During a joint press conference on May 19 that Vulcan Post attended, NFT Pangolin and Miss Universe Malaysia Organization (MUMO) introduced their collaborative series of NFTs, made in the likeness of the 15 Miss Universe Malaysia finalists.
Held in Vogue Lounge, Datin Elaine Daly, MUMO’s National Director, was present alongside Mohamad Johan Nasir, Business Development Director (SEA) of NFT Pangolin.
12 out of the 15 final contestants were also in attendance, with one of them—Cheam Wei Yeng (Lesley)—as the emcee. Francisca Luhong, the current Miss Universe Malaysia, was also in the audience.
Three categories of NFTs are set to launch in this collaboration between MUMO and NFT Pangolin. Specifically:
- The Universe Collection
- The Competition Collection
- 8SIAN‘s Queen Collection
The Universe Collection NFTs were showcased during the event by the respective contestants they were representing. These 15 NFTs are essentially portraits of the ladies in “celestial designs”. There will be 10K NFTs of each design in supply. Each collection will have a price range of 1-2 ZTX, the currency used on Zetrix, which is the blockchain that’s powering the minting of NFTs on NFT Pangolin. This value amounts to roughly RM20 at the time of writing.
The Competition Collection is a limited series of video NFTs that are auction-only. Only one video of each contestant will be in circulation. Previews of these video NFTs were briefly showcased at the event.
The 8SIAN collection will be an even more exclusive collection reserved for the final winner of Miss Universe Malaysia.
8SIAN is a local NFT project that has made the news several times now, and it’s founded by Nicole Yap, a notable name for championing the inclusivity and involvement of more women in the NFT scene. The team will be designing the limited-edition collection after the new Queen is crowned.
Utility of the NFTs
Of course, these NFTs aren’t just for show. They will also play a part in the voting system for Miss Universe Malaysia. The popularity of the Universe Collection NFTs ties into the Pageant’s final competition.
According to the press release, “The finalists will automatically earn additional voting points depending on the popularity of their NFTs and will obtain the “wildcard” to bypass the elimination round.”
During the conference, Johan said each sale will amount to 5 votes.
The same goes for the Competition Collection, but this time, the stakes are higher. As these NFTs are auction-only, higher bids will amount to higher points.
While Johan said that there is no finalised number for how the bids will translate into votes, he anticipates the vote count to be in the triple digits, which he explained is very high.
“It could actually shake up the ranking of the girls,” Johan said. “Somebody could be a back runner, but because somebody has purchased their NFTs, they could actually jump up to be in the top five or top four.”
Using NFTs as a voting mechanism aligns with NFT Pangolin’s vision of creating utility out of NFTs, which Johan emphasised on during the conference.
But other than earning votes, the contestants are actually earning financially from the NFT sales too. While the organisers did not disclose what exact percentage the contestants will earn, Johan shared that this system gives the contestants an incentive to leverage their influences.
He also mentioned that the proceeds could potentially go to charities as well.
NFTs as the future
Since the NFTs will be sold on NFT Pangolin, the NFTs will be minted on the Zetrix blockchain and have to be bought with ZTX. At the time of writing, the NFTs have not been fully launched on the platform yet (only one NFT of contestant Asha is listed).
MUMO’s NFT series comes after its one-year hiatus due to the pandemic. Dato Elaine said in her speech that she doesn’t see these NFTs as simply for monetary gain, but to publicly engage viewers as well.
“We are putting ourselves on the global map, to make sure we are seen and we are heard,” Dato Elaine said during the Q&A session. “We want to be game-changers in society.”
Vulcan Post will be sharing our experience of witnessing the unveiling of MUMO NFTs soon, so stay tuned for that.
- Learn more about Miss Universe Malaysia Organization here.
- Learn more about NFT Pangolin here.
- Read other articles we’ve written about NFTs here.
Featured Image Credit: Vulcan Post
The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus has placed the healthcare system in Singapore (and other parts of the world) under severe pressure.
Following the outbreak of the pandemic, many startups focusing on telemedicine have sprung up to take on the challenge of innovating the way healthcare services can be provided to patients.
In general, telemedicine aims to assist healthcare professionals in providing services — including assessment, diagnosis, treatment and consultation — to patients via remote technology to minimise in-patient visits.
According to research by RedSeer Consulting, the online health sector in Southeast Asia is expected to grow 10 times by 2025, with Indonesia and Singapore as the main markets, accounting for 50 to 60 per cent of the growth.
Who are the players in S’pore’s telehealth space?
There are quite a few telehealth players in Singapore, some specialising in more niche areas like pet health and sexual health.
ZumVet, for instance, provides easy access to affordable veterinary care through video consultations, online booking of house calls and home-based services, as well as medication delivery.
There are also several startups in Singapore that focus on men’s and women’s health. Ethel Tan is one particular entrepreneur that has traversed both fields — she co-founded Noah, a discreet digital clinic for men in June 2020, and started up Zoey, a telemedicine startup that caters to all aspects of women’s healthcare just nine months later.
Like Zoey, Dear Doc aims to be a one-stop solution for personalised women healthcare. It offers access to hassle-free and judgment-free medical care for birth control, and other female sexual and reproductive health conditions.
Being an Asian woman who has lived in Asia her entire life, I could personally relate to challenges (that women face when accessing healthcare) — the severe lack of awareness around sexual and reproductive health, the taboo and stigma around these topics, the fear of being judged, the inconvenience of waiting in clinics, the high cost, and the inadequate support and counselling to address questions and concerns.
– Shruti Dwivedi, founder and CEO of Dear Doc
As such, she wanted to address these challenges and make healthcare accessible, convenient, affordable and judgement-free for women across Asia.
With Dear Doc, users can access sensitive medical care from the comfort and privacy of one’s own home.
Its female doctors will review the patient’s health profile and do a video consultation to discuss medication options that are best suited for their health and personal preferences, and address any questions or concerns that they may have.
Once the medication is ordered, Dear Doc will deliver it to them and refill at their preferred frequency at no additional cost.
Other telehealth startups in Singapore pretty much operate in a similar fashion, though they may have different motivations for starting up.
Back in 2016, Doctor Anywhere (DA) founder Lim Wai Mun had participated in a charity initiative where he helped distribute lunchboxes to elderly living in older housing estates in Singapore. Through his interaction with these seniors, he realised that they were unable to leave their homes to seek basic medical care from doctors.
He wanted to come up with a solution that can help give access to free and convenient health to those in need came up with the idea of DA. It started out as a non-profit side project, which eventually into a full-fledged businesses as he realised that pivoting it into a commercially viable model could help widen its reach and benefit more people.
