Entrepreneur

How Live Streaming Startup BeLive Went From Nearly Shutting Down To Hitting S$10M Revenue

Live streaming is not a new phenomenon and has been further popularised when social media apps like Facebook and Instagram integrated it into their platforms. 

BeLive, a Singapore-based startup that focuses on live streaming software-as-a-service (SaaS), almost had to shut its doors due to cashflow issues and lack of growth.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it was suddenly flooded with requests from retail businesses who wanted to sell their products on live video. From the largest e-commerce platforms in the world to small business owners, the startup scrambled to service as many requests for its solutions as possible. 

Helping even micro-businesses who did not have a lot of capital to sell their products on live video, BeLive has served a total of two million viewers in partnership with its clients over the past two months.

Fortunate enough to retain all its 50 employees with no wage cuts despite the pandemic, the startup is now hiring up to 20 positions in Singapore to support its growth.

It Started Off As A “Virtual Busking” Platform 

(We) experienced first-hand the explosive growth and high levels of engagement that live streaming services like Showroom (a Japanese live streaming platform) enjoyed. 

Even with the nascency of Southeast Asia’s live streaming scene back then, the team believed live streaming would quickly gain popularity with the region’s unique combination of rapidly growing Internet speeds, falling data costs and increase in video content creators.

– Kenneth Tan, co-founder and CEO of BeLive

Together with co-founders Ken Ang and Lim Kim Hui, the founding team went on to build a live streaming platform for content creators and launched it in early 2017. 

belive app
Image Credit: BeLive

BeLive’s very first product was a consumer-focused live streaming platform, which had social interaction features like Virtual Gifting, Live Trivia and Live Shopping. 

Live streaming on BeLive was very much like “virtual busking” — streamers can entertain viewers with all sorts of content, from a ‘mukbang’ (loosely translated as ‘eating broadcast’), singing performances, beauty tutorials, to sharing life stories. 

It was built around the virtual gifting revenue model, where viewers can send virtual gifts that are bought in-app with real money to content creators during their live broadcast. 

Some streamers have even earned up to S$1,900 a month for just an hour of live streaming on BeLive.  

zina ng live streamer belive
Screenshot from Zina Ng’s live stream on BeLive

However, this virtual gifting model has a loophole. 

While it works in China’s US$5 billion live streaming industry, it is not easy to take off in Southeast Asia — particularly Singapore and Vietnam, which are BeLive’s active markets — due to the lack of “super-spending whales”, a term used to describe those who splurge on very expensive gifts for streamers. 

Pivoting From B2C To B2B

BeLive soon ran into other problems. Despite garnering a million downloads in a year, they failed to hit their growth targets. 

“Unfortunately, the company faced many challenges in hiring and retaining streamers, acquiring users and sustaining a large development team,” said Kenneth. 

“The platform failed to hit its growth milestones and lost a majority of users and streamers. We (even) had to consider closing down the company in early 2018. It was an extremely challenging period.”

The startup had raised a US$1.5 million (S$2 million) seed round in 2017 from investors like Mediacorp and other angel investors like Tam Chee Chong, who was the CFO of Fullerton Group, but they quickly ran out of funding. 

They had no revenue channels as their B2C platform faced a host of issues such as cashflow and losing their best streamers to rival streaming platforms. 

According to Kenneth, their rivals had raised more funding, and could afford to spend more on streamer contracts, user acquisition and technology improvements. 

We almost ran out of funds in mid-2018 and had to shutter our B2C platform.

It was one of the darkest periods of my life, as I constantly thought about the conversations I would have to have with my teammates about letting them go.

– Kenneth Tan, co-founder and CEO of BeLive

They knew they had to change things up to keep afloat. When BeLive pivoted from B2C to B2B live streaming, it was a huge turning point for the company. 

rakuten belive live streaming
Screenshot from BeLive website

Particularly, securing the attention of Rakuten was a big win for them — they own Japan’s largest e-commerce platform and was the first buyer of BeLive’s live streaming solutions. 

“Rakuten eventually signed a long-term deal with us to license and acquire our live streaming technology. The deal actually came from a LinkedIn message!” 

“This (deal) helped open many doors, as other businesses saw Rakuten’s continued engagement as a signal of quality. We have nothing but gratitude for them and hope that we continue our collaboration, which has been ongoing for the past two years.”

Increasing Reach And Engagement For Clients 

That was how BeLive decided to officially package and market its live streaming technology as a service. 

Currently, BeLive has two main monetisation channels: its platform and enterprise solutions, as well as live stream production, talent sourcing and management. 

“We charge a licensing fee for our live video solutions. Clients choose from an extensive menu of features like Live Shopping, Live Trivia, 360-degree and VR live streams to match their campaign needs.”

