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How to Succeed: Ticketmelon’s CEO Panupong Tejapaibul talks tech and customer love

The world is full of successful CEOs, innovative entrepreneurs, and risk-taking business owners, but every person follows their own path to the top. Welcome to How to Succeed, our interview column in which we pick the brains of industry leaders to find out how they got to where they are today.

This month, we speak to Panupong (Putt Putt) Tejapaibul, the CEO and Co-Founder of Ticketmelon, Bangkok’s online go-to when it comes to finding and purchasing tickets for quality events in our city. Most may not know the story behind Ticketmelon, an idea that started to flourish during Putt-Putt’s final year at Chulalongkorn University, gaining impetus through his laser focus commitment to solving what he termed a ‘personal pain point’. Read on to find out more about what it takes to succeed straight from the mouth of one of Thailand’s key players in the startup and tech world.

Why did you decide to get involved with the tech and startup industry?

I never set out to do a startup, it was never “Oh I want to have my own tech startup”; technology was simply the best solution to the personal pain point I experienced in high-school. At the time, it was difficult for me to get tickets to small-medium scale events. That’s when I saw the clear gap.

Towards the end of middle school, I started to develop an obsession with technology and companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google. I’ve always been a business nerd, and a lot of my fascination had to do with the degree of impact these companies made and make on the lives of people globally, and that fascination itself was something that I was genuinely curious about. I read a lot about it, and it became my hobby. I wanted to see if I could create that level of impact.

The only industry that allows you to achieve an impact on that level with minimal capital investment is tech. From that, and connecting that to my personal pain point, it was quite natural for me to build a tech company to solve that issue.

Was there something like Ticketmelon when you started? What were things before Ticketmelon was born?

Back then, events weren’t consolidated in one place. When we first started in 2015, there were some dominant players serving different customer segments. This kind of technology was once reserved only for big event organizers. We wanted to make these tools available for small to medium organizers, so that everyone can have professional-level tools to host events. Fortunately, that kind of caught on, and big events started to participate. We were quite fortunate that it took off into that space.

Why did you think it was so important to create something like Ticketmelon?

On a philosophical level, if I didn’t do it, I would regret not doing it. I figured if I were on the last moment of my life and looked back at my young self, I would regret it wholeheartedly. Regardless of the different scales of impact, being successful in this industry and changing it for the better requires that level of mindset. That naturally drove me to create it. I’m a laser-focused person, unlike some entrepreneurs who tend to have a lot of things happening at the same time. I just wanted to make sure that I didn’t have those regrets.

Did you apply for funding or were you approached?

I was initially approached, and then I pitched. I mean it was good to see that there was interest from people not related to us and it was a fund registered in Singapore.

I started working on Ticketmelon in my 3rd year at university and I did the whole mockup myself. I spent a lot of time on it, all the number of leisure hours I had, I spent it on Ticketmelon. So, we got funding 4th year of college, in 2015. I still remember that I had to deal with the legal side of things while I was studying for my exams. Those were stressful times.

What made you decide to go for it?

I mean, why not? In connection to the regret as well, that’s one driver, but also because of that genuine curiosity I had in terms of the level of impact I wanted to create. To me, that is life worth living in a sense that you change your dreams to a goal. People spend 70% of their lifetime at work, and the word “work” in general has a negative connotation. There shouldn’t be a work/life segregation. I wanted to do what I wanted to do and create the dream that I had, so I pursued it.

What helped with growth in the most early days?

Funding helps, but at the same time I was very fortunate to attract good talent when we first started out. The company is only as good as its people.

Putt Putt and the Ticketmelon team
What were the major initial challenges?

The major initial challenge for me, was respecting and understanding the complexity of tech solutions. I don’t have a tech background, so I didn’t know what goes on behind building it. I just thought you write a few codes and you create a wonderful product.

I was oftentimes frustrated because I didn’t know why something would take so long, and when I rushed things, things would break. It took a while for me to build a true, sincere level of understanding in terms of the craftsmanship that is involved in creating a good, safe and secure high-performing technical product.

After understanding the complexity, it made me much calmer and understanding, creating a level of patience that allowed us to work with the development team more collaboratively and cohesively. I think that was a big learning curve for me.

How has not having a tech background served you in this role?

I think it was good in a sense that I wouldn’t compromise on the good experience I would expect from someone non-tech. When you understand tech, you tend to understand why they didn’t build this thing because it’s difficult, for instance. But being non-tech, I pushed past all that to make sure that no matter how hard it was for the tech team to do so, they would create the best possible end-experience for the user.

What would you say helped make Ticketmelon successful?

The people. Definitely the people. Honestly, I feel very thankful for the talented and driven team members that joined me. The team kind of assembled on its own – but the one thing we all shared that made us successful was this common level of acceptance for creating “customer love”. Word of mouth is our biggest driver of growth and it continues to be. The customers that we have, they must love the product. If our customers are just ‘satisfied’, that doesn’t create a long-term sticky product. Our sheer focus on generating customer love was the right focus in creating initial success and propelled it into its continued success today.

Putt Putt and the Ticketmelon team at CreaTech in Vietnam
Are there any changes/developments happening with Ticketmelon?

We plan to solve the same problem for a larger group of audience, by listening to our customers. There are many things in the pipeline. Stay tuned!

What challenges do you foresee these days as an entrepreneur?

As an entrepreneur, the biggest challenge that you have is staying focused. You really need to have a strong focus on the right things. You need to be extremely self-aware that you are scaling and that you spend time on things that are creating high impact for the company and the industry, and not get carried away into all these small projects that are unsustainable.

What was the most memorable event you sold on Ticketmelon?

Emotionally, it would have to be the first event I’d ever been to on Ticketmelon – Darius. I would be listening to Darius when I drove to work so it was a memorable experience to see all the work into actual fruition. I remembered going there after work, there were about 400-500 people there. We felt, even though we’re not the organizers, we felt like we were a part of creating that experience for the audience. With that said, all the events that our clients have done – that I’ve been to – are very well done.

Do you have any advice for people looking to do what you do?

Well you pretty much have to develop a level of focus that becomes almost a borderline obsession. Your normal working hours aren’t generally sufficient for you to create a global impact, but this also depends on what level of success you want to reach. If you want to be a successful local SME compared to a successful regional or global company, the amount of focus is on a different scale. It’s like sports, you have different levels of leagues, you train differently, and the amount of time, effort and dedication is different. How we view success is similar to that.

My advice is, first you must decide which league you want to play in and at what level you want to set yourself out for. Once you set that out, know exactly how much you’re willing to sacrifice for that to happen, because if you don’t know how much that is, then you can’t maximize your chances of success. It’s important to prepare yourself to have that mental temperament to commit to that level.

The simplicity of a startup is that anyone can start anything at anytime, but I don’t think most people spend enough time to understand the effort that is required. And if you don’t spend time understanding how much work is required, you won’t get there.

3 Rajanakarn Building, 17th Floor, Sathorn, Bangkok
How to Succeed: Ticketmelon’s CEO Panupong Tejapaibul talks tech and customer love

Catherine Napalai Faulder

Catherine is Bangkok born and bred and knows the angles of the city and its people very personally. You'll often catch her writing about the upsides of Thainess, the richness and diversity of Bangkok's third cultures and the true meaning of wellness.

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