Launched in 2001 as part of Singapore’s National Technology Plan, one-north offers a vibrant and nurturing environment to startups and leading global firms alike, and it’s often dubbed as Singapore’s very own “Silicon Valley”.
Situated in Northern California, Silicon Valley is the world’s tech hub, where you can find thousands of innovative startups and huge tech corporations.
one-north is also emerging as a ‘Singa-con Valley’ — the area is built around industry-focused hubs, such as the Launchpad which focuses on start-ups, incubators, accelerators, venture capitalists, and the Mediapolis, where the media ecosystem thrives.
From startups to tech giants, here’s a list of tech companies that have made one-north their home:
Operated by 99 Group, homegrown real estate platform 99.co is one of the many local startups housed at Block 71 in one-north.
Block 71 is a tech ecosystem builder and global connector which catalyses and aggregates the startup community. Alongside that, it also guides startups and creates new initiatives for startups to grow in both local and global markets.
Founded in 2014, 99.co started off as a platform enabling renters to find roommates to share an apartment together, until its CEO Darius Cheung realised how “broken” the property industry was.
Today, it has evolved into providing 360-degree solutions to serve agents, developers and media in the property landscape. Additionally, it has expanded into Indonesia, where it has captured 80 per cent of the market share.
In Singapore, 99 Group operates 99.co, SRX.com.sg and iProperty.com.sg, while in Indonesia, it operates 99.co/id and Rumah123.com.
Most recently, 99 Group raised US$52 million in a Series C round, bringing its total funding to over US$80 million. According to Darius, 99.co plans to enter a new market in 18 months, and two new markets in 24 to 36 months.
Gaming giant Razer launched its seven-storey S$100 million Southeast Asia headquarters in one-north back in 2021. It was previously based at the Chai Chee Industrial Estate.
Spanning an estimated 19,300 sqm, its current headquarters is painted in black, streaked with its iconic acid green colour. Razer only occupies the first four stories of the building, while the other three floors are leased out to various tenants.
Beyond housing its office, the Razer headquarters also features its first-ever F&B concept, RazerCafe, where you can get your drinks made and served by Razer’s robotic barista. Guests can order (or pre-order) personalised beverages through its RazerCafe app or ordering kiosk.
Razer also opened its first Razer Store in Singapore on the first floor where guests can have a first-hand look and try out Razer’s latest innovations and creations.
One of Southeast Asia’s leading superapps, Grab also recently moved out of its previous office in Guoco Towers, and launched its new Singapore headquarters two months ago in conjunction with its 10th anniversary.
This is its second HQ in the region, following its other one in Jakarta, Indonesia, which serves as Grab’s regional innovation hub for small businesses.
Located at one-north business park, this new nine-storey facility spans more than 42,000 sqm. The building houses about 3,000 Grabbers, including its newly-formed digibank team. It also features a R&D Centre, as well as its first GrabMerchant Centre.
Grab started off as a ride-hailing company, but has expanded its services to cover a wide range of verticals such as food and grocery deliveries and financial services. It plans to expand its local tech talent pool and is actively hiring across the company.
Identifying the potential of Singapore’s Silicon Valley, JustCo strategically opened up a co-working space located at Razer’s HQ. The co-working space allows companies looking to venture into tech to connect with startups and global firms in one-north.
Unlike most businesses badly impacted by Covid-19, JustCo ploughed through the pandemic and is steadily expanding its business. JustCo has 40 outlets globally and 18 outlets all over Singapore, with different layouts, accessible by all its members.
Over half of its tenants today comprise large enterprise clients such as L’Oreal, Novartis, Dropbox and Riot Games, according to Kong Wan Long, co-founder and Chief Commercial Officer of JustCo.
Situated at Biopolis, a biomedical R&D hub that houses public research institutes and private research organisations, local startup TurtleTree creates lab-grown human breast milk as an alternative to infant formula using stem cell technology.
It aims to reduce the planet’s carbon footprint and to provide access to safe and reliable diary products.
Last November, TurtleTree raised US$30 million in the first tranche of its Series A round, making it one of the largest investment rounds to date in Asia’s cell-based food sector.
Consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble (P&G) set foot into one-north in 2014 and occupies six floors of one-north’s the Metropolis, “the only Grade A office building in the one-north District”. Additionally, the Metropolis provides a range of innovative eco-friendly solutions for water and energy conservation.
