Sugar, a new interactive discovery app, was soft-launched on Apple’s App Store and Android’s Google Play Store at the beginning of April 2014. Already validated through excellent reviews and ratings from thousands of early adopters, users, the new business is celebrating its full launch when it hosts a private launch party, labelled ‘Forbidden’, in Singapore on 8 July 2014. However, this launch party has a difference.
The main draw of the launch event is a full Nyotaimori presentation, an ancient Japanese culinary ritual featuring elaborately-arranged sushi. Tastefully arranged on the body of a nude female model. While the origins of the practice are unknown, historical evidence indicates its origin in the Tokugawa-era Japan, where aristocrats, shoguns and ministers of the court enjoyed its artistic merits, as well as using it to display their wealth and power.
Fittingly, the launch event is held at Mariko’s, a bar and bistro located near Keong Saik Road in a conservation shophouse that was formerly a brothel, before the district was cleaned up by authorities. Speaking on the event’s theme, Benjamin Lee, Sugar’s CEO, explained the risqué nature. Neither erotic nor pornographic, he intends to showcase the “…interesting hidden secrets around Singapore that are waiting to be discovered”. Much like the Sugar app, he explains that Nyotaimori is and was about art, culture and design, much like many of the independent and boutique merchants Sugar intends to be its target market.
However, there’s a a twist — profits from the event will be donated to a charity called Sisha, a Cambodian anti-trafficking and anti-slavery charity. Amongst the more prolific anti-trafficking NGOs in Southeast Asia, Sisha assists trafficking victims and has for brought 174 prosecutions against human traffickers in 2014 alone.
Singapore’s not boring! Lee and Chief Product Officer, Stephen Barling, the co-founders of Sugar Technologies, chose the theme. Set on proving Singapore isn’t boring, they took a daring approach in deciding on the theme. Barling, who’s from the UK, explained that: “When I first came to Singapore, I was keen to get under the skin of the city and really explore it. Many of my expat friends would do the same things every weekend, getting drunk at Clarke Quay or on Club Street – not because they weren’t interested in exploring more, but because they didn’t know where to look”.
Realising there was a better way (and business opportunity) available to showcase interesting indie cafés, F&B outlets and lifestyle businesses abundant in the tropical city-state, the idea for Sugar was born. At its core, Barling explained, “It’s what we at Sugar affectionately call Singapore’s ‘hidden secrets’.”
Barling oversees Sugar’s product design, user experience (UX) and branding. With a professional background spanning management consulting, venture capital and digital media, his strong belief is that mobile technology is trending towards a convergence of gamification and simplicity. Sugar reflects this belief, with the app aiming to provide hyper-local, curated content through an elegant, minimalist interface. It also incentivises users to connect with their friends, as deals available through Sugar increase as more people are connected and made aware of it.
For Lee, Sugar is his fifth startup, with two prior startups exited successfully through acquisition. His experience extends to the Chinese market, having been a general partner in a VC firm focussed on technology and digital media investments in China.
The app has so far received highly positive reviews on both Google Play and the Apple App Store, and the risque launch party might will certainly be an event with a difference in this largely conservative city-state. Coming as a strategic marketing decision, such branding is more than likely to succeed and set Sugar apart, especially given the socially positive cause that it benefits. Targeted at a user demographic aged 18-35, it will take time for Sugar to scale and establish itself as a sweet success.