“Our clients also work closely with us for the creation of custom experiences, which is billable depending on the level of customisation required.”

Additionally, BeLive also helps craft live video specific content with an aim to increase engagement. 

ishopchangi belive live streaming
Screenshot of iShopChangi live stream powered by BeLive

Our technology solutions have helped businesses like Rakuten, Changi Airport Group and Samsung integrate live video streaming into their ecosystems; increasing their reach, engaging their customers and expanding their monetisation channels.

We also help plan, script, and produce live streams for our clients. Many of them are unsure about live video content planning and which influencers to use — that’s where we come in with our domain expertise in live streaming.

– Kenneth Tan, co-founder and CEO of BeLive

With their experience in running a B2C platform, BeLive is definitely well-suited to help clients identify suitable hosts and offer advice on the type of scripts or content to produce, as well as what products to sell. 

Why Brands Should Jump On Live Streaming 

Live streaming is undoubtedly the future of e-commerce. 

It marries sales with entertainment, and provides a direct channel for people to interact with merchants. Consumers are now actively participating in the buying process instead of just browsing through product descriptions. 

They can ask questions, get instant responses, and be entertained by live streamers from the comfort of their homes. 

For the past two years, Kenneth has observed an increase in streams that focus on live shopping. 

s-hook ah lian live streaming
Screenshots from Facebook

“This format of live streams see individuals and businesses sell items via Facebook groups ranging from anywhere from apparel to amulets. The format garnered mainstream attention when “S-hook Ah Lian” Lerine Yeo went viral for her spontaneity and witty humour.”

“Similarly, Wang Lei’s live streams propelled him into stardom during the circuit breaker period, and has inspired a whole new wave of live sellers.”

According to Kenneth, live commerce is experiencing the fastest growth in Asia with a compound annual growth rate of 46.4 per cent. 

With this growth, advertisers are expected to heavily invest in these channels and that’s why BeLive aims to host the type of quality content top brands will want to associate with. 

He added that live streaming boasts a “much higher conversion and engagement rates” than other mediums. 

Viewers unknowingly spend many hours on a live stream because it feels like they are “chatting” with the streamer, explained Kenneth.

Coupled with watching live comments from other viewers pop up on the screen and watching the streamer’s act, it all contributes to engagement.

loreal belive live streaming
Image Credit: BeLive

“Our live shopping streams with clients like Suntec, Changi Airport Group and L’Oreal have seen an average of 20 per cent add-to-cart rate. Additionally, 70 per cent of viewers who join a live stream (leave a) comment, and 40 per cent of them ask product-related questions.”

He added that flash sales with massive discounts see upwards of 30 per cent viewers adding products to cart. 

Moreover, COVID-19 has accelerated the traction of live streaming as many people and businesses are shifting their focus online. 

Commenting on this trend, Kenneth said that their solutions have helped business transition successfully with a brand new medium: live video streaming. 

For instance, Samsung Vietnam used their live-education technology to train their phone resellers online successfully with live video, reducing logistics and manpower costs and saving them almost US$250,000.

During COVID-19, demand for BeLive’s solutions have risen dramatically due to the need for businesses to shift online.

We aim to help businesses live-stream with low cost, quality, and speed; and expand their reach and increase their monetisation channels amidst these challenging times.

– Kenneth Tan, co-founder and CEO of BeLive

Raking in S$10M Revenue Since Its Pivot

belive team singapore
Image Credit: BeLive

From a founding team of three members, BeLive has grown to employ 50 staff across three cities — Singapore, Ho Chi Minh and Shenzhen.

Over the years, BeLive has raised a total of S$3 million in funding and has since broke even in its third year. 

The live streaming startup booked S$4 million in gross revenue last year and Kenneth expects this number to grow. They’re currently close to completing a couple of deals that would bring their total revenue to S$10 million by the end of this year.

He remains optimistic about its B2B business, as many companies have jumped onboard the bandwagon to run successful live selling campaigns on both Facebook and their own live streaming platforms. 

He also cited that 95 per cent of advertisers will invest in a live stream marketing strategy by 2025. 

Our belief is that everyone can create high quality live video – they are just limited by the tools that are available.

Live streaming is the fastest growing video medium in the world. However, creating a good live stream is hard: Businesses and individuals do not know which platform to broadcast on, how to track their conversions and engagement, or which influencer to choose.

– Kenneth Tan, co-founder and CEO of BeLive

“This is why BeLive aims to continually create easy-to-use, live streaming-focused products to help businesses and individuals alike grow their audiences and increase sales, especially in these challenging times,” he added.

This article was written in collaboration with BeLive.

Featured Image Credit: BeLive

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