Night Owl Cinematics sheds old image, says goodbye to influencer-led biz: co-founder Sylvia Chan

Singaporean production company Night Owl Cinematics (NOC) is shedding its old image.

A decade after it was founded, NOC is pivoting from an influencer-led company to a content-driven one, shared co-founder Sylvia Chan in an interview with Marketing-Interactive.

The business has launched a new website recently and wants to become a 360-degree content hub.

Sylvia made the headlines of local and overseas news publications last year after she was allegedly said to have abused and mistreated her employees. The negative public image caused major brands to stop working with the production company.

“We want to be more content-led. We want to be an incubator of ideas and be creators of meaningful content. The team is aligned on this new direction,” Sylvia said.

On what being a content-led business means, Sylvia said that NOC wants to spend time doing more impactful content that is sharper and stronger in its messaging. For a start, it will be expanding its offerings to videography and journalism. According to Sylvia, the company has close to 30 employees now.

The business will also work with clients that share similar goals and have a more “conscious and intentional messaging”.

NOC will be looking at collaborations too, which Sylvia thinks is key to taking the business to “greater heights”.

Sylvia returns

The co-founder of NOC had to deal with the frenzied backlash from netizens when an anonymous blog surfaced last year and alleged that she was ill-treating her employees.

There were also personal and business disputes between Sylvia and her ex-husband and NOC co-founder Ryan Tan that became hot button issues discussed among the online community.

Image Credit: Ryan Tan’s Instagram and a screenshot of Sylvia Chan’s interview with Xiaxue

Sylvia has since made a public apology and has taken herself down NOC’s artiste lineup.

Ryan “no longer involved” with NOC

In an Instagram post published on his personal account last week (Jan 19), Ryan said that he is “no longer involved with the company that he set up 3,274 days ago”.

The content creator gave special mention to the popular food review series “Food King” which he hosted with ex-talent Aiken Chia and YouTuber Dee Kosh as one of the projects that gave him amazing memories while producing it.

Image Credit: Ryan Tan

He gave thanks and said he hoped that those who have left his life can “let go and move on” and that he will continue to protect and care for those that remain in his life.

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Featured Image Credit: Night Owl Cinematics, Sylvia Chan’s Instagram.

Also Read: OT with no extra pay? NOC saga reveals grey areas in workplace, we got a lawyer to address them

This AI was so good at its content-based job, its M’sian creator gave it its own podcast

Being a visual learner, I’ve never really felt the appeal of podcasts. I’ve even tried listening to them in the car while driving, but unlike music that I can just enjoy mindlessly, I find it hard to absorb a podcast’s content while watching out for silly drivers.

But the idea of listening to a 30-minute (or longer) podcast while doing nothing else is also unbearable to me.

Understanding people like me who have short attention spans, Melvin Poh decided to make his podcast episodes between 3 – 12 minutes long.

But there’s something more to his podcasts, something a little different than what we’re used to. Called Empirics Asia (Empirics Podcast) on Spotify and other platforms, his episodes are all generated by artificial intelligence (AI).

Doing a better job than humans

Melvin runs Empirics Asia, an open-access knowledge-sharing platform that’s aiming to build a knowledge hub of various topics via contributed written content. The podcast series is an extension of what the site does and was actually started to solve a key problem it faced.

Running Empirics Asia meant working with large amounts of data round the clock, with hundreds of article contributions from authors on a weekly basis.

Its team of volunteer editors then have to sift through these articles to publish ones with what they deem valuable sharing.

Thus, the Empirics Podcast began life as a proprietary AI that the team developed to assist them with their back-end editorial work.

Melvin Poh, a man on a mission to democratise knowledge / Image Credit: Empirics Asia

Its core tasks were identifying knowledge trends, analysing the submitted data, and checking and editing the data through pre-set syntax parameters.

“Although initially we had planned to only utilise the AI in the back-end of our publishing activity, it soon became apparent that it was doing everything involved in managing media content on its own,” the Malaysian entrepreneur told Vulcan Post.

“Perhaps, it was even doing it much more efficiently than a human could.”

Empirics Asia therefore set out to develop and integrate the narrative capabilities of the AI, allowing it to “speak”. Today, the podcast is managed, produced, and narrated all by the Empirics AI itself.

When I gave it a listen, I was pleasantly surprised by its smooth speech and only-minor awkward intonation, but was still able to tell that it was an artificial production.

Fun fact: The team modelled the voice profile of the AI after British actress Gemma Chan, who they found had a soothing and clear voice.

But it’s still limited in its capabilities

Empirics Podcast produces explainer-type content spanning a wide range of social science that includes philosophy, art, business, science, sociology, politics, literature, economics, and more.

It collects data on what to produce by assessing user behaviours on the Empirics Asia platform, trending fields from approved journals and news portals, and audience responses to previous podcast episodes.

Thus far, Melvin said that he’s seen Empirics Podcast reflect global trends quite accurately.

For example, in Q2 2021, the podcast’s topics covered alternative investments and financing, following the rise of stimulus programmes, benefits, and grants to combat COVID-19. In Q3, as the world saw mass vaccinations, its topics covered starting businesses and entrepreneurship.

Despite the vast number of topics covered though, I couldn’t help but feel each episode missed something: a human touch.

I know the point of Empirics Podcast is for the AI to maintain a neutral stance when disseminating information. To me though, what makes podcasts even worth listening to are the additional insights hosts give through personal commentary.

So in a way, yes, Empirics Podcast is unbiased to a certain extent, but it also felt surface level, as if just digging up knowledge I could Google.

This is because of the AI’s limitations. “Although effective at determining the relevance and value of different insights, our AI is not equipped to fully detect bias on its own,” Melvin said.

Therefore, the team still needs to exercise strict quality control over how the AI aggregates topics and produces content. This means creating strict parameters for the AI and only allowing it to work with the content found on Empirics Asia.

At the end of the day, I see Empirics Podcast as a place where I can keep up with what’s trending and get an overview of the topic. Then to better understand it, I would turn to other media to get the whole picture.

I’m not sure if the AI will ever achieve what a human-produced and hosted podcast does for me, but I’d like to be proven wrong.

