Interview with Singapore Pub Crawl

Being an entrepreneur myself, I always look up to other entrepreneurs. There is always something you can learn from another entrepreneur. Almost everyone of us will credit ourselves for coming up with a unique business idea. The difference between most of us and people like Morgan and Varman is that they don't just stop at talking. They walk the talk. They do what they are good at and they strive hard to make it better. Respect.

Go on and read this honest and personal interview about their journey and the challenges they face in their business.

In your words, What is The Singapore Pub Crawl about?
At its core, the Singapore Pub Crawl is a social nightlife experience. We bring our "crawlers" to four bars and a club and create an atmosphere that helps people meet new people. Especially today, it's not really in our culture to just start a conversation with strangers. That's just missed opportunities to learn something new, make a professional connection or make life-long friends. 
We help get the conversation started in a very fun and informal setting. That's why we say "There are no strangers on the Singapore Pub Crawl". 

So, speaking about friendship.How did you two meet and How did this idea even begin?
We've known each other since Junior College and we just clicked. We became best mates and we kept in touch after school. We even used to travel together quite a bit. It was on one of our trips that we crawled onto this concept... literally.

Pub Crawls aren't a new idea. Similar events have been going on in Europe for a while. However, we went on our first crawl in Hong Kong and we had a blast. Then it struck us. Why not bring this to Singapore? The HK landscape is pretty similar to Singapore and we were convinced that it would work. We're both cities that never sleep - we work hard, we're always moving, and we're a tourist hub. It made sense.

With every business, there would have been initial challenges. What were they and how did you overcome them?
We were 2 best friends with a fantastic idea, trying to start a business and make it work. We were pumped up and wholeheartedly believed that we could make it work. Unfortunately, convincing others that this was a fantastic idea, and trusting two young guys with no real experience (or money), wasn't easy.
While pub crawls had been done before, they were one-off, standalone events. We wanted this to be a regular activity and it was a tough idea to sell. We knocked on many doors and counters. Some told us 'no' politely, but some told us point-blank that it would never take off and it would crash within 6 months.
But we did the only thing we could... we kept knocking and walking and knocking until we got enough people to give us that initial chance and we finally got CRAWLING!
We took it one crawl at a time, always thinking about what our customers wanted. What they needed more, what they needed less and we did our best to find a balance. We got through our first six months, and then a year and now it's been 4 YEARS since we first began.
With Pub Crawl being a novel concept in Singapore, how did you'll go about marketing it?

It was all about hard work. Understanding who our customers were and where they would be looking for information and things to do - both local and tourists. We started with friends and word of mouth then we hit the streets and gave out flyers, put up posters and everything else we could think off to have a presence.
It started slowly with 5 people, and then 10. We made sure that each of them had a good experience and put their reviews on Trip Advisor, Facebook, social media and that our website was up to date and did our best. It wasn't difficult to get the Crawlers to put up a review because they genuinely had a good time. Next thing we knew the crawls were getting bigger and bigger.
How has the Crawl grown since it beginning 4 years ago?
We are top 3 under Nightlife Activities on Trip Advisor and our biggest crawl so far was 170 people on National Day in 2013. We've worked with various partners who now give us better deals that we can pass on to the Crawlers. From walking from one pub to another, we have our bus crawls that go to bars and clubs that are further out... and we have pool parties too.
Staff-wise, we've grown from just 2 of us to a staff of 8 people and have a very lucrative internship program which gives an array of experiences in event management, public relations, marketing and social media.

In your 4 years, was there any competition?
Of course. Just like any business, there will always be competition. Another group decided to do the same and went to the same bars we went to, negotiated the same deals we did. It was easier for them I think. They were Americans and already had connections in the expat community. Also, we'd already done alot of the groundwork, which was convincing the bars that it was a concept that could work. So for them, it was no longer an untried model that they were trying to sell.