Under the DA network, users also have access to an extensive panel of general practitioners, specialists and allied healthcare providers.
Through the app, users can consult a licensed local doctor anytime, anywhere, and get medication delivered to their doorstep within hours. Medical history, health reports and other documents are also stored in-app for easy access.
Complementing this ecosystem is the DA Marketplace, where users can shop for a wide range of health and wellness products and services — such as supplements, healthy snacks and book home-based healthcare services like health screenings, vaccinations, mobile doctor and nursing services — all in one place.
WhiteCoat had the same vision — it wanted to deliver accessible and affordable healthcare from anywhere in the world, so that visits to the doctor are as convenient and hassle-free as simply accessing an app on your phone.
“To make this vision a reality, the team looked at the traditional patient journey, identified the key pain points on convenience, cost and accessibility, and redefined the entire process, effectively digitalising the patient experience via the WhiteCoat app,” explained Justin Chow, Chief Marketing Officer of WhiteCoat.
WhiteCoat’s teleconsult service covers a wide range of healthcare services, including primary care, specialist care and allied healthcare. Put simply, patients can expect to connect with general practitioners (GP), paediatricians and mental wellness professionals on the WhiteCoat app.
After downloading its app, patients will be able to connect with a doctor on-demand, and have their medication delivered to their preferred location as quickly as within 90 minutes.
Beyond a teleconsultation service, WhiteCoat also supports a variety of home-based, in-person services to support patients with longer term healthcare requirements, allowing patients to have their annual health check-ups in a comfortable and familiar environment.
Upon conclusion, all test results will be uploaded in the patient’s WhiteCoat app for easy access, and patients can have a follow-up consultation with any one of its doctors to close the loop.
On the other hand, Hidoc — which was founded in 2019 — was born out of the founders’ ambition to support women and the needs of working families.
“Just like most women in the workforce, our priorities were on our families (instead of) ourselves. Our wellbeing was sidelined and we wanted to improve the many dimensions — including the physical, cognitive and psychological needs of one,” said Dr. Christina Low and Carolyn Goh, co-founders of Hidoc.
“In short, (we wanted) to simplify wellness by providing a single touchpoint for care in building and nurturing (healthy) families.”
For Hidoc, users would first need to register for an account before they can get access to the full features of the mobile app.
Upon registration, they will get access to science-based healthcare content from experts and specialists, book consultations with a specialist or GP either virtually or in-clinic, as well as upload medical records for sharing with medical practitioners before consultation.
Users can also receive post-care support from Hidoc’s dedicated team of clinical support personnel from education to personalised follow-up.
Lastly, Serene Cai and Dr. Shravan Verma started up Speedoc in 2017 to make hospital-level care accessible and affordable to those in Singapore and across the region.
“Speedoc operates on a decentralised healthcare model that enables people to access healthcare anywhere. Our end-to-end care system connects qualified medical professionals to patients and delivers different types of care catered to different types of conditions,” explained Cai.
Users can browse their suite of services — ranging from requesting a doctor or nurse visit to your house, teleconsultation, remote monitoring, baby vaccinations, health screenings, and ambulance service — on its app and book an appointment within minutes.
They can also add details of family members to their account in the app to keep track of everyone’s health at a glance, allowing them to have better visibility of their medical data and treatment journey whilst empowering them with better control over their health.
Perks and downsides of a telehealth platform
Generally, telehealth users can quickly access a wide range of medical and healthcare services on a single app.
Besides the obvious convenience and accessibility, privacy and security are also some of the key benefits of teleconsulting from the comfort of home. According to Chow, those who opt for their mental wellness service have shared that they feel less stigma associated with virtual therapy compared to in-person therapy.
Telehealth also offers better health management. “When you can see your doctor as often as you need to, without the challenges of getting into the office, you can practice better management of your medication, lifestyle, and any chronic conditions you might have,” said Low and Goh.
Chow added that another understated benefit of utilising telehealth platforms is its safety.
Compared to a traditional clinic setting, telehealth eliminates the risk of cross-infection with other unwell patients in a shared space, and allows you to receive quality healthcare from the safe confines of home, with medication delivered to your doorstep.
– Justin Chow, Chief Marketing Officer of WhiteCoat
However, the downside of using telehealth is that telemedicine is not meant for emergency situations or life-threatening care. There are some health conditions which may not be suitable for online consultations or require further physical examination by the doctor.
“In such cases, the doctor would be able to quickly assess the suitability of the patient for video-consultation within the first few minutes of the call, and refer them to the nearest DA Clinic or the appropriate healthcare provider if they are deemed unsuitable,” elaborated Lim.
However, this is only applicable to a small pool of patients. For WhiteCoat, its data revealed that 98 per cent of their patients are able to receive a diagnosis or treatment plan via teleconsultation, and only the remaining two per cent are referred to alternative or escalated forms of care.
Hidoc co-founders also warned of the possibility of misdiagnosis (which may result in added costs for the patients when they want to get a second opinion or re-diagnosis), and the possibility of missing out other symptoms that are too subtle to be detected.
Additionally, data leaks represent some of the negativity surrounding telehealth platforms.
“Much like other forms of personal data, patients’ medical data is regarded as especially sensitive, and demands a higher standard of protection, which we have accounted for in our security systems since inception,” assured Chow.
In particular, WhiteCoat has worked closely with the respective government agencies to assimilate specific advisory guidelines drafted for the sector.
Furthermore, the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) applies to the personal data collected, used and disclosed for the purposed of providing the telemedicine service, pointed out Hidoc.
As for Speedoc, they have adopted solutions like Singpass integration on their app to ensure that they are treating the right patients.
Challenges faced by the telehealth sector
According to Lim, the first challenge that DA faced was changing user mindsets.
In certain countries, seeking timely medical attention is not an ingrained habit, with patients only choosing to see a doctor when they encounter major health issues. At this stage, digital strategies might not be sufficient to support the patient recovery journey.
– Lim Wai Mun, founder and CEO of Doctor Anywhere
Additionally, infrastructural and logistical challenges prevail in certain regions, making it difficult to deliver medical care on time.
Thirdly, the rates of technological adoption across different regions hamper the adoption of digital solutions. Without strong technological infrastructure and use of data networks, the benefit of digital solutions cannot be maximised.
“We work closely with the government regulatory bodies to ensure medical and data privacy compliance is critical for the mainstream acceptance of telehealth services,” said Lim.
In fact, WhiteCoat and DA were one of the first few telemedicine providers to participate in a regulatory sandbox for the industry by the Ministry of Health (MOH), which was successfully concluded in February 2021.
WhiteCoat pointed out that the implementation of deep tech healthcare solutions requires rigorous rounds of testing, and oftentimes regulatory proposals before they are able to see their ideas come to live.
