The current Singapore startup scene and the Singapore startup scene from 10 years ago is bigly (because trump) different.
Startups nowadays focus on key areas such as Fintech, chatbots, marketplaces among others, with names such as Carousell, Grab, Uber, honestbee, RedMart, Lazada being easily recognisable. 10 years back however, it was a completely different set of brands.
If you have been in the scene long enough, you’d definitely remember most of these names:
foound was a huge name in Singapore’s startup scene back in the 2010s. Founded by Danny Tan, it is a location-based social networking app which managed to ride the tide of the “SO-LO-MO” (social, location, mobile) trend made popular by Facebook and Foursquare.
The app lets you organise hangouts with friends. foound was well received on the international stage, with even CNet calling it the “Foursquare of the Future”.
In an interview with YoungUpstarts, founder Danny said that his team created foound to solve the frustrating problem of having to send multiple text messages whenever we want to meet our friends.
“Not only do we find it a pain to decide where to go and convey information such as location, directions, people invited and time in a single message, it is also difficult to update everyone whenever changes occur!”
foound also received a US$500,000 investment from investors such as Neoteny Labs as well as East Ventures back in 2010. However, we have not heard anything from the team since then and the app is presumably discontinued.
Fast forward to today, Danny is now leading HipVan, a curated e-commerce platform that features designer products for homes and offices, and recently managed to raise a S$4.7 Million in series A funding.
iTwin was another rising star in Singapore’s startup scene. First spun off from Singapore’s national research agency A*STAR, iTwin managed to bag a few awards from CES and funding by prominent venture capital firms such as Walden International and Innosight Ventures.
Known for its two USB dongles that connect to one another via a dedicated hardware interface, they act as “keys” to enable access to shared files on the computers into which they are plugged in.
Once paired, the file access mechanism between the two machines is a breeze. Plugging in an iTwin opens up an Explorer window and simply dropping files into this window is sufficient to share the content.
In September 2015, iTwin was acquired by CloudDesk, a Singapore-based Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and mobile computing solutions provider.
BillPin is a mobile app that helps friends split bills and keep track of group expenses and friendly lending. It made a big splash in 2012 when it was first launched, largely due to the fact that it is founded by Darius Cheung, a very prominent name in Singapore’s startup scene.
Darius made a name for himself when he sold his company tencube to McAfee in the early 2010s, and was also actively contributing back to the startup scene by angel investing in companies such as Carousell, Golden Gate Ventures, Zopim among others.
In 2013, less than 6 months after BillPin was launched, it announced the acquisition of its more established competitor BillMonk.
The BillPin Android app was last updated on November 2013 and in 2014, CEO Darius went on to start 99.co, a property search website. 99.co later managed to attract more than S$2M in total investment from prominent investors such as Sequoia Capital and Eduardo Saverin, the cofounder of Facebook.
From time to time, a travel startup will emerge and wow everyone with a huge differentiating factor, and in the 2010s, it was Flocations.
A Singapore-based online travel startup, Flocations pivoted from a visual plane ticket meta search platform to a tour package aggregator in March 2013. The company also received over half a million dollars in funding from TNF Ventures.
Another factor that keeps Flocations close to my heart is that it was born from a startup weekend event and later went on to join JFDI, a prominent incubator in Singapore. Flocations was also often cited as one of the most promising startups locally.
At its peak, Flocations sends more than S$1.5 million (US$1.2 million) business value to its travel partners monthly.
Since the pivot, the travel startup has been acquired by Venture Republic Global (VRG), a Japanese powerhouse company in Japan’s meta-search scene. The team later moved on to multiple different roles in various Singapore startups.
In the early 2010s, when I was still back at e27, job listings sites that allow anyone to put up errands postings were sprouting up like nobody’s business. Of the few that popped up in 2012, namely TaskAmigo, TaskPorter, FlagAHero, Juubs, TaskIsland and TaskPorter (see my other artile “Attack Of The TaskRabbit Clones In Singapore“), the one that stood out was TaskAmigo.
Back then, TaskAmigo secured the backing of SingTel through its digital media arm.
While the nature of the backing was never made public, SingTel had been listing tasks on TaskAmigo to drive more usage activities on the platform. As a result of that, TaskAmigo founder Garreth told Tech in Asia back in 2012 that they had over 2,300 users consisting of clients who listed tasks and of people who ran them (runners).
