Bandwagon founder Clarence Chan has no plan B
Clarence talks about starting the region's go-to live music guide.
As I stepped into the cozy Bandwagon office on Wednesday evening, I was greeted by its cheerful founder, Clarence Chan, who graciously apologised for the mess. The Orchard Plaza office was completely empty, except for Clarence, 30. It was an apt throwback to how he started the website all alone.
“I started alone because I couldn’t find a co-founder. To me, a co-founder is someone who believes in the same idea [as me], which is connecting people to live music. A lot of people were keen, but when it came to making the sacrifice, I think it was tough for them so I decided I would just do it on my own. I had no plan B. If this didn’t work out, I wouldn’t have known what to do. It had to work, and because it just had to work, I had to find a way to make it work.”
Clarence now manages a team of 10 staff, and they are organising their first regional event, The Music Market. The ticketed celebration, which boasts a lineup of music acts from the Philippines (B. P. Valenzuela and Bullet Dumas) as well as Singapore (iNCH and Intriguant), will be held at Circuit Makati in Manila on Oct 1.
The event, which is expecting 400 people, marks a huge leap from the website’s humble beginnings, which started out tough especially with a lack of partners.
Living with his parents, Clarence often found himself locked away in his bedroom, surfing the web for hours on end to get his hands on as many coding e-books he could find. Engrossed in his newfound passion, his neglected guitars and amplifiers collected dust as he picked up coding and launched a one-pager beta website in 2011.
The inspiration for the site, which features a directory of live music gigs around Singapore and interviews with both regional and international artists, first came when Clarence could not find updated information on gigs when he was on a student exchange programme in Helsinki. The same gap existed in Singapore, and he wanted to meet that need by starting a gig listing platform.
The name Bandwagon came as an epiphany when Clarence was presenting a project during his final semester at Singapore Management University, where he was doing a double major in Economics and Business Management.
He explained: “There’s ‘jump on the bandwagon’ where it talks about trends, something that is cool and hip. At the same time, it’s a 19th Century vehicle used to ferry musicians. So I feel like it’s very appropriate for us because we are housing bands digitally and helping them be discovered as well as bringing them to new places through the web.”
Three months after launching the beta website, Clarence finally got a web designer on board Bandwagon, and they slowly built up the site from the ground up.
As the team grew, Bandwagon started to expand beyond Singapore. One major challenge Clarence constantly has to overcome is cross-cultural differences.
He explained: “Here in Asia, every city has a different language, a different culture and it’s not so straightforward. So we just test and see how it goes, get as much feedback, and learn from the local people we work with.”
The modest startup, which was voted ‘Best Local Startup of 2014’ by local lifestyle publication SG Magazine, has become a credible discussion space that features regional artists and bands.
While Clarence is proud of many of Bandwagon’s achievements, it is their first Riverboat festival that stands out the most to the humble entrepreneur.
“I was on a cruise with my editor and along the way [we were talking about how] we can’t afford throwing such an extravagant party on a cruise ship [because] that involves booking like 5,000 cabins but there was this other boat beside it, this riverboat. From that simple conversation, we ended up taking over that space and threw their largest ever party and we sold out within six days,” the easygoing founder reminisced, with a wide smile.
With a tinge of stubbornness and a flair for solving problems, Clarence and his diversely skilled team has proven that a passion project can make waves in both the local as well as regional music scene, and jump on that Bandwagon, you probably should.