While this is challenging, Chow said that he is fully aware of the necessity of the process, as the nature of any healthcare service would naturally require a high level of adherence to wider overarching policies and standards of governance.
While there is no single piece of legislation governing telemedicine in Singapore right now, this is set to change once the Healthcare Services Act (HCSA) comes into force this year with the regulatory regime for healthcare services from a “premises-based” to a “services-based” form of licensing, shared Hidoc.
Separately, MOH has advocated going paperless with digital medical certificates, or DigiMC, since early 2020, which also helped to gain acceptance and trust among employers in Singapore.
To alleviate further concerns, the government has supported the verification of digital medical certificates via mc.gov.sg for patients and employers to verify their validity. DA also has its own online MC validator for employers to verify the authenticity of the issued MC.
As for Hidoc, the co-founders cited limited reimbursement options, especially for specialist care telehealth, as one of its biggest challenges.
“Majority of the specialist telehealth are out-of-pocket expenses but as consumerism continues to take centrestage and evidence on the benefits of telehealth services grows, it is reasonable to expect that there will be continued expansion in benefits, coverage and reimbursement for telehealth services, particularly those around specialist care,” said Low and Goh.
They added that they still face challenges in convincing digitally illiterate users to go digital and use telehealth services. “These group of people would likely prefer to physically go to a doctor despite knowing the benefits of telemedicine services.”
COVID-19 is a strong driver of growth
DA estimates that over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has served as a catalyst to fast-track the adoption of telehealth services in the region by at least five years.
As user behaviour shifted to online purchases, we’ve experienced a tremendous uptrend in online medical consultations, medication purchase, and health-related purchases on our marketplace.
Similarly in the region, businesses and consumers have developed a better understanding of telemedicine — in part due to the strong encouragement by the local governments, and are much more motivated to adopt the service.
– Lim Wai Mun, founder and CEO of Doctor Anywhere
DA has actively supported the government’s public healthcare initiatives during the pandemic, such as running large-scale testing at foreign worker dormitories, providing remote medical support for COVID-positive individuals on home recovery, and piloting the online supervised ART service.
Earlier this year, DA was the first provider in Singapore to launch the online supervised ART service, which allows users to get their ART done conveniently at home for pre-event and travel purposes.
Today, its supervised ART service is one of the strongest drivers of its online telehealth services, with a capacity to serve around a few thousand cases a day.
Through the pandemic, user adoption of DA’s online services rose tremendously across all sectors.
“Apart from an accelerated uptrend in online medical consultations, we also saw a big uptick in our home-based healthcare services such as health screenings and vaccinations. Across our platform, we achieved a 300 to 400 per cent year-on-year growth in the past two years,” shared Lim.
“This has presented opportunities to the industry to go digital on many fronts, going beyond simply offering virtual consultations. We’ve been able to diversify our innovation pipeline to meet the pressing needs of our users by launching useful services such as COVID-19 Medical Advisory Clinic, mental wellness support, and specialist consultations.”
Similarly, WhiteCoat also experienced increased adoption following the pandemic.
While we were already on a steady growth trajectory before the pandemic hit, there was a sharp boost in awareness of our service and user adoption when community cases started to climb and people began to practise more caution about leaving their houses and going to shared spaces, especially clinics.
Rather than an opportunity, I think the pandemic has served as a strong push factor for the members of the public who might not have previously considered telehealth as a healthcare option to try out our service at least once.
– Justin Chow, Chief Marketing Officer of WhiteCoat
For example, they have extended help to numerous elderly patients — who they initially did not think would adopt their solutions — over the course of their recovery at home at the height of the pandemic.
There has also been a significant increase in the number of senior patients who now choose to teleconsult a WhiteCoat GP to manage their chronic conditions and have their medication refills delivered to their doorsteps.
Additionally, they also observed an uptick in the number of working parents who had to work from home together with their children doing Home-Based Learning, opting to teleconsult our paediatricians via teleconsultation when their children fell ill.
“The pandemic has created a paradigm shift in how people perceive and utilise healthcare, and has clearly illustrated the legitimacy of our service and USPs,” summed up Chow.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Speedoc too has supported the government with COVID-19 containment, isolation, home recovery programmes (HRP), and with the support of its Home Vaccination Teams (HVT), elderly at home were able to get vaccinated.
It also helped to ease the gathering of people at Combined Test Centres (CTCs) and Quick Test Centres (QTCs) by offering Supervised Tele-ART via video consultation.
“We saw an uptake in our Supervised Tele-ART service as consumers were required to adhere to pre-event and pre-departure test requirements. The recent and ongoing opening of borders and the nightlife industry have also increased its demand,” said Cai.
Speedoc is also one of the providers selected for a two-year pilot trial as part of the MOH Office for Healthcare Transformation’s (MOHT) MIC@Home initiative, which allows non-Covid patients who require hospitalisation to be treated from home via virtual wards.
Hidoc also partnered with MOH Home Recovery Program and was also listed in the COVID-19 National Vaccination Program.
COVID-19 has only accelerated the adoption and awareness of telemedicine services. Though the older generation may still be apprehensive about consulting a doctor virtually, it’s encouraging to see that consumers, especially the sandwich generation, are becoming more tech savvy and willing to embrace new mediums for their healthcare needs.
This segment of consumers is becoming more accustomed to on-demand digital services (food, shopping, and now healthcare) because they get to save time, which translates to having more time to care for what matters most — their family.
– Serene Cai, co-founder of Speedoc
Telehealth sees increased interest from investors
Indeed, there has been a significant uplift in the acceptance and adoption of telehealth following the onset of the pandemic, due to the public’s awareness of the importance of social distancing and avoiding potential exposure to the virus.
The fact that the Ministry of Health has chosen to employ telemedicine as the designated mode of care for patients afflicted with COVID-19 is not lost on the public, and this also speaks volumes about the increasing regulatory acceptance and adoption of telehealth services in Singapore.
– Justin Chow, Chief Marketing Officer of WhiteCoat
“Back in 2017, the concept of telehealth was almost unheard of in the region, despite proven models in the US, UK and China. Fast forward four years, we’ve seen a wider acceptance of a hybrid model of accessing healthcare in the region, where users are now more receptive to healthcare being delivered via traditional and online solutions,” chimed in Lim.
He attributes this growing acceptance to strong support from its partners and network, which has helped them significantly grow their user base in the past year. He added that they currently run programmes with many of the largest MNCs, insurers and insurance brokers in the region.
Similarly, WhiteCoat also saw insurers in the region fully embracing the digital medium of healthcare consumption to enable insured members to enjoy quality care from the safety of their homes.
