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News  24, Jun 2013

Here’s why investors should bet big on m-commerce startup Carousell

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Mobile commerce startup Carousell is set to be the hottest startup in Asia this year. Here’s why.

It’s been a while since I was genuinely excited about a startup in Singapore. Last year in September, there was a startup from Singapore which I was bullish about: Gridblaze. I wrote then:

“Singapore-based Gridblaze aims to optimize the Internet by bringing it back to its roots of distributed storage. A shakeup that can bring massively faster speeds, greater fault tolerance and a 50% global reduction in international Internet traffic. [...] For the less technically inclined, imagine being able to use Dropbox in Singapore at local speeds instead of international speeds. That is Gridblaze for you, and potentially revolutionary.”

A few months after that, the Founder Institute graduate was acquired by an undisclosed San Francisco startup in tech transfer, and the founder cashes out in the millions.

Another startup which I was bullish about is Singapore based NoiseStreet. Essentially NoiseStreet turns billboards and big outdoor screens into interactive media that can be accessed through smartphones. Back in November last year, they ran an outdoor marketing campaign with Gong Cha which resulted in phenomenal engagement from shoppers. NoiseStreet has since then worked with several other clients. My personal assessment: Game changing, This is definitely a Singapore startup to watch.

Fast forward to today, there’s a Singapore-based startup which is killing it: Carousell. For the benefits of those who are not familiar with Carousell, what started off as a Singapore Startup Weekend weekend project is a mobile commerce marketplace which allows anyone to simply snap and sell their items. Launched in August last year, Carousell also partnered with STClassified to provide their users with a larger base of prospective buyers.

But that’s not the point of this post. What I wanted to share is why I will put my money on Carousell.

Huge industry potential

Let’s look at the macro picture first: both the mobile and e-commerce industry in Singapore. Everyone has said this over and over again, mobile is definitely here to stay and has huge potential that as a business, you can’t afford to ignore. Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, once stated, “If you don’t have a mobile strategy, you don’t have a future strategy.”

Figures from regulator Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) revealed Singapore’s mobile population penetration rate reached 151.8 percent, with the number of post- and prepaid 3G subscription totaling 5,721,100 as of the first quarter of the this year. Singapore currently has more then 5.3 million population.

Due to this amazing smartphone penetration, Carousell has a great discovery and distribution channel to begin with. Coupled with the fact that commerce is a hot rising industry (According to PayPal’s study, the size of the Singapore online shopping market reached S$1.1 billion in 2010 and is forecast to reach S$4.4 billion in 2015), the growth potential for mobile commerce is significant. Mobile and Commerce are definitely here to stay. What do you get when you combine them both? A killer industry. Carousell is merely riding the wave.

Read also: Here’s Lazada’s scoresheet on conquering Southeast Asian e-commerce

Liquidity is king

Another reason why I think there is a huge potential in Carousell is because they have a high liquidity. For any marketplaces, liquidity is a critical element other than your typical supply and demand equation. Liquidity is the reasonable expectation of selling something you list or finding what you’re looking for. I often write about the importance of liquidity in my posts about marketplaces. In Greylock Partners’ Simon Rothman’s words,

Liquidity isn’t the most important thing. It’s the only thing.  Until you reach liquidity, you’re vulnerable. After, you have the opportunity for dominance. The first marketplace to reach liquidity wins.

Does Carousell have it? A definite yes. Here’s some proof:

Community and high viral loop

Due to its liquidity, Carousell now has a community of avid shoppers actively refreshing Carousell in the hunt for items to purchase (See a lot more examples here). Due to its liquidity too, its users are actively sharing about Carousell to their friends. Here’s how their viral process look like:

Register -> Use Product -> Tell friends (to get buyers) -> Purchase success (Tell friends again) -> Use product again. Cycle repeats.

It helps to have a young community of users who are avid users of social media too. There are also signs of shoppers shifting and congregating to Carousell and Instagram.

When users from other platforms are shifting to use your service, and when your users are evangelizing for you, you know you are definitely on to something. This echoes something which Joon from Pigeonhole mentioned in a sharing session which I will always remember: “How do you know when you have reached product/market fit? When your users do your pitch for you.”

How exactly is Carousell currently doing?

Which leads to the question I always ask, how exactly is Carousell doing now? The Carousell team has been really tight lipped about their traction and any numbers. However, few things are for sure:

  1. The team is currently focusing on growing its community of users.
  2. There are no revenue/monetization model in place yet. Huge potential of revenue strategies.
  3. There are clear signs and proof of happy and returning users. Users love Carousell.
  4. There are no clear leaders in the mobile commerce space in Singapore, as well as Southeast Asia. At least not yet.
  5. Carousell has a solid product centric team.

Put all of these together, if I have the resources, I will definitely put my money in Carousell.

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Jacky Yap

Jacky Yap

Having spent one year abroad in Shanghai under the NUS Overseas College Programme, Jacky has an avid interest in entrepreneurship and web based startups. Jacky used to run N-House, Singapore's first entrepreneurial themed residence in NUS, and was also part of the organizing team for Startup Weekend Singapore 2012. You can reach him at jacky [at] e27 [dot] co

  • http://motochan.com/ James Chan

    Good guys, all the best in their fundraising efforts!

  • Khairu Rejal

    Great guys working on this product!

  • http://litford.net/ brian

    Definitely a killer product team and so much passion. Curious to see the team’s future monetization plans.

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  • Jeff

    On the liquidity point, one really interesting comparison is prices on the HWZ marketplace and on Carousell because liquidity should quickly drive down prices to what is market. On that metric, HWZ still wins — like for like, you can get it cheaper on the HWZ marketplace.

    I hope that changes, because the process of putting stuff for sale is so much easier on Carousell. I can also see Carousell doing better on the long tail of stuff…obscure items that aren’t worth the pain of trying to sell on HWZ. Kinda like an Etsy.

  • Yvonne Lee

    great to see this space heating up and giving the current competitors a run for their money! Leveraging social networks and making it easy to list and sell is a huge step forward to improving liquidity.

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