Paul Lee, co-founder & CEO of Flipidea aims to empower entrepreneurs with purposeful data to innovate and make data-informed decisions.

By using their holistic solutions, he imagines that aspiring entrepreneurs will be able to build, test, and grow their business ideas from their bedrooms.

In a conversation with Sade Dayangku from Vulcan Post, Paul shared how he and his team are building an evidence-based management company, referring to an approach similar to Atlassian's.


Sade Dayangku (Vulcan Post): Paul, have you always been an entrepreneur? How did you get inspired to build Flipidea?

Paul Lee: No, in fact I started out my career in the business conference management industry at a Bruneian PCO (professional conference organiser) company for nearly 2 years. It was at this company that I honed in and picked up my management, sales pitch, and fundraising skills from the ground-up.

In Q3 2012, our Beijing counterpart invited me to form our own PCO company to undertake a handful of APEC fora projects in preparation for the APEC China 2014. That was how I began my entrepreneurial journey. In Beijing.

As for the inspiration to build Flipidea (pronounced as “flee-pee-dia”), the initial idea of creating a database of failed business case studies was seeded in 2014 when I attended the DLD’14 (Digital Life Design) Conference in Munich.

At the conference, I listened to co-founder and CEO Ijad Madisch share his story on how he created ResearchGate by encouraging his worldwide members of scientists and researchers to share not just their successful experiments, but also the raw data and results of their failed experiments.

According to Ijad, more than 90% of the data created in scientific experiments are negative results and these data rarely get published. As a researcher himself, he was frustrated that researchers were not sharing the results of their failed experiments which led to much research redundancy.

Now imagine if Thomas Edison had access to the results of the failed filament experiments shared by his British counterparts, he would have scientifically solved the challenges of the light bulb design much sooner and with lesser failed attempts.

Wow, the logic was sound and clever. I then asked myself, “Are there similar pain points shared by entrepreneurs worldwide? What if there is a database of business failure data from around the world to learn from?

Paul in a conversation with Kim Sung-Joo (Chairperson of luxury brand MCM Holding AG) at the APEC Women Leadership Forum 2014 in Beijing

Sade Dayangku (Vulcan Post): To someone who’s never heard of Flipidea before, could you explain in layman terms what it does?

Paul Lee: Put simply, we study business failures.

Firstly, we collect publicly available information on companies that have shut down from around the world via the Internet.

Secondly, we organise and compile the data into structured format so our audience can easily view and understand.

Thirdly, we analyse the data to discover meaningful patterns and draw insights from our findings for our audience to learn from.

Lastly, our idea checker helps our audience to analyse the uniqueness of their intuitive business ideas by predicting the estimated failure rate of non-innovative ideas. In the near future, we hope that it can also analyse the commercial viability of their business ideas to gauge if potential customers would consume or pay for.

In the long run, our vision for Flipidea DaaS (Data-as-a-Service) platform is to build an encyclopedia of business failures in aid of entrepreneurs building successful and innovative business.

By studying business failures, we offer "business-failure-data-as-a-service" to our customers and help them reduce costly mistakes

Sade Dayangku (Vulcan Post): Prior to starting Flipidea, what kind of market validation did you do? Were people actually interested in using such a service?

Paul Lee: Oh yes, almost every entrepreneur I have spoken with, recognised the value in learning from failure and our solutions offering. Especially with repeat founders.

During my initial idea conceptualisation and product design, I was constantly speaking to my fellow founders from Europe, Africa, India, East Asia, and Australia. I listened attentively as they described their critical pain points in how they manage and grow their startups at different development stages.

This was how I discovered that the problems were real.

Our team is a big believer in the principles of validation. Although in our product design and development methodology we adopted both the Grand Design and Design Thinking approach, I balanced them with numerous validation processes, such as market validation, product validation, customer validation, process validation, and so on.