P&G’s office at the Metropolis building connects to its Innovation Center at Biopolis, forming a campus where its team provides a range of services. The office spans 14,000 sqm over six floors of Metropolis Tower 2.
P&G spends nearly US$2 billion annually on R&D and invests at least another US$400 million every year in foundational consumer research to discover opportunities for innovation. Innovation has always been key to its growth, ensuring the relevancy of P&G’s FMCG products as trends change.
Data tech company Seagate provides products for storing, managing and accessing digital information and manufactures information technologies such as disc and tape storage devices, magnetic recording heads and media and microelectronics.
Back in 2015, it launched the Seagate Singapore Design Centre, named “The Shugart”, in honour of its founder, Al Shugart, in one-north. The S$100 million facility can house over 900 employees and was designed to provide R&D facilities for its team.
Recently, it reported a revenue of US$2.63 billion and a GAAP gross margin of 28.9 per cent for the fourth quarter of 2022. It also expects a revenue of US$2.5 billion for the first quarter of 2023.
Back in 2008, French video game company Ubisoft moved into Fusionopolis, an R&D hub for infocomm technology (ICT), media, physical sciences and engineering industries, with a team of 22 people.
Ubisoft was founded in 1986, and created the well-known Assassin’s Creed franchise in 2007. The franchise is an open world game genre with over 140 million players, and each game is set in different pivotal points of history such as the French Revolution and the Italian Renaissance.
The popularity of the franchise led to the creation of film and graphic novel adaptations, art exhibitions, a live symphony and a live-action TV series with Netflix. Other notable games produced by Ubisoft include multiplayer dance game JustDance, and tactical first-person shooter game Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six.
Ubisoft’s most recent office expansion was carried out in 2020, where it expanded to a new floor with a team of over 500 people.
9. Sea Group
Located at Galaxis in the heart of Fusionopolis, Sea Group is home to e-commerce platform Shopee, digital entertainment platform Garena and digital financial service platform seamoney.
Although its market value soared above US$200 billion last October as Shopee and Garena surged in popularity during the pandemic. It was hit hard by the economic downturn and its share value has since tumbled, though Sea Group aims to achieve a positive cash flow in the next 12 to 18 months.
In line with this path to profitability, its top management will forego their salaries until the company becomes self-sufficient. Shopee also carried out a regional layoff and made headlines recently for withdrawing multiple job offers based in Singapore.
Tech giant Apple’s headquarters spans 215,000 square feet at the 18-storey Innovis — one of the three blocks in Fusionopolis Two — occupying around half the tower.
Other than its one-north office, it also opened a dome-shaped floating store in Marina Bay back in 2020. Its shape was inspired by Rome’s Pantheon with an oculus located at the apex of the dome which allows light to shine through the store.
Apple was also not spared by the economic downturn. In August, Forbes reported that Apple had laid off 100 contract recruiters.
Singapore is emerging as a tech hub in Asia
With all these tech companies and bright startups setting up their bases in Singapore, Singapore is rising up the ranks and establishing itself as one of the biggest tech hubs globally.
In fact, Singapore has come up top in KPMG’s global ranking of leading technology innovation hubs outside of the Silicon Valley in both 2020 and 2021 consecutively. Singapore is ahead of other major cities such as New York, Tel Aviv, Beijing, and London.
Additionally, Singapore houses the highest number of unicorns and startups among countries in Asia Pacific, according to KPMG and HSBC’s emerging giants in Asia Pacific report.
In line with this, the Singaporean government has also implemented various initiatives to encourage growth in both the tech and startup sectors such as providing a range of funding options for startups.
With all these initiatives in place, Singapore is definitely a lucrative place for startups and tech giants alike to establish their presence and grow their companies.
Featured Image Credit: Razer / JustCo / Sea / Grab
On October 3, 2022, Malaysia-based indie game studio, RB Wolf Games reached out to us to share the happy news of their debut game finally being launched after two years in the works.
Called “Once Again”, the game follows a story-rich narrative, portrayed in a 2D visual novel style and inspired by a real-life story.
According to the team, one of the game’s main protagonists is based on the creator’s relative, a young woman who had always wanted to be a mother.
When she finally got pregnant after years of trying, she found herself afflicted by Peripartum Cardiomyopathy (PPCM).
