Bibek Koirala – Selling Blockchain Services Globally

Bibek is one of the few Nepalese entrepreneurs I know of who has dived into new frontier technologies and yet made a successful business out of his endeavors. He is also regarded as the ‘Face of Blockchain in Nepal’ for his contribution to helping grow the Web3 community in Nepal at a large scale. 

In this interview, we dive into his practices and thinking methods for selling his tech services globally. You can learn more about him through his LinkedIn profile.

Q. What did your journey look like when transitioning from an engineering background into entrepreneurship where you’ve led multiple startups as the frontman? 

Coming from an engineering background, I used to think building software, writing code, and making the product ready is the most important thing for succeeding in business. I was wrong!

When I co-founded my own company, I realized that none of the things that I thought were critical were actually that important since we could either outsource the development work or hire people to build products. Instead, in startups, you need to do everything from being out in the community to seeking investments and doing the groundwork.

And there was never a day when we as cofounders were thinking of how to build this particular product in our company, instead we were thinking about how we were going to pay our people if we were not earning enough revenue. Shifting my thought process from how I build a product to how I pay people is where I had my primary lessons learned.

Q. Since you’ve built product companies that use Web3 technology, what kind of challenges or personal blockers did you face when building them from Nepal?

Before getting into product companies, I first ran an IT service-based company, called Pastel. This service company helped me in learning in-depth about team building, relationship management, and networking. It also helped me figure out the process of venture capital (VC) backing and how investments are made in early-stage companies and how money is poured down. 

Through Pastel, we were targeting to help the product-building companies who were trying to get the work done in a cheaper amount. We started working on small projects and helped others build trust in us. However, we soon realized that it would be hard to scale up.

I then shifted my focus to building a product company called RedChillies Labs, Inc. where we started to work in a niche market that was high in quality but low in resources.

Q. What are the key differences you’ve discovered while selling your service vs your products in international markets?

While working as service providers, the opportunities we received were plenty. We could find our clients on Linkedin, any freelancing platform, or simply through people within our network residing abroad who could bring clients to us. And it is easier when you’re working at a low cost or working in a niche market. 

However, I realized that while you’re selling a product, you’re searching for your customers or consumers. So, you need to focus on 2 major things while building your customer base. 

  • Focus on making an early adopters community

Although the product is built and designed to keep the spectrum of your potential buyers wide, it is a fact that you cannot sell to everyone. You need to build a community of early adopters who will then do the work for you helping promote your products by becoming your voice to bring other people in.

  • Networking

If you take the analogy of an SEO graph, you have a high chance to get traffic on your website if you are linked with other sites. If your website isn’t linked to anything, you don’t come up ahead in search results. This is exactly what applies to business as well. It will be tough to sell if you do not have links and connections where people can come to you. Once people come in, we need to work on retaining those people.

Q. Since your focus is on partnerships, how did you get good at networking with people outside of Nepal? Could you share your tips on networking?

We have worked with companies of both types – bureaucratic companies, where it’s hard to get things done, and curious startups, where there is ample innovation. 

And by working with both of these types of companies, we’ve experienced that it is easier to get into partnerships with startups rather than bureaucratic companies. And, the quickest way to get such partnerships is to see if what you’re going to pitch to them aligns with their vision. 

For example, if you’re launching a metaverse and another company is building a platform that exchanges crypto directly, you both can partner to introduce credit card payments for buying NFTs in the metaverse. So, here both of our vision aligns, and now by mapping this possibility, if you can reach out and pitch them, you’ll have an easier time partnering with them.

On the other hand, in doing partnerships with an organization with a bureaucratic hierarchy, you need to convince a lot of people in that organization to make an official partnership. In that case, numbers come into play and you need to show them what value you’re adding them in numbers; simply having a vision and knowing how collaboration can be done is not enough. 

I would like to clarify by sharing an instance of one of our products Evolvnft, where we have partnered with an event organizing company with a bureaucratic hierarchy with us reducing their ticket charge from 3.5% to 2% which reduces a lot of financial cost for what they were paying to other ticket management companies while also helping them with their customer retention. 

So the point is we need to be specific on numbers and define what value we can add to our potential partners.

Q. What has helped you the most in getting clients/customers so far?

While a lot of things help, the biggest thing that has helped was referrals. When I was part of Zilliqa community, a lot of people in the community were referring to me for client projects as they could see me as a person who gets things done. So, it is essential to have good relations with the people you work with. Conversion is also really easy for referrals. 

Additionally, having a good market position alone wouldn’t get you the work. A lot of people reach out to me trying to sell themselves, however, if I go into their profile I don’t see the proper description of the value addition they are offering and the proper market positioning they have. 

Q. You’ve been part of multiple companies that sell to businesses. What does the sales team of such business-facing brands look like? Also, are there tech people who’re also involved in selling, or are there different people?

Do not make tech teams do marketing and sales. 

This is what we have realized after running a service-based company with only technical people on board. There’s a biased techie mindset that makes them believe that complex things are cool and easy things are boring. And when they sit in a sales meeting, their usage of complex jargon (which is normal to them) doesn’t make sense to the business people.

So in every organization, we’ve built, we’ve made sure that the technical team wouldn’t attend meetings for sales and marketing or anything. 

Instead, the technical team makes the marketing team understand the product – its flow, features, and user experiences including the possible content ideas of the product that needs to be marketed. The technical team then verifies the content that goes out for marketing to ensure it is rightly communicated to people outside, but not directly involved in the marketing and sales of the product.

Q. Your pre-sales relationship looks really good from the outside and there’s already a community of early adopters who’re engaged with your business. But what does your post-sales relationship look like? 

As far as I have noticed, there are two types of customers. 

There are people who just use the product and there are people who have an interest in the growth of your product. 

The latter ones give suggestions on what would make your product better and they go out on social media and be your voice. So, we make effort to make the ones who support us feel special on their own. We also have a separate discussion group for them where we make sure they’re heard. 

For the people who are just users, we have a subtle kind of relationship with them. We don’t really let them know that we’re doing something for them, but we are aware of those people’s needs when we’re designing and building the product. Just being aware of subtle things users want and aligning our product with their interests, we keep ourselves ready for change.

Q. If you were to compare your first day of business to who you’re now, what differences would you see in yourself?

I was scared to take risks. The noticeable difference is that I have accepted risk to be a normal part of my life. Once you start taking risks, it gets normal. You have a sense of faith that it will work anyhow. 

It is not 0 or 1, that none of the users will come to use your product or you will fail. Something will happen one way or other. You just need to be agile. Situations may come, but you just need to understand those situations, comprehend them and implement them in your business. Being rigid doesn’t help. Your agility and your passion for doing things will help things eventually fall into place.