I’ve first met Quek Siu Rui, Co-founder and CEO, Carousell in Jakarta in 2013 at a tech conference. At that time, Siu Rui was still standing at his startup booth, and Carousell was just started in 2012 with little of achievement. We didn’t talk much, but I’ve still kept observing and seeing there was something different from this startup. Now the Singapore marketplace app Carousell has spread to 14 cities around the world, and considered one of the world’s largest and fastest growing mobile marketplaces.
Carousell has been ranked as the top Lifestyle and Shopping app in Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, and is backed by leading international Venture Capitalists Sequoia India, Rakuten Ventures, 500 Startups, Golden Gate Ventures, and QuestVC with more than $40 million funding. So I did an interview via email to get inside the mind of the very young but powerful startup’s founder. And great that Siu Rui has shared what he’ve learnt on his startup journey till date via insightful answers.
Q: Your three co-founders are quite young and didn’t have much experience when started, none even experienced a management position before, but Carousell has grown very fast. So what is your management style? How do you manage time effectively? And what’s your approach to solve problems and get things done?
My co-founders – Marcus, Lucas and I started Carousell as a solution to a personal frustration we faced. Back in 2012, if you have ever used forums or websites to buy or sell something, you would remember that it was a cumbersome process that took a pretty long time. Most people were already using the smartphone as their main computing device, yet there was no platform for people to buy and sell on mobile.
We wanted to make selling something as simple as taking a picture, and buying as simple as chatting.
We designed the prototype for Carousell at Startup Weekend Singapore, and we received encouraging feedback from our peers and strangers to build the product. This validated that we were solving a meaningful problem that affected a larger community, and not just the three of us. It really inspired us take the plunge and bring Carousell to life.
As a young startup, we are venturing into new ground and you are right – we didn’t have much experience. We see this as a weakness and a strength, because while we are constantly learning from others who have sped ahead, we are not hindered by a mindset of how things should be done. We value creativity, innovation and take a first-principles approach to our work.
Our approach when we started Carousell is the same approach that we continue to take to work every day. We are product-led and laser-focused on solving a problem for millions of people around the world. We aim to continuously make buying and selling simple, so that people have more time and space to fill their lives with more meaningful things.
Q: What are your most favorite websites to read everyday?
For my daily intake of news, I pick out articles that interest me on my Facebook and Twitter feed. A lot of what I read come from sites such as Tech in Asia, Techcrunch, e27 etc.
Q: How is the working culture of Carousell like? Do you have role model for Carousell?
Carousell’s culture is built around its core values. We are mission-focused on solving problems, the people are caring, humble and relentless resourceful. We like to remind ourselves that we are less than 1% done, and are constantly striving to do more.
The atmosphere is our office is relaxed and we have a very homely environment. Our working preference is to look at tasks and outcomes instead of the number of hours people clock in the office. With that said, many of us stay till late, not because of work but because it’s also a time to build friendships and play counterstrike.
Q: Recently your startup acquired WatchOverMe, Caarly and brought in some experienced mobile talents. What’s your definition of a strong team? And what are the top qualifications of people are you looking for?
It’s important to hire people who are a good fit for the company culture, regardless of which country they are from. We have colleagues from Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia, Ukraine, India, Lithuania, and are definitely open to hiring the best talent from many more countries.
Having a diverse workplace with people from varying backgrounds and experiences is always immensely valuable because they bring insights from different cultures, and new perspectives to the table. Carousell has ambitious international expansion plans and our team reflects that. We have grown from a lean team of three when we started in August 2012 to having more than 90 team members from 12 different countries across all our offices, with varying backgrounds and experiences. This diverse mix of nationalities will help us broaden our thinking and better serve a global community.
We also recently hired very talented senior leadership, like Jia Jih Chai from Airbnb, Rakesh Malani from Komli Media, Andrius Baranauskas from Vinted, and Winnie Khoo from PropertyGuru. All of them were critical to growing the business in their previous companies, and their roles at Carousell are an indication of our potential to become the world’s leading mobile classifieds platform. We’re always looking out for talented people and teams to join the Carousell family.
Building a world-class team with the right values, diversity and talent is essential to serving a global community and forms the bedrock of our success.
Q: Where are the major markets of Carousell in Asia? Carousell has high ranking in Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong, all are developed countries. Are you paying attention to emerging market like Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam?