Despite fighting symptoms including persistent swelling, decreased blood flow, and irregular heartbeats, she tragically passed away just two months after her daughter was born.
“Touched by the fragility of life demonstrated by the pandemic, we ideated and created Once Again—a game about saying goodbye,” the team said.
Graciously given the opportunity to check out the full game on Steam, here’s my review of this short and sweet game.
It starts with a story
If you had a chance to go back in time and meet someone, who would you choose?
The game follows the story of Sia, a young boy who’s never really known his mother. Based on contextual clues throughout the game and, of course, its inspiration, one can assume that she had passed away when he was still very young.
Bored and lonely during summer, he begins thinking of his mother, only able to recall her face through a single picture kept in his wallet.
The day we start off on is also his birthday, and as the heat lulls him into an afternoon nap, he later awakens to see a slice of birthday cake with a lit candle by his monitor, its screen wishing him Happy Birthday and prompting him to make a wish.
So, make a wish, he does, and he’s suddenly travelled back in time, meeting a young woman who he later realises is his mother.
They begin to connect over her interest in photography, but alas, it isn’t long before he returns to his present life after taking a nap again.
At first, everything he experienced seems to be just a dream, but a souvenir he brought home from his time with his mother convinces him that it was all actually real.
Summer after summer on only his birthday, he would experience the same time travel, and his relationship with his mother would continue to develop.
They were both living in their own timelines that ran parallel to one another, their lives converging only on his special day, during which he would collect more memories of her to keep.
Eventually, he reaches a point in her timeline where she’s pregnant with him, and that was undoubtedly the climax of the game.
Without giving too much away, that was when the concept of the game being about saying goodbye truly hit me.
Though Sia had never met his mother in his own timeline, he was given several chances to go back and say a proper goodbye, something that many of us who’ve lost (or never met) a loved one might wish we could do.
This made me think, if I were in his place, would I want to go back and grow more attached to someone while knowing that I still must say goodbye someday, or would I rather just continue living only with the memory of them?
It’s a hard question to answer, and one that makes you dig deep into your own psyche.
Building an atmosphere with visuals & audio
Every frame of the game is lovingly hand-drawn in a simple manga style. Some scenes are black and white with bold shadows, others taking on a more sketched look and filled with vibrant colours.
It’s a game that is fluid in style and motion, small imperfections only adding to its charm. Using colours and sound effects, it brings to mind hot summers with the buzzing of cicadas cutting through the still air.
Atmospherically, it reminded me of the types of summers you’d see in slice-of-life anime shows, and this set the tone for the casual and laidback gameplay throughout.
At intervals, calm music (that I would consider to be of the lo-fi genre) would play, and to my pleasant surprise, I learnt that these were original tracks.
The first time I heard the “main” track play, I ended up pausing my progression just to listen fully to the music for fear that clicking to the next page would end it.
Mechanics that were surprisingly simple yet immersive
When I first started the game, I had no idea of what to expect when it came to mechanics. In the early parts, it seemed more like a game that played itself, with text-like monologues and dialogues filling me in on the story at their own pace.
Then the game introduced a clickable element, which you would use to progress in certain parts.
Though in the beginning there was a coloured ring that would guide you to click on something, you’re later left to your own devices, and at times, I ended up clicking haphazardly everywhere to trigger progress.
Later on, there was a click-and-drag mechanic that was put into certain story elements, such as the adjustment of a photography camera’s focus and exposure, to turn the hands of time which changes the way the sky looks for photos, and more.
There’s no voice acting throughout the game, just blissful music, up until the end of it all. Reserved just for the resolution of the game, the gentle voice of Sia’s mother reads out the contents of the letter she left him when he was younger.
A promising debut game
Overall, Once Again follows a slow, subtle pace where you’re allowed to take the time to just observe the visuals and enjoy the music.
If anything, I felt like perhaps the game could have developed the player’s affection and attachment to the main character a little more.
I ended up feeling like I never really knew who Sia was beyond those single days of summer, what his general family life was like, how he interacted with the rest of his environment, etc.
Thus, I didn’t have too much of an emotional stake in what happened between him and his mother, although I did tear up at certain parts (what can I say, I’m a family woman through and through).
I did like that the game never exaggerated or forced things for the sake of making the story extra sad though. In the end, it was more bittersweet than anything else.