Further expanding the use of AI in knowledge-building

Currently, their largest podcast audience has been from Hong Kong, followed by those from Singapore, US, UK, and Malaysia.

“In our assigned category of Education in Hong Kong, we have ranked within the top 25 listened-to podcasts in 2021, and generally, we attract an average of around 1K – 1.5K listens on each episode,” Melvin told us.

He’s firm on not monetising the Empirics Podcast for the foreseeable future though, because it’s an integral part of the team’s commitment to the open-access knowledge movement.

Instead, he’s got other plans to monetise the AI. “I can reveal that we are currently working on a paid mobile application that will feature the Empirics AI.”

“[We envisage] that this app will be similar to modern voice assistants like Siri, but instead allowing users to ask knowledge questions that the AI will seek to answer in real time.”

  • You can check out what the Empirics Asia podcast can do here.
  • Read more AI-related content here.

Also Read: 6 reasons why this LG 4K Smart OLED TV can be a conversation starter in your living room

Feaured Image Credit: Empirics Asia

This 27-year-old S’porean built a grocery startup that sells “ugly” produce at up to 60% off

uglyfood singapore

He is 27 years old and the founder of sustainable grocery store UglyFood. Augustine Tan started his entrepreneurial journey in his early 20s.

Five years ago when he was a student at the Singapore University of Technology and Design School (SUTD), he saw a fruit store selling a seven-star fruit at heavily discounted prices. He noticed that the fruit store seller was clearing the fruit at a slashed price even though it was only browning a little.

Struck by that experience, Augustine started to eat consciously to reduce food waste. Subsequently, for one of his school projects, he was tasked to talk to staff from supermarkets, local farmers, and wet market stall owners. With the exposure to more sellers, he realised that many businesses also reject less than perfect produce that to him could be salvaged. That was when UglyFood came about.

Today, the UglyFood business constitutes a grocery store and an e-commerce website. The business is a pivot and was founded by a new team early in 2021. Prior to this version of the business, it had tried other iterations like selling juices, ice cream, and fruit tea.

Image Credit: UglyFood website screengrab

UglyFood’s mission is to eliminate food waste and revamp the food ecosystem by selling excess or ugly produce and sustainably-sourced goods, said Augustine. As more Singaporeans became conscious of the food that they eat and sourced for sustainable food options due to Covid-19 last year, it helped UglyFood get its foot in the door into an already saturated local grocery scene.

The business has also expanded to a team of 10 permanent and temporary staff. “Our operations are growing and we are hiring for essential roles according to business needs,” said Augustine.

“UglyFood’s mission is to eliminate food waste and revamp the food ecosystem,” said the entrepreneur.

Singaporeans embrace conscious eating

Due to supply chain disruptions and border lockdowns caused by the pandemic, it brought about a stronger focus on food sustainability in Singapore.

Statistics from the National Environment Agency reflect this trend of conscious eating from Singaporeans. In 2020, Singapore had 665,000 tonnes of food waste, which is an 11 per cent decline compared to a year ago, and 18 per cent less than 5 years ago.

“More people are getting aware of the food waste in Singapore and working towards eliminating it. In 2021 alone, UglyFood saved about 50 tonnes of food from waste,” shared Augustine.

Image Credit: workingwithgrace

Although the business has thrived as more look for sustainable food options, the founder admits that there’s still a group of people that’s a tough nut to crack: those Singaporeans that must have everything that looks perfect.

“The majority of consumers are happy to purchase the products at discounted prices, provided that they get the groceries they require. As for those who want perfect looking items, we face the issue of having to explain our business model and that some products might have cosmetic defects.”

It may be a long way to go to have this group of consumers come onboard fully, but all in all, the needle is moving in the mindsets of Singaporeans to eat sustainably.

Webtoon and e-commerce

UglyFood has an e-commerce website and a grocery store that’s located at SUTD. According to Augustine, the e-commerce store captures consumers’ changing habits of going online to buy necessities like groceries.

The UglyFood store at SUTD / Image Credit: Candy Goh

Its online store and social media platforms are not ugly but rather cute, literally. UglyFood designs webtoons of talking and smiling fruits for its marketing advertorials.

Explaining why the team spends time and effort designing these characters, Augustine said that content creation is the best way to educate people about the items they are buying.

“That includes educating people on how to accept items with certain conditions, along with learning new food facts. This encourages people to purchase items on clearance and keep a flexible eating mindset.”

Image Credit: UglyFood

In fact, the cartoons are attractive and useful for children for their early education too, since they are the next generation that will inherit this earth.

Up to 60 per cent off retail prices

Augustine said that UglyFood’s products are sourced locally. It offers competitive pricing for clearance items, and discounts can go up to 60 per cent off retail prices.

He said that the popular products sold on UglyFood are fresh fruits, vegetables, and surprise bundles.

Image Credit: UglyFood

“Our surprise bundles are made up of assortments to create the best customised bunch for you. Shopping for a single item in our store costs more than buying it in a bundle. In the bundle, the prices of all the items are 25 per cent cheaper. A bundle also goes a long way in reducing food waste.”

For this Chinese New Year, Augustine shared that shoppers have stocked up on mandarin oranges and oranges. Corporate firms are also purchasing surprise bundles for staff.

Quality control over the “ugly” food

Augustine stressed that UglyFood’s product brands are the same as those found in other retail stores. These products are often over imported, thus they are let go at cheap prices.

“For the uglier items, there’s an internal quality control process to manage quality and we have a refund process in place to ensure that the customers are happy,” he said.

Refunds from customers don’t happen that often but it does occur to some products that require more care, like strawberries and peaches. “Sadly they may get damaged during delivery due to harsh conditions. We offer refunds in such cases.”

So why can’t we squeeze fruits or vegetables when buying them?

Pressing or squeezing fruits or vegetables is a big no no in Augustine’s book.

The avid environmental guy said that this will cause permanent damage to the product if it’s already ripe or overripe. “This happens when there is a hole made from the squeezing. This will cause rotting or expose the fruit which may otherwise have been enjoyed in perfect condition.”

“We advise customers to rely on other ways to find out if a fruit or vegetable is ripe – such as observing the colour and weight. If need be, you should just gently feel the fruit’s hardness instead.”

