The idea to create an app that can help anyone sell their used goods in a simple way: Snap, list, sell was mooted during a stint at NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) in Silicon Valley.
NUS Business School graduate Quek Siu Rui, together with friends and fellow NOC mates Lucas Ngoo and Marcus Tan, decided to develop Carousell – a mobile-first C2C marketplace that is designed for smartphone users to buy and sell anything in a simpler way than on traditional channels such as forums, blogs and so on. It is easy to use – open the app, snap a photo and briefly describe the item.
Each of them had plenty of stuff like books, laptops, cameras and other impulse-buys that were lying around that they hadn’t got around to selling. The process of listing it on existing online marketplaces was just too tedious. Thus sparked the idea for Carousell.
Infected with the entrepreneur energy in Silicon Valley whilst studying in Stanford University and working at various Silicon Valley technology start-ups, as well as impressed with how people use technology to create an impact on millions of lives, the undergrads found the experience exhilarating and it marked a turning point for them to pursue their dreams of becoming entrepreneurs in earnest.
Upon return to Singapore, Siu Rui and his team members took part in Startup Weekend Singapore, a 54-hour hackathon that brought together teams to develop business ideas. Carousell emerged victorious, beating 40 other ideas at the event. For winning the event, they were given a free three-month tenancy at Plug-In @Blk 71 (now BLOCK71 Singapore), a startup co-working space managed by NUS Enterprise. Following the event, Carousell was also awarded a S$7,000 Venture Ideation Grant by NUS Enterprise to develop the idea further.
Siu Rui would later top his NUS Business Administration class by clinching two gold medals for academic excellence, and could have gone on to further his honours degree or taken up a job offer in Silicon Valley. He instead chose to form a start-up with his friends to develop an idea for a mobile-first marketplace. Their passion for creativity and innovation superseded all else—Marcus left his job at Oracle, and Lucas worked full-time on Carousell despite juggling schoolwork for his final semester.
Since Carousell’s inception the founders have developed the app further – combining the addictive social media experience with the convenience of mobile commerce. It’s an evolved hybrid that is very relevant and hip. It’s not just a marketplace, it’s a trend barometer and it’s filled with conversations.
The team’s vision is to make peer-to-peer buying and selling a lifestyle. “We want it to be natural for people to buy and sell pre-owned items because it makes economic sense and reduces waste,” said Siu Rui.
This idea has the potential to make a pot of gold but if it fails Siu Rui is undaunted as he was immersed in the risk-taking culture of Silicon Valley. “The NOC programme has helped to get over my barrier of fear of failure,” said Siu Rui
Fallen in love with technology for its potential to make impact at scale, the trio behind Carousell is supercharged by the opportunity to enable e-commerce for the next billion Internet users who are going to access the Internet for the first time through the smartphone - it’s a trend barometer and it’s filled with conversations, ebook, Twitter and Instagram. “We want to fill that need, and create the next eBay for the smartphone generation right here from Singapore.”
2012: Pitched idea of Carousell at Startup Weekend Singapore 2012. Built working demo in 54 hours, emerged as overall winner.
Was first rejected then finally awarded Venture Ideation Grant (after a literal elevator pitch) of S$7,000 by NUS Enterprise to develop idea further.
Full-time development of Carousell begins at Plug-in@Blk71. Siu Rui drops honours year, Marcus leaves Oracle and Lucas began juggling school with full-time work.
Days in the office started at 10am, ended at 11.53pm to catch the last train, and work continued till 2am at home.
Carousell iPhone app launched in Singapore on 13 Aug 2012 - Ranked Top 2 Free Lifestyle App in Singapore on 3rd day of launch.
2013: Awarded ACE Start-ups Grant of $50,000; Carousell Pte Ltd incorporated.
Announced partnership with STClassifieds, Singapore's leading online classifieds site, in a cross-posting collaboration to help Carousell users reach a larger pool of prospective buyers effortlessly.
Carousell picked for its convenience in creating listings and for its foothold in the Singapore youth community.
Announced partnership with SPH Magazines which creates Singapore's largest community workplace for women.
Raised about SGD $1 million in seed round led by Rakuten.
2014: Raised S$7.8 million in Series A funding led by Sequoia Capital, followed by Rakuten Ventures, Golden Gate Ventures, 500 Startups and Darius Cheung (NOC Alumni).
Awarded the Overseas Launchpad Grant.
Set up base at Block 71 San Francisco.
2016: Raised S$48 million in Series B funding led by Rakuten Ventures, followed by Sequoia Capital, Golden Gate Ventures and 500 Startups.
2018: Raised US$85 million in Series C funding co-led by Rakuten Ventures and EDBI, with participation from 500 Startups, Golden Gate Ventures, Sequoia India and DBS Bank.
This story was first published on NUS Enterprise Website.