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E-commerce with a Singaporean accent

Interview - November 8, 2018

Singaporean tech company Carousell started as a smartphone and web-based consumer to consumer marketplace for buying and selling new and secondhand goods, and its hyper-local focus and regional knowledge has enabled it to expand into new markets and new business areas. In this interview, Siu Rui Quek explains the company’s strategy and how it is leveraging on ASEAN for growth.



What is your view on the transformation of Singapore from a value adding to a value creation economy fueled by technology and digital disruption, and how important is this value upgrade for Singapore?

It is tremendously important. There is megatrend of technology transforming the world. For us to be building a truly global internet company in Singapore means that it is possible anywhere in the world. It is important for us to start building our own competitive advantage.

We have got access to global infrastructure, we have got access to global talent, we have got access to global distribution networks, and so we have got all the ingredients to make truly global internet companies from here in Singapore.

We are trying to combine all of that to really create a very compelling offering and leveraging the fact that we have got great government supporting this and creating the ecosystem and environment to support us.


To what extent is the mindset shifting in Singapore from young people aiming to work in traditional jobs at multinational companies to young people wanting to work for startups?

One of the toughest for me in starting out was actually just telling my parents, “I am going to do a startup”. It's socially such a stigma. Fear is so high. I do feel that six years on, the mindsets are starting to change.  We are starting to see more and more people who are getting interested in startups and it is helped by the fact that we have got more high-profile players that are impacting everyday lives and actually making headlines. You don’t actually have to make a big compromise in your career or your earnings potential, just because you have joined the startup.

You can see that the mindsets are changing. More and more young people are either joining startups or wanting to do their own startups, because there is a lot of support. There is no reason for you not to try something out today. Awareness of startups in Singapore has just sky rocketed thanks to government efforts, community efforts and a lot of organic efforts from startups themselves and the press. Today startups are probably a lot cooler, a lot safer to join then six years ago. It's still some way from being a Silicon Valley, where people will just go and drop everything to do this.


You are facing increased competition from other online marketplaces. How do you leverage on your local regional know-how to maintain the edge?

First and foremost we are a technology company that exists to solve problems and make an impact. In a very underdeveloped region, there are just so many uniquely local challenges for us to be solving. Buying and selling is one of them, but the way we solve it is a truly uniquely local one. We are brought up in a region. Singapore is multicultural, and we get exposed to many of these cultures. We have a little bit of understanding of the region, much more than our counterparts in the rest of the world. This is where we also get a front-row seat to all those uniquely local challenges that you see.

If you look at some of our roadmap forward, we just launched CarouPay in Singapore. We think CarouPay in Indonesia and Philippines will involve a completely different set of partners, because Singapore is a very crowded market, but if you go to somewhere like Indonesia and Philippines, their unbanked population is the majority. You need to solve payments in a different way. Maybe it’s a cash on delivery option, maybe it’s a wallet partner, or maybe it will be multiple wallet partners, because it's so fragmented. You have got to adapt to the different kinds of payment methods. A lot of these very hyper-local partnerships and nuances are something that we think being in the region, being connected to them through our community and our invested network is our advantage.


You did CarouPay in partnership with DBS, Stripe and VISA, marking your entry into fintech. What does this mean for the future evolution of Carousell?

We didn’t really go into fintech deliberately. First and foremost, we exist to solve problems and deliver a much better experience. We started CarouPay because we started getting a lot of feedback that the people wanted to pay instantaneously, in a cashless, seamless way. We also wanted to provide security, so we built in an escrow feature. We took a problem-solving approach to making selling simpler and buying as easy as possible, removing friction each of the way. This was the reason for introducing CarouPay to the market, because we wanted to take away the friction of payments.

We looked at our user base and we have got now half of Singapore signed up as users. One in four people of Singapore use us every month and demographic of users has evolved over time. The majority of our user base is more than 25 years old. We now have gender parity, even though we started a very young user base. We started seeing that more and more people were buying luxury, kitchen appliances, furniture, cars, and real estate, so we decided to explore how we could serve the complementary needs of our user base through some interesting partnerships.

In the finance category, we did a partnership with MoneySmart. We started our cars business in the past one and half years through an acquisition with Caarly to get access to the car dealerships.

Then we started the real estate business, partnering up with people like OrangeTee in the last quarter. All of this has been to and again to build up complementary products and services for our user base.