circular feature
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It’s a common phenomenon among Singaporeans to find themselves caught up in the cycle of constantly upgrading and replacing their electronic devices. Even when our existing devices are perfectly functional, we can’t help but be enticed by the latest gadget releases.

And if I’m being honest, I’m guilty of falling into this pattern as well — the allure of shiny, new gadgets has often led me to change my mobile phone every two years.

Although it may appear insignificant at first glance, the seemingly harmless trend of constantly upgrading and replacing our electronic devices actually carries devastating consequences. The consumer electronics we leave behind often end up forgotten, stashed away in drawers or closets, collecting dust.

Not only does this underutilisation result in a significant waste of resources, but it also contributes to the electronic waste (e-waste). In fact, Singapore generates about 60,000 tonnes of e-waste annually, which equates to a whopping 70 devices per person.

Recognising the urgency of the situation, four industry veterans — namely Nick Ramsay, Pantha Roy, George Oliver, and Yaniv Bernstein — took matters into their own hands with the launch of Circular.

Promoting a “circular” economy in Asia

Image Credit: Circular

Circular is a startup that aims to address the environmental impacts of the e-waste generation through a subscription-based marketplace for consumer electronics in Asia.

The platform was launched in February last year, and aims to promote a “circular” economy — which is where the name Circular comes from — eliminating waste and maximising the use of resources.

By keeping products in use for longer and precious materials out of landfill, we hope to gradually shift patterns of consumption.

– Nick Ramsay, CEO and co-founder of Circular
Image Credit: Circular

The founders of Circular each come from very different backgrounds. Nick was formerly the COO, CTO and CPO at MoneySmart Group, Pantha has held senior leadership roles at companies including Circles.Life and honestbee, George has held senior leadership roles at companies including Ninja Van and Janio, while Yaniv has worked in engineering at Google.

Their involvement in the early-stage startup scene for the last decade was what drew them to each other when the idea for Circular first emerged.

For Nick, he strongly believes that we are at the cusp of a new consumption paradigm, where people are questioning the meaning of ownership and value.  

Rather than wait for change to happen, I wanted to be part of it. With hands-on experience building and scaling companies across Southeast Asia, I decided to make the jump and co-founded Circular.

– Nick Ramsay, CEO and co-founder of Circular

Providing an alternative, environmental-friendly way to access tech

Image Credit: Circular

With Circular, consumers and businesses get to access a wide array of new and refurbished tech devices including tablets and laptops through low-cost and flexible monthly subscriptions.

These subscriptions can be customised according to your lifestyle needs, ranging from short-term options as brief as three months, or longer commitments of up to 24 months. To ensure a stress-free experience, all Circular subscriptions also include free damage cover for most repairs, which covers up to 90 per cent of the cost.

According to Nick, consumers can realise significant cost savings via these subscriptions as compared to outright purchases, especially when factoring in device protection. For example, a 12-month subscription with damage cover for an iPhone 14 Pro Max 128GB can save customers up to S$745, as compared to purchasing it directly from Apple without device protection.

A screenshot of Circular’s offerings/ Image Credit: Screengrab by Vulcan Post

The absence of lock-in contracts (other than the selected lock-in period) and the convenience of Circular’s subscription model attracted many during its launch in both Singapore and Australia. However, Nick admitted that this traction was initially driven by curiosity.

Today, the brand increasingly finds budget-conscious customers tapping onto Circular as an alternative way to access tech products.

On the consumer side, the brand appeals to budget-conscious young professionals who value monthly budgeting and immediate access to the latest technology without the commitment of ownership. Families also choose Circular for engaging their children with educational entertainment content, while benefiting from its damage cover offering.

Meanwhile, its B2B arm, Circular for Business, sees demand from SMEs and startups that prioritise cash flow.

Much of this goes back to Circular’s value proposition of subscribers only paying for the products they use, and returning the ones they don’t. Many returning customers today understand that Circular can help them be smarter with their money and the planet in a hassle-free way. 

– Nick Ramsay, CEO and co-founder of Circular

Debunking Singaporeans’ mindsets on refurbished devices

Circular CEO co-founder Nick Ramsay
Nick Ramsay, CEO and co-founder of Circular/ Image Credit: Circular

Despite the traction Circular has garnered with its subscription model, the brand faces its fair share of challenges. A significant portion of these challenges revolve around dispelling myths and the prevailing “ownership” mindset when it comes to purchasing tech devices among Singaporeans.

What we usually hear is that Singaporeans would rather purchase their tech device upfront to recoup some of the money back later on, but more often than not, the device ends up at the back of their closets and is sold for scrap.

– Nick Ramsay, CEO and co-founder of Circular

This often happens because consumers usually underestimate the cost of depreciation for mobile phones and other electronic devices. Moreover, they often overlook unforeseen expenses resulting from accidental damage, especially in the absence of gadget insurance.

depreciation mobile phone
Average four-year trade-in depreciation of iOS and Android mobile phones / Image Credit: BankMyCell

To overcome this inertia and ingrained mindset, Circular’s team has doubled down on their efforts to communicate the importance of access over ownership, while reducing the collective burden on the environment.

In addition to the prevailing ownership mindset, altering the perception of refurbished appliances and overcoming the “ick factor” associated with these devices have also proved to be a significant challenge. In fact, only a small percentage of tech devices end up seeing a second owner.

Hence, Circular has partnered with “industry-leading specialists” that adhere to “strict standards” to ensure that devices undergo a thorough refurbishment process. This includes a data-wipe, testing for software and hardware functionality, damage inspections, replacements for wear and tear,
as well as a thorough cleaning and sanitation.

Although our refurbished devices are graded either ‘like new’ or ‘lightly used’, most customers have shared that they cannot tell that it’s refurbished!

– Nick Ramsay, CEO and co-founder of Circular

Circular aims to get about six cycles of uses per device through their “extended lives” after refurbishment. Once a device can no longer be rented out, it would be safely recycled.

Circular’s revenue and subscriptions have grown tenfold the past year

Image Credit: Circular

Since its launch, Circular has successfully closed two funding rounds, which have been backed by prominent investors including Y Combinator. It has also successfully entered Australia in November last year, just nine months after its launch in Singapore.

In the last year, the business’ revenue and subscription numbers have both grown tenfold. Moreover, its B2B arm has also seen an 80 per cent increase in demand in the first quarter of 2023, as compared to the end of 2022.

Image Credit: Circular

Moving forward, Circular aims to further expand its market presence and enhance brand recognition in Singapore and Australia. The company also has ambitious plans to extend its reach to other regions, including New Zealand, Japan, and South Korea.

Ultimately, Circular’s ultimate objective is to accelerate the adoption of the circular economy by establishing subscriptions as the optimal method for accessing and experiencing technology.

Featured Image Credit: Circular

Also Read: This S’porean startup is fighting fashion waste with lab-grown leather

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Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)