After a one-year hiatus and about two weeks after this year’s National Day, PM Lee Hsien Loong finally delivered his National Day Rally 2021 speech yesterday (August 29).
The National Day Rally is generally considered the most important political speech of the year and provides a platform for the Prime Minister to address the nation and share important policy matters.
It typically outlines the challenges that faced our nation, goals that are being set to transform the country, and the strategies and policies that have been put in place to shape Singapore to what it is today.
In this year’s speech, PM Lee covered several topics: Covid-19, economic growth, supporting lower-wage workers, addressing anxieties over foreign work pass holders, and managing race and religion.
During the 1 hour and 15 minutes speech, he also highlighted several homegrown companies:
Singapore-based Carro is an online platform that buys and sells used cars in Southeast Asia. It joined the unicorn startup club in June this year when it completed a US$360 million funding round that boosted its valuation to US$1 billion.
The fresh injection of funds will be used to add the Philippines and Vietnam to Carro’s existing presence in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
According to Carro, it is now building a strong base in Southeast Asia’s US$55 billion used car market with more than two million active users, hitting a gross merchandise value of US$1 billion in the year ended in March.
Carro’s revenue also grew more than twofold year-on-year to US$300 million, with a positive Ebitda for the second consecutive year.
To date, Carro has also pulled in more than US$400 million from the likes of the Singapore government’s investment arm EDBI, as well as B Capital, Insignia Ventures Partners, Mitsubishi and SoftBank, among others.
As Singapore companies and entrepreneurs grow, Singapore can better sustain longer-term growth, noted PM Lee.
In a March report, the company was said to have exceeded S$350 million in sales for the latest financial year. Earlier filings had revealed how Covid-19 contributed to the business’ growth, as more people bought its chairs due to work from home arrangements.
Generally, the company has seen “meteoric growth” with sales steadily increasing over the years.
It took the founders six to eight months to create the first prototype, and at least 20 iterations to finalise the design. In March 2015, they finally launched their very first gaming chair: Secretlab THRONE V1.
The first 200 units sold out within a week, and the company quickly broke even within a month. Fast forward to 2019, Secretlab sold over 200,000 chairs.
That same year, Secretlab also secured an undisclosed amount of funding from Temasek subsidiary Heliconia Capital, raising the company’s valuation to between S$200 million and S$300 million.
Then in 2020, Secretlab reportedly manufactures more than 500,000 chairs a year and has made its mark in over 60 countries. Its biggest market is North America with over 50 per cent of sales, while Singapore only accounts for about five per cent of its total sales each year.
Carousell has undoubtedly become a favourite app among Singaporeans in recent years.
It’s also not an overstatement to say that it has revolutionised the mobile marketplace, reimagining the way people buy and sell online.
NUS alumni trio – Quek Siu Rui, Marcus Tan and Lucas Ngoo – worked on developing the Carousell mobile app after a year-long stint in Silicon Valley, putting the skills they acquired to good use by envisioning a peer-to-peer marketplace where NUS students could sell things to each other.
What started out in school has now grown to become a widely-used marketplace app worldwide, reaching millions of buyers and sellers each day.
Since its launch in 2012, Carousell has expanded to more than 20 major cities, including Hong Kong, the Philippines and Australia.
Most recently, they also made headlines for its potential United States listing via a merger with a blank-cheque company, which could value the company at as much as S$2 billion.
Carro, Secretlab and Carousell are just some examples of Singapore companies that have made their mark in the new economy as cited by PM Lee.
They have grown to become global names and he stressed that Enterprise Singapore is “supporting more entrepreneurs to follow in their footsteps, go out into the world, seize new opportunities and grow their businesses.”
Yvon Bock is the founder of Hegen, a company that specialises in baby-feeding bottles and equipment.
Launched in 2015, it was created based on Yvon’s own personal pain points with breastfeeding.
“From too many parts to assemble and clean to noisy bulky pumps, and teats that cause nipple confusion, I wanted to modernise the entire system while making it simple, practical and innovative,” said Yvon.
However, trying to enter an already saturated market and competing with internationally-renowned brands that have decades-long legacies was tough for them.
Moreover, Singapore is a tough market because “Singaporeans are making too few babies,” remarked PM Lee.
So from the start, Yvon expanded into other markets and Hegen products are now popular in China, Korea, and even Israel.
When Covid-19 hit, many of Hegen’s physical retail channels shut down so she shifted to marketing online. She improved her websites, conducted livestreams in multiple languages, and hired more staff to fulfil orders. Now, Hegen’s main engine of growth is online sales, noted PM Lee.
“The government will create the conditions for entrepreneurs like Yvon to start and grow their companies. But subsidies and grants only go so far. Ultimately, it is their own resolve and resourcefulness which will secure their success,” he added.
We can overcome Covid-19 together
At the end of the day, PM Lee stressed that Singapore is more than just a place to live, work and play.
“Our greatest strength is our people — united and resilient, steadfast and resourceful, in good times and bad,” he said.
He lauded the different ways Singaporeans have stepped up to support one another in times of crisis.
“Covid-19 will not be our last crisis. We will surely encounter more trials on the road ahead. We will be tested again, sometimes severely.”
“Each generation will wonder, as their parents did: Will we survive? Will Singapore prevail? Will Singaporeans stay together as one people? My answer: We have done it before. We will do it again.”
Featured Image Credit: Carousell / Secretlab / Hegen / Carro