Image Credit: Good for Food

Chinese New Year may be a holiday period of joy and celebrations for some in Singapore, but it often becomes a problem for grocers and eateries as tons of food go to waste.

“There’s definitely more food waste during festive periods, both on the upstream and downstream ends. That’s because suppliers and retailers will stock up in anticipation of a demand surge, while end consumers might also overbuy,” said Augustine. 

Other sudden changes in the pandemic situation also impact supply and demand. Any vaccinated travel lane opening, or changes in grouping and dining regulations will throw the food supply chain off balance. 

Image Credit: UglyFood

Providing a solution for consumers like you and me to cope with the changes, he said: “For end consumers, it’s best to plan your menus and meals in advance to reduce waste.”

Sustainable food journey

As a contributor to Singapore’s sustainability movement, Augustine thinks that the initiative is taking shape.

“People are more conscious of the government’s 30 by 30 plan, and we see an increasing amount of people asking about what we do.” 

Singapore’s 30 by 30 goal was announced in 2019 to raise the country’s ambition for local food production and enhance the resilience of Singapore’s food supply. 

Right now, UglyFood plans to continue to grow and expand its business in Singapore. “We’re shifting to a larger space after Chinese New Year to the Sembawang/Yishun area. As the business evolves, we are also exploring omnichannel approaches.”

Image Credit: UglyFood

UglyFood is currently working on a seed-stage fundraise to grow its business, and details will be revealed in due time, shared Augustine.

For people who are not buying from UglyFood but wish to contribute to this trending sustainability movement, Augustine encourages them to support the business’ cause through its food drive.

“We have a food drive that is aimed at diverting excess food from suppliers that would otherwise go to waste to feed needy families. We have partnered with various food and beverage businesses who are supporting our cause to give discounts and vouchers to those who support our food drive!”

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Featured Image Credit: UglyFood

Also Read: This 32-year-old S’porean sells balloons for a living – biz turns profitable in under 2 years

Digital millionaires: A look at the rise of crypto influencers in S’pore

In the past, we’ve all come across overly enthusiastic YouTube advertisements from self-proclaimed finance gurus. They usually start by saying, “Do you want to get high interest on your cash savings? I made $10,000 last month with this one simple trick”.

Fast forward to present day, these individuals have expanded their horizons to the decentralised world too. Their new sales pitch goes along the lines of finding the next big NFT project with ’10x potential’ or discovering a secret meme coin that’s going to the moon.

That’s just one kind of crypto influencer though — the kind which gives the rest of them a bad reputation.

As you head towards the brighter end of the spectrum, you find everyday enthusiasts who are fond of sharing research, and developers who are working on their own projects.

Who are Singapore’s most notable crypto influencers?

The majority of Singapore’s crypto influencers earned this title through their contributions to blockchain technology.

Many of the leading projects in this space were founded in Singapore, and their creators have since amassed large followings on social media. Here are the ones you should know of, and some of their valuable insights.

1. Zhu Su

Zhu Su is the co-founder of Singapore-based hedge fund Three Arrows Capital (3ac). He started the venture in 2012 along with Kyle Davies, and has since amassed a crypto portfolio worth billions.

3ac has a vested interest in a variety of blockchain companies and applications. Some of the notable investments in its portfolio include AAVE, a decentralised liquidity protocol; AXIE Infinity, the most highly valued NFT game; and crypto-asset fund DeFiance Capital.

Zhu has accumulated almost half-a-million followers on his Twitter account. He often uses the platform to share his thoughts on crypto trends and developments.

In light of the recent market crash, Zhu responded to CNBC hosts Jim Cramer’s speculations that a wave of money would be moving from crypto into the stock market. Zhu believes that crypto yields will continue to be far more appealing to millennials than utility stocks.

2. Irene Zhao

After gaining a following of over 300,000 as a traditional Instagram influencer, Irene Zhao made the leap into crypto this January. Zhao released a collection titled IreneDAO, which featured NFT photos of herself.

irenedao irene zhao nft
The floor price of the IreneDAO NFT is ~US$2,400 at the time of writing this / Screenshot of OpenSea

The owners of Zhao’s NFTs get to be a part of a decentralised autonomous organisation (DAO), which was created to disrupt the creator economy.

Zhao believes that decentralisation is the key to helping creators like herself get compensated fairly for their work.
Click on the thread to read the full explanation.

On platforms like Instagram, influencers get paid for their reach and engagement, not the actual content which they produce. Through NFTs, Zhao is able to directly monetise her work. She doesn’t have to rely on advertisers and sponsorships to get paid.

3. Bobby Ong

In 2014, Bobby Ong co-founded Singapore-based startup CoinGecko. Today, the company is one of the leading crypto data trackers in the world. It provides free access to market data of over 7,000 different crypto-assets.

Ong has over 30,000 followers on Twitter. He also hosts monthly panel discussions on CoinGecko, where leading personalities from the field are invited to share their thoughts on crypto happenings.

With the meteoric rise of NFTs over the past two years, sceptics have been quick to write them off as a market bubble. Ong, on the other hand, believes that their growth is just getting started.

He tackles the claim that NFTs have no inherent value by saying that the same applies to an assortment of physical possessions which people seem to collect.

4. Arthur Cheong

An investor since he was 19, Arthur Cheong switched over from oil and gas trading to cryptocurrency around five years ago.

Since then he has served as Vice President of Singapore-based blockchain company Zilliqa and started up his own investment fund, DeFiance Capital.

The fund operates on the belief that decentralised finance (DeFi) will overtake traditional finance in the next decade.

Following the market crash, Cheong invited speculation on how NFTs seemingly remained unaffected.

The floor price of blue-chip collections hasn’t seen significant change over the past month — when measured in ETH, that is. Their value in fiat money has dropped proportionally, since ETH is down by about 40 percent.

This might signify that collectors aren’t pricing their NFTs based on their value in fiat. Instead, the underlying cryptocurrencies are being used as anchor points.

