Entrepreneur

10 Lucky S'pore Startup Founders Scored A Rare Lunch With PM Lee: Who Are They?

Not every entrepreneur can say that Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has recognised their work and invited them to have lunch.

Ten local founders had this very special opportunity last Friday (10 January) at the Istana, where they had a meal with the PM and shared their thoughts about Singapore’s startup scene.

The day after, PM Lee posted a photo from the gathering on his Facebook page.

In his caption, he said he had a candid discussion with the founders about the “challenges of doing business and attracting top talent in Singapore”.

After learning about their needs, PM Lee also said the Government “will continue to find new and innovative ways to support local businesses”.

Here are the 10 lucky homegrown startups that were hosted by the Prime Minister!

1. Rachel Lim, Love, Bonito

Rachel Lim - Love, Bonito Co-Founder
Rachel Lim, Co-Founder of Love, Bonito / Image Credit: 99%SME

Love, Bonito started out as a blogshop in 2005, set up on a capital of just $500 pooled together by its three co-founders, Rachel Lim, Velda Tan (who has since left the business) and Viola Tan.

Although they pioneered the blogshop trend back then, they later decided to leave this model behind and start designing their own label instead.

Love, Bonito gained explosive traction right from its early days, and continued to grow into a household name after the rebrand. In 2016, they hit an approximate revenue of S$10 million.

More than just selling fashion pieces, the brand also adopted an omni-channel strategy, complementing ecommerce with retail stores that revolutionise the way they interact with customers.

They have since expanded beyond our shores into Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia.

2. Alvin Ea, Haulio

Alvin Ea, Haulio co-founder
Alvin Ea, Co-Founder of Haulio / Image Credit: The Asian Entrepreneur

In 2017, Alvin Ea and Sebastian Shen brought the benefits of the sharing economy to the logistics sector.

They created Haulio, a resource-sharing platform that works like Grab, but to hire truckers to transport shipping containers instead.

Tapping on information from ports on container movements, Haulio can match customers’ haulage needs to available hauliers on-demand, and avoid inefficiency during extreme fluctuations.

By early 2019, Haulio had helped businesses move more than two million tonnes of cargo.

3. Henry Chan, Shopback

Joel Leong and Henry Chan, co-founders of Shopback
Joel Leong (left) and Henry Chan (right), Co-Founders of Shopback / Image Credit: LinkedIn

When Shopback started in 2014, online cashback wasn’t a well known concept in Singapore.

However, it only took six months before they had more than 120,000 people looking for deals on their website each month.

More recently, Shopback also expanded their service into the offline space, where they frequently run attractive deals that let people earn money back when they shop and dine out.

In 2018, Shopback delivered close to US$1 billion sales for over 2,000 merchants online and offline.

They are currently present in Singapore, Australia, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand.

4. Lai Chang Wen, Ninja Van

Lai Chang Wen, Ninja Van co-founder
Lai Chang Wen, Co-Founder of Ninja Van / Image Credit: Ninja Van

Frustrated by the way unreliable logistics services hinder ecommerce, Lai Chang Wen started Ninja Van together with co-founders Shaun Chong and Tan Bo Xian in 2014.

They aimed to improve every stage of delivery with technology and algorithms, like scanning parcels to retrieve information instead of manually sorting them, and employing mapping technology to plot smoother delivery routes.

Ninja Van grew to dominate the region within just three years, with operations in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam and Myanmar.

They’re also partnered with all the major ecommerce players including Shopee and Lazada.

In 2019, Lai shared that Ninja Van owns a fleet of over 15,000 vehicles and runs 800 logistics hubs across Southeast Asia.

5. Quek Siu Rui, Carousell

Quek Siu Rui, Carousell co-founder
Quek Siu Rui, Co-Founder of Carousell / Image Credit: Forbes

Carousell can be credited for popularising the peer-to-peer classifieds marketplace with its simple ‘snap-list-sell’ mechanism.

In 2018, the company boasted that a total of 50 million items had been sold on its app across all markets.

The firm made a huge splash with recent news of its merger with Norwegian telco Telenor-owned classifieds site 701Search. The deal values Carousell at US$850 million (S$1.16 billion), making them Singapore’s newest unicorn.

6. Val Yap, PolicyPal

Val Yap, founder of PolicyPal
Val Yap, Founder of PolicyPal / Image Credit: MyCareersFuture

It’s easy to get bogged down and confused by the myriad of insurance plans that a typical Singaporean has to consider throughout their life.

Val Yap created PolicyPal in 2016 as a digital insurance manager that helps people organise insurance plans they have bought from multiple companies, and keep track of important information like premiums, coverage and policy terms.

PolicyPal started out under the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s regulatory fintech sandbox. By 2019, the platform grew to have 16 insurance providers in their network.

They also expanded to serving local SMEs, which have been traditionally underserved by large insurance brokers.

7. Tan Peck Ying, PSLove

Tan Peck Ying, co-founder of PSLove
Tan Peck Ying, Co-Founder of Pslove / Image Credit: UpCode Academy Think

With a mission to make periods easier for women, Tan Peck Ying and Caleb Leow started PSLove in 2014 selling care-package subscription boxes.

At the peak of the subscription box trend, they won over customers with a high level of customisability, letting them select the specific products they needed to solve all their inconveniences and discomforts.

The co-founders later pivoted to manufacturing their own brand of heat packs after observing that menstrual cramps stood out as the largest pain point.

Besides getting their products stocked with stores like Guardian and 7-Eleven, PSLove also went on to develop their own period tracking app.

8. Gabriel Lim, Saleswhale

Gabriel Lim, co-founder of Saleswhale
Gabriel Lim, Co-Founder of Saleswhale / Image Credit: Saleswhale

Since 2016, Saleswhale has changed the way businesses generate sales leads. Using human-assisted AI, their bot engages in realistic two-way conversation and identifies when a good lead can be handed off to human sales reps.

Saleswhale is currently serving 145 clients across mid-market and Fortune 500 companies.

The firm said its AI assistant helped its clients generate close to US$60 million in sales pipelines from qualified leads in 2018.

9. Jarrold Ong, Swat

Singapore transport startup SWAT
Jarrold Ong (bottom right corner), Co-Founder of SWAT, with his team / Image Credit: SWAT

Swat entered Singapore’s ride-hailing scene in 2016 with a small fleet of vans, promising to take passengers any distance for a flat fee of $5.

Today, they have refined their focus on providing employee transport for large corporations and industrial parks.

By aggregating data from its users, Swat evaluates their transport needs and designs custom solutions.

It currently operates in Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia and Australia, and has plans to pilot projects in more markets like Japan and China.

10. Jeff Tung, Sheng Ye Financial Group

Jeff Tung, founder of Sheng Ye Financial Group
Jeff Tung, Founder of Sheng Ye Financial Group / Image Credit: Singapore Management University

Jeff Tung “discovered a hidden gem in supply chain financing” when he was on an academic exchange in China.

Upon graduation, he stationed himself in Hong Kong and started his business Sheng Ye Financial Group, providing services like online commercial factoring, financial leasing, and internet finance services.

Tung told SMU in 2016 that his firm had over 2,000 clients, and made a turnover of about RMB18 billion (S$3.6 billion) in 2015.

Sheng Ye Capital, together with Phillip Capital and Advance.AI, is currently one of 21 contenders vying for a Singapore digital bank license.

Featured Image Credit: Rachel Lim

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