Angeline Tham Of Angkas Talks About Her Bumpy Road To Success
Urban traffic in the Philippines has become untenable. However, counterintuitively, brilliant ideas and practical solutions are often met with opposition. Game changers are not always welcome and, in this case, even referred to as “persona non grata”. This is the story of motorcycle ride-sharing business, Angkas, and its 38-year-old founder, Angie Tham. It was in 2017 when the Manila-based, Singaporean entrepreneur came up with the idea after being stuck in a six-hour gridlock. Since its conception in 2017, Angkas has come up against a number of roadblocks, despite its popularity and rising demand from users. By November of that year, a three-year struggle with governmental regulatory boards began.
The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) forced Angkas to suspend its operations over business permits and safety concerns. The company responded by pivoting into a parcel delivery service and taking the matter to court. In early 2018, Angkas had become the poster child for the widely popular disruptive movement of motorcycle ride-sharing services in the Philippines. Tham’s tenacity prompted the government to commence legislative discussions in an effort to provide the proper framework for these types of public transport operations. Angkas finally resumed operations in September 2018, only to face several more injunctions, which culminated in an 8,000-strong “Unity Ride” down EDSA in protest of the government’s actions. Today Angkas is back, operating with 30,000 vehicles offering delivery and pabili operations in Manila, Cebu and Cagayan de Oro while looking to further expand nationally. The road to success continues to be bumpy, but Tham rides on “taking things one step at a time and approaching each setback as a challenge in which to find a solution.”
Many people think that entrepreneurs are great risk takers. While that is true, do not take risks for the sake of it. Take calculated risks. Plan, test, fail and iterate. Failure is part of entrepreneurship and overcoming it will make you and your business more resilient.
How do you feel about the interminable struggles Angkas has faced?
It’s a little ironic that Angkas has been so successful, yet, has also been such a failure. Of all the failures in my personal and professional life, Angkas takes the cake. We started with nobody believing in the business. Even our early loyal customers would not tell their friends and family about using our service because of the discrimination against motorcycles. We were shut down even though we were helping thousands of people beat the traffic. Compared to the alternatives that people were already using, we created a safer and more reliable way with technology and training. It was very frustrating to know about the positive impact we were creating and yet not being able to continue.
What’s your proudest achievement and did your setbacks help you get there?
I’m definitely proud of where we have come thus far with Angkas, pivoting yet again in the business to fight for survival. We overcame several challenges: to convince the biker community that they could be professional, to show the public that this is a reliable mode of transportation, and to prove to legislators and regulators that safety can be maintained with training. Now we face the Covid-19 challenge that has so many unknowns. It’s daunting, but I’m confident that we will be able to get through this if we all stand together.
Of all the failures in my personal and professional life, Angkas takes the cake. We started with nobody believing in the business.
— Angeline Tham
Most people are ashamed of their failures, particularly when it comes to professional success. What can you say to others who might be going through something similar?
Many times, it’s our pride or fear of admitting to someone else our shortcomings. We need to view failure as a normal part of life, something to expect and not to be feared. Going through it will make you more resilient. It’s like breaking up with your boyfriend or girlfriend when you were younger. It feels like the end of the world, and that the pain will never go away; but with each subsequent relationship, you learn from your experience, what you liked and didn’t like, how you could have changed your actions. Most importantly, you will recover.
Talk to your close friends like you would about a break-up and, oftentimes, you will be surprised that they can identify and have also been through something similar. If you are uncomfortable with it, seek professional help. I’m a firm believer in mental wellbeing. When we don’t feel well physically, we visit a doctor. Why wouldn’t you do the same when it is emotional?
What advice would you give budding entrepreneurs?
Many people think that entrepreneurs are great risk-takers. While that is true, do not take risks for the sake of it. Take calculated risks. Plan, test, fail and iterate. Failure is part of entrepreneurship and overcoming it will make you and your business more resilient.