5. Justin Sun

Grenadian tech billionaireJustin Sun chose Singapore as the base to start up his own blockchain, TRON, in 2017. Sun’s known to have an NFT collection worth over a hundred million dollars. He’s also an avid collector of traditional art and owns paintings by Picasso and Giacometti.

justin sun meets warren buffett bitcoin
Justin Sun’s meeting with Warren Buffett / Image Credits: Coin Gecko

In 2019, he spent US$4.6 million at a charity auction to win a dinner with Warren Buffett. He gifted Buffett his first Bitcoin in an attempt to convert the renowned stock investor into a crypto believer.

Speculating on the future of cryptocurrency, Sun hopes that multiple blockchains will coexist and be connected. Sun acquired BitTorrent in 2020 and has built the platform into a chain which could facilitate such interoperability.

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Featured Image Credit: Irene Zhao / CNBC / LetKnow News

Also Read: Ahead of the curve: These 9 S’porean companies are betting big on NFTs

ShopBack to Carousell: 10 S’pore startup founders who are also investing in other startups

startup founders investors singapore

More startup founders have been changing the face of the investment game and helping to fund a new generation of companies, passing on their entrepreneurship knowledge and experience.

While the jury is still out on whether or not being a founder leads to smarter VC deals, there are some obvious perks to having been on both sides of the fence.

The most obvious is the inherent perspective that these investors have on what founders want and need.

VCs who have experienced the negotiating dynamics from the founder side are better equipped to leverage those dynamics to achieve better deals and relationships with founders.

There’s also an undeniable respect that founders have for investors who have walked a mile in their shoes.

Additionally, one of the most important parts of being a venture capitalist is being deeply connected to the startup founder scene.

Having that “one of us” street cred creates a genuine trust and respect in those circles that’s invaluable to gaining access to those communities.

Given the dynamics in the capital markets, many VCs are taking leaps through the revolving door as well, leveraging their relationships and access to capital to launch new companies.

Although venture investors used to control the leverage in conversations with founders, there definitely has been a shifting balance of power that has created a revolving door of founders turned investors and vice versa.

In particular, here’s a list of such individuals in Singapore who are taking on dual roles as both a startup founder and investor:

1. Henry Chan, co-founder and CEO of ShopBack

henry chan shopback
Image Credit: ShopBack

Founded by three NUS Overseas Colleges alumni — Henry Chan, Joel Leong and Bryan Chua — ShopBack has since grown to be a successful cashback rewards platform since its inception in 2014.

Henry, who is the CEO of the company, has personally invested in Singapore-based mental health startup Intellect, which recently raised US$10 million in an oversubscribed Series A round.

This brings its total funding to US$13 million (S$17.5 million), following its US$2.2 million Pre-Series A and US$800,000 seed funding rounds.

Founded in 2020 by 26-year-old Theodoric Chew, Intellect is dubbed to be the largest and fastest-growing mental health startup in Asia. In just under two years, it has served over three million users and provides coverage across 20 countries.

The fresh injection of funds will be used to rapidly scale its offerings and team as it expands across Asia.

Intellect is looking at growing its product offerings to serve the entire spectrum of mental healthcare, from self-care programs to live counselling, coaching, and crisis management care. As part of this expansion, it is also actively hiring across its product, engineering and commercial teams now.

2. Quek Siu Rui, co-founder and CEO of Carousell

quek siu rui carousell
Image Credit: Carousell

Besides ShopBack’s Henry Chan, Quek Siu Rui, co-founder and CEO of Carousell is also an angel investor in Intellect.

He participated in Intellect’s undisclosed seed round of funding in December 2020, led by Insignia Ventures Partners.

Besides Quek, other angel investors include former Sequoia partner Tim Lee and startup consultancy xto10x’s Southeast Asia CEO Chai Jia Jih, who is also the former Senior Vice President of Growth and Strategy at Carousell.

This investment round is reportedly Quek’s first personal investment.

Carousell’s secondary sale offering saw the three Carousell co-founders sell 1.37 per cent of their shares, according to VentureCap. This means they banked around US$465,000 each, and there’s a likelihood that Quek used these funds to pump into Intellect.

Besides Intellect, Quek’s investment portfolio includes ADPList, Doyobi, SkillsUnion and uWave. It’s interesting to note that these startups are focused on education and learning that benefits students and professionals.

3. John Tan, founder of Doyobi and Saturday Kids

john tan doyobi saturday kids
Image Credit: EMPOWER

John Tan is a seasoned entrepreneur — he is the founder of coding school Saturday Kids, Doyobi (spin-off of Saturday Kids), and Japanese-inspired fashion label Controlled Commodity.

He is also currently a partner at venture capitalist group 8capita, which dabbles in early and growth-stage angel funding.

To date, he has made significant investments in numerous companies, including Ninja Van (he wrote them their first cheque of US$50,000), Chope, Redmart, Glints, TribeCar, and over a dozen Y-Combinator startups. He also sits on the board of Ninja Van and ErudiFi.

John is particularly passionate about the ed tech space. One such startup that he backed in this space is online school Galileo, which teaches students skills like how to launch a podcast, how to be a YouTube celebrity, or how to launch their own Kickstarter campaign.

“Fundamentally, what drives me is this sense that schools are not preparing kids, and someone needs to do something about it. So that is why I spend all my time and energy and resources on the future of work and learning. Because I think that that needs to change,” shared Tan in a podcast interview last year.

“I think schools are still very much stuck in the industrial age. And that change can happen from within and without.

4. Yiping Goh, co-founder of CasaJulia

yiping goh, casajulia
Image Credit: Prestige Hong Kong

Singaporean Yiping Goh and her Spanish husband Carlos Bañón would travel to Spain twice a year to visit their family and friends during pre-pandemic times.

With Covid-19 restricting travel however, they couldn’t travel to Spain for the past two years. Besides family and friends, local delicacies like Spanish wines and food like freshly sliced jamon iberico (Spanish ham), olives and cheeses, was something they truly miss.

This spurred the couple to directly import their favourite Spanish delicatessen and wines, building a business out of it. They set up an online marketplace called CasaJulia that specialises in Spanish food and wines in October 2021.

She may be new to the F&B world, but she is actually a serial tech founder.

She is the former co-founder of AllDealsAsia and MatahariMall (Indonesia) by Lippo Group — the same group that produced unicorn OVO. Now, she is a venture capital investor and a partner at Quest Ventures, which has backed household names the likes of Carousell, ShopBack, Carro,, Style Theory, SGAG and Ion Mobility.

