It is quite the feat to grow a company from scratch in Singapore, even with the many opportunities and support given to budding entrepreneurs. Many companies start with visionary ideas, but just as many never quite take off. Companies like e27, MoneySmart and GRVTY Media have not only stayed the course but have been able to translate their success in Singapore to other hubs in the region. Here’s how they did it.
Adopting a regional mindset from the start: e27
Starting out as a digital media platform focusing on technology startups, it made sense for e27 to have a regional focus in order to cover a wider breadth of stories. This quickly earned them an audience both within Singapore and beyond as they built up a presence online.
Yet e27 also realised that it was not enough to just profile companies across Southeast Asia. They needed to be there in each local market, engaging founders, investors and even governments to understand the local culture.
According to Mohan Belani, e27’s co-founder and CEO, “Southeast Asia’s internet ecosystem is a complex and fast growing one. Each market offers its own unique set of challenges and opportunities, and our goal was to provide the information and access to navigate the entire region. Founders need to build local but think regional from the start. I wanted to help them get there through e27.”
e27 then took the next step and went beyond their digital platform to organise their annual flagship event, Echelon. This event brings together the Southeast Asian technology startup ecosystem, providing networking opportunities between entrepreneurs, startups, governments and investors. Today, Echelon boasts a conference with over 120 speakers and 250 companies showcasing their products and services.
A glimpse of Echelon Asia Summit 2019
It was with the intention of raising awareness of Echelon that e27 started organising roadshows in the region. The subsequent success of the Echelon event in Singapore led them to consider running standalone events in cities across Southeast Asia, starting with Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur.
“We do meet a lot of customers and users in overseas markets who have very similar needs as those in Singapore,” elaborated Belani. “For startups, for example, their core challenges are access to information, talent, funding and customers.”
In 2012, e27 officially set up in Thailand, and today both the e27 and Echelon brands are now active in countries across Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia and Central Asia.
e27 continues to bring in the crowds at their overseas events
Everyone has the intent to learn about basic finance: MoneySmart
As an online personal finance portal, it was important for MoneySmart to first establish themselves in Singapore. A brand strategy was carefully crafted over the years, driven by the combination of a personal finance blog and a personal finance comparison site. The plan? To first succeed as a local brand in Singapore.
Once MoneySmart refined their value proposition for both customers and financial institutions in Singapore, international expansion happened quickly.
MoneySmart’s greatest overseas achievement to date is also their first overseas foray. Within just four years it has now become Indonesia’s leading personal finance content platform. The MoneySmart website now has a higher Alexa Rank than established global media houses.
The open door policy at MoneySmart Indonesia’s office takes on a whole new meaning
The key was recognising that Indonesia is an emerging market, where the audience is less financially literate than their counterparts in Singapore, but hungry to learn more about spending, saving and growing their money. MoneySmart now has two broad strategies when expanding into new markets – one for developed markets like Singapore, another for emerging markets like Indonesia.
For each new country they venture into, shared Vinod Nair, MoneySmart’s founder and CEO, “it’s about how we localise our brand in each market.” This is achieved by a two-prong strategy involving building site traffic as well as growing a social following through digital marketing. MoneySmart leads each new expansion by starting a personal finance blog full of articles.
MoneySmart leads each overseas expansion with a hyperlocalised digital content strategy
“The intent to learn about personal finance is still high,” said Nair. “MoneySmart aims to help its users reach better financial outcomes. This mission drives all decisions, from what products to launch and how to improve the user experience, to what articles to write on the blog.”
The MoneySmart brand is now in Indonesia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Philippines, and claims to be the #1 personal finance platform in Southeast Asia.
Building media brands that are successful and sustainable: GRVTY Media
The digital media group, GRVTY Media, is barely two years old, but even before they consolidated under one name, their digital publications had already become familiar names to the younger Southeast Asian audience. What started with Vulcan Post has since expanded into other publications including Discover SG and the very popular Millennials of Singapore.
In 2015, they ventured into Malaysia, starting local versions of their Singapore brands like Discover KL and Millennials of KL. In 2017, they headed overseas yet again, this time to the Philippines.
GRVTY Media takes the idea of a content studio literally in Singapore
As with e27 and MoneySmart, the main goal for overseas expansion was to replicate the success they had experienced in Singapore. According to Johnathan Chua, co-founder and business director, they wanted to “bring what we have learnt as well as our best practices to countries in the region, to build not just successful media brands, but also sustainable ones.”
One observation that all three companies shared was how important it was to adapt as quickly as possible to the country they were expanding to, even if it meant a higher cost. Said Chua of GRVTY Media, “Language, culture and brand of humour define how a country consumes content. We therefore made the more expensive decision of building and training a local team for every country we’re in.” We were very blessed in finding good partners and team members that understood our vision.
A behind-the-scenes peek at GRVTY Media’s office in Subang Jaya
However, Singapore’s role in the success of these three companies cannot be understated. All of them shared how the country is conducive for entrepreneurship, both in terms of government initiatives as well as educational opportunities. The NUS Overseas Colleges programme, which many of the founders participated in, was consistently mentioned as a catalyst for creating a startup ecosystem in the country.
“It was through the tremendous support and encouragement of that community that I think has really enabled a lot of very successful companies founded in Singapore,” said MoneySmart’s Vinod Nair.
Kudos to all three companies for sharing a bit of Singapore with the region, and for blazing a trail for other digital natives at home to start their own media companies.
e27 is the organisers of Echelon – Southeast Asia's largest internet technology and startup conference.
MoneySmart Group is the largest financial portal in the Southeast Asia region, helping over 100m people across in Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Philippines make smarter financial decisions.
About GRVTY Media
GRVTY Media is a digital media group consisting of Southeast Asia's top publications including Vulcan Post, Millennials of Singapore, Discover SG, Discover KL and The Playbook.
Photos courtesy of e27, MoneySmart and GRVTY Media.