Out of a pool of 14K global applicants for the 2021 Facebook Community Accelerator, only 128 were selected. Out of those 128 participants, only 19 were from the Asian Pacific region.
And from Malaysia, there were four.
The four communities that were selected included the Doctorate Support Group, Entrepreneurs and Startups in Malaysia, Gabungan Anak-Anak Palsi Serebrum (GAPS), and KakiRepair by KakiDIY.
Eight months ago, Vulcan Post spoke to all four to learn more about their goals with the programme. On May 12, we found out that one Malaysian community builder had made it to the finals and will be the recipient of US$30K additional funding—Johnson Lam of KakiRepair by KakiDIY.
Eight months of grinding
Johnson started the Facebook group in 2017 as a passion project, wanting to encourage others to learn how to fix and repair things instead of immediately throwing them out into junkyards. He had a clear mission of what he wanted, but he wasn’t entirely sure of how to achieve it.
That’s where the community accelerator came in handy.
Given an initial budget of US$50K, Johnson and his team created a development plan for the eight-month programme. Through the accelerator, they were given access and insight into Facebook tools. Participants were also able to experience new, exclusive features.
For instance, KakiRepair now has an online store within its Facebook group. Typically, only business pages can start shops on Facebook. On top of that, they now have sub-membership groups.
Through a direct connection to the Facebook product team, he learnt more about Facebook’s algorithm and technology, such as the AI features, which autonomously moderate the KakiRepair page for the most part.
Besides building his own community, Johnson was able to connect to other communities in the Asian Pacific cohort as well, even considering the other 18 participants “family members” now.
“We are connected with these like-minded community builders, so we share best practices, we share pain points, and how we manage conflict and keyboard warriors,” Johnson said. “We learn from each other’s mistakes to grow our group and our community.”
Even though the programme is technically already officially over, he says the group chat with the other members is still active.
Facebook also curated an esteemed panel of mentors and coaches from across the globe to upskill the cohort. This included experts on sustainability, growth, scaling, and even psychologists.
“It steered KakiRepair into ways we never thought was possible,” Johnson expressed.
A well-oiled, self-sustaining community
For years now, Johnson has been funding KakiRepair from his own pocket. But with the help of the community accelerator, KakiRepair has grown to become financially sustainable.
Firstly, the team launched a knowledge management platform website. Here, all the DIY ideas and repair tips can be found in a centralised space. Given that it’s Johnson’s own website, he can easily monetise it as well. As such, the platform is now fully self-funded.
The accelerator also shortened his five-year plan of creating a decked-out motorhome with all the necessary tools that can move around Malaysia to help with repairs. It’s an upgraded version of the now-familiar MakerVan, and is currently pretty much completed and awaiting roll-out.
Another project KakiRepair is working on is a six-tiered tool kit. And it’s not just any normal tool kit—each item in the kit will come with a QR code that leads users to the knowledge management platform, which then teaches you how to use the tool.
And as the icing on the cake, the group had 19K members when we last spoke to it. Now, it has 47K members and counting.
According to Johnson, the final stage of the accelerator programme will last until July, with the goal of finishing more than 50% of what has been planned out.
But KakiRepair has actually already achieved more than 100% of their plans since March, said Johnson. “I’m a bit of an overachiever. I’m targeting 1,000%,” he chuckled.
Since the team has already completed the five-year plan of creating a motorhome, Johnson is taking a headstart on his plan of bringing KakiRepair abroad.
In fact, at the time of writing, he might already be in the Philippines, planning to teach others how to host repair events.
The pandemic & floods threw a wrench into their plans
Of course, the journey wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. There were certainly a few bumps along the way, with the obvious one being the pandemic.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Johnson said he was in a “depressed mode” and nearly deleted the entire KakiRepair group. He felt like the group wasn’t creating much impact.
“We can’t go out and fix stuff, and there are so many haters and comments out there saying, ‘Who is this fella?’, ‘So stupid, go and fix things for free’,” Johnson shared. “So, I was quite discouraged.”
But eventually, Johnson started to change the way he did things. He ran 30-minute live events at first that ended up running for two hours. It was then that he realised there was demand for such a service, and steadily, the Facebook group grew.
Another challenge came when the entire team was down with COVID at one point. Johnson himself suffered from a case of long COVID, and even feels its effect until this day.
“When I was doing demo day [for the accelerator], I had brain fog, and I wasn’t even myself,” he said. Thankfully, he managed to get his points across despite the illness.
The flooding that occurred last year was also an issue for the team, and it seemed like there was nothing they could do about the situation.
Then Johnson realised he could mobilise the community by starting volunteer programmes to help those affected by the flood fix their items instead of dumping them.
“This wasn’t part of the development plan,” Johnson said. “But it showed so much impact that it became a significant result in the development plan.”
The crew ran six repair missions, repairing over US$50K worth of electronic stuff, Johnson estimated. Their efforts also helped with KakiRepair’s branding and reputation. With a simple pivot, Johnson had turned an unfortunate circumstance into a beneficial one.
Being community-driven VS profit-driven
As our interview with Johnson came to an end, we curiously asked him a burning question on our minds.
With KakiRepair now monetising and being financially self-sustaining, where does he draw the line between staying as a community organisation versus turning into a business?
Did it come down to being community-driven versus profit-driven? “Yes, actually, the answer is already there,” he pointed out.
At the end of the day, he clarified that there’s no right or wrong behind a community leader’s decision to transition their activities into being more business-focused. In fact, he said that Facebook encouraged that.
For him personally though, he’s opting to keep it community-driven. Of course, he’s aware that repair centres are a lucrative venture, but he has no plans to start one of his own now, or in the near future.
Instead, if anyone wants to start their own by utilising KakiRepair’s branding and influence, he welcomed them to get in touch for discussions.
Empowering other Malaysian leaders
2022’s Facebook Community Accelerator is likely to happen soon, and for those interested in joining, Johnson had some pointers.
He listed three criteria for community builders. First, you should be sure of what you want for your community. Secondly, you should be clear about the impact you’re providing.
The third is being able to sustain the community to scale and grow. This includes sustainability not just in terms of finances, but also content.
2021 was the first year that Malaysians were able to join the accelerator, making KakiRepair the first-ever Malaysian group to receive additional funding and essentially “win” in the programme.
With KakiRepair leading the way, Johnson hopes to see more Malaysians thriving through the Facebook Community Accelerator.
- Learn more about KakiRepair here.
- Learn more about the Facebook Community Accelerator 2021 here.
Featured Image Credit: KakiRepair by KakiDIY