5. Darius Cheng, founder and CEO of

darius cheng
Image Credit:

Darius Cheng is most notably known as the founder and CEO of property tech platform

A serial entrepreneur, he co-founded mobile security firm tenCube in 2005. Five years later, software giant McAfee acquired his company, reportedly for a whopping S$25 million. He was 25 then.

He became an angel investor, was an adviser for other startups, built another – BillPin – that failed and then created, which has grown to be one of the largest property portals in the region.

According to Crunchbase, Darius has made nine personal investments so far, the most recent in which he participated is Homebase’s venture round. He also particpated in its seed round in November 2020.

Last year, Darius also participated in Rocket Academy’s pre-seed round. For those unacquainted, it is a local startup that provides online coding courses.

His other investments, which dates as early as 2011, include Glints, Carousell, JFDI.Asia and AppyZoo.

6. Royston Tay, co-founder and CEO of Zopim

royston tay zopim
Image Credit: TechinAsia

In 2007, Royston Tay and a few friends started Zopim out of a small office space provided by their alma mater, the National University of Singapore (NUS).

They developed an award-winning cloud-based live chat widget that is frequently utilised by businesses to augment their online customer service support.

The business idea was born back in 2006, when four of the co-founders were on the NUS Overseas College Programme in Silicon Valley, where they earned the chance to pitch their idea to Tim Draper.

In 2014, Zopim made headlines when it was acquired by San Francisco-based customer service company Zendesk for US$30 million.

Over the past years, Royston has invested in more than 10 companies, the most recent of which is a S$3 million funding in Upmesh, which provides e-commerce functionality for live commerce merchants on social media.

Other companies that he invested in include Motorist, RaRa Delivery, Akronym, ADPList, Radarr, StaffAny, MindFi and Saleswhale.

7/8. Lim Der Shing and Huang Shao-Ning, co-founders of JobsCentral

lim der shing huang shao-ning jobscentral
Image Credit: StartupSG

The husband-and-wife duo co-founded JobsCentral, which is one of Singapore’s largest online career portal.

It started out as a two-man team in 2000 and now has over 1,000 employees across the region. The company was later sold in 2011 to US-based CareerBuilder for an undisclosed amount.

Today, the couple, alongside Phey Teck Moh, chairman of investment and advisory company Xpanasia, runs AngelCentral, a community that was started in February 2017 to facilitate angel investments.

It aims to provide deeper angel training and investment support, with the key mandate to bridge good angels with good startups in Southeast Asia, starting from Singapore.

According to Crunchbase, Der Shing has personally invested in Alodokter, Homage, MetroResidences and Motorist. Shao-Ning also invests in Homage and Motorist, in addition to EngageRocket, Hmlet and Doctor Wealth.

9. Aaron Tan, founder and CEO of Carro

aaron tan carro
Image Credit: Carro

Aaron Tan founded his first business at age 13. He pursued the polytechnic education route, landed a government scholarship for university after that, and eventually a stint at Carnegie Mellon University.

He went on to help set up one of Singapore’s first startup spaces, BLOCK71, and ran a venture fund investing in other startups, before he co-founded online car marketplace Carro in 2015.

Carro has since become one of Singapore’s newly-minted unicorns in June last year, following a US$360 million funding round led by SoftBank.

Aaron has made a few personal investments, the latest of which is uWave in October 2021. Other investments dated as early as 2016 and 2017 for Airfrov and iCommerce Asia.

10. Jani Rautianen, co-founder of PropertyGuru

Jani Rautianen, co-founder of PropertyGuru
Image Credit: PropertyGuru

Founded by entrepreneurs Steve Melhuish and Jani Rautiainen in 2007, PropertyGuru has become a household name in the property-crazed Singapore. The real estate marketplace also has operations in countries including Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

The company scrapped plans for an initial public offering on the Australian stock exchange back in 2019 over valuation concerns.

However, in July 2021, PropertyGuru announced that will be pursuing a deal to go public through a merger with Bridgetown 2 Holdings, the blank-cheque company backed by billionaires Richard Li and Peter Thiel.

A transaction could value the combined entity at about US$1.8 billion, according to sources.

Separate to the growth of PropertyGuru, Jani has made two personal investments in startups like Square Yards in September 2019 and online grocery platform RedMart in January 2014, in which he is the lead investor.

Startup funding sees heated activity in Singapore

The startup funding activity in Singapore has regained momentum despite the Covid-19 pandemic still lingering.

According to SEEDS Capital chairman Ted Tan, Singapore saw about 355 deals amounting to S$5.3 billion in the first half of 2021, compared to 317 deals worth over S$3.4 billion in the same period last year.

Thanks to the positive economic outlook and the continued demand for digital services amid the pandemic, local startups could enjoy a record funding year in 2022.

The overall economic outlook is still strong and the pandemic is continuing to drive change in customer behaviour towards tech as the number of internet users continues to grow.

“Covid-19 has been a catalyst for change. Many tech companies that have been promoting change have benefited from the pandemic as it has forced everyone to rethink the way we operate and go about our lives. Examples include video conferencing, e-commerce, and food delivery,” said Dr Jeffrey Chi, vice chairman, Asia, Vickers Venture Partners.

This explains why there has been an increased investor interest in sectors such as foodtech, proptech, healthcare, fintech and sustainability.

Additionally, observers have expressed that more companies could look to go public this year or early next year as the startup ecosystem in the region matures.

Some Singapore-based startups tipped to go public in the coming year include Carousell, Ninja Van, ShopBack and Carro, which could spell exciting times ahead for the tech sector.

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Featured Image Credit: ShopBack / Prestige Hong Kong / Carousell / / Carro / TechinAsia

Also Read: Rare wines to ‘atas’ bak kwa: This couple is making Spanish delicacies accessible to S’poreans

Did you bet on the same 2021 M’sian biz trends as us? Here’s what you won (or lost).

At the end of 2020, we threw out some business trend predictions across Malaysian industries, collected from the startup community called Entrepreneurs and Startups in Malaysia on Facebook.

