Get rewards for running on JomRun and buy marathon tickets
By Kiran Kaur Sidhu August 28, 2019
- 12,000 daily active users & 50 merchants, monetises via cut from ticket sales
- Early challenges of student founder include lack of business acumen
TAKING inspiration from the Pokemon Go game app, 22-year-old Chang Yi Hern had his eureka moment spurring him to start JomRun, an app to encourage physical activity.
“Our algorithm is proportional to the speed, the elevation and the distance of the runner,” explains Chang.
Today, JomRun has garnered 12,000 daily active users and about 50 partners on its platform offering rewards which include Zalora, SoCar, Subway and ChiFitness.
A graduate from the University of Oxford with a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering, Chang was in his second year of studies when the idea struck him. Interestingly, he was actually on a lookout for investment banking opportunities at the time to set him off on a “rewarding career” and landed an internship stint at JP Morgan.
With risk and funding matters to consider, Chang was reluctant to pursue his idea at first. His initial thought was to establish stability by working for a number of years before founding his company. Nonetheless, upon completing his internship, Chang took the plunge into entrepreneurship.
Starting off as a student entrepreneur
“I always wanted to start my own company but didn’t think I’d do it so early on. One day, I just decided to do it and started coding the app,” he explains, adding that his coding knowledge came from the software portion of his degree.
The upcoming journey proved far from straightforward. “I realised to write an entire app myself was challenging. So I started looking for online freelancers to work with me.” Chang took up a part time tutoring job for side income since paying for freelance services made a dent in his student budget.
However, overall, he believes his full scholarship from the university and living expenses stipend provided him with a good starting point. To date, Chang has invested RM200,000 into JomRun with RM50,000 coming from Sunway iLabs and Nexea Angels.
Some of Chang’s early struggles include getting partners onboard by cold calling companies. The UK-Malaysia time difference imposed a challenge. “I needed to wake up 3am to 4am to reach companies within office hours in Malaysia. Also, we didn’t have anything to leverage on – anyone can say they are building an app that’s going to gain traction.”
Accelerator programme proves rewarding
Chang candidly admitted that he had little business acumen in his student days. As to what made him choose the path he did as opposed to joining an accelerator programme, Chang says he definitely considered the latter but thought it would be “time-consuming” especially since he was still studying.
Upon launching JomRun in August 2017, Chang returned to Malaysia during Christmas break that same year. It was during this time that he found out about the Sunway iLabs Accelerator Programme and decided to apply.
Participating in the accelerator programme opened Chang up to a network of connections and potential investors. “I think that is the misconception I had previously, thinking it would be time-consuming. Although it sometimes is, the connections we make and the new perspectives from VCs are worthwhile.”
Although JomRun had garnered 2,000 users before the accelerator programme, Chang realised “that it was really hard to snowball the numbers as the number of users grew quite linearly.”
By partnering with marathon organisers and being open to feedback, JomRun pivoted its business model early on by entering into marathon ticketing which Chang believes is the main lifeline of the platform.
Taking a small percentage cut from ticket sales via the platform, JomRun is able to monetise. After all, companies are reluctant to offer rewards unless they gain too. “That is why we want to gather our database. Then, more merchants will look for us to offer rewards.”
As for expansion plans to other countries in Southeast Asia, it is certainly something Chang has in mind for JomRun although he is still on the lookout for the most suitable market to enter next. “It would take a lot of money so we need to choose wisely.”