Truthfully, we were upset. We felt threatened. The Pub Crawl was something that was very close to us and we had invested a lot of  our time, sweat and tears into it. The thought of losing it was unbearable. But what could we do? Only one thing. We worked harder and made sure that our Crawlers had a great time.

On our first anniversary, the other pub crawl had their own event at the same place as our event. Next thing we knew people from their crawl saw what we were doing and they decided to join us. I think they lasted for 2 or 3 months after that and they just closed down. 

The biggest challenge of being an industry leader is maintaining that position. That's why we never stop trying to improve. We're always looking at new ways we can tweak things to provide the ultimate experience for our Crawlers.

So in any typical business there are ups and downs right. What are the most negative moments in the Pub Crawl journey, if any?
Sponsors who are unable to fulfill their end of the agreement is something we've had to deal with.... sometimes at the last minute which can make it difficult for us - sometimes they over promise and under deliver. But we've also been fortunate to work with some really great sponsors as well. No matter what, we have to always make sure we fulfill our obligations to sponsors on our end.

There is a certain perception  that Pub Crawl is for back packers or tourists. Is it true or is it also for locals?
At first we did target the backpackers and tourists because it would be a great way to see the Singapore nightlife in a short period of time. But soon, people started making friends. Word started going around and expats and locals looking for drink deals (Singapore is not exactly the cheapest place to have drinks) started to come by as well. Next thing we knew, they all started making friends, became regulars, and the pub crawl started growing as community and not just an activity.

Morgan, we understand that you were a civil servant. At what point, did you decide to give your iron ricebowl in exchange for the risks and challenges of a business?
Well I reached that fork in the road where  I  had to make a decision. It was not an easy one to make, but we'd come so far and put in so much work. Having another job was a scheduling nightmare. I thought the time was right and decided  to go "full-time" and grow the business.

Varman, being one of Singapore's most popular celebrities, how does being in a business that is associated with alcohol and partying affect your image and career?
I think we are all role models for the younger generation. Maybe because of my career choice, I might have a little more influence than most and it was always on my mind. And I know that I have to set an example so it was quite a dilemma for me.
My family is very important to me, and I have deep respect for both my parents. I asked for their advice and told them what I was doing and trying to achieve. I come from a very strict Indian background and I wanted my parent's opinions and consent. They both understood and gave me their blessings.

How about yours, Morgan?
Initially, there was a lot of opposition from family. I was quitting my job to go full time and financial stability and security is always at the back of everyone's mind. I knew it was a risk but my instincts said it would pay off. I was lucky that they supported my decision and I assured them that if it doesn't work out, I'll go back into something more secure.

In Singapore especially alcohol has a very negative stereotype associated with violence  like fights and unruly behaviour. So with your business model based on alcohol as an important point how do you steer clear of it?
The Singapore Pub Crawl is about having a great night out and socializing - not about getting drunk. We are uniquely placed to do something that not many others can do. Also we must remember that we are role models. That is why we reached out to the Health Promotion Board ourselves and told them that we wanted to promote responsible drinking.

We encourage our Crawlers to drink water throughout the crawl. We even provide the free Nakd water to all our Crawlers. Binge drinking is not good for our health and the Pub Crawl is a great way to spread that message. We encourage  our crawlers to drink water between every 2 drinks or so. That allows them to party harder, party longer and party safer.  

So 4 years into the business, what is the future?
We want to grow. We want to be the 'must try' experience for anyone who wants to have a taste of the Singapore nightlife. Everyone  must come and try the Singapore Pub Crawl at least once. We are also looking outside our borders to Thailand and the Philippines. We already have a partner in Boracay and Manila. But right now we want to be the best at what we do in Singapore first.
Any advice for aspiring enntrepreneurs?
Believe (நம்பிக்கை வாழ்க்கையின் தும்பிக்கை)
If you believe in your idea and then you should go all out and make it a reality. It's very hard work to make a dream real.
Trust me when I say this, Varman and Mogan know how to throw a mean party. Join them in the next crawl. 

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