This year, Covid-19 has pretty much remained a huge talking point, and developments of the virus (and new variants) have also taken up a significant portion of local and global media coverage.
When it comes to the tech and business landscape, there were also some notable headlines that swept Singapore. Here’s a look back at the past year as we recount these headlining incidents:
1. Teo Heng KTV’s “temporary” exit
The pandemic has caused a turbulent time for many businesses, and the most hard-hit are those that are not allowed to operate.
Founded in 1989 by Jackson Teo, the homegrown family-friendly karaoke studio has been around for over 30 years but it was on the brink of closure due to Covid-19.
The company had been struggling to stay afloat since the government released the advisory in March 2020 for karaoke outlets and other entertainment venues to close as part of Covid-19 safety measures.
During their period of business closure, Teo Heng KTV’s 120-strong employees have been forcibly put out of work. They were all paid full salaries for the first six months of closure, but their pay has since been reduced 50 per cent from October 2020 due to heavy losses incurred.
In July last year, Teo Heng KTV had announced that it will be closing down half of its 14 outlets in Singapore.
Then in January 2021, it announced that it will be “leaving the industry for good”, but later said that the exit is only a “temporary move”. It shared on its Instagram post that “Teo Heng Trading will still be in operation” and will continue persevering for now.
A few months later in March, Teo Heng KTV announced that it will be pivoting into a “work, dine and chill” space. Customers can rent rooms from S$4 for a small room during ‘happy hours’, to S$18 for a party room during peak hours.
Besides working and relaxing, the room can also be used for birthday celebrations, which Teo Heng will decorate for free.
Teo Heng will provide free amenities such as HDMI cables, and a ring light with a stand. Customers can also bring their own food and beverages, or purchase canned drinks for S$1.
The KTV brand also said that it is exploring other opportunities for the rooms, such as using them as a venue for e-sports players to train.
2. Tesla enters Singapore
Tesla first announced that it’s “coming soon” to Singapore in January 2021 following earlier news that it’s starting hiring rounds here.
In February, Tesla Singapore’s website officially went live, revealing the estimate retail prices of the cars.
A Tesla Model 3 Performance retails at an estimated price of just under S$155,000 before the Certificate of Entitlement (COE). This more powerful model boasts a top speed of 261km/h, and can reach 100km/h in 3.3 seconds.
Under the Electric Vehicle Early Adoption Incentive (EEAI), buyers will also get an additional of up to S$20,000 rebate.
The less powerful Model 3 Standard Range, which hits 100kmh in 5.6 seconds, retails for around S$113,000 before COE.
Tesla Singapore has leased a building in Toa Payoh Lorong 8’s industrial area for up to 20 years to hold not just its car servicing centre, but also its showroom and corporate office.
The electric car maker currently has two Supercharger Stations in Singapore, located at Orchard Central and Millennia Walk.
In October, it was reported that Tesla has become the best-selling electric vehicle (EV) brand in Singapore just two months after entering the market.
Overall, it is also been listed the sixth best-selling car brand here, outranking other car brands like Nissan, Audi and Kia, according to Land Transport Authority (LTA)’s September 2021 data.
Separate data from LTA revealed that the number of new Teslas on Singapore roads has increased to 487 in the third quarter, compared to just eight in July 2021.
3. Naiise’s closure and online comeback
Earlier in April, homegrown multi-label retailer Naiise made headlines earlier when it announced its abrupt closure due to financial woes.
It was struggling to repay multiple vendors and in January last year, some homegrown brands were pulling out of its online and physical stores due to payment delays of up to a year.
Following widespread news of its financial struggles, Naiise officially ceased operations on April 14.
Founder Dennis Tay also announced the decision to liquidate the business after eight years of operation, and revealed that he is filing for personal bankruptcy.
Fast forward five months later, Naiise has since made an online comeback and relaunched its website in September.
With the relaunch of Naiise, it’s safe to say that Tay is out of the picture as the company has since been acquired by WestStar Group, which is helmed by ex-honestbee CEO Ong Lay Ann. The sum of the acquisition deal was not disclosed.