In particular, WhiteCoat has been appointed as AIA’s exclusive telemedicine partner in Singapore since March 2020, responsible for providing primary care to over 1.2 million insured members under AIA’s corporate and dependent base.
This strong insurer confidence in telehealth has also encouraged HR partners and corporates to embrace telehealth as a credible source of care for their employees.
According to WhiteCoat, it has been witnessing tremendous growth since its inception. In the first year of the pandemic, the company experienced an eight times increase in revenue, accompanied by a seven-fold surge in consultation figures.
At the back of this strong growth trajectory, WhiteCoat raised S$10.8 million in its last Series A round, marking it the largest Series A raised by a Singapore-based telemedicine company to date.
DA — which owns a chain of physical clinics and pharmacies in selected countries that they operate in — reported that they achieved three to four times growth in revenue year-on-year for the past three years.
It has also amassed 2.5 million users across five markets, and tripled the number of doctors and specialists in its network to more than 3,000 across Southeast Asia.
In August last year, it raised S$88 million funding in its Series C round. A few months later in November, it acquired Doctor Raksa, Thailand’s largest telehealth platform.
According to DA, this latest fundraising will significantly bolster its market leadership and further deepen their presence in existing markets. It will also allow the group to expand into new markets, such as Indonesia this year, to drive its mission of transforming the regional healthcare landscape through technology.
Closer to home, DA moved its HQ office to a penthouse unit at MTower in January 2022, and more than 200 new roles are expected to be added to its headcount.
As for Hidoc, it raised a seven-figure funding in its seed round last year. To date, it has over 20,000 users engaging with their specialists. In 2021, it also launched its consumer library called Nectar on women and children’s health and opened its first clinic in Raffles Place.
In the last two years, the number of users seeking specialist care on Hidoc increased five-fold in paediatric care and doubled in women’s health.
Meanwhile, Speedoc grew at least three-fold in terms of revenue and headcount annually. They have a nationwide presence in Malaysia are continuing to expand regionally.
However, unlike these other startups, fundraising has been the biggest challenge for Dear Doc. “As a female-focused business led by a solo female founder, raising funds has been extremely challenging,” lamented Shruti.
The future of telehealth: Is it here to stay beyond COVID-19?
Telehealth and online pharmacies are changing and leading the healthcare industry growth, and adoption have been accelerated by the pandemic. The industry is also figuring out how to be more connected, omnichannel-enabled and interoperable.
There are more players in the industry, and we see competition as a win for both the industry as well as for consumers. If there are no competitors, it would mean that it’s an industry that isn’t working. This healthcare evolution has brought forth many innovative solutions for users, and challenge us to evolve and do better everyday.
– Lim Wai Mun, founder and CEO of Doctor Anywhere
To sustain the telehealth momentum beyond COVID-19, he stressed that the industry must maintain a robust ecosystem that connects patients, healthcare providers and payers, and consistently innovate to stay relevant to users.
Chow shares the same sentiments — he feels that the telehealth phenomenon is here to stay and continue to become an important mainstay of Singapore’s healthcare infrastructure.
In fact, he views telemedicine as a “catalyst” for critical industry change, which doubles up as an important supplement to existing healthcare systems.
He pointed out that while most people are already familiar with using telehealth for primary care, its benefits can potentially go beyond that to support various functions of specialist care.
For example, WhiteCoat offers a General Paediatrics service that is supported by paediatricians from Thomson Paediatric Centre and SBCC Baby & Child Clinic.
Such strategic partnerships with renowned healthcare partners allow their patients to have an even more convenient access to the specialist care that they and their loved ones may require.
“Telemedicine, in its ideal state, should be a manpower-light and tech-heavy solution. When implemented efficiently, it can function as an important first point of medical contact and advice for addressing a patient’s healthcare concerns,” said Chow.
“Telehealth is certainly here to stay because it fills a real gap in healthcare accessibility and convenience. For Dear Doc, telehealth helps address much deeper painpoints for women when accessing care for sexual and reproductive health,” added Shruti.
According to Cai, the digital health market in Asia could grow up to US$100 billion in value by 2025 due to an ageing population and increase in chronic disease incidences, so the telemedicine industry is certainly one that is promising and encouraging.
Furthermore, as seen by the trend on how consumers are willing to pay for services that convenience them, Cai expects telemedicine to continue expanding beyond COVID-19.
Pandemic or not, the value of convenient and accessible virtual care has been realised. Now that patients know they can receive high-quality care without leaving their homes, it’s proving less enticing to go back to the old ways of crowded waiting rooms and rushed appointments. We are living amongst a paradigm shift in the medical field.
While we’re not sure how telehealth will hold beyond COVID-19, it is unlikely that it will go away in the future. Telehealth has many benefits that will carry on beyond the pandemic, (such as) the convenience for people who cannot miss work or school to get themselves or their children to the doctor’s office.
– Dr. Christina Low and Carolyn Goh, co-founders of Hidoc
As more patients feel more comfortable seeking out medical services and seeing their doctors online, there’s no doubt that telemedicine will continue to grow and become a mainstay in the post-pandemic era.
Featured Image Credit: Speedoc
When it comes to setting up an event like a wedding, one of the bigger priorities on most people’s minds would be the venue.
After settling on a venue, they then have to set the scene, and that’s where props come in. They can range from extravagant floral arrangements to vintage table centrepieces to suit the theme, or even full-blown furniture like sofas and wooden arches that make for aesthetic photos.
But for many, there’s always a compromise between needs, wants, and costs.
Nawal Yasmin recalls her wedding day when she struggled to find decor that could fit her budget. She remembered looking at a beautiful tray (dulang) which would’ve cost around RM200 each. For her Malay wedding, she needed 12-16 units.
Wishing there was a business renting out such items, she then launched Something Borrowed By Nawal (SBBN) in June 2011.
“Now SBBN customers can rent the same dulang for only RM30-RM40 each!” Nawal told Vulcan Post, pointing out the value of her business.
Setting up shop
In its early days, SBBN was run from her family home.
One small room was allocated as her makeshift warehouse to rent out wedding items at first. Demand grew as time went by, so Nawal and her partner moved to another house to bring in more props from China.
By 2016, the business expanded as its stock increased. Nawal was able to operate from a shop in Cyberjaya located on the ground floor.
The kinds of props you can rent at SBBN range from items including wedding trays, Chiavari chairs, cylinder vases, carpets, hanging lanterns, centrepieces, as well as wedding crowns and veils.
“Then we decided that we wanted to become the biggest rental provider in Malaysia so we looked for investors from family and friends,” said Nawal. With the funding, they expanded their inventory again and moved to a three-storey warehouse in Cyberjaya.