A solid year later, we’re looking back on which predictions came true and which ones didn’t. So, sit back and let’s see what foundations 2021 has laid for 2022, shaped by the pandemic.

1. Live commerce will take off: Came true!

For 2021, we predicted that live commerce would be on the rise as the next level of e-commerce.

As a refresher, live commerce brings in a more interactive aspect to your usual e-commerce experiences. It’s where sellers livestream to show off their products and give out limited-time promotions, engaging curious viewers who could be converted to customers later.  

This phenomenon ties in with our love of consuming visual content, such as Tik Tok, Instagram reels and stories, etc.

Noticing this growing trend, more businesses jumped in to capitalise on it. Some local examples in 2021 included:

  • Multichannel e-commerce solution provider Sitegiant launching its new live commerce feature;
  • Singapore’s Netccentric entering a joint-venture agreement with Malaysian companies Commerce.Asia and Docono Holdings to launch Nuffnang Live Commerce;
  • Global livestreaming site Bigo Live launching Bigo Marketplace, its e-commerce site that utilises live and social commerce features; and
  • The development of LiveCom, a new Malaysian live commerce site that’s yet to launch.

The traditional way of e-commerce is already old news, and with its explosive growth over the pandemic, it makes sense that players are trying to one-up each other with different strategies.

Personally, I think we might already be moving on to the next phase of e-commerce, where augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) will come into greater play. But we’ll see if the industry in Malaysia catches up so soon.

2. The birth of an online education ecosystem that tackles virtual exams: Didn’t come true…

We’re still holding out hope for this one. Edutech is an exciting, ever-growing space, so there’s always a chance we may suddenly see breakthroughs.

For now though, we haven’t yet seen national exams go virtual, which means the ecosystem is still incomplete. If we’re talking about online tuition, revision, and more, we’ve got lots of players (just go through our edutech tag and you’ll see).

Universities like Monash Malaysia (which I’m an alumnus of!) and The University of Nottingham Malaysia have already rolled out their own online exam systems, with the former even having a supervision system called eVigilation.

So, there remains a lot of opportunities to bring this kind of tech to government schools too. All we can say is, having edutech startups work with the government to roll out a complete, virtual education ecosystem would be a gamechanger for the future of education.

3. Cloud kitchens and delivery-only brands will grow in number: Came true!

Also known as ghost, central, or shared kitchens, a cloud kitchen is a place for virtual F&B brands to cook food without a storefront and do only deliveries.

We already had quite a number of cloud kitchens in 2020; by 2021, more names had joined the chat, such as GrabKitchen, Air Kopitiam, and kEATchen, to name a few.

Starting a restaurant from scratch is costly, and the advantages of cloud kitchens for many budding F&B entrepreneurs tend to be the flexibility and slightly lower upfront costs.

Image Credit: Air Kopitiam

However, there are cons to them as well, such as having no foot traffic, high delivery commission fees, and more, which we explain in detail here, and got more insight from virtual brands themselves here.

It’s likely that this trend will continue mushrooming to cater to the many pandemic-born, home-based F&B businesses that may eventually want to scale up.

But to really attract these businesses, competing cloud kitchens would have to offer better incentives that target their pain points, such as offering their own food delivery apps and fleets to lower operational costs for the brands.

4. The co-sharing concept will blossom across industries: Didn’t come true…

2020 saw co-sharing centres for hair-styling, beauty services, baking, and more. But in 2021, the concept’s growth seemed to have stagnated.

Could this be blamed on how 2021’s pandemic arguably turned out to be worse than 2020’s, even though we were already beginning to understand COVID-19 better? We’ll need to check in with an expert on that, probably.

So, coworking and cloud kitchens aside, nothing new utilising the co-sharing concept has come to our attention yet, so perhaps we were just thinking ahead of our time. (2022, don’t disappoint us!)

5. Younger players will innovate the agricultural industry: Came true!

Yes, we know agritech isn’t a new concept, but we’d argue it’s much “sexier” now, what with all the drones and smart farms and whatnot.

Traditionally, working in the agricultural industry brings to mind working in the dirt under the hot sun, but even smallholder farmers today benefit from technological innovations built by the younger generation.

Some examples of players making this possible are Rice Inc., which uses a “laundromat” to help rice farmers reduce crop losses, CocoJack, a social enterprise that upskills B40 youths in agritech, and Kapitani, an “agri-fintech” startup offering bookkeeping solutions to farmers so they can adopt agritech.

These startups are all helmed by younger Malaysians, but that’s not to say that the industry veterans haven’t done their part in innovating our agricultural landscape.

Image Credit: Mono Melon

Take for example Mono Melon, who made waves when they grew Japanese muskmelons right out of their smart farm in Putrajaya. (They’ve now also grown square watermelons, popularised by Japan.)

It’s a startup created by farming experts whose real ambitions actually go beyond just growing premium fruits of their own—they want to equip more farmers with the knowledge and technology to do the same.

We got the juicy details when we went over for a farm visit to harvest my boss’ melons (ahem), and you can read their full story here.

Much like edutech, we foresee this still being a space with lots of opportunities for growth, so we’ll be keeping our ears to the ground (pun intended) for 2022 developments in agritech.

6. Improved virtual events, and increased hybrid events: Came true!

2020’s virtual events were still a little rough around the edges, leaving more to be desired, but by 2021, the virtual events we attended felt like they’d been around for years.

Some examples of virtual and hybrid events included Wild Digital SEA 2021, MaGIC’s E-Nation 2021, and MDEC’s Malaysia Tech Month 2021, which all saw impressive turnout.

With sentiments still wary of COVID-19 infections, most of us were more comfortable attending these through a screen, but were still open to attending demo days or pitch events in person with proper SOPs.

We’re not sure if this trend of virtual and hybrid events will continue to grow in 2022, because much of the population is already vaccinated, and we’re learning to live with the new variants.

People are itching to go out and experience things physically, so it’s likely that we’ll see a comeback for in-person events in 2022.

Nonetheless, though virtual and hybrid events may no longer be our first choice, they’ll remain viable backup options.

Special mention: This one’s not quite a virtual event, but we wanted to give a shoutout to (Gather), which enabled us to create our virtual (and dream) office that now acts as our go-to for our own internal, virtual events, keeping us sane through 2-ish years of WFH.