And, though I might not relate to the main character much, I could still imagine feeling the same way, wishing I had had more time with a loved one before they’re gone.
This being RB Wolf Games’ debut is a promising sign for the indie studio, and their dedication to polishing the game did not go unnoticed.
They’re currently one of 15 Malaysian finalists for the SEA Game Awards 2022, and we wish them all the best when the winners are announced at LEVEL UP KL on October 7, 2022.
Featured Image Credit: RB Wolf Games
For over a decade, Ripple has been exploring a fundamental blockchain use-case: efficient cross-border payments. Using the XRP ledger, the company allows people to send and receive funds at much lower rates than they’d be charged by traditional banks.
In the fourth quarter of 2021, the average fee to send US$200 across borders was six per cent. In comparison, Ripple facilitates transactions at a standard rate which, at present, is a very small fraction of a cent.
With the digital remittance market projected to grow annually by 15 per cent by 2030, the need for blockchain-based finance solutions is more apparent than ever.
“[Blockchain solutions bring] a clear economic benefit to these markets,” says Rahul Advani, Ripple’s Policy Director in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region.
Digital assets enable micropayments and remove friction from the remittance process. People no longer need to wait till they have a large amount of money to send — they can send as little as a dollar everyday, and still end up paying less in cumulative transaction fees.
Low crypto transaction fees: is it sustainable?
At a panel discussion this August, J.P. Morgan’s Umar Farooq claimed that once regulations catch up in the crypto space, transaction fees will increase as well.
[Bank transfers] are expensive, but this is because of reasons such as AML, KYC, and last-mile transferability. Once the regulatory arbitrage between the crypto and TradFi industry becomes smaller, the delta is not going to be that big.
– Umar Farooq, CEO, Onyx by J.P. Morgan
From Advani’s perspective, this argument isn’t entirely valid.
“Compliance does cost, but the reality is that the friction in traditional rails isn’t from compliance costs,” he says. “If you look at the correspondent banking model, you have to have pre-funded accounts, and that ties up capital, which makes transfers more expensive.”
Ripple addresses this problem with its On-Demand Liquidity offering, wherein the XRP crypto token acts as a bridge between fiat currencies, and transactions can be settled in a matter of seconds.
“You no longer have to pre-fund your destination correspondent banking accounts,” Advani explains.
Given this scenario, even if compliance costs were to increase in the crypto space, players like Ripple would still have an edge over traditional payment solutions.
“The issue is not compliance, the issue is pre-funding,” he adds.
Are TradFi institutions getting left behind?
In recent years, an increasing number of banks and financial institutions have started exploring the benefits of blockchain technology. Firms including Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan are experimenting with the use of blockchain-based networks for securities trading.
Ripple is currently working with hundreds of institutions including Siam Commercial Bank and Tranglo.
While the crypto winter has heavily impacted cryptocurrency prices and the speculative side of the industry, real blockchain use-cases continue to thrive. Ripple is seeing record levels of growth, even with the XRP token down over 85 per cent from its all-time high.
In terms of On-Demand Liquidity, we’re going to be doing US$15 billion this year. That’s the highest it has ever been. We’re growing at 8x, 9x year-on-year. That’s because we solve a very real problem.
– Rahul Advani, Ripple’s Policy Director, APAC
As blockchain-based solutions disrupt the finance industry, Ripple sees collaboration as the way forward.
“Since we started building 10 years ago, our approach was very clear that we needed to involve traditional banks. Banks play a very important role in the ecosystem,” Advani continues. “We don’t see us as working at opposite ends. We’re working together to provide benefits to the broader economy.”
Dealing with regulatory changes
Global regulations will have a significant say in the future of blockchain technology. Since 2020, Ripple has been involved in a court case which could have significant consequences, not just for the company, but the wider crypto industry.
The lawsuit — filed by the US Securities and Exchange Commission — alleges that XRP, the native crypto token on the XRP ledger, should be treated as a security rather than a currency.
“This case is going to set precedent one way or another, and we don’t want it to set a negative precedent because that could affect many other tokens out there,” says Advani.
As Ripple CEO Bradley Garlinghouse told CNBC, if Ripple loses the case, most crypto tokens in the US would be deemed securities. Their respective issuers would have to register with the SEC as broker dealers. “That’s cost, that’s friction,” explained Garlinghouse.
