Steven Lam, co-founder of GoGoVan and Sutardja Center alumnus, visited SCET’s Newton Series lectures to share his experience as an entrepreneur.
GoGoVan, a company that connects van drivers with customers to transport goods, was valued at $1 billion as of August 2017 — the first “unicorn” startup for Hong Kong and SCET. The company recently raised $250 million in new capital from several investors, including Chinese conglomerate Alibaba.
Lam is an alumnus of SCET, having taken a challenge lab course and created a product called “Mobi Foot” during his time at Berkeley. Lam said he decided to enroll after looking through the syllabus and seeing that the class required people from different disciplines to collaborate on a project.
“If I wanted to start a business, I had to work with different types of people,” Lam said. “That’s the fun part of Berkeley: you get to know a lot of interesting people here.”
Lam moved to California in 2005, where he attended Diablo Valley College before transferring to UC Berkeley. In order to pay for school, Lam picked up several jobs, including working part time at a Chinese restaurant.
His first venture into business was a serendipitous find: Lam noticed that people in Hong Kong were willing to pay about fives times the original price to purchase an iPhone off of eBay. Lam seized the opportunity to make a profit, and put the proceeds entirely towards paying for his degree.
After graduating from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business in 2010, Lam moved back home to Hong Kong. According to Lam, he couldn’t find a job right off the bat, owing to his self-proclaimed lack of prowess in interviews.
“When you meet a manager, you have to talk like you’re a friend of the manager,” Lam said. “But if I don’t like you, I don’t like you. That’s why I couldn’t get any job interviews!”
While working as delivery men for restaurants, Lam and his friends noticed that customers would purchase takeout for family dinners, where he said the takeout boxes would invariably end up sitting in the middle of the table. Instead of the bright red “THANK YOU” printed on the boxes, Lam came up with the idea of placing advertisements on takeout boxes instead.
To gauge whether there was a market for his idea, Lam printed fake advertisements with his personal phone number. Soon enough, he was receiving calls to place ads with his “company” — all without an existing prototype.
The company hit a roadblock, however, when they realized that they could not rely on existing transportation services to deliver their advertisement-covered takeout boxes. After several attempts to address issues of convenience and reliability, GoGoVan was born.
“Your job is to learn — otherwise you are not an entrepreneur,” Lam said.