, we realized that our goals are limited by what we dream and that we have to continue to dream bigger and to know that there are others that believed in our business.
How has EYE Program helped you with this project?
The EYE Program has been very helpful for us in many respects.
Mentorship: We had the opportunity to work with a diverse group of mentors through the program who were able to provide advice to us based on their domain expertise and experience. It allowed us to look at certain aspects of our business from a different perspective and to grow and learn from it.
Exposure: The program provided exposure to different businesses and companies that supported the events, such as YouTube and KPMG, and allowed us to learn more about how different products worked and ask questions about their business processes that would be relevant for Sam the Local. The program also provided exposure to us through press coverage, allowing further reach for us in attaining new Locals to add to our platform and new customers. With these new customers, this has also included B2B opportunities, such as Google using our service for their executives. Our Locals took several Google executives on customized Outings tailored to their needs and what they wanted to learn about Hong Kong.
Support network: With the mentors in the program, the Google team support, as well as our EYE Program peers, it allowed us to build a stronger support network. We were able to learn from our peers’ experiences and their learnings as startups. The overall group of mentors, Google team, and EYE Program startups still maintain contact and we are able to ask one another our questions and seek advice, allowing us all to further grow.
What do you think of the startup scene in HK? What’s good, what can be improved?
The startup scene has grown a lot in the past 2 years. The community is very supportive in providing advice and helping each other. There are more resources including local and global accelerators incubators, showing their desire to build and grow the startup community. There are more corporates getting involved in startups whether to run their own programs, or to partner with various programs, as they realize the potential of the innovation to their companies and greater community that can change how businesses are run.
It would be great to have more resources to help people at the very early stage of a startup or considering starting one, as more and more people want to quit or have quit their jobs and don’t know the first step they should take and where to go. There are many of these people who are very smart, but need a little bit of guidance/nudge.
What’s next for Sam the Local?
We are currently fundraising to further grow in Hong Kong and build out our team for tech and marketing, and will push more on marketing to expose more people to their own one-of-kind Hong Kong experiences and discover the hidden gems that make this city unique.
Interview by Ludivine Lombard Taverne