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Business  5, May 2014

[Updated] Asians love their stickers! No wonder the region is seeing innovation

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Unsurprisingly, stickers are gaining increased popularity in Asia, and PicoCandy is a Stickers-as-a-Service looking to take advantage of the trend

Ask any technologist about SaaS and he or she will probably tell you that it stands for Software-as-a-Service, a delivery method that allows access to software as a remote, web-based service. But Geraldine Yong, CEO, PicoCandy, has coined something cooler.

Stickers-as-a-Service
Meet the new SaaS — Stickers-as-a-Service, which is a perfect way to describe PicoCandy, a Singapore-based startup that helps companies integrate and power stickers — or enlarged emojis — into existing platforms. In addition, it allows brands and designers to monetise digital content like cartoon characters, and classify these stickers as merchandise or advertising material, and developers to build full-fledged sticker marketplaces into mobile apps.

Yong reminisced about the advent of emojis and emoticons, and added, “The kind of adoption for this kind of stuff happens in Asia, and not so much in the US. …With the growth of messaging apps, stickers have belonged to this popular thing. The way we see it is that these are digital images of the things that you like, characters you grew up with, movies you watched, (and) toys you played as a kid.”

It all began in 2011, the very year Japanese chat app LINE was launched. The chat app has been capitalising on its series of cute characters who make up the bulk of its sticker packs. Yong recounted, “…I’ve always customised my avatars, and then I thought that it was boring to not have anything (like stickers) out there. I was just telling my friend in San Francisco that it would be cool to communicate with cartoon characters you like.”

Also Read: LINE: 230M registered users, sees US$10M in sticker sales every month

However, at that point of ideation, Yong had not intended for PicoCandy to happen. It was, after all, just an idea. The idea only really took off when the messaging market started to take flight in Asia.

“When I talked to a few of my friends, my entrepreneur friends,” she said, “and asked if I was crazy to want to do this, at first, they said, “Okay, maybe the market’s not very big. Maybe there’s a bigger market,” but once we saw the messaging market, we knew that there was a market for it.”

In a sense, it was the messaging market that propelled PicoCandy forward. Without the current chat giants — who use stickers as a huge selling point, like KakaoTalk or LINE — there might not be a PicoCandy.

Asia, a sticker paradise
Having lived in the US for more than 10 years, the Singaporean entrepreneur knows that home is where the opportunities lie.

“I moved back (to Singapore) last year,” she said, adding, “If we chose to do this in the US, the adoption rate wouldn’t be as high. The opportunities to work with different partners wouldn’t be as vast as here, and the other thing is that the burn rate in San Francisco is extremely high.”

According to Khang Toh, CTO, PicoCandy, his decision to join Yong and start PicoCandy in Southeast Asia was fuelled by the ever-thriving startup ecosystem present in the region. He added, “I have built engineering team in the US for the past decade, and am looking forward to build a strong engineering team here in Singapore and driving an exciting product strategy with robust technology and compelling roadmap.”

“The Asians are the ones who will go ahead and do it,” said Yong. She continued, “The adoption is going to pick up there (in the US) but this (Asia) is where it starts first.” Unsurprisingly, in 2013 alone, both Path and Facebook, two notable social networks, have jumped on the proverbial bandwagon to bring stickers to its users, following LINE’s success in Asia.

One of the key selling points of PicoCandy is that stickers available on its marketplace can be used with any platform. She explained, “We sell the content to anybody, and if they want more, they get more. It’s the small and medium companies that don’t have the resources.”

“If they (small and medium companies) are trying to build their own social network or app, they don’t actually have resources to do all of this stuff (creating stickers). It’s content. It’s a lot of content. It’s managing and getting new, fresh content,” she emphasised. (Sic)

Aside from the mere service of providing its clients with stickers, PicoCandy also comes with analytics and a content management system. Customers of PicoCandy can make informed updates in real-time, and see how much money they are making through various sticker sets.

Also Read: Viber updates desktop version; introduces festive theme, free stickers

Funding from Ardent Capital, Wavemaker Labs and Siemer Ventures
According to its website, PicoCandy has a group of institutional investors including Ardent Capital, Wavemaker Labs and Siemer Ventures, and unnamed angel investors from both, Asia and the US. Its seed round, announced last April, was stated to be more than US$1 million.

UPDATE: Yong added that Singapore’s National Research Foundation is also an investor in PicoCandy.

“When I first thought about (funding), and whether I should raise money for the company or just bootstrap it, my decision was to raise money, so I talked to angel investors who were close and they made introductions,” said Yong, who added that each investment for the company was strategic. Ardent Capital, for example, has launched aCommerce, which handles full back-end logistics and fulfilment for e-commerce firms, which goes hand-in-hand, according to Yong, since PicoCandy deals with virtual goods. “There is a lot of synergy,” she said.

For Yong, raising funding was essential in her quest to scale. “This is a speed game,” she said. The existing relationships she has with partners are still predominantly US-centric, and Asian investors will definitely help in bringing in more content for PicoCandy. “If I chose not to raise funding, it (the idea) might (have been) taken over by someone else.”

At the moment, PicoCandy has partnered with brands such as Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake, Suzy’s Zoo and Space Hamster (a character from San-X Japan).

Moving ahead
With eight staffers based in Singapore, PicoCandy is looking to build a bigger team and expand into foreign shores. She said, “We’re hiring more in the Philippines, Indonesia, (and) Thailand.”

In the next six months, Yong and her team will look to boost hiring efforts, and snag more distribution partners and designers. Increasingly, new and up-and-coming cartoons are also gaining a tonne of popularity, said Yong, who intends to bring in content from Southeast Asia, aside from PicoCandy’s usual picks from Japan and the US.

Prior to founding PicoCandy, Yong had started MogiMe, a gaming startup, and worked at LeftRight Studios and Siemens.

Disclaimer: Ardent Capital is an investor in Optimatic Pte Ltd, the parent company of e27

Elaine Huang

Elaine Huang

Elaine is a fervent believer that if there ever is a zombie apocalypse, we will all be snapping away at them with our phones and posting them onto Instagram. A Mass Communication graduate of Ngee Ann Polytechnic's School of Film and Media Studies, she enjoys writing about technology and entrepreneurs. When not hashtagging her way through all sorts of trouble, Elaine is probably contemplating how to write in the third person.

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