Of the 52 startups shortlisted to compete at Pitch 2019, the official pitching competition of Asia’s largest startup conference RISE, two firms come from the Philippines. The first: Bookgini, a digital platform for authors looking to self-publish. The second: Burket.ph, an online marketplace-cum-business matching social network.

Roy Julian, Burket’s co-founder took the stage in yesterday’s initial rounds, pitching his team’s concept for what they’re calling a “market network,” fusing a marketplace and a social networking platform, with a unique Software-as-a-Service component. Essentially, it’s an online platform for businesses to find suppliers, and vice-versa.

At the conference, Roy is accompanied by his co-founder Herbert Bactong. But Herbert was nowhere to be seen at yesterday’s competition. He was busy courting investors to help get his startup out of the alpha stage. As with many startups presenting at these conferences, it’s an all hands on deck affair.

“Burket is a play on ‘Business’ and ‘Market’,” said Herbert. “Usually a marketplace is just where buyers and sellers meet. In our case, we have a social networking component where people can partner up, message each other, and find information just like one might on Facebook or LinkedIn.”

Let’s say you just opened a milk tea shop. You have the menu staples, a few unique offerings, and the requisite witty business name to boot. The next step is to find a supplier for plastic cups. Then perhaps a supplier for straws. Eventually you’ll need a wholesale supplier for milk powder. And, of course, you’ll need a supplier for the food-grade plastic seals that cap your drinks. That’s an entire network of B2B suppliers. Where do you start?

Traditionally, you could ask around for referrals. A quick Google search might yield good results too. But in both cases, you’re limited to either the size of your network, or the resources of your potential suppliers. Your friends may only know so many straw manufacturers. And the milk powder manufacturers with the resources to maximize their SEO on Google may not actually be the ones best suited for your business size and location.

This is precisely the problem Burket is trying to solve.

“We level the playing field so that big companies and mom-and-pop shops operate on the same platform.”

“With Burket, the restaurant owner, for example, makes a Burket account and lists their industry as F&B,” Herbert said. “Their feed is then filled with information about the milk tea industry. At the top of that feed will be suppliers that are closest to their business, geographically. Burket helps these companies discover more suppliers that could possibly give cheaper options because they could be closer, or small enough to not have too much overhead.”

“At the same time, the suppliers get the benefit of being discovered without going through the trouble of managing their SEO and without having to compete directly with the big guys online,” he said.

More than a network.

More than a discovery tool, however, Burket leverages proprietary AI applications to be an all-in-one, end-to-end procurement system for businesses and their suppliers. In addition to the market network, Burket is currently developing a vendor management platform and bidding system.

“Let’s say the business owner finds the supplier and messages them on Burket, saying ‘I want to be your customer.’ They add each other as partners and they transact. The buyer, because they’ll be connecting with a lot of suppliers, needs a vendor management system to organize all those transactions.”

Using Burket, these businesses can send out all their purchase orders from one terminal. The supplier receives and fulfills them, sending back delivery receipts.

On the vendor side, that same system gives them a central access point for all the orders coming in. They don’t need to rely on a combination of emails, chats, phone calls, and text messages. All those transactions, monitored and organized on one platform.

“What I’m describing is what we’re designing our product to be,” Herbert said. “What we currently offer in our alpha stage is the business matching and messaging platform. Here at RISE, we’re hoping to get the funding necessary to launch the vendor management and bidding system.”

The ambitious vision of Burket is to be the homepage for business owners and vendors managing their supply chains. Despite this, Herbert said the team is struggling to find like-minded investors interested in helping grow their platform. And he believes that has a lot to do with their strict principles.

Leveling the playing field.

Since launching their alpha product on March 18 earlier this year, Burket has gained about 800 unique users, primarily suppliers brought to the platform through word of mouth. Herbert says the feedback from that engaged group of users has really helped shape Burket’s offerings.

“Almost every week we get one or two emails asking us to send them lists of suppliers,” Herbert said. “Because of that, we decided to create a separate transaction-based service where we source suppliers for you.”

They call it DIFY, or ‘do-it-for-you’. Essentially, these businesses are paying the Burket team to use the free-to-use platform for them. But Herbert says it’s been a pretty lucrative offering so far.

“So for P5,000, the lowest plan, we send you three proposals from three different suppliers,” he said. “If you’re good with it, we send you the details so you can transact with them directly.”

Focusing on connecting smaller scale businesses with little experience navigating the B2B network, Burket’s founders see their company as a tool to empower other entrepreneurs. And that shows in their revenue model.

“We don’t want to dip our fingers into the revenues of other businesses,” Herbert said. Instead, the model deals with fixed, subscription based prices, with add-ons for extra services. They don’t take a percentage off of transactions facilitated through their platform.

“The resources we expend as the platform are the same regardless of the size of the transaction,” he said. “Whether the order size is P5,000 or P5 million, the resources we put into facilitating that are the same. So if we charge a commission on transactions, I feel it would be unfair. Even at one percent of P5 million, that would be huge. So that’s not helping at all, that’s more like taking advantage. We want them to save on costs with our platform, and earn more revenue. That’s the principle we’re keeping.”

“Many investors feel our business is too small for them, because we’re not into the transaction revenue model,” Herbert said. “They say there’s a ceiling for a subscription-based service, because we can only charge so much. If there are only two million businesses in the Philippines, let’s say, then that’s your cap.”

But just as with their do-it-for-you service, Herbert says that new revenue streams will continue to reveal themselves as they continue to grow their community of users.

“For us to be able to gain more customers, our focus is to give this out for free,” he said. “Eventually, if you’re satisfied with our services, you can start paying for a subscription package at roughly ten dollars a month. But we don’t want to dip into your transactions, because our goal is to be fully transparent and let you keep your revenues.”