The geek-turned-millionaire: How Carousell exec began his ride

Just like the up-and-coming application that he co-founded, this young businessman's journey in life is a memorable merry-go-round.

Marcus Tan
Marcus Tan, the Singaporean co-founder of snap-and-sell app Carousell is not like most of his contemporaries.

He was not born a giant.

His determination and perseverance made him one of the highest-earning "technopreneurs" in Singapore at present.

True to the name of the app he helped develop,

Tan’s adventure as a businessman, so to speak, seems like a carousel, letting it carry him into the circular adventure called life.

Tan, then 26, was still living with his parents when he started the app and was uncertain in its early stages of development.

But it was all a leap of faith when he decided to build his own application from scratch.

With other self-proclaimed computer geeks at the National University of Singapore, Tan built Carousell with Siu Rui Quek (Chief Executive Officer) and Lucas Ngoo (Chief Technology Officer). Like a carousel, the buy and sell app enables products to rotate from one user to the next.

“Our mission is to inspire every person in the world to start selling,” Tan said, now 33.

After six years, the app is now worth $500 million and has 110 million listings at the present, operating in seven Asian countries including the Philippines.

Tan, a web designer, credits the app’s success in its simple interface and user-friendly features. Tan boasts that a Carousell user can purchase products in a much simpler method than other web-based marketplaces.

Carousell creators started through bootstrapping or spending their initial years developing the app and talking to users.

“It was not a perfect product,” Tan said, referring to Carousell. “There's so much social media negative posts. It keeps on crashing.”

But the determined young technopreneur did not quit. He, along with his team, sent personal emails and convinced people to try the app. Eventually, the company also hired other engineers and web developers to improve Carousell.

Marcus Tan during the Techtonic Summit 2018 at SMX Convention Center
The app’s success brought Tan to the Techtonic Summit’s stage as a keynote speaker. At the sidelines of the largest tech conference in the country, Manila Standard spoke with the multi-millionaire technopreneur where he shared the following pieces of advice:

1. Start with a problem. For Tan, startups should first identify a problem they really want to address. For him, this makes one focused. “If you figure out what you need and you have the skill, the profit will just accelerate,” Tan said. In his case, he was passionate about web design and was able to successfully develop an app that has a simple interface for its users. “I really enjoy about design, building communities, marketing, raising capital,” he said. “If things were tough, I would just read out more.”

2. Talk to customers. Communication with customers is highly-valuable, Tan said. The company president said Carousell is dependent from users’ feedback. For example, the app launched smart chat-replying which made it easy for users to reply to messages with highly relevant suggestions, and it even pulled out information from listings that the buyer might have been missed out. The app also allowed payment and shipping services, making it more convenient for users.

3. Start small. Every business has to start somewhere. According to Tan, starting small and humbly is part of the process. This is also necessary to test the efficiency of products. Carousell, in its infant years, also struggled to gain popularity and users. Before it reached its footing today, Tan, along with his co-founders, personally emailed other users to try out their developing application.

4. Failing is part of life. Startups should not be afraid of committing errors since this is part of life to be successful. During his stay abroad, the young founder learned that making mistakes is not something to be ashamed of. Tan shared that: “Innovation starts from small mistakes.”

5. Never give up. Business is difficult, the multi-millionaire technopreneur said, but rookies should never give up. “Only when you’re passionate you will go through the difficulties, overcome them, because you truly believe in them,” Tan said.

During the Chatfire segment at the summit, Tan was requested to share an advice before other beginners in the market.

For him, startups should follow the example of a cockroach that is still alive no matter what the circumstances are.

“If it's tough, if it's killing you, don't give up,” he said.

Topics: Marcus Tan , Carousell , Siu Rui Quek , Lucas Ngoo , Techtonic Summit
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