Therefore, I would like to recommend to our audience to check out the Design Sprint process created by Jake Knapp and his team at Google Ventures in 2010. They published “The Sprint Book” which teaches the audience how to conduct the Design Sprint to build and test a prototype, or to validate an idea, in just five days. A quick and simple process.

One of my favourite validation processes is customer interviews where we simply talk and listen to our customer segments. This can be done formally and structurally in a safe environment. Or, it can simply be a casual conversation with the right questions asked to the right audience. This was also how I carried out my initial market validation by talking and listening to our potential customers.

In agile development, we are constantly validating our markets and products at each sprint cycle. In doing so, we ensure that we are building solutions to serve our customer segments, and not our ego.

Design Sprint Tools
Photo by Gautam Lakum on Unsplash

Sade Dayangku (Vulcan Post): Today, how many users do you have? How are you growing your user base?

Paul Lee: As of 30 June 2020, we have 323 registered users.

Since our soft launch (in stealth mode) on 17 December 2018 till 30 June 2020, we have recorded a total of 7,633 visitors, in which 1,495  (19.59%) are returning visitors.

Out of the returning visitors, 434 (5.69%) loyal visitors frequently returned to our site and generated 33,524 (60.71%) pageviews (against a total of 55,222 pageviews) with an average of 17 minutes browsing time.

In our views, these numbers depicted quality engagement for a web app because we have a relatively good bounce rate of 64.14% from our overall 7,633 visitors, and 53.74% from our 434 loyal visitors where our 323 registered users are from.

I say this in the context of growing our user base from social media, newsletters campaigns, and word-of-mouth referrals with non-paid promotional efforts.

Furthermore, we are not chasing after vanity metrics and are focused on obtaining quality users. Therefore, we will continue with our current approach, and in Q3 2020, we will be testing our monetisation model to learn what it costs to operate our solutions and how they are being used by our global users.

In order to keep our CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost) low, we will also be experimenting with our referral programmes to reward our users in driving our word-of-mouth campaign.

Ultimately, we believe in building great product-market fit products to drive the growth and LTV (Customer Lifetime Value) of our user base.

Flipidea's audience overview dated from 17 Dec 2018 to 30 June 2020

Sade Dayangku (Vulcan Post): Where do you get your information on company failures from, and do you have to access it? It seems like pretty sensitive information that a company wouldn’t want to willingly release on its own.

Paul Lee: Right, so our data retrieval systems identified the companies that had shut down and gathered the publicly available data from the Internet.

That said, you are right that it is indeed very challenging in encouraging entrepreneurs to share their sensitive information, particularly in Asia.

To overcome this issue, our team is testing a new feature where entrepreneurs will be able to share their sensitive and confidential stories.

If successful, we will be able to gather great quality data.

Sade Dayangku (Vulcan Post): At the moment, how many failed companies does Flipidea feature on its platform? Do you concentrate your research on particular regions in general? If yes, why?

Paul Lee: No, we are gathering information on shuttered companies from around the world so that our analysis will be more contextual and meaningful.

As a DaaS platform, we must offer rich and quality data.

We currently feature 500 companies on our website without the need for an account registration.

In the coming weeks, we will be offering another 1,000 companies for free but users will need to create and register an account to access them.

This is our freemium ($0 forever) offering with access to only 1,500 companies and basic limited functionality to use our solutions.

Our overarching purpose is to scientifically examine the datasets and gain a better understanding on why companies from around the world shut down

Sade Dayangku (Vulcan Post): Based on what I can see, it doesn’t seem like you’re monetising Flipidea yet. What are your plans for monetising it in the future? How do you plan to do it? (For example, what would be the difference for a paying VS non-paying user, since the information on failed companies seems quite detailed already, even for a non-paying user?)

Paul Lee: In Q3 2020, we will be introducing our Flipidea Pro with affordable monthly subscription plans to access our premium features, and will gradually release tenths of thousands of shuttered companies for our customers to browse through.