Under this new ownership, Naiise will stand strong to its initial commitment of championing local designs, creatives and artisans. Over 500 merchants will be featured gradually on its platform, with a mission to feature more hyper-local, eco-friendly and independent international brands as well as new brands.
Naiise’s current business model works just like a typical online marketplace, where products purchased is fulfilled by vendor.
Naiise has also promised sellers that they will be “paid instantly upon every successful order fulfilment”.
Previously, products are sold on a consignment basis where suppliers are paid only for the merchandise sold, minus a commission fee of between 30 and 45 per cent of the retail price.
The company also has plans to introduce an “incubator model for upcoming designers” and “buy now, pay later concepts”, which are currently in the pipeline.
4. Harsh Dalal’s removal from Forbes 30 under 30 Asia
In April, business magazine Forbes released its sixth annual 30 Under 30 Asia list, which features 300 young entrepreneurs, leaders and trailblazers across the region under the age of 30.
Teenage entrepreneur Harsh Dalal, who claimed to run a US$25 million tech startup Team Labs, was listed as one of the 27 outstanding Singapore individuals who made the cut.
However, the 19-year-old was removed from the list less than a month later.
A detailed investigation by Tech in Asia revealed inconsistencies in several of his claims, including his US$9.8 million Series A round raised from venture capital firm Grand Canyon Capital.
Dalal told Tech in Asia after several conversations that Team Labs’ numbers were “conveyed by” Grand Canyon Capital and cannot be attributed to him. The investor was also responsible for incorporating the company and managing the firm day to day, he added.
However, several links on Grand Canyon Capital’s website are not working, and the site’s claims that it is an investor in prominent tech-enabled companies Uber, Deliveroo and Airbnb cannot be corroborated.
The VC firm has also little presence online, with the only online mentions traced to Team Labs.
Forbes said his removal came after “a careful consideration of the findings of a comprehensive review of the information that was used to qualify him for the list”, as well as new information that had come to light.
5. Good Class Bungalow (GCB) spree by founders and executives
GCBs are the creme de la creme of properties in Singapore’s estate market. To qualify as a GCB, the landed housing needs to have a minimum plot size of 15,070 square feet.
This year, at least five startup founders and executives have been reported to have shopped for or bought GCBs.
The first is Ian Ang, CEO of gaming chair maker Secretlab. He was reported to have snatched up not one, but two, luxury freehold properties at a whopping S$51 million.
The 28-year-old had splashed the cash on a GCB at 27 Olive Road in the Caldecott Hill Estate for S$36 million, and a 7,007 square feet five-bedroom triplex penthouse at Leedon Residence for S$15 million.
Meanwhile, Grab CEO Anthony Tan’s family ‘grabbed’ a good class bungalow near Holland Village for S$40 million and Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan is reported to be in the early stages of buying a GCB in the Bin Tong Park area for S$40 million.
These property sprees have cemented their status as “ultra high net worth individuals“.
In end July, Chinese tech giant TikTok’s new Singaporean CEO, Chew Shou Zi, was also reported to be in the early stage of buying a Good Class Bungalow (GCB) for S$86 million.
He will be redeveloping an existing property on Queen Astrid Park that spans over 31,800 sq ft, which works out to about S$2,700 per sq ft.
Most recently, Singaporean crypto billionaire Zhu Su and his wife, Tao Yaqiong Evelyn, have been granted an option to buy a GCB at Yarwood Avenue in Bukit Timah area for S$48.8 million.
Spanning 31,862 square feet, it works out to be S$1,532 per square foot (psf). The couple is still in the early stages of the purchase, and the property will be deemed as a “trustee” for their child.
6. Discontinuation of RazerPay
In August, homegrown gaming tech company Razer announced that it will be discontinuing its e-wallet service Razer Pay and Razer Card.
All Razer Card beta users will not be able to use the card and payment functionalities from 31 August 2021.
Additionally, Razer Pay’s beta will end on 30 September 2021, after which, all wallet top-up, payment and transfer features will no longer be made available. The Razer Pay app will also be inaccessible from 1 October 2021.
This discontinuation comes as quite a shock, as Razer’s e-payment venture is quite short-lived. Razer Pay launched in Singapore for beta testing in March 2019 (it launched in Malaysia first six months prior), while Razer Card launched in Singapore for beta testing in October 2020.
