The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year 2019

Quek Siu Rui, Lucas Ngoo and Marcus Tan: Focused on making Carousell meaningful and enduring

Seven years ago, Quek Siu Rui, Lucas Ngoo and Marcus Tan came together with a dream - to create an online marketplace where people can buy and sell secondhand items. Today, their company Carousell has achieved unicorn status.
Carousell founders (from left) Quek Siu Rui, Lucas Ngoo and Marcus Tan started the online marketplace in 2012, inspired by their internships in Silicon Valley start-ups while studying at the National University of Singapore.
Carousell founders (from left) Quek Siu Rui, Lucas Ngoo and Marcus Tan started the online marketplace in 2012, inspired by their internships in Silicon Valley start-ups while studying at the National University of Singapore.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

While many start-ups might be dreaming of reaching unicorn status, Carousell co-founders Quek Siu Rui, Marcus Tan and Lucas Ngoo are more concerned about building a meaningful and enduring business.

"For us, it has always been about how we can best serve our community. If you do that really well, then valuations and titles like 'unicorn' become by-products," said Mr Tan, referring to the term that describes companies with a valuation of more than $1 billion.

In April, the online marketplace made headlines when it got an investment from South Africa's Internet giant Naspers.

Last month, Carousell agreed to a merger with classifieds firm 701Search, lifting the value of the Singapore start-up to more than US$850 million (S$1.2 billion).

The company has come a long way since 2012, when it was started by the trio, who were inspired by their year-long internships in Silicon Valley start-ups while studying at the National University of Singapore. Both Mr Quek, 32, and Mr Tan, 35, are Singaporeans, while Mr Ngoo, 31, is a Malaysian.

The first day that Carousell went live in Apple's App Store, the server crashed due to the spike in traffic, said Mr Tan. "At one point, we had only seven new users a day. But we e-mailed every single person who signed up. We kept in close contact with them, listening to their feedback carefully," he said. "We weren't just building a platform. It was and is our community of users that makes Carousell special."

The company has had more than 250 million listings on the app since it was launched.

The co-founders have big goals for the company, whose overall headcount will be more than 700 after the addition of about 300 staff from 701Search.

Said Mr Quek, who is chief executive officer: "Our mission is to inspire every person in the world to start selling and buying to create more possibilities for one another. Five to 10 years from now, we want Carousell to inspire a lifestyle where second-hand is the first choice."

 

Environmentally sustainable practices are something Carousell is keen to inspire. In 2017, it ran a campaign encouraging sellers to give away items to those in need. It has also previously devised a step-by-step lesson plan to teach the elderly how to navigate the app.

Carousell, which is now in eight markets, plans to cement its leadership in South-east Asia's online classifieds space.

 

Mr Tan said: "One of the things that (we) are very passionate about is in showing the world that Singapore can produce truly global Internet companies that make meaningful impact at scale worldwide."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 06, 2019, with the headline 'Focused on making Carousell meaningful and enduring'. Subscribe