4 out of 6 predictions came true, which, if graded on a 100-mark scale, would give us a score of 67. That’s a C grade, one that our Asian parents won’t be too proud of, but still a win in our eyes.

This means that there are still opportunities in the Malaysian market that more entrepreneurs could leverage. Whether the market is actually ready for such moves, we don’t know, but we suppose that’s where market validation is necessary.

Since the economy is recovering, we have high hopes that 2022 will shape up to be an interesting year for business, and we’ve already got a 2022 industry trends prediction piece brewing.

  • Read our previous business trends predictions piece for 2021 here.
  • Check out our other predictions piece on who has the highest potential to win Malaysia’s 5 digital banking licences here.

Also Read: We reflect on how the pandemic has changed our payment habits, to plan wisely for 2022

Featured Image Credit: Vulcan Post / Cookhouse

S’pore furniture startups ErgoTune and EverDesk+ acquired by Una Brands in S$11.83M deal

ergotune everdesk+ una brands

Homegrown furniture brands ErgoTune and EverDesk+ announced today (January 26) that they have been acquired by consumer goods company Una Brands in a deal worth over eight figures, making it one of the largest acquisitions of Singapore-based direct-to-consumer brands.

A quick check of Una Brands’ website reveals that the brands were acquired for US$8.8 million, which is approximately S$11.83 million.

According to the startup, Una Brand’s acquisition will help them expand into new regional and international markets.

As part of its growth strategy for ErgoTune and EverDesk+, it plans to expand into new e-commerce platforms and launch the brands on Amazon in the first half of 2022.

Una Brands will also be furthering the business’ online-to-offline offering by opening a showroom in Sydney from April, where customers can experience both ErgoTune and EverDesk+ products.

This further push into the Australian market comes after the furniture brand’s initial launch contributed over 15 per cent of its overall revenue in the last quarter of 2021.

“Together with the founders, we are looking forward to capitalising on ErgoTune’s and EverDesk+’s strong momentum over recent years, and turbo-charging the brands’ growth with Una Brands’ in-house e-commerce expertise,” said Kiren Tanna, co-founder and CEO of Una Brands.

“We aspire to grow ErgoTune and EverDesk+ into the region’s best-selling ergonomic chairs and desks in the next three years.”

Bridging the gap for affordable ergonomic furniture

ErgoTune and EverDesk+ were founded by former schoolmates Lye Yi Hao, Joshua Chan and Tan Jun Kiat in 2017 shortly after they graduated.

Frustrated by the lack of affordable and high-quality ergonomic furniture in the market, the trio came together to start up these two brands.

Image Credit: ErgoTune

Since inception, the business has seen strong growth. It achieved 150 per cent growth last year, tripling its revenue in excess of S$13 million.

Additionally, nearly 20,000 units of flagship products from the brands, including the ErgoTune Classic and the ErgoTune Supreme Chair, were sold in 2021 alone.

“This transaction bears testament to the high product quality and growth of ErgoTune and EverDesk+. The brands’ success has already far exceeded our expectations, but when the opportunity to work with Una Brands came along, we realised that a partnership with them would only further the growth plans we have,” said Lye Yi Hao, co-founder of ErgoTune and EverDesk+.

“With Una Brands’ financial backing and operational expertise, we are poised to grow our brands in various regional marketplaces and enter new markets at an accelerated timeline.”

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Featured Image Credit: Una Brands

Also Read: Goldbell completes acquisition of BlueSG – to invest S$40M by end 2023 to drive its EV growth

Sea Limited steps into metaverse arena via investing in AI gaming firm Refract’s S$8.5M round

sea limited singapore

Singapore tech giant Sea Limited has anchored a fund raise of S$8.5 million for locally-based artificial intelligence powered gaming firm Refract.

The startup will use the funds to develop its wearable full-body motion-capture technology, called AXIS. Refract aims to be a major contender in the extended reality universe and metaverse space.

Extended reality includes immersive technologies such as virtual and augmented reality. Refract said that Sea’s funding follows the startup’s purchase of game developer Deep Dive Studios for an undisclosed amount. Other funding initiatives from Refract include a crowdfunding campaign for AXIS, which raised S$195,389.

The startup’s Deep Dive will help it create more immersive tech gaming titles, like its FreeStriker fighting game that is currently in development.

Refract has over 50 employees and is building a game publishing arm to support its next stage of growth. It has plans to showcase AXIS at the 2022 Global Esports Games in Istanbul.

Image Credit: Refract

Sea eyes immersive and deep tech

According to Refract, Sea’s investment is separate from other initiatives by its gaming arm Garena and there are no specific projects with Garena in the pipeline.

Sea has been making startup investments through Garena and its investment arm Sea Capital. Investments include crypto exchange FTX and blockchain gaming unicorn Forte.

Last year, Garena took part in the funding rounds of Spain-based game studio UnusuAll and France-based PopScreen Games, to name a few.

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Featured Image Credit: Sea Limited, Refract

Also Read: Twitter S’pore hiring 50 engineers by end-2023, offers competitive salaries amid tech demand

2022 will see a “Great Resignation”: What are S’pore firms doing to retain their employees?


Increased work hours, burnout, rising stress levels. If you’re planning to quit your job sometime this year, you aren’t alone.

According to job portal Indeed, one in four Singaporeans are planning to leave their current job within the first six months of 2022. Half of the 1,002 workers surveyed were also unsure if they would stay in their current job.

This is part of a global phenomenon — dubbed the “Great Resignation” — where thousands are planning to leave, or have left, their current jobs since 2021 in search of greener pastures.

However, what is spurring this seemingly-impending tsunami of resignation letters in Singapore, and what can companies do to prevent their employees from joining the growing wave?

What is fueling the Great Resignation?

singapore worker mrt
Image Credit: Edgar Su via Reuters

According to the survey by Indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated reasons for leaving. Half of the employees found themselves disliking their jobs, and 46 per cent also found themselves with increased stress levels over the pandemic.

Yeo Chuen Chuen, founder of ACESENCE Agile Leadership Coaching and Training, said that the pandemic and shifts in work arrangements have revealed various unsightly traits in companies that may push employees to leave.