Advani believes this is an example of the US lagging behind in terms of its crypto regulations. “There’s no other jurisdiction anywhere in the world that has indicated that XRP is a security.”
In countries including Singapore, Japan, and UK, there’s clear taxonomy differentiating between digital payment tokens and securities. “The US is a unique situation because it really doesn’t have that regulatory clarity.”
Singapore leads the way
The regulatory clarity in Singapore is one of the primary reasons why Ripple chose the country for its APAC and MENA headquarters.
The industry is moving at a breakneck speed. A lot of regulators are playing catch up. Singapore is ahead of the curve and as a regulator is open to discussions with the industry. You can sit in with the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and exchange views quite openly.
– Rahul Advani, Ripple’s Policy Director, APAC
While other companies have jumped ship in recent years, Ripple uses Singapore as a benchmark for other jurisdictions. Advani believes that the MAS’ views around crypto have been consistent, going as far back as 2017.
“What you don’t want to see is a race to the bottom,” he says about Singapore’s DPT licensing requirements. “What’s the point of a regulatory framework if anyone can get a license?”
The crypto winter has spurred on regulatory talks in areas such as crypto lending, which were previously uncovered by the MAS and other policymakers.
Advani believes that any sort of regulatory clarity is only going to be beneficial. “We will work with regulators to ensure that our views are incorporated into any sort of framework which is implemented.
In Ripple’s view, MAS’ policies have been generally positive, however, Advani shares concerns about the language which is used in regulatory talks and documents.
As an example, he refers to the opening address by MAS’ Managing Director Ravi Menon at a recent Green Shoots seminar. Menon’s speech was titled, ‘Yes to Digital Asset Innovation, No to Cryptocurrency Speculation’.
“What we feel is speculation isn’t unique to crypto,” says Advani. “We’ve seen speculation in other markets. It’s not a new thing.” He adds that if it weren’t for crypto, people would be speculating on other asset classes, whether it’s whiskey bottles or Rolex watches.
“We think the view should be ‘Yes to Innovation, No to Speculation’, full stop. It shouldn’t be specific to cryptocurrencies and digital assets,” he adds.
For a regulator promoting blockchain innovation, using technology-neutral language is important. Otherwise, it appears as if speculation and poor risk management are issues which are exclusive to digital assets.
Crypto assets are not bad. The technology underlying them is not bad. It’s how you use them that could be. That’s true with any technology. Take the traditional securities market for example, and what happened during the global financial crisis.
– Rahul Advani, Ripple’s Policy Director, APAC
Advani elaborates using fraud as an example. “Whether it’s on Carousell selling fake concert tickets, or doing a rug-pull in crypto, it’s equally bad. They can both be addressed with the frameworks in place. There’s no need to say speculation in crypto assets is bad. Speculation is bad, full stop.”
Featured Image Credit: Ripple
Before venturing into a life of baking, Ugene had been working for multinational companies as part of the technical service helpdesk. Born in Amsterdam, he was fluent in Dutch, German, and English—a sought-after skillset.
Though he was born and raised in the Netherlands, Dutch native Ugene has always had a close connection with Malaysia through his Penang-born father.
His mother, born in Hong Kong, often cooked at home—an activity that captured Ugene’s attention.
“Baking cakes and cupcakes piqued my interest early on too, but I never pursued any formal education in it because there were no real examples or role models that encouraged it from my environment,” he shared. “So, I figured I’ll just do what everybody else does.”
By this, he means studying business and then working out where to go from there.
Eventually, this wound up being in Malaysia, baking treats for a living under the name Verse Stroopwafel.
Finding a purpose in his passion
Undeniably, stroopwafels are a staple of the Netherlands. A stroopwafel is a thin, round waffle cookie made from two layers of sweet baked dough held together by caramel filling.
“One cannot live in Holland without knowing or enjoying Dutch foods, and I am no exception,” he expressed.
Saying that stroopwafels are a staple of the Dutch people, Ugene shared that the treat’s history dates back to the 18th century from the city of Gouda (yes, like the cheese).
Ugene enjoys the treat so much that he would always ask his family to bring back stroopwafels (and cheeses) whenever they visit him.
But when does a simple love for food transform into the desire to start a business? For Ugene, the lines seem to blur.