The kinds of props also evolved to accommodate not only weddings, but also office functions, baby showers, various photoshoots, and birthday celebrations.
Nawal shared that some of her more out-of-the-ordinary clients have come from one customer who transported SBBN props to Paris for a pre-wedding photoshoot.
Despite SBBN’s steady growth over the years, Nawal was forced to downscale when the pandemic hit, but not too drastically. In 2020, they moved SBBN to a two-storey shop in Kajang to reduce the high commitment of business costs.
“And this year (2022), we managed to bring back our shop to Cyberjaya but on a smaller scale,” added Nawal, who was simply grateful to have survived the pandemic.
If you can’t buy it, rent it
At present, Nawal claimed that SBBN carries a rough 300 products with more than 2,000 quantities of each item.
For a business conducting rental functions, one would imagine that the biggest operational challenge would come from managing the inventory.
To keep track of the warehouse’s merchandise, Nawal shared that she uses a system called Booqble. The team also conducts monthly stocktakes to check on the inventory.
Nawal reportedly prices SBBN’s rental items about three to five times lower than their regular prices too, and her claims seem to hold water.
Of course, those renting from SBBN should prepare to fork out a RM200 security deposit. The fee covers any damages or missing items upon returning them after the rental period, which is a week.
If items are returned on time in good condition, the full amount will be refunded. But, if damages or lost items exceed RM200, customers will have to top up the amount. There is also a 50% deposit to book items in advance. Those who require delivery services can also make a request for a fee.
Mix and match to fit your creativity
Nawal’s company, however, appears to hold a unique selling point in allowing customers to mix and match the items they’re renting.
The perk that comes with this level of customisation is that customers are able to choose the exact items they want in a way that fits their individual budgets.
With that said, SBBN also offers packages for those who want something more simple and straightforward.
In terms of Nawal’s future plans for SBBN, she hopes to stay on track for the business’s growth and be the most preferred rental provider for events in years to come.
Looking at SBBN’s expansion trajectory so far and the fact that events are now permitted again, there’s potential for it to reach that goal.
Featured Image Credit: Nawal Yasmin, founder of Something Borrowed By Nawal
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated Singapore’s digitalisation efforts, and also expanded the ways in which Singaporeans can be empowered by digital technologies.
Supported by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), Digital for Life is a national movement that aims to galvanise the community to help Singaporeans embrace digital as a lifelong pursuit, and use digital to enrich our lives.
Since it started in February 2021, there has been positive support from the private, people and public sector, with more than 100 partners from the business corporations, government entities, charitable organisations and non-governmental organisations all coming together to contribute to the movement.
From teaching underprivileged children basic laptop access skills to refurbishing laptops to pass it on to low income families, going around schools to educate children on cyber wellness, or creating assistive tech to help seniors and persons with disabilities, there are more ways than one for everyone to play a part in helping to build a digitally inclusive society for all.
Singtel: Empowering the elderly to go digital
Singtel is one of the three major telcos involved in the Digital for Life movement, particularly targeting seniors.
In support of the movement, Singtel launched a new digital inclusion initiative in March 2022 to bridge the digital gap for seniors and provide them with free data to access the Internet and stay connected with family and friends.
Called Donate Your Data, the scheme is currently open to GOMO subscribers – who can choose to donate their data to needy seniors via the GOMO mobile app – though it will be progressively extended to other Singtel mobile customers as well.
Partnering with NTUC Health in the pilot launch, Singtel consolidates the donated data into prepaid hi! SIM cards to be distributed to needy seniors across their 13 Senior Activity Centres.
This latest initiative complements its ongoing Singtel Digital Silvers Programme, which aims to promote digital literacy among seniors.
First launched in September 2020, the programme sees Singtel employees volunteer at Senior Activity Centres and Active Aging Centres every week to teach the elderly basic digital skills.
“Through our Singtel Digital Silvers programme, seniors are equipped with the digital knowledge and skills such as how to use their smartphones and make e-payments, so they can lead more fulfilling and engaged lives,” said Anna Yip, CEO of Singtel’s Consumer Singapore.
“We continually champion digital inclusion across various community segments because we want everyone to benefit from digitalisation – nobody should be left behind because they don’t have the right knowledge or resources.”
According to Yip, these initiatives have been well-received so far and the telco will continue to seek new ways to empower more people to get connected and reap the benefits of technology.
At the upcoming Digital for Life Festival organised by IMDA, Singtel will have a booth to allow the public and senior beneficiaries to find out more about their community programmes. They will be located at Suntec Main Hall on 21 and 22 May from 10am to 7pm, and Heartbeat@Bedok Main Hall on 28 and 29 May from 10am to 6pm.
Mercurics: Building an app that acts as a navigation map for wheelchair users
Mercurics is an AI company that builds computational models to better understand people at scale in diverse application domains such as human resource, retail, finance, and more.
At the same time, they are also a social enterprise that harnesses data and technology to tackle #techforgood projects.
In 2020, they built a free tool for corporate clients to assess the mental wellbeing of their employees via its selfi.ai platform so employers can take necessary intervention measures.
Currently, the tech startup is working with various public and charity organisations to identify barrier-free paths in Singapore as part of the Smart Barrier Free Access (SmartBFA) project, which is partially funded by the Enabling Lives Initiative (ELI) grant by SG Enable and Tote Board.
“Most navigation apps today do not have an option for wheelchair-accessible routes. Even if they do, it provides only wheelchair-accessible public transport options – not accessible first/last-mile options,” said the founder of Mercurics.
Wheelchair users may therefore encounter inaccessible routes with stairs, kerbs or steep slopes, causing them to have to take long detours. It’s still a work-in-progress, but the app will soon allow wheelchair users and/or their caregivers to search for accessible routes by avoiding such obstacles.
Ultimately, SmartBFA aims to be a one-stop platform that highlights both wheelchair-accessible paths and places.
According to Mercurics, the app passively gathers data on wheelchair accessible paths through data collection by volunteers.
“This passive approach allows us to collect data in a more sustainable way by reducing volunteer fatigue and effort. Volunteers may of course, also contribute additional data attributes – such as annotating obstacles – during their data collection exercise.”
Mercurics aims to roll out the SmartBFA navigation app to wheelchair users by the end of this year. In the meantime, the app will be showcased at the upcoming Digital for Life Festival. Their booth will be located at Enabling Village Hall (UOB Hall1/TechAble) from 10am to 6pm.
Moving forward, Mercurics shared that it also plans to tackle other issues relating to employment for PwDs, accessibility for other PwD groups such as the visually impaired, and help generate more awareness and empathy for the less-abled.