So what exactly led to the downfall of Razer Pay and Card in just about two years?
We discussed the various possible factors that contributed to its sudden shutdown here, some of which included Razer’s failure to capture its target “youth and millennials” consumer segment, unattractive cashback benefits, stiff competition from other e-wallet players, lack of major merchants, as well as the lack of incentive to use their e-payment services.
In its financial report for FY2020, Razer announced that it has crossed US$1 billion in revenue and turned profitable.
It is also a cash-rich company, with over US$500 million in its bank. With so much cash on hand, Razer can definitely afford to experiment and dabble in new ventures in an effort to achieve both profitability and growth.
For now, Razer has confirmed that it will be focusing on its B2B business and it’s not giving up on its plan to roll out Razer Youth Bank, despite its failure to win the bid for a digital banking license in Singapore.
Instead, it will be targeting millennials in countries such as Malaysia and the Philippines. Razer Fintech CEO also said that they are also looking at other markets like Europe, the Middle East or Latin America, where regulators are more supportive.
On that note, it’s likely that the gaming giant will continue to grow its financial presence worldwide as it reduces its reliance on revenue from hardware peripherals.
7. The closure of Reebonz
Co-founded by Samuel Lim, Daniel Lim and Benjamin Han, Reebonz (pronounced ‘ribbons), was an e-commerce platform that boasts a community of independent multi-brand boutiques, pre-owned luxury merchants, and vintage dealers from all over the world.
Built on the idea to make luxury accessible, it is essentially a one-stop platform that allows customers to buy and sell luxury products.
In 2014, it was touted to be the largest online luxury sales company in Southeast Asia with an annual turnover of over S$120 million globally.
In 2018, its valuation was pegged at US$284 million. Previously, it was valued at S$250 million after the completion of a S$50 million financing round led by Singapore’s media giant Mediacorp in 2013.
However, in September 2021, the luxury marketplace voluntarily underwent liquidation as it racked up debts.
According to complaints lodged with the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE), Reebonz was reported to have owed more than S$30,000 to 11 sellers on its platform as of August 26.
Sellers complained they had not received payments for a few months, although the agreed payout period is 20 business days. These sellers from the White Glove Service did not receive payment for the items sold even after waiting for several months.
As at September 13, CASE complaints revealed that Reebonz owed about S$79,000 to sellers on its platform.
Preferential claims — mainly employee salaries — amounted to S$120,000, and the liabilities owed to unsecured creditors stand at S$17 million.
In a bid to pay off these debts, Reebonz has put up its eight-storey e-commerce hub — worth S$40 million — for sale.
Called Reebonz Building, it is located at 5 Tampines North Drive 5. According to The Straits Times, the property has been mortgaged to a bank and receivers have been appointed for its sale.
Reebonz has apparently been in the red, reporting negative operating losses as far back as 2013. Although the loss margin tried to improve over the years, the slowdown in funding may have been a reason why it no longer could survive.
Even since 2015, Reebonz had to cut on marketing spending to support the stagnating revenue but that was not enough.
It started going downhill further after its initial public offering (IPO) in 2018, with low traction on the public market and a sliding valuation.
8. Binance ceases operations in Singapore
In September, Binance received an order from MAS to stop providing payment services to Singapore residents.
All of its trading pairs and payment options in Singapore dollar (SGD) was ceased on Septmber 10, and its mobile app was also removed from the Apple App store and Google Play store in Singapore by that week.
A representative from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) reportedly said that the US crypto exchange, which operates Binance.com, is providing unlicensed payment services in breach of the payment services act.
The company was then placed on MAS’ Investor Alert List to warn consumers in Singapore that Binance.com is not regulated or licensed in Singapore to provide any payment services.
Meanwhile, Binance Asia Services (BAS) — a separate entity responsible for crypto exchange platform Binance.sg — said the move by MAS will not directly impact its services, stressing that it is a separate legal entity from Binance.com.
However, on December 13, BAS withdrew its MAS license application to run a crypto exchange in Singapore and announced that Binance.sg will close by 13 February 2022.
This implies an exit from Singapore from the world’s largest crypto exchange by trading volume, ending years of effort to operate a regulated crypto bourse under the MAS oversight.
