Felix Lee Zheng De looks like any other Singaporean engineering student: lanky, bespectacled, wearing jeans and trainers, raring to go anywhere. What sets this twenty-something apart is that he has already gone through enough business cycles to know what sells for cohorts of his generation, who enjoy group travel on a bargain.
As part of the team behind Packdat, a community platform that helps group travellers plan their trips with the help of links and emoji ratings, Felix explains to Travel Daily how mixing together a great concept, ambition, learnings, and a large dose of fun can get Singaporeans to ‘Pack My Trip’:
TDM: Is there a story behind the name ‘Packdat’? We haven’t seen any significant details of this anywhere, so it’s a great starting point for us.
Felix: My co-founder, Zeth (Zheng Dao), and I wanted a brand name that represented something bigger than travel. Packdat is a brand that, at the core, represents friendship. The name itself suggests that users are able to ‘Packdat’ (pack that) – friendship, place, experiences and many more – all into a trip. We have people that also say, ‘Hey, why not you Packdat place into your itinerary?’ which is a pun intended by the community too!
TDM: Packdat currently features trips to Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and Australia. Are there plans to open this up to other Asia-Pacific destinations, e.g. India, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Philippines and New Zealand?
Felix: There are definitely plans to open Packdat up to other Asia-Pacific destinations in our early 2018 roadmap. We’re looking to open in as many cities as our travel community would love to travel to.
TDM: Will there be an option to add accommodations/lodging into plans made on Packdat? What if, for example, I try to use Packdat to plan a trip to Hokkaido, but I do not yet have a hotel/apartment/guesthouse/hostel in mind as a starting point for my trip?
Felix: Packdat currently asks where you are staying. Our built-in algorithm will smartly route your itinerary plan for you based on the best route and timings in just a single click, which we call the ‘Pack My Trip’ button. Soon, it will allow people to either skip that or even choose hotels to stay in too, just to take the hassle away.
TDM: We’ve noticed that Packdat is currently populated through TripAdvisor content, may we ask why there are limits to the kind of content users can currently upload?
Felix: There are limits as of now, to only (link to) TripAdvisor Places. The reason being, we want to control the quality of the content on Packdat, and to make sure everything added onto the platform and itinerary is of value to our community.
TDM: All right. So, are there plans to allow Packdat users to populate it with their own photo, audio and video content, or through other content like blog posts?
Felix: There are definitely plans in the near future to allow users to populate Packdat with content such as photos, videos or simply posts of their favourite travel blogger. Ultimately, Packdat’s content will be personalised so our users can ‘feel like’ they are in the city that they are planning a trip to.
An itinerary is powerful, be it for a nearby city or one far away. It makes a traveller feel safe to know they are only experiencing the best out of their travel. Just to give a recent example, we have had a traveller who is travelling to New Zealand with her family engage us. Of course, we used our new back-end system to help her personalise her itinerary since we do not have New Zealand on live yet – this is a hint of something exciting we will launch. Afterwards, she loved the itinerary because it saved her time and hassle, and even sent back photos of her trip. These are moments we really appreciate. So that’s all definitely a work in progress and we’re all looking forward to it.
An itinerary is powerful, be it for a nearby city or one far away.
TDM: Good to know that your 2018 timeline has you opening Packdat into more cities and adding more features. But was there any single destination that made you or your co-founder think, ‘Okay, this planning is ridiculous!’ and led you to setting up Packdat?
Felix: We started off really inspired by Taiwan. It’s a country where there are many lovely places, but we just have to piece them together into a magical experience. It was hard for us to name just one destination as part of our plan, and here’s why: it was straightforward to us at that point in time, when we looked to all our friends planning their vacations whether with their family or friends, that the current way (of trip-planning) was a dreadful process.
TDM: I see. We learned that Packdat was significantly crowdfunded through Thunderclap. What are your takeaways from the crowdfunding initiative, and how have they affected how Packdat is built?
Felix: First things first: Thunderclap is like Kickstarter, except that you are supporting in terms of social shares. Packdat’s Thunderclap campaign goal was achieved within 3 hours and had over 221 supporters by the end of it. So from the campaign, Packdat gained good awareness with our target audience and had gained us valuable insights for our product, but no revenue. Our takeaways from this are much more than just awareness: my team and I learned a great deal on growth hacking and just using lean and agile marketing throughout.
TDM: Noted on this. But given that laying down digital infrastructure for Packdat uses real manpower and real cost, is it possible to share with us how Packdat is making money these days?
Felix: Packdat is currently pre-revenue and focused on growing our community base. We are bootstrapping everything from Packdat to the Packdat Show with our start-up savings, and we definitely looking to grow more by raising a seed round too. The seed round will help us move and scale faster, in terms of speeding up development and getting the word out. The first step towards monetizing will come soon, and it will be really exciting.
TDM: Packdat seems to be raking in recognition lately – you were featured in Slingshot@SWITCH 2017, and you have been shortlisted as a 2017 Accenture ConsumerTech Awards finalist. What do you think is your secret?
Felix: I’d say our secret lies in the team making things happen. We’re humbled and grateful for these little achievements along the way, but we’ve always only focused on how we can better serve the travel community with Packdat, to make travel a fun yet super simple experience. At Packdat, we believe in changing the way people experience travel with friends anywhere. My co-founder Zeth and I had previously started a few small start-ups together, and failures had taught us a great deal to strive for greater each time. Shiva, our third member, is a bold and ambitious tech co-founder together with us. We’re firm on our mission and relentless on chasing the ideals we set out to achieve.
TDM: Your online shows are hilariously Singaporean! As someone who has travelled to Singapore quite a bit, I only gained an appreciation for Singaporean humour when you came along. What made you come up with the Packdat Show? Was it a conscious branding/marketing effort to bring Packdat to life before or right when Packdat itself went live?
Felix: Thank you so much for appreciating the humour on the Packdat Show! It was a conscious branding/marketing effort after Packdat went live for two months. The Packdat Show is a huge team effort led by my co-founder, Zeth.
TDM: Is there any hope for a second season of Packdat Show?
Felix: Season 2 is definitely in talks, and I want to promise that it will be back incredibly soon in early 2018. This time, it’d be back bigger, more epic and definitely so much more packed into every episode, so stay tuned!
TDM: I’m glad we’re seeing the return of the Packdat Show, I’m definitely subscribing to that! On a personal note, what are your (Felix’s) favourite destinations and why? Will you be taking Packdat to those places, too?
Felix: My favourite destinations are San Francisco and all of Europe. Even though I have not been to these places, I’ve heard amazing stories and places to visit. I’m definitely travelling there once I graduate early 2018. San Francisco in particular, reason being, it’s home to Silicon Valley. I believe there is so much value in the start-up ecosystem there that I can learn from the people and the culture, be it on product or team. We definitely have got plans to scale out of Asia-Pacific, and furthermore we’ve always made sure we are building in a global perspective from day 1 at Packdat. It’d be incredible once it goes worldwide.
TDM: Do you think Singapore is ripe for more travel start-ups? Or, what travel-related start-ups are you most excited to see?
Felix: ‘Singapore is the #1 travel destination of 2018’ according to INSIDER Travel. There is definitely room for travel start-ups here to start serving inbound travellers that are coming for holidays. Business travel is also on the rise, we’d all know! I’m personally most excited to see travel-related startups that can change the way we fly. I think that is definitely in Airbnb‘s roadmap, as mentioned a few times by Brian Chesky (co-founder of Airbnb). So I’m excited for that, since flying has always been the same experience, this is a space bound to be interesting.