AiSP: Teaching online safety to counter cybercrime
Recently, there has been a steady increase in ransomware, online scams and phishing activities in Singapore.
Association of Information Security Professionals (AiSP) – an independent cybersecurity association – acknowledged this worrying trend, and noted that besides the rate of attacks increasing year on year, they also increased in sophistication.
“Digital transformation was accelerated by COVID-19, which created a lot of new opportunities for hackers to exploit vulnerable devices and networks. Threat actors and cyber criminals took advantage of these expanded attack surface, hence the recent spate of online scams and phishing attacks,” reasoned Faith Chng, AiSP Secretary and EXCO Lead for AiSP Cyber Wellness.
Chng pointed out that people are the “weakest link” in the cybersecurity framework since they are susceptible to making mistakes and repeating them. As such, she called out the need for updated cybersecurity awareness, continuous cyber education and an ongoing culture of putting security as a priority.
In line with this, AiSP has rolled out a Cyber Wellness Programme that aims to educate citizens – especially the youths and the elderly – on the importance of cybersecurity and staying safe online.
“With reduced face-to-face engagements, the elderly and those with special needs have become more vulnerable to cyber threats. We will reach out to different community groups to raise awareness on the topic of cyber wellness and cybersecurity, and participants can pick up cyber knowledge through interactive learning,” said Chng.
The programme, supported by the Digital for Life Fund, another initiative by the IMDA, has engaged 2,500 seniors through a range of cybersecurity training workshops, a curated interactive portal, quizzes and guidebook.
Besides the Cyber Wellness Programme, AiSP is also involved in helping to enhance security awareness through training with Singapore SMEs, hosting cybersecurity e-learning courses, engaging women in cybersecurity to bridge the talent pool gap, encouraging volunteerism amongst students while developing their interest in cybersecurity, among others.
At the upcoming Digital for Life Festival, AiSP together with their partners, Acronis and thrive DX SaaS, will hold awareness talks on how to spot scams and fake news, as well as engage the public on cybersecurity knowledge through quizzes and games. It’s a walk-in event, so no pre-registration is required.
Additionally, Acronis will offer premium one-year cyber protection softwares through AiSP’s booth engagement. Their booth will be located at Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre on 21 and 22 May, and at Heartbeat@Bedok Main Hall on 28 and 29 May, from 10am to 7pm.
By promoting the development, increase and spread of cybersecurity knowledge, AiSP hopes to help shape a more resilient economy.
Microsoft Singapore: Upskilling persons with disabilities to improve job opportunities
Microsoft has always been a firm believer in tapping on technology to empower everyone to achieve more, and it has worked closely with governments, community, customers, and partners around the world to help it reach this goal.
“From the apps we use in our daily lives, to the speed at which companies have leveraged AI, the cloud, robotics and the likes to navigate through the pandemic, one thing is clear: the future is one that is digital-first,” asserted Pratima Amonkar, APAC Lead for Cloud and AI Business at Microsoft.
As an ongoing commitment to the Digital for Life movement and as part of Microsoft’s global digital literacy initiative, Microsoft Singapore has partnered with SPD and SG Enable to develop the Digital Enablement Programme (DEP).
“The DEP aims to close the digital divide and enable people with disabilities to participate in the workforce. This is done through a three-pronged approach to upskill persons with disabilities, connect them with employment opportunities, and improve their accessibility in the workplace,” explained Pratima.
She also stressed the need to attract more people with disabilities in the workforce to help develop “the next generation of accessible technology”.
To make that happen, they need to first create an inclusive workplace to nurture such talent, and this starts with equipping people with the required skills. In line with this, Microsoft supported a pilot SPD digital skills training course for persons with disabilities in January 2021 to help boost their employability.
The DEP is an extension of this pilot, and it includes a 35-hour training course that is structured into various tiers catering to different digital literacy levels.
In the first tier, participants learn basic skills like how to use TraceTogether, WhatsApp, and make medical appointments on their phones. In the advanced classes, participants learn to access online government services, safeguard their personal data, and use productivity tools including Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Office on their digital devices.
Of the 17 participants in the 2021 pilot, 11 successfully secured employment upon completion of the programme. Spurred by these encouraging numbers, Microsoft aims to work with partners to train 140 persons with disabilities by 2023.
Besides helping them to upskill, Microsoft also helps match jobseekers to potential employers through the Microsoft Enabler Program. Launched in 2020, the initiative helps to provide full-time roles, internships, mentorships, and training opportunities to persons with disabilities.
In addition, Microsoft connects partners with SG Enable’s Job Placement Job Support programme, which offers employer consultancy and capability-building programmes to organisations that are keen to hire persons with disabilities.
“Very often, we look at just one side of the fence – how we train people to have the right skills. But at the end of the day, if employers don’t understand how to work with a person with a disability, it all falls apart,” said Pratima.
Since persons with disabilities represent one of the largest untapped talent pools in Singapore, Microsoft hopes that through continued public-private partnerships like DEP, it can better achieve its ambition to make technology accessible for all and help create a resilient, digitally-inclusive nation.
At the upcoming Digital for Life event, Microsoft will be hosting online webinars on 24 May from 2.30pm to 3.30pm, and 25 May from 10.30am to 11.30am.
The webinar will cover subjects such as how to enhance personal productivity with assistive tech features of Microsoft tools, including live demos, as well as tips and tricks to prepare for a digital career. Pre-registration is required for this virtual event.
Building a digitally inclusive society is a collective effort
“As the digital landscape changes rapidly, we need the entire community to come together to build and strengthen our digital resilience,” said President Halimah Yaacob when she delivered her speech at last year’s launch event of the Digital for Life movement.
“To do so, we need to understand and collectively address the digital needs of different segments of our society. Only then can we be closer to realising our vision of becoming a digitally inclusive society.”
It’s important to note that everyone can help play a part to build a digitally inclusive society, no matter how big or small a company may be. Together, our collective efforts will help to make technology accessible for all, and digitally enrich the lives of the community.
In fact, there are many ways in which you can contribute – donate to the Digital for Life Fund, volunteer with existing projects, or start a ground-up project through collaboration with other Digital for Life partners, all to help the digitally less-abled to embrace digital.
You can also check out who are the other partners supporting the movement, head down to the Digital for Life Festival to speak to them, get some inspiration on how you can also “play” it forward, as well as take part in the activities to have digital enrich your life too.
Regardless of your company size or contribution, everyone is welcome to join in this meaningful cause to build an inclusive digital society.
This article was written in collaboration with Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).
Featured Image Credit: Microsoft / AiSP / Singtel / Mercurics
When I watched Inventing Anna on Netflix earlier this year, I was enthralled, to say the least. There’s something about watching fraudsters (especially ones based on real-life) rise and fall that is so entertaining.