“Our decision to close Binance.sg was not taken lightly. Our immediate priority is to help our users in Singapore transition their holdings to other wallets or other third-party services,” said Richard Teng, chief executive of Binance Singapore.
Binance.sg users will be notified via email on the next steps to take with the closing of the trading platform. Users will also be required to close all open positions and withdraw their Singapore dollar and cryptocurrency assets by the closing date.
9. BooksActually’s founder’s alleged misconduct towards ex-employees
In end September, local independent bookstore BooksActually was thrown into the spotlight for founder Kenny Leck’s alleged misconduct towards his female ex-employees.
He had allegedly made romantic advances towards young female staff, including while being married to his ex-wife Renee Ting, who was also a former employee.
Renee told RICE Media that she drew no salary while they were dating, lived in the store and had hardly any days off. She is also the founder of the Singapore Art Book Fair, and a sister of Beyond The Vines and Scene Shang founders.
This revelation came as a shock, considering that BooksActually has always been championed as playing an important role in preserving the longevity of local literature in the media.
Following the news, BooksActually has issued a statement acknowledging that its past employees “did not work in a safe and professional workplace environment” in the early years.
It claimed that it has “invested in putting welfare practices in place to protect and safeguard” its employees since 2019, and will continued to improve staff welfare and HR practices, as well as strengthen anti-harassment policies.
Above all, Kenny relinquished sole ownership of BooksActually and its publishing arm Math Paper Press, and transferred collective ownership of both entities to the team.
On his personal Facebook page, Kenny confirmed that he will cede full legal ownership and directorship of BooksActually Pte Ltd to the current team, who will be the new owners.
He also apologised to everyone that he has caused pain to, and stood by his belief that BooksActually has marked a “milestone in (Singapore’s) literary journey”, and served as a an “enabler of aspirations”.
10. NOC saga
Founded in 2013 by Ryan Tan and Sylvia Chan, Night Owl Cinematics (NOC) is one of the biggest online media companies in Singapore.
The entire saga started in October when a then-anonymous (and now-defunct) Instagram page @sgcickenrice began accusing Sylvia of verbally abusing and bullying one of NOC’s employees.
Over time, more posts in the form of WhatsApp screenshots and audio clips were being shared, exposing Sylvia for being an alleged “toxic” boss. More people — employees, influencers, talents — also stepped up to share their own personal experiences.
As these allegations came into full force, several brands — such as Colgate Singapore and Milo Singapore — announced the termination of their partnerships with Sylvia.
On October 11, NOC finally released a media statement. It said that the “attacks were carefully crafted and mounted on NOC and its employees” to bring down their public image and reputation.
It wholly denied the “scandalous” and “malicious” allegations towards Sylvia and duly sent a lawyer’s letter to @sgcickenrice.
In the letter, they demanded that the user “cease and desist” from making additional allegations against NOC or Sylvia and will proceed with legal actions, should the user fail to produce a written response by 10am on 12 October.
In response, @sgcickenrice engaged a pro-bono lawyer and sent them a letter from Eugene Thuraisingam LLP.
The whole saga culminated in a two-hour long interview with Sylvia, who shared her side of the story, on Xiaxue’s YouTube channel.
This was later followed up with a (second) apology from Sylvia, which was posted on her Instagram page. She apologised for her wrongdoings and confirmed that she is cooperating with the relevant workplace authorities regarding the allegations.
Two days later, Ryan also posted a statement, declaring his non-involvement in @sgcicken or #EndTheSilence exposé blog (which was written by a group of current and ex-NOC employees). He mentioned that, unlike Sylvia, he will “continue to not discuss [their] personal issues” and will only be addressing the allegations that she made against him.
Most notably, Xiaxue has also revealed the elusive identity of @sgcickenrice, who turned out to be a TikTok influencer named Brandon Mah, which he later confirmed.
Amidst the messy divorce and influencer drama, one thing we can learn from this saga is the legal grey areas in the workplace — such as founder disputes, working overtime without pay and other HR matters — which we have addressed in this article here.
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Featured Image Credit: NOC / Naiise / Forbes / Coindesk / Razer / Reebonz