Carousell is one of the world’s largest and fastest growing community marketplaces, with over 35 million listings and a presence in 13 cities around the world. The company is backed by leading international VCs. We sat down with Carousell Co-Founder Siu Rui to discuss insights and advice for budding entrepreneurs, personal takeaways, and his outlook on the startup ecosystem in Southeast Asia.
You gave up your last year of university to start Carousell. Why?
It has always been a dream of mine to launch a startup right after school. After winning Startup Weekend Singapore, where we built the first Carousell prototype, we received encouraging feedback from our peers and others to build the product. This gave us confirmation 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.
I decided to take a leap of faith and drop out of my Honors Year at National University of Singapore to prioritize Carousell. Everyone was like, ‘How will you make money? The large classified companies and e-commerce marketplaces will kill you’. It was difficult especially in the beginning stages when Carousell was stuck with flat growth for months. But we persisted because we believed that we were solving a meaningful problem.
You’ve lived in Silicon Valley as well. What was your biggest takeaway from that experience?
The biggest takeaway was not a single lesson, but rather being able to immerse myself in a tech-centric, risk-taking environment where people believed strongly in being able to use technology to solve problems, and make an impact on millions of people. That was really inspiring. In Singapore, we tend to take fewer risks because of the stigma of failure. As a result, we don’t set moonshot goals for ourselves that startups in Silicon Valley do.
What challenges did you face when starting up?
As a startup, we were venturing into new ground with very few resources and a very lean team. Some of the harder days involved the three of us — Marcus, Lucas and I — going to weekend flea markets and distributing free bottles of water in exchange for feedback on our app and user downloads. We wanted to get real feedback from the ground to improve our product. We’re not just building a platform, it’s the community of users that makes it special.
What do you think of the state of the startup ecosystem in Southeast Asia?
There are over 600 million people in Southeast Asia, with almost 400 million not yet connected to the internet. That’s a lot of potential. We’re reaching out to a generation of internet users who leapfrogged the desktop era, and we have a chance to influence and shape the way people use their smartphones — whether it is to communicate, buy-and-sell, or share music.
Global investors have brought with them the mindset of the long-term strategy, to support the new wave. Five years ago, you were struggling to run a pre-revenue startup. No one would give you the money to increase your runway to build a service, gain network effects and execute a long term-strategy. But now we are in a more fortunate era where there is serious venture capital.
Do you think that backing from VCs is a vote of confidence or added hindrance in terms of strategic directions? Why?
VC funding is certainly a great vote of confidence for entrepreneurs, but backing from VCs alone does not guarantee success. The relationship between startups and VCs can go several ways. Whether the funding support will hinder growth of the startup ultimately lies in the synergy between the two parties, and whether both work towards a common vision. VCs have a vested interest in helping startups to succeed, and as such are often happy to provide value beyond investment. This is certainly the case for Carousell. Our VCs have given us invaluable advice and mentorship, and have connected us with the right companies and the right people to help us move forward.
What is the most crucial advice you would give to entrepreneurs?
If you really care and believe in what you do, press on and never stop trying. One of our favourite quotes at Carousell is “we are less than 1% done”.
What do you look forward to seeing at Slush Singapore?
Slush in Singapore for its Southeast Asian debut speaks volumes about our burgeoning startup scene, and how we are more than ready to use technology to reinvent the future.