Plus, more often than not, the drama and personality that fills the screen are a lot more captivating than most reality shows could ever strive to be.
While watching Inventing Anna, I recalled another fraud case that has been on my radar for a while—the one with Theranos and its founder and CEO, Elizabeth Holmes. So, when I found out Hulu would be airing a show about it—starring Amanda Seyfried, no less—I immediately put it on my watch list.
If you’ve never heard of Elizabeth Holmes or her health tech startup, here’s a quick summary for you. Holmes dropped out of Stanford at 19 years old with the goal to start her own company, Theranos.
A combination of “therapy” and “diagnose”, Theranos aimed to reinvent blood testing so that only a small amount of blood was needed to test for an array of different diseases.
The company was nowhere close to reaching that goal, but Holmes essentially lied to investors and the media that they already have the tech.
Anyway, the whole story is crazier than that, so if you want to know more, you should definitely check out the series or listen to the podcast it’s based on, also called The Dropout.
While watching the show, here are some entrepreneurial takeaways that I picked up on—some of which I learnt from Holmes at her height, while others were exactly what caused her downfall.
1. Identifying your strongest ambition can help you stay driven
Elizabeth Holmes’ ambition certainly carried her very, very far. She knew what she wanted, and what she had to do to get there. In her earlier days, Holmes’ drive was actually kind of inspiring, and I can see why she made it on the cover of various reputable magazines.
2. But maybe have an ambition that’s focused on more than just money
At a ripe young age, Holmes had already shared that she wanted to be a billionaire when she grew up. It’s certainly not wrong to be money-motivated, but it almost felt like everything she did was a means to an end, with the end being wealth. Lots of it.
With this vision, it’s easy to become blindsided and forget why you even started this entrepreneurial journey, which we can deduce is what happened to Holmes. This becomes particularly problematic when it comes to the biomedical field.
3. Realise when something isn’t working and know when to give up
It’s important to know when you’ve reached the end of the road and let go of a project instead of stringing people on. However, I also understand that this advice is kind of a difficult one to follow. Maybe if Holmes had succeeded instead, I would be saying “never give up”.
Throughout the movie, Holmes frequently asked, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” As I watched her lies snowball, I realise that it’s crucial for entrepreneurs to even consider failure as an option.
Aptly put by this Inc article, “Scientists are trained to try to prove themselves wrong in the process of trying to uncover real breakthroughs. Why are entrepreneurs not willing to do the same?”
In the same way, entrepreneurs should be willing to continuously re-evaluate and disprove their ideas to improve them, and give up on them upon realising they’re not feasible.
4. Have humility and listen actively to criticism
In college, Holmes approached Phyllis Gardner, a professor at Stanford, and pitched one of her ideas. Gardner was sceptical and expressed as much to Holmes, who didn’t exactly take her criticism seriously.
To add, every time someone criticised Holmes, she acted defensively and was not receptive to the feedback. She probably saw herself as perseverant, but it was actually more like stubborn arrogance.
Most entrepreneurs worth their salt likely already understand the value of feedback, but sometimes it’s a much-needed reminder when an enthusiastically-pursued idea ends up getting more flak than praise, to an entrepeneur’s disappointment.
5. Research potential investors and learn to pitch well
Something that impressed me about Elizabeth Holmes was that she was always on top of her game when it came to investors. I mean, she had to be, in order to deceive them into buying into her web of lies.
As awkward as Holmes was depicted in her everyday life, she became a whole new charismatic and driven individual when it came to securing funds. She would find out what her investors were passionate about and use it to her advantage.
For example, when talking to Don Lucas, a venture capitalist, she used terms like “cowboy” and appealed to Lucas’ appreciation of America and freedom.
When talking to Ana Arriola, a product designer, she appealed to her sense of being “othered” in the male-dominated tech industry.
Holmes knew how to play into others’ interests during her pitch and get them on her side, using emotional appeal and personal stories (though they may have been fake or exaggerated).
Finding points of relatability between yourself and a potential investor can be that extra push needed to convince them, with business potential, performance, and other factors aside. After all, it’s been said that finding an investor is like finding a life partner.
6. Hire talented individuals that can take you far
In my belief, Theranos could run for as long as it did because of the shocking amount of talent Holmes recruited or even poached from big companies such as Apple.
By having such reputable names on her team, she was able to convince investors of the potential of Theranos. It was understandable why the media also bought into her whole ruse.
It’s clear that many of Theranos’ employees were highly capable and competent. Yet, most of them also realised how dark things were becoming at Theranos, which led to high turnover rates. Which brings me to the next point.
7. Practise transparency and accountability in the workplace
Holmes was able to keep the fact that the blood-testing machines did not work by essentially isolating each department and prohibiting them from interacting with each other.
She was never transparent to her employees, which must have made it all the more damaging when everyone suddenly lost their jobs.
However, while Theranos was still alive, some employees felt inclined to dig deeper into the situation, and they ended up being whistle-blowers who helped the world realise how fraudulent the business was. It just goes to show that a lack of transparency isn’t going to help keep the truth from being uncovered eventually.
8. Create a good self-image because it matters too
One of Holmes’ key signatures is the way she dresses. Does the black turtleneck remind you of anyone?
That’s right, Holmes was a fan of Steve Jobs and wanted to dress like him as well. So, she bought the Issey Miyake turtlenecks Jobs was known for and started wearing them.
It worked in her favour for a while, as people drew similarities that could have indirectly influenced how they perceived Holmes. (However, now that the truth has come to light, it only further enhances her image of being a copycat and worse, a fraud.)
9. Ultimately though, impress with your actions, not your words
Faking her style was one thing—Holmes also likely faked her voice. The former CEO was once known for her deep, charismatic voice, but that once unique trait has turned into the butt of the joke.
The alleged faux deep voice has become emblematic of her own fraudulent activities. Every time she speaks now, everyone is expecting to hear the unnaturally low pitch. She has succeeded in standing out, albeit not in the way that she initially hoped.
So not only were the words that came out of her mouth regarding Theranos generally crafted lies, but the voice she used to convey them was possibly fake too.
At the end of the day though, words can only take you so far. Eventually, lies will start cracking apart, and stakeholders will realise that there are no actions to back up the promising words said to them, be they an investor, partner, or customer.
Investors who do their due diligence will eventually realise that a company’s financials don’t add up (if it carries out proper auditing practices), and customers will realise that a service or product isn’t performing in the way that was promised to them, for example.
Then it’ll all come crashing down, and it’s hard to rebuild that trust when it’s been broken so suddenly and severely, especially if people have put money into—and lost it to—your business through investments or purchases.