“I always kept fantasising of one day starting up my own business with Dutch foods,” he said. “I have several tries with multiple Dutch foods, searching online and looking for videos and recipes. But none of the ones I was doing really took off.”
At least, not until he realised he needed to learn the secret of the trade from an expert. Thus, he decided to go back to his native country to learn from a master stroopwafel baker.
“I found the Dutch stroopwafel teacher on Google and made a reservation six months ahead of my journey back to the Netherlands,” he shared.
Six months later, he found himself in a master baker’s car, en route to a remote town in the Netherlands where he would soon learn the secrets of stroopwafel-making.
Mastering the craft
Named Dirk, Ugene’s teacher had 30 years of experience under his belt. According to Ugene, Dirk had already built a small food empire but had to slow down due to his health and age.
“Still, he never really stopped because he loved the joy of helping other businesses succeed,” Ugene explained.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the two bonded quickly. The class was actually only a day long, but Ugene believed it was the best training he could’ve gotten, seeing it as the best investment he’s ever made.
With that said, it still took Ugene a full year before he felt ready and confident to launch his home-based business in March 2019.
A one-man show
Verse Stroopwafel started as a side hustle, but in 2021, he decided to go full-out, leaving his full-time job to focus on growing his own brand.
Although he has some experience in doing retail business, this was his very first venture in the F&B industry. Thus, he was mostly learning as he went. While doing so, Ugene focused on mainly one thing—remaining loyally committed to the art of traditional stroopwafel baking.
Currently, the Verse Stroopwafel team consists wholly of Ugene himself. From production to packaging as well as distribution, Ugene handles it all.
While some may find the charm of his small business appealing, there are other popular stroopwafel brands such as Daelmans that are much more accessible. It would be difficult for a one-man team to compete with a brand as big as that.
“Daelmans Stroopwafels are nice, don’t get me wrong,” Ugene started when asked about it. “But mine are just better.”
He believes this is because his own treats are made from self-sourced premium ingredients and are handmade from scratch “with love and care”.
“It’s like comparing Gardenia brand with bread from your local bakery,” he reasoned. “I can’t explain it better than that.”
Over the years, Verse Stroopwafel has also come to carry quite a variety of flavours, compared to Daelman’s three (caramel, honey, and chocolate). This includes Classic Caramel, Chocolate, Espresso, Pineapple, and Mocha.
There are also two more “premium” flavours, which are Speculaas and Double Espresso.
Speculaas is a special Dutch spice mix that’s traditionally eaten during Christmas or wintertime. According to Ugene, it has a warmth and sweetness to it that isn’t overpowering.
Double Espresso consists of real espresso shot-infused caramel enclosed within a coffee waffle base, thus the idea of “double”.
All these flavours are the result of Ugene’s own preferences, believing that he would only be capable of selling creations he could firmly stand behind.
Flavours aside, Verse Stroopwafel also offers three different sizes of products—King, Classic, and Mini. Customers can also choose different types of packages such as a family box, a birthday gift box, and more.
For the love of stroopwafels
Having visited the Netherlands before, I’ve had my fair share of stroopwafels. I’ve always remembered being told that the Dutch treat was best enjoyed on top of a hot cup of coffee.
Still, I wanted to confirm that with Ugene. However, when I asked the baker about it, he had this to say:
“Marketing would have you believe it’s to place it on top of your hot beverage like coffee, tea, or hot chocolate,” he confirmed. “And why not? Most people do as they’re instructed, as soon it catches on.”
He continued, “But to me, stroopwafels are just eaten the way they are—right from the package as a snack or as an energy bar before and after exercise.”
Take it from Ugene—he’s been running Verse Stroopwafel for over three years now and has been an avid enjoyer of the treat for… well, most of his life.
And it’s really this enjoyment that is the core of Ugene’s business. Before honing this passion of his, the Dutchman had been struggling with the challenge of not knowing what he wanted to do.
“I was 39 years old when I knew that I’m good at doing this and I love what I do,” he shared. “That is the most valuable gift I cherish that I know will always keep on giving.”
When asked about the future of his business, Ugene said, “I like to dream big, but I do not see myself as a commercial failure if I do not achieve financial success like building a sort of Stroopwafel empire in Malaysia from the bottom up.”
