Self-taught wallet designer turns retail entrepreneur specialising in Kickstarter products

Mr Ryan Sim and Mr Joel Liew raised A$130,000 despite asking for only A$5,000 with their third wallet design Aki (above). Mr Ryan Sim with products funded through Kickstarter at We The People Store.
Mr Ryan Sim with products funded through Kickstarter at We The People Store.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI
Mr Ryan Sim and Mr Joel Liew raised A$130,000 despite asking for only A$5,000 with their third wallet design Aki (above). Mr Ryan Sim with products funded through Kickstarter at We The People Store.
Mr Ryan Sim and Mr Joel Liew raised A$130,000 despite asking for only A$5,000 with their third wallet design Aki (above).ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Successful crowd-funding of the production of wallets by two friends leads to opening of stores which have expanded overseas

Mr Ryan Sim, 28, went from being a digital agency salesman to successful wallet designer on Kickstarter and, now, co-owner of a chain of retail shops that has expanded to South Korea.

We The People Store, which he says is the world's first Kickstarter product-centric retail outlet, opened here last August and has been so successful, the fourth store was launched three days ago at OUE Downtown Gallery 2.

He and his partners have also launched a store in Seoul, South Korea, and are thinking of expanding to Jeju Island in South Korea, Taiwan and Melbourne by the end of this year. Next year, they plan to take the store to the United States.

Mr Sim says: "As a creator myself, I know the difficulties behind getting funded on Kickstarter. There's not enough trust or media presence. We just want to help creators get as much funding as possible because an online presence is just not enough. At We The People, you can meet the creators and touch the products."

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His own Kickstarter experience started with the Kisetsu slim wallet in 2015. He and one of his childhood friends, former art teacher Joel Liew, 28, jumped into the project with no product design background, but with a lot of resolve.

They used the Australian Kickstarter site because the Singapore site was not launched yet.

For their first wallet, they asked for A$2,000, but raised A$5,000 on the crowd-funding platform. Realising the power of crowd-funding, they decided to launch two more Kisetsu wallet designs. The third was a huge success, receiving A$130,000, way more than their A$5,000 target.

Since then, they have sold about 20,000 wallets.

The idea for the store was birthed when Mr Sim noticed that sales of the Kisetsu wallets at an art fair surged about threefold after he put up a small sign that read "Funded by Kickstarter", complete with the Kickstarter logo.

"Every time I tell people our wallets are funded with Kickstarter, they'll be like 'wow' and the response is always positive, so I decided to advertise that. That little signboard was the turning point," he says.

The art fair also brought him and Mr Liew into contact with their two partners for We The People: Mr Jay Kang, 47, founder of Soozip, the largest design association in Seoul; and Mr Nison Chan, 28, founder of Talking Toes inspirational socks.

Mr Kang, who ran the fair where Mr Sim was selling his wallets, noticed how much business the Kickstarter sign brought in and approached Mr Sim and Mr Liew with the business idea of opening a store selling crowd-funded products. Mr Chan, who was selling his Talking Toes socks at the fair, hopped aboard too.

Six months later, they had their first We The People store, a pop-up, at Orchard Central, followed soon by a permanent outlet at the same mall.

Mr Sim, who dropped out of his bachelor's degree course in communications at private school Kaplan, says: "People want to be cool. People like new things and want to stay ahead. But most importantly, crowd-funding offers people the opportunity to be part of something bigger. You can be directly involved with a creator or company's growth, enabling them to start when they were nothing and there's a lot of intrinsic value in that."

Today, the flagship store at Millenia Walk spans 5,000 sq ft and houses about 200 products from about 60 brands. There is another outlet at West Coast Plaza.

Mr Sim declines to reveal the amount of money he and his partners have invested in We The People.

Products brought in are curated by Mr Chan, head of procurement for the stores.

Products must be successfully funded, backers must have already received the products and the items must have had positive reviews. Some items are bought from Kickstarter creators, while others are on consignment.

The best-selling items so far include the Mogics Power Bagel, a bagel-sized travel power strip with four universal sockets for different electrical plugs, an adapter and an extension cord. Designed by Singapore University of Technology and Design graduate Asa Lin, at least 300 pieces have been sold at We The People Stores each month since its introduction last year.

"How do you back and pay hundreds of dollars for a product that you cannot test and feel with your own hands? We're here to provide what e-commerce cannot do: a face to tie the product to, and warranty and after-sales support," Mr Sim says.

"We're also going to ask the people to tell We The People what to bring in. If we do bring in that product, we will give that person two of that product for the price of one."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2017, with the headline 'Kick-starting retail stores'. Print Edition | Subscribe