These are just some of the lessons I picked up from watching the show, but something to note is that The Dropout is still a dramatisation of facts at the end of the day.
Therefore, some elements of the Theranos case may have been left out or deprioritised in favour of the more shocking events. Meanwhile, some elements may have been exaggerated for emotional responses from viewers.
But Theranos’ failure is still very, very real, and there’s lots to learn from the truths surrounding the case. If you want a quick taste of what this rabbit hole of a scandal has in store for you, you can start with The Dropout’s trailer:
- Read other reviews we’ve written here.
Featured Image Credit: Hulu
Does anybody know what to make of Sea Ltd anymore?
Between growing revenues, particularly for its e-commerce arm, falling bookings for its moneymaker Garena, and a promising surge in digital financial services, it seems to me that nobody really knows which part of the business to focus on in judging the future of the company.
Media coverage of Sea’s Q1 results that was released on Tuesday, seems to confirm that.
Some lauded the smaller-than-expected losses, still strong gaming revenue or the nearly quadrupling financial business. Others pointed to a quarterly drop in e-commerce revenue, falling bookings for Garena (an early sign of dwindling revenues in the critically important arm keeping Sea afloat), or still very high losses of the entire company.
Stock market performance appears to have reflected these sentiments too.
After a strong jump of around 14 per cent on Tuesday, Sea’s price tumbled by 7.5 per cent the next day, erasing most of the gains as investors were happy to take the quick buck rather than hold onto their position.
Pandemic years have been extremely generous to Sea as nationwide lockdowns have forced people to buy more online and spend more time on digital entertainment in the absence of better things to do outside as F&B establishments were closed, shopping was off-limits, and closed borders froze international travel.
As a result, both of Sea’s key business verticals — e-commerce and gaming — have enjoyed a surge in interest, elevating the entire company to over US$170 billion in value and making, albeit briefly, its founder, Forrest Li, the richest man in Singapore.
However, the COVID bonanza is now over, the market capitalisation is down 80 per cent, as is Li’s net worth, and the financial results for the first quarter of 2022 reflect the challenges ahead.
But it’s not all bad, so let’s take a closer look in a classic 1966 spaghetti Western style.
Shopee keeps growing. Its GMV has increased by around 40 per cent and revenue has nearly doubled year on year.
At this rate, Sea expects to hit between US$8.5 billion to US$9.1 billion in 2022, from US$5.1 billion in 2021.
Despite setbacks in India and France, the company is still keeping its pace, attracting about as much business as it did in the typically busiest Q4, filled with big events like the Singles’ Day, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and, of course, the festive Christmas month of December.
Elsewhere, its infant digital financial services branch of Sea Money has very nearly quadrupled its revenue, reaching US$236 million in Q1, firmly on its way to become another billion-dollar business (and more).
And since e-commerce is what draws most people to Sea Money, the continued growth of Shopee will help it at the same time.
Overall, the company is on track to grow its revenues to somewhere around US$15 billion, from US$10 billion last year.
What made some analysts and investors happy about the recent results was that the losses were not as bad as they were thinking, but that’s still hardly a reason to celebrate if the company burns a couple of billion per year.
And it looks like it may happen again, since Sea lost another US$580 million this quarter.
What is far worse, however, is that Garena, its leading moneymaker that’s fuelling the expansion of Shopee and Sea Money, appears to have hit a wall.
As the pandemic restrictions receded around the world, fewer people are spending time and money on digital entertainment. There were signs of the momentum slowing down last year, but the first quarter of 2022 shows that the lower pace has now become an abrupt halt.
While Garena still posted a respectable US$1.1 billion in revenue (up from US$800 million last year), its bookings have taken a dive in the opposite direction (from US$1.1 billion down to US$800 million).
Since bookings are effectively the future commitment of paying customers, this negative turn will see the company’s results dive in subsequent quarters, which will see a much more painful drop year-on-year, considering that peak revenue for 2021 was around US$1.2 billion.
Unsurprisingly, the number of both active and paying customers also took a dip. And while YoY changes may look positively minuscule, we have to remember that the gap between all-time highs recorded in the third quarter of 2021 is much larger.
Image Credit: Sea
Compared to the penultimate quarter of last year, the number of active users dropped by a staggering 113 million (over 15 per cent), with nearly 32 million of them being the paying ones — a collapse of 34 per cent.
In fact, the number of quarterly paying users is the lowest since the second quarter of 2020, and it doesn’t look like the company has a solution that could drastically change this trend.
What’s worse, Free Fire, its most popular game — and the most successful mobile franchise in the world right now — was banned in India, one of Garena’s largest markets, earlier this year (in a nationwide campaign banning certain apps with real or perceived ties to China), and it doesn’t seem like there’s a reversal coming anytime soon.
As a result, Garena’s EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) collapsed from around US$600 million to US$700 million it was recording last year, to just US$430 million, while the same metric for Shopee went up by about the same, sending the company down from a net positive of US$88 million last year to minus US$509 million in 2022.
By all financial measures, the company is bleeding money, while its only profitable business has received several blows.
This is where things get very unpredictable. The company still has US$8.8 billion in cash in its coffers, but it has burned through around US$3 billion in the last two quarters.
At this rate, it may be forced to raise more capital much sooner that it would ideally like to.
It was very lucky to have closed another round of financing through the stock market last year, when its capitalisation was near all-time highs, but repeating the same move now would prove a lot more costly after it lost 80 per cent in value.
This isn’t specifically Sea’s problem or the fault of some underperformance by the company, as many others have suffered the same fate, with the entire stock market reeling from anti-inflationary measures enacted by central banks worldwide.
But it also means that it’s difficult to predict when the situation may return to status quo ante, if ever.
After all, last year’s record-setting valuations have largely been a byproduct of enormous pandemic stimulus packages, with billions, if not trillions, of dollars finding their way to stocks, elevating them beyond all reason.
This sort of situation may not repeat for years to come, particularly if high inflation persists.
In other words, on one hand, Sea is an enormously successful company that runs a profitable digital entertainment business, has cracked international e-commerce with hit app Shopee, and has a very promising digital finance arm that is benefiting from the latter’s global expansion.
On the other hand, however, for all its achievements, it has to navigate very stormy waters and rapidly changing conditions, which are no longer as favourable as they have been for the past two years.
While it has considerable supplies stashed away to aid its survival, it is consuming them at a much faster rate than is sustainable over as little as two or three years.
What could happen then? Raise more funding? Issue stock? Take on more debt? Acquisition by a bigger company? Who knows, it’s anybody’s guess today.
Featured Image Credit: Sea