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San Pu Travel Group Investing Accelerates Innovation: The Successful Entrepreneurial Journey of FunNow and SparkLabs

To succeed in startups, Harvard Business Review emphasizes the need for key players like "middlemen." Taiwan also has numerous organizations playing the role of "middlemen," accompanying startups through their entrepreneurial journey. How did FunNow and Lüguo Technology receive assistance from these "middlemen" to achieve initial success?

If you could buy a flight ticket from Amsterdam to London for just one euro (approximately 35 New Taiwan dollars), many people would undoubtedly jump at the opportunity. Founded in 2015 by four Taiwanese living in the Netherlands, the real-time booking urban leisure platform "FunNow" sparked their entrepreneurial spirit and expanded their startup internationally. FunNow CEO Chen Ting-Kuan, one of the co-founders, worked at a financial institution in the Netherlands before returning to Taiwan to start his own business. "Life was pretty leisurely," he chuckled, recalling how the four Taiwanese often gathered to eat and chat, sharing a common habit of spontaneously arranging their travel itineraries, often deciding what to do at the last minute.

So, they once rushed to buy front-row seats for a musical in Broadway just 10 minutes before the show for only $5, while Chen himself managed to purchase a one-euro flight ticket. This is quite common in Europe and the US because selling at a discount to attract spontaneous consumers is better than making no sales at all, even if it means operating at a loss.

Having lived in Europe for a long time, the four were familiar with this model and decided to start a business in Taiwan, focusing on instant booking services with the motto "just go." They completed this through a mobile app.

However, at that time, they had no idea what entrepreneurship entailed or what an incubator or accelerator was. They simply imagined it wouldn't be difficult, thinking, "As long as we make a good app, we'll have a million downloads in three months and can IPO in three years!" Chen Ting-Kuan reminisced, realizing how naive they were back then.

FunNow × SparkLabs: Breaking through the five barriers of entrepreneurship.

However, in the first year of entrepreneurship, they faced a rude awakening. Money quickly ran out, their promised one million downloads were nowhere to be found, and their account balance dwindled to just 100 dollars. But today, eight years later, FunNow has truly made a mark, with its services extending to Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and beyond. The global download user base has exceeded 8 million, with over 10,000 partner stores and investments pouring in from giants like Alibaba and Wistron.

Reflecting on this journey, besides their own efforts, the assistance provided by SparkLabs Taiwan, a startup accelerator from Silicon Valley, played a crucial role, including:

  1. Providing "failure lessons" to inform startups about "which pitfalls to avoid" to increase their success rate.

  2. Providing connections to professionals to assist startups with registration, trademarks, patents, etc.

  3. Connecting with "external entrepreneurial partners."

  4. Referring suitable startup talents.

  5. Facilitating connections to the capital market.

Looking back on the early days of entrepreneurship, SparkLabs Taiwan took FunNow to South Korea to participate in a startup presentation event (Demo Day), greatly broadening their horizons. "Standing on stage with six to seven thousand people sitting below, including other startup teams, investors, corporations, and even students aspiring to start a business," Chen Ting-Kuan was both stunned and touched. At that time, they realized that if FunNow could succeed in Taiwan, it meant their business model was correct. However, if they didn't expand, similar companies might emerge in other countries and potentially replace FunNow. Therefore, they decided they must go overseas. Going overseas required a more international perspective and cultural integration. Each country has different market demands, business practices, consumer preferences, etc., so they had to adapt accordingly and design products and marketing strategies that fit local market needs.

National Taiwan University Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center × Lüguo Technology: Finding the right people on both sides, in contrast to FunNow, which received assistance from SparkLabs Taiwan to expand internationally, the collaboration between Acer and Lüguo Technology, a startup company, relied on the matchmaking of the National Taiwan University Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center.

Established in 2019, Lüguo Technology's founder and CEO Chen Qitong, a doctoral graduate from the National Taiwan University Department of Mechanical Engineering, has over 20 years of experience as a lawyer. Before starting his own business, he was a department head at a listed company and noticed that even large-scale companies had very traditional and error-prone internal contract and legal processes, with sometimes projects ending before contracts were even signed.

This gave him an idea: Could he introduce AI using the concept of SaaS (Software as a Service) to digitize the company's contract processes from drafting, approval, signing, expiration to archiving on a cloud platform?

Like all startup companies, even with a great idea, if they couldn't overcome the "valley of death," they would only briefly streak across the sky like a meteor.

Chen Qitong led a team of eight pioneering entrepreneurs to develop basic functionality based on this concept, iterating and upgrading over time. "The company had almost no income in the first two years," Chen Qitong chuckled.

When the product was finally developed, they encountered the second problem: lack of visibility for the startup company. Where were the customers? It wasn't until they were introduced to Acer through the National Taiwan University Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center that Lüguo was able to open the door. Guo Jiancheng, Chief Strategy Officer and Deputy General Counsel of Acer Group, stated that the company has been continuously promoting internal process optimization, especially hoping to introduce AI. "We need a partner to help us find external resources to do this, and the National Taiwan University Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center helped us find Lüguo."

With so many companies seeking AI applications in the market and so many companies providing AI products, how did the National Taiwan University Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center ensure that both sides found the right people? This required careful selection and matchmaking. Acer first presented the company's strategic direction and discussed with the National Taiwan University Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, focusing on "process improvement," "AI," and "software services," ultimately selecting Lüguo as the partner.

As the entrepreneurial atmosphere improves, "middlemen" like SparkLabs Taiwan or the National Taiwan University Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center become increasingly important!

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