Meanwhile in the US, TaskRabbit, the pioneer in this peer-to-peer errand outsourcing platform, was exploding in popularity. One might have thought that the model can be easily localised to the Singapore market. However, despite 5 (or more) startups giving it a try, none managed to crack the business model.
According to TaskPorter founder Ian Tay, Singapore might be too small for the concept to work. The labour market might also have contributed to the demise of all those companies.
“For this model, you need a sizeable market of customers with high disposable income and little options of cheap labour. That is not the case with Singapore, where those with high income would have maids to run their errands for them,” Ian told Vulcan Post.
Andrew Fam, the business development manager for TaskAmigo then, also concurred, adding that “the market for cleaning and errands all require high trust, and there are maids already for that”.
Founded by serial entrepreneur John Fearon, DropMySite was a company most of us in the startup scene of the 2010s would remember, mainly due to the relentless PR effort around the web service that backs up websites.
John’s grand vision then was to eventually “back-up the Internet”. With this vision, DropMySite managed to raise a round of funding from 500 Startups.
However, in 2013, the company was taken over by CEO Charif Elansari, who then wanted to list DropMySite onto the Australian Stock Exchange via a reserve takeover. John then moved on to found Sugar Ventures, a venture builder and startup incubator.
Before Google Maps was accurate here in our little red dot, Singapore had our own version of Google Maps – Gothere.sg.
Gothere first debuted to the public back in 2008 (WOAH!) as a mapping app. Founded by Dominic Ee, Toh Kian Khai, Kuan Chih Yuan and Ang Jun Han, the team was initially inspired to start Gothere when they were looking at the other online navigation websites available to help commuters get around.
“We wanted to improve the whole user experience of locating services and traveling to destinations,” cofounder Kian Khai told YoungUpstart.
Using Gothere is simple, you just need to load the site and key in your destination, and Gothere will whip out the faster way (along with the transportation pricing) for you to get there.
Almost 10 years later today, the site is still operational, and is probably still generating app store income for the founders. Meanwhile, the founders have since moved on to other app development projects.
Back in the 2010s, hardware startups were rare – and Vibease was one of them. Founded in 2011, Vibease is a wearable smart vibrator. When linked to the mobile app, couples can use Vibease for chatting and to share their moments. The best part is that the woman’s partner can control her massager using the iPhone or Android app.
In 2013, Vibease launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise a goal of $15,000.
Within 24 hours that goal was surpassed, and ended up raising $130,000 from over 1400 backers. Vibease also later managed to attract Hermione Way who came onboard as the Chief Marketing Officer. According to her LinkedIn profile, Vibease raised over $500,000 from private investors, and has shipped over 20,000 units to customers around the world, grossing over $1.5million in sales.
If the US had Eventbrite, Singapore had FlickEvents. Simply put, FlickEvents is an online management startup. In just two years since it was founded in 2009, the company managed to organise over 200 events. The platform also grew in popularity as many in the startup scene started to use it to host their event page.
FlickEvents later faced a lot of competition from other event sites, and the founders moved on to other ventures.
Probably the best for the last, folks from the early days of the Singapore startup scene would definitely remember tech blog SGEntrepreneurs.
Back then, SGEntrepreneurs was the place for all startup and entrepreneur related news. Founded by Gwendolyn Tan, SGEntrepreneurs was then run by editor Terence Lee and a handful of freelance contributors. SG Entrepreneur’s profile peaked when it hosted then presidential candidate – and now President of Singapore – Dr Tony Tan, for an open fireside chat session with local entrepreneurs in 2011.
In September 2013, Tech In Asia, Asia’s leading technology site, acquired SG Entrepreneurs. With the acquisition, Gwendolyn Tan joined as the Director Of Business Development at Tech In Asia, while Terence joined as the managing editor.
During the acquisition, Tech in Asia founder Willis Wee shared that they admire SGE’s spirit of producing quality content with a very small team. “Both Gwen and Terence will certainly fit well in our company culture and we’re looking forward to working with them.”
If you recognise any of these 10 names above, it definitely means that you were part of the early days of Singapore startup scene.
Let us know in the comments below if we have missed out any other startups!
Featured Image Credit: TechCrunch, e27, Geekopedia, Tech in Asia