We believe that we are solving a global problem, and our ambition is to be the top mobile classifieds marketplace in the world. We are currently in 7 countries and 19 major cities, such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney, Melbourne, Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Manila. We are definitely looking at expanding our presence around the world, but our current priority is to concentrate our efforts on the markets where we can make the greatest impact.
Q: Currently what are the top ways people know about Carousell? And what are the key factors helped your app grow so fast?
The three things that set Carousell apart are simplicity of use, the inspiring experience of browsing on Carousell, and our community.
Simplicity, or Snap. List. Sell. That’s all it takes to post a listing on Carousell, and you can do it in 30 seconds. Our buyers and sellers use an in-app chat system to deal, so no more fumbling with SMS, messaging apps, or emails. Our intuitive, mobile-first interface makes use of smartphone features that people are already familiar with, making it easy for anyone to buy and sell using their mobile.
That leads to our community marketplace. Carousell is a community of passionate and inspiring buyers and sellers with varied interests. We have die-hard Lego fans, bike enthusiasts, comic collectors, and even sneaker-heads. Whatever your interest, you’ll find a matching buyer (and seller) on Carousell. We also organize community meet-ups for our sellers to admire each others collections, swap stories, and perhaps even arrange a deal.
And finally, there’s the inspiring experience of being on Carousell. If you haven’t tried it yet, you should! Unlike other classifieds or marketplaces which are text heavy and optimized for proactive search,
Carousell is designed to make passive discovery a thrilling experience, with photos at the centre of it. It’s like browsing or shopping a beautiful catalogue. We love hearing stories of people who have been searching for something they couldn’t find anywhere, until they found it on Carousell.
Q: What do you think about Shopee? And the new Facebook group local selling feature? Are they threatening to Carousell’s future?
The launch of other marketplace apps is further validation that the problem we are solving is a massive one, and shows a real need for innovation in marketplaces that have traditionally only served the desktop internet users community. We began solving this problem more than four years ago in 2012, and we’ll continue to stay focused on problem solving and use the lessons and feedback gleaned from our community to keep improving.
Q: What is the focus of Carousell in 2017?
2016 has been a great year for us so far. As of September 2016, we have over 41 million listings on our marketplace, with 19 million items sold globally to date. We have a presence in 19 cities, with new market launches such as Hong Kong in June 2016, Philippines in October 2016, and Australia in December 2016. However, we like to remind ourselves that we are less than 1% done, and still have a long way to go.
Moving forward into 2017, our latest Series B funding allows us to be laser focused on accelerating our growth into new markets, bolstering our product and engineering teams, and strengthening our position as one of the largest and fastest growing mobile classifieds marketplaces.
Q: How do you see mobile commerce in the next five years in Southeast Asia? What would be the next big things?
Southeast Asia is on the cusp of an e-commerce golden age. The region’s expected to chalk double-digit numbers in the next five years. We are in one of the most rapidly developing e-commerce markets, with the e-commerce industry expected to grow into a US$200Bn market by 2025.
When you consider the young demographic, the large number of users that will come online, and the growth of disposable incomes in Southeast Asia, it’s quite clear that the region has huge potential in the longer term. What’s less clear is who gets to capture most of the value. I think consumers will certainly benefit, as well as the ad-giants that have established reach to the consumers.
For those that play further down the value chain and solve retail problems of logistics and payments, there’s still a lot of investment going to educating and shaping the market now. However, it’s not certain that the players who venture into this are the ones that capture value when the market fully develops. The investments to shape the market are necessary though.
As the various e-commerce players build a market of online buyers and help brands sell more goods to consumers, they also create a market of people who are familiar with online transactions, and have more and more excess items to sell. This is where peer-to-peer marketplaces offer value, and these allows people to sell their things easily, to find new owners who will treasure the things they no longer need.
As governments in this region invest heavily in developing online businesses and building a thriving online ecosystem, there will be more options and opportunities for everyone. For Carousell, we see that many more people will start using our mobile classifieds marketplace, not just a buyers, but also as sellers.
Q: If a mobile startup wants to start in SEA then any advice for them?
In Southeast Asia, where more people are experiencing the internet for the first time through their smartphones, we have the opportunity to reimagine the way they buy and sell online. There are over 600 million people, but almost 400 million are not connected to the internet yet. That’s a lot of potential. We’re reaching out to a generation of internet users who leapfrogged the desktop internet, creating an environment where we can take a mobile-first approach to solving unique local problems.
My advice would be to start with identifying a problem you feel strongly about solving. A startup will encounter many challenges within a day, and you will need to be absolutely passionate about what you are doing in order to keep going.