How Singapore-based Carousell Is Making Person-to-Person Buying/Selling Easy Peasy
Lucas Ngoo was born and brought in Malaysia. His dad is an electrical engineer and Mum is an Accountant. He came to Singapore in 2008 for pursuing his degree in Computer Engineering from National University of Singapore (NUS). Lucas spent an year in Silicon Valley, first as a Product Engineer at TixxMe and then as an Engineering Intern at Redbeacon. Carousell is his first “job” right out of university.
Carousell is the brain child of Lucas Ngoo, Marcus Tan and Quek Siu Rui, whom Lucas met at the Silicon Valley. With Carousell app on Android and iOS, the duo has built a lifestyle marketplace that makes buying and selling experience beautifully simple. Their aim is to make person-to-person buying and selling easy peasy. All that users need to do is snap a photo to sell an unused item and get it listed for free on the app. Buyer can check it out and simply 'chat' with the seller to make a deal. That simple!
In an exclusive interview with us, we got Lucas Ngoo to talk about his early startup days, their app, how difficult it was to convince people to use Carousell apps, expansion plans and a lot more! Read on!
Lucas Ngoo, Founder Carousell
CE: How was your experience working for TixxMe and Redbeacon in California?
Lucas Ngoo: While attending NUS, I enrolled in a school program called NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) where I spent a year (2011) in Silicon Valley interning in startups (TixxMe and Redbeacon), as well as taking part-time courses at Stanford University.
I picked up frontend development in TixxMe and backend development in Redbeacon. I also learnt about the day-to-day operations and challenges at a startup from the two companies, and eventually fell in love with startups.
I met my co-founder, Siu Rui during that one year we were housemates and we spent time after our work days working on interesting projects.
CE: How did you land in Singapore? How is the startup scene in the country?
Lucas Ngoo: After spending a year at Silicon Valley, we came back to Singapore to complete our studies in NUS. Siu Rui then introduced me to Marcus, and three of us started Carousell. The idea of Carousell was born out of Startup Weekend Singapore 2012, a 54-hour hackathon. We built a prototype of Carousell and pitched it during the competition and won it. That’s when we decided to work on Carousell full-time and launch it to solve the fundamental problem of allowing anyone to be able to buy and sell with ease.
The startup scene in Singapore has grown rapidly since we started Carousell in May 2012. The place where we started and are still currently located is called Block 71, and it has became the startup hub of Singapore. When we started in 2012, there was just a single block that was only half-filled. Now, this area has been named LaunchPad@one-north and it has grown to include a few more blocks with full occupancy.
CE: What is the Carousell app all about? Who can get benefited with this app?
Lucas Ngoo: Carousell is one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing C2C marketplace. Users can buy, sell or trade easily through the in-built chat system.
Through chatting with each other, buyers and sellers can come to an agreement on the best way to transact, and this gives both parties a chance to work out a win-win situation when buying and selling on Carousell.
There are also a wide variety of items available on Carousell, some of which are no longer available in retail stores. Items are sold at up to 80% off regular retails prices, and there’s a mixture of pre-loved and new items. Users can most certainly find themselves a good deal on Carousell.
Anyone can use Carousell. We built Carousell with the intention to make selling really easy for everyone, regardless of age -- As long as you know how to take a photo and send a text message on your smartphone, you’d essentially know how to use Carousell.
We have community gatherings every 2-3 months, and we always make sure to ask who are the first-time sellers, and every single time, we find out that more than 50% of attendees are first-time sellers! That really motivates us because it is in line with our mission of inspiring the world to start selling.
CE: How does Carousell ensure easy and simple selling from smartphones?
Lucas Ngoo: Carousell has a clean and easy-to-use interface that is also inspiring to browse on. As we mentioned earlier, we built Carousell with the intention to make selling really easy for everyone, regardless of age, so as long as you knew how to take a photo and send a text message on your smartphone, you’d essentially know how to use Carousell.
CE: How tough is it to convince people to use this service and what do you do about it?
Lucas Ngoo: It was tough at first, especially in our first year, but we became focused on our marketing strategy by targeting blogshop communities that consisted largely of women.
While our early users were 70% female, over the past 2 years, our user demographics have really evened out to be 50-50 split between both genders, and we now have a diverse group of users, including those who are over 55 years old.
The power of word-of-mouth has really helped us, and we have our community to thank for that.
CE: How many customers/clients you've had so far? Is Carousell profitable?
Lucas Ngoo: We usually don’t reveal our user numbers, but we can reveal that we’re not profitable at this stage. We’re very fortunate to be working with Sequoia Capital, Golden Gate Ventures, Rakuten Ventures, and 500 Startups, all of whom come with a wealth of experience having previously worked with tech giants like Apple, Facebook, and Google.
CE: What the expansion plans? Where do you see Carousell two years down the line?
Lucas Ngoo: We’re looking at a few new markets for expansion, and they’re both within and outside of Asia. We’re definitely focused on bring Carousell to more markets. Two years down the line, we would still be focused on expansion and on building and iterating our product to benefit our users.
CE: How big is the Carousell team at the moment?
Lucas Ngoo: We have about 30 full-time employees.
Carousell - Team
CE: Whom do you consider your biggest competitors? How do you maintain an edge over them?
Lucas Ngoo: In the course of 2015, a few competitors have joined the market, and that alone is further validation that the problem we set out to solve is indeed a meaningful one that resonates with many people around the world. Our team is keeping our heads down and focusing on product improvements. We believe that by working to improve our product, we will better the experience for our existing users who will in turn tell their friends and family about it, and that would lead to an increase in users.
CE: Entrepreneurship is a life changing experience for many. How would you describe your journey as a startup owner so far? How does being an entrepreneur change you?
Lucas Ngoo: It’s been fun and exciting so far solving problems and building something meaningful for a large number of people together with the most passionate people in the Carousell team ? Most of the time, we’re doing new things for the first time (e.g. building the first version of the product, scaling the infrastructure, talking to users, hiring new engineers, building a team), we learnt so much by doing, it’s both challenging and rewarding at the same time. We learn to be patience and persistence as there are no silver bullet in building a startup and growing the user base of a product, it requires a lot of hard work, creativity and perseverance. And all these can be learned, we learnt them by doing.
CE: Any message for your readers?
Lucas Ngoo: Being an entrepreneur is all about inventing the future. Find a problem that you care deeply about and pursue it with all your heart.