Instead, his big dream is mostly to share his love for stroopwafels as how it has been authentically experienced in the Netherlands for hundreds of years past, and perhaps hundreds more to come.
Image Credit: Verse Stroopwafel
Walk through any bazaar in a mall, and you’d probably find at least one small business selling home decor made from concrete, clay, and even ceramics.
These businesses turning construction material into something warmer and inviting can help homeowners add a touch of personality to their space.
They also make great conversation starters, which Carmen Chow believes is the case with her home decor products made out of jesmonite, sold through Jiwa Home.
But what is jesmonite?
Jesmonite is essentially a mixture of a water-based acrylic resin liquid and a mineral base. Widely used as a construction material, it was used for building movie sets, theme parks, sculptures, and more, before it became a craft material.
For Carmen, working with jesmonite came as a result of her environment.
“As I live in a small apartment without a balcony or yard, I needed a safe and non-toxic material to work with,” Carmen told Vulcan Post. “Being VOC-free and water-based, it allows me to work indoors and makes cleaning up easier.”
Did you know: Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are a large group of chemicals that are found in many products we use to build and maintain our homes. Breathing VOCs can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, and may cause breathing difficulty.
But the main thing that drew Carmen to working with jesmonite was its finishing, and the feel of the finished product.
According to Carmen, jesmonite has a matte, stone-like finish that is soft to the touch, think of it as a smooth eggshell texture.
It is something my boss could attest to when stumbling upon Jiwa Home at a bazaar. She shared that the jesmonite products had a smooth finish, unlike concrete products that can sometimes feel grainy on the surface.
“Jesmonite also picks up a lot of details nicely from moulds,” Carmen realised. “The finished product is also stronger yet much lighter than concrete, factors I have considered as a major benefit for postage as we do sell [the products] online as well.”
From working in property to crafting home decor
Prior to launching Jiwa Home in November 2021, Carmen was mainly involved in the property development industry.
She’s held a handful of roles there, having been a digital marketer, writer, and property manager. Carmen has no formal experience in crafting, only a raging curiosity about how things are made.
So, what is one to do when they have no experience in crafting but the drive to try? Turn to YouTube tutorials, of course.
“In the beginning, I just bought some jesmonite, learnt to make some items, and set up a pop-up booth at Jaya One to see how it goes as part of my market research,” Carmen recalled.
“Sometimes it’s important to put yourself out there and just do it, you can get a lot of valuable feedback by talking to people too.”
The process of making her jesmonite products which can range from trinket trays, coasters, pencil holders, and plant pots, starts with experimenting.
Taking into account her intended colours and shapes, Carmen will then “tweak it or leave it”, as she puts it, detailing that there’s always a tiny (or big) element of surprise with handmade items.
Due to the nature of jesmonite, the material will start to harden about 20 minutes after it is mixed with water, which is a blessing and a curse to the crafter. While a tangible product can be created in a short time, Carmen must plan ahead and work quickly.
And because jesmonite is also a costly material, Carmen tries to reduce Jiwa Home’s production waste.
For example, when there are extra bits of mixture left over, she makes small magnets or saves them for terrazzo chips to use for future products.
Handmade products mean that no two pieces are alike. On average, making a normal piece takes about an hour, while others, depending on the design, can require up to two days to finish.
Feeling is believing
Carmen pointed out that her biggest challenge in running Jiwa Home is in educating customers.
She highlighted that most would assume her products are concrete, clay, or even ceramic at first glance, but their perspective shifts after they feel the materials for themselves. Hence, offline sales from bazaars and pop-up markets are the drivers of Jiwa Home’s sales.
Despite Carmen stating that jesmonite is a costly material to work with, Jiwa Home’s products are sold at what she believes is a competitive rate between RM30-RM70.
Being a small business, Carmen disclosed that her sales have yet to be consistent each month. But the founder did report that Jiwa Home is profitable at the moment.
Other than increasing the number of product designs sold on Jiwa Home, Carmen is also looking to move into a small studio and start workshops, due to customer demand.
The home decor market Jiwa Home competes in is crowded. However, Carmen believes that every maker has their own style and creativity put into these handcrafted products.
On top of that, the market for jesmonite home decor products is still rare in Malaysia, and Jiwa Home now has the opportunity to lead it.
Featured Image Credit: Carmen Chow, founder and crafter of Jiwa Home