Mass resignations also tend to take place in environments where overworking and unreasonably high expectations have become the norm. In some manner, such are the signs of toxic workplaces. When work has become a pressure cooker, it’s difficult to sustain.

– Yeo Chuen Chuen, Founder of ACESENCE Agile Leadership Coaching and Training

According to a separate study by The Straits Times, one in two employees have clocked in more working hours since the pandemic started, with a third putting in more than two hours extra daily.

Industries such as healthcare have also seen an increased number of resignations as increased workload and stress put a strain on employees’ mental health. In 2021, 1,500 healthcare employees left the industry in the first half of the year, a stark increase from the annual 2,000 resignations received pre-pandemic.

The industry outlook has also influenced resignation numbers as employees feel that their future remains bleak. This has been especially so for the travel and hospitality industries despite some “bright sparks” in the past few months, said Shirley Tee, senior manager at the School of Business Management in Nanyang Polytechnic.

While Vaccinated Travel Lanes have provided some relief for the industry, the volatility of these agreements has kept the industry on its toes.

She further noted that the pandemic has also shifted employees’ perceptions of what their day-to-day working life should look like.

For some, time saved from the commute to the office has been a huge factor in their preference for work from home arrangements. But for others, longer working hours from blurred lines may influence individuals to resign.

work from home
Image Credit: HRM Asia

“As we start treating the COVID-19 virus as endemic, some companies are starting to go back to in-office work arrangements,” said Tee.

“Having lived with this new norm for the past two years, going back to the previous work arrangements might be unsettling for some employees, particularly for those who prefer flexible working arrangements.”

Aside from wanting the flexibility to work anywhere, Jolin Nguyen, AYP Group’s Managing Director, added that many employees are also seeking more purpose-driven work as they reevaluate the role of work in their lives.

“Given the current situation, we are in an employee-driven job market… (Employees) feel empowered that they should now take control of their work and their personal lives,” said Nguyen.

“The impact that remote working had on people, alongside their reconsideration about what mattered most to them, are the most common driving factors (for increased resignations).”

More than just replacing lost employees

While companies can simply hire more employees to make up for resignations, experts that spoke to Vulcan Post warned that it may cost companies more.

“If your high performers who have been highly engaged and committed are throwing in the towel, then it’s a bad sign. It could mean that their faith in the organisation has been eroded to a point of no return,” said Yeo.

“Your succession could be disrupted massively, there’s a significant loss of knowledge and know-how, and it would damage the company in more ways than you initially thought.”

Nguyen also warned that aside from a direct impact on company revenue and profitability, organisations that do not act upon mass resignations may cause a “rolling effect”.

“With many people leaving the organisation, that would lead to low workplace morale and eventually influence other employees to leave. Organisations will have an even more difficult time to attract and retain talents,” she added.

To mitigate the impact of the Great Resignation, organisations need to take action to better care of employees’ well-being.

Companies will need to acknowledge that there is no one-size-fits-all benefit scheme and they need to customise benefits to cater to the different needs of workers. While a bigger paycheck can be attractive, people are still likely to value other factors like flexible work arrangements.

– Shirley Tee, Senior Manager, School of Business Management, Nanyang Polytechnic

What are some companies doing about it?

great resignation empty office
Image Credit: Emily Elconin via Reuters

According to Yusho Liu, co-founder and CEO of Coinhako, the company’s turnover has been low — it has retained most of its staff and tripled its headcount in 2021.

He attributes this to various efforts the cryptocurrency exchange has in place, including weekly sharing sessions and anonymous open surveys for employees to provide their feedback to improve the company’s protocols and work culture.

It also offers flexible work arrangements, put in place medical and self-care benefits, opportunities for employees to upskill through webinars and industry events, among other initiatives.

“We will continue to embolden our employees to take charge of their work-life balance and to instil a sense of ownership in our staff by actively listening and engaging with them,” said Liu.

Telehealth provider Doctor Anywhere (DA) also offers flexible work arrangements and implements various initiatives to keep employees satisfied.

doctor anywhere office
Image Credit: Doctor Anywhere

The startup recently announced the opening of its new office to accommodate 70 per cent of its workforce and plans to hire over 200 staff in 2022.

“We are also placing an equal focus to develop talent internally through on-the-job experiences, an onboarding program for new hires and more learning opportunities through DA Academy,” said Shux Mazur, Vice-President of People and Culture at Doctor Anywhere.

“A key focus for us is in developing people manager capabilities as this layer of management often has the most direct impact on our people and whether they have a good experience with us or not.”

Aside from these initiatives, Nguyen said organisations should better engage their workforce by reallocating resources.

“As companies reevaluate how they are operating and spending to drive new efficiencies, companies can tap on the contingent workforce to help them operate more efficiently as well as to address any skill gaps within the organisation,” she said.

To prevent burnout and to ensure employees feel purpose-driven, Nguyen also suggests companies to streamline workflows with investments in technology and outsourcing mundane tasks, so that employers can focus on more valuable work to help grow the business.

Great Reshuffle — the positive to the Great Resignation?

Like most companies, we have seen some attrition over time with this workforce. This has also provided us with an opportunity for us to relook at the type of talent we want at a startup like DA.

The Great Resignation is a good reminder for us to keep innovating our attraction and retention strategies to hire, develop and keep good talent within DA, and challenge us to cast our net to a wider pool of talent in Singapore and around the world.

– Shux Mazur, Vice-President of People and Culture at DA

According to Yeo, some companies view the Great Resignation as a Great Reshuffle as individuals find themselves in more suitable positions for their wellbeing.

Movements in the workforce can also bring in “new ideas and fresh air” to some economies, she noted. Aside from prior knowledge and experiences, individuals may have more passion for their new jobs that can influence an organisation’s productivity.

Company efforts to retain its employees is also a “great opportunity for employers to build a more future-proof workplace by implementing changes to their workflows or overall strategies,” said Nguyen.

“This could result in a paradigm shift in the thinking of both workers and companies to reach a common ground,” Tee added.

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Featured Image Credit: MyCareersFuture

Also Read: The “Great Resignation”: 1 out of 4 S’pore workers plan to quit their jobs in Jan to Jun 2022