We are quite excited to test and release our premium features because we strongly believe that the features are helpful to our users in their research, ideation, design, and validation process.

Unfortunately, I cannot reveal more at this time, but we will be offering an engaging experience to view and interpret our analytical information.

Our goal is to build great problem-solving solutions that everyone can afford

Sade Dayangku (Vulcan Post): Since starting up, what have been some of the biggest challenges of running Flipidea? How did you overcome them?

Paul Lee: As a bootstrapping startup in the Sultanate of Brunei that has a relatively young startup ecosystem in the global context, our biggest challenge is talent acquisition.

Particularly when there is a strong culture of young Bruneian talents desiring to work for the public sector or GLCs (Government-linked Companies). This is understandable in consideration of the job security it has to offer.

Given that we have a very small and unexposed tech talent pool, it does not help when many of the talents would choose to work in non-tech roles at the public sector or GLCs. As a result, there is a scarcity of tech talents.

Moreover, I currently can only offer small internship stipends against higher salary with benefits offered by the bigger companies, public sector and GLCs.

So in order to overcome these challenges, I have to recruit talents based on:

  • our company vision, culture, and my ability to lead towards our goals
  • good character and attitude so I can groom everyone into an A-team
  • ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) benefit for our loyal team

Another great challenge is the recognition from the “big boys”. Be it reputable universities, governmental organisations, corporations, tier-1 venture capitalists, and so on.

Especially when we are earnestly solving problems without riding on the latest hype, it is difficult to earn their acknowledgment in our work.

Then again, I believe this is the same everywhere.

So in order to gain everyone’s attention, we must build a great company.

"If a person will spend one hour a day on the same subject for five years, that person will be an expert on that subject." (Earl Nightingale)

Sade Dayangku (Vulcan Post): What have been some of your proudest moments?

Paul Lee: Firstly, as an ‘underdog startup’ in Brunei, I am extremely proud of our team for building Flipidea to serve our customer segments and compete with our global competitors.

Secondly, I am very proud to be the only guy in our team of eight.

Finally, I am super proud of our team for building the Idea Checker, first of its kind in the world, which is our idea validation tool powered by AI.

Although it is still a work-in-progress but it is becoming a very powerful tool for aspiring entrepreneurs to use in their ideation stage.

It is the highlight feature of our freemium offering.

In fact, our idea checker unveils a glimpse of what our SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) product has got to offer in the second half of 2021.

Our idea checker is designed to help you methodically validate and scientifically test your business idea

Sade Dayangku (Vulcan Post): When will your innovation prototyping and pivot features be available for users? What can we expect from them?

Paul Lee: These are actually the main features of our SaaS product which we are aiming to release by the second half of 2021.

Our AI-powered SaaS product will guide our users to prototype, validate, build, launch, refine, grow, and monetise their business on our platform.

By using our holistic solutions, imagine that aspiring entrepreneurs can build, test, and grow their business ideas from their bedrooms.

Sade Dayangku (Vulcan Post): In the next 2 years, what are some of your short-term and long-term goals? How do you plan to achieve them?

Paul Lee: 2 years from now, we aim to achieve the following short term goals:

  • to have a stronger team
  • to achieve strong evidence of product-market fit
  • to achieve USD $1 million ARR (Annual Recurring Revenue)

For our long term goals:

Our plans to achieve our goals:

  • by building great quality and affordable solutions for our customers
  • by identifying great partners to work with to achieve our goals
  • by always being user-centric in our product design
"The greatest gap in life is the one between knowing and doing." (Dick Biggs)

This interview is permitted to be published for our audience which was originally interviewed by Sade Dayangku who is Managing Editor of Vulcan Post Malaysia on 2 July 2020.

Vulcan Post is the leading digital lifestyle publication based in Singapore with over 1.3 million monthly readers across Southeast Asia that updates its readers with the latest social media news and digital innovations.

Last edited on 23 July 2020.