- Singapore-based Kickstarter retail store We The People has been making waves since the opening of its first store in Sep 2017.
- They have since opened 3 more stores locally, and recently expanded to the US and Malaysia as well. Here’s how they did it.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that crowdfunding is no longer a foreign concept to Singaporeans.
With 1,004 projects from Singapore on Kickstarter at the moment, we have also covered the stories behind homegrown projects like the Quiver multi-bag, GENA adjustable heels, and The Singaporean Dream card game – all of which have successfully hit their backing target to bring their ideas to life.
Singapore is also home to We The People (WTP), the world’s first and only Kickstarter retail chain which helps to close the ‘doubt gap’ between creators and consumers, by letting consumers get a hands-on feel of the products before buying them.
Founded by Singaporean Kickstarter creators who themselves have found success on the platform, WTP also assists creators by teaching them about crowdfunding, and aiding their marketing pushes.
The concept has proven to be a hit (in spite of the dwindling brick-and-mortar scene in Singapore), and the WTP team opened another outlet within 7 months of the launch of their first store at Orchard Central in September 2016. They currently have 4 outlets locally.
To date, WTP has brought 160 brands and 500 products to the public using both their offline and online stores, and achieved an 800% growth in revenue by the end of last year.
But they’ve not just set their sights on reviving the retail scene at home.
Just this month, they have ventured beyond our shores and opened an outlet in the United States.
December also marked their entrance into Malaysia:
I checked in with Ryan Sim, co-founder of We The People and seasoned creator (who also recently completed a campaign that raised S$78,760), on their journey to the US.
“We’re Doing Our Best To Spread The Good Word Of Singapore”
When did the plan to open a store in the US take shape?
USA was always the main target. It’s where Kickstarter and Indiegogo started as well.
We wanted stores there from the get-go but actual plans started to take shape only in early 2018.
Why not expand around Southeast Asia or Asia first, before heading to the US?
We are, technically, doing both at the same time with the store opening in Kuala Lumpur.
There are plans for Thailand, Hong Kong, Indonesia as well.
We had a lot of interest from people in the US who wanted to take on a WTP franchise in the states. There were so many (still) to a point where we HAD to do something about it.
This store in St Louis isn’t a franchise, it’s corporate-owned.
Why St Louis?
St Louis is the gateway to the midwest of the US, so it’s kind of right smack in the center. [There are also] lots of creators here, and a great talent pool and startup scene.
[It’s also] a strategic location – much more cost-efficient compared to the East and West Coast, and will serve as US training center and logistics hub to supply products when we have more stores around the US.
What were some of the challenges you faced in the process?
Contracts have to be re-read 10 times over because the language is slightly different. So that was a little bit of a barrier.
Choosing the right mall was also quite challenging. The USA is also facing a retail issue, so we had to be extra careful. We spent a lot of time on previous trips to study mall traffic before finally deciding on West County Center.
Hiring is tough as well, we’d get people interested via a job post on Facebook, but they just don’t show up at all.
Other than that, I guess it would be learning how to speak American English, because communication is KEY, haha!
How long did it take from deciding to open the store in the US to the actual opening?
About 5-6 months of negotiation and planning. I think that’s pretty fast already, we really pushed hard to open before Christmas.
Was Kickstarter directly involved in the US store?
No, Kickstarter is not directly involved, but they will be involved in other parts of the business, especially Live Funding. Live Funding will be changing next year.
Was it easy getting US creators on board? Are there any issues they face that could be solved with WTP’s model?
We’ve seemed to have made a good ripple in the retail and crowdfunding scene. We contacted creators in and around St Louis to ask if they wanted to retail with us.
One of the creators that responded is Akeem from Flipstik. In the month that we’ve opened, we’ve sold more than 500 pieces of his product. We’ve also sent it to Singapore to retail, so that means we’ve unlocked another market for him.
Going global is a big issue that most creators face after their crowdfunding run.
Online sales might be able to cut it but offline presence grows brands and that’s what WTP specialises in. Trust and other factors prevents creators from rapidly selling their product overseas.
We The People is turnkey. We’ll help brands reach other markets and make sure that they are well-represented so that their brand grows.
What were some of the unanticipated problems that cropped up?
Shipping stocks from Singapore over was a big headache. We NEARLY had to open the store with close to zero products.
The main shipment that was supposed to arrive 2 weeks before the opening arrived a day before. So lesson learnt – if you think you’re early, give it another 2-week buffer just to be super safe.
How was the US launch, and the response to it?
It’s phenomenal! People and the press are super excited for it. We’ve seen the same customers come back to the store four times in 2 weeks!
General comments: “This is a super smart idea”, “I saw you on TV, I had to come check you guys out!”, “I’m so happy you guys opened in St Louis!”, “THIS IS THE FIRST STORE IN THE STATES?!” and everything else in between those two comments.
Were they surprised that you guys were from Singapore?
Definitely, especially with the name ‘WE THE PEOPLE’. It’s a very American thing.
People kind of know where Singapore is now, especially after Crazy Rich Asians and the Trump-Kim summit. We’re doing our best to spread the good word of Singapore.
What are your future plans for the US? More stores?
We have plans to open up more stores. Definitely in California and New York. We’re also going to do a FCBC (For Creators, By Creators) event in New York. That will be exciting too.
We are in the midst of franchising stores and opening up a co-working space.
I saw that you just opened a store in Malaysia – how has response been so far?
It’s been really great as well! Ever since we had the article written by The Star, people know about the store.
The main feedback that we’ve got is that lots of Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaigns have issues shipping rewards to Malaysia. Credit Card fraud is high and that’s a red flag for creators. So rewards don’t get shipped.
What’s some advice that you’ll give to Singapore companies that want to expand to the US?
Join the Asian Chamber of Commerce in the state/city you’re targeting. They’ll offer great insights and will help you out if you’re genuine. Keep going to networking events as early as you can. You can never have too many friends.
Start looking for hires as soon as possible as well.
I’d like to thank Ryan for his time!
If you’re interested to check them out, but don’t have the time or money to fly to the US – why not check out their store in KL or in Singapore?
Millenia Walk Flagship Store (Singapore)
Level 1 #01-42 & Level 2 #02-57
9 Raffles Blvd, Singapore 039596
The Intermark Mall (Malaysia)
The Intermark Mall Lot 1-29 & 1-30, First Floor,
348, Jalan Tun Razak, Kampung Datuk Keramat,
50400 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur