Singapore-headquartered startup Carousell became one of Asia’s leading mobile marketplaces with a simple premise: what if you reinvent Craigslist for smartphones?
That thought resulted in an app that lets users sell items by simply snapping a photo and filling out several fields.
Now, Carousell thinks it can become the world’s largest classifieds company in a decade. But it’ll need a quantum leap to do that.
“Can we, now having five years of experience, data, and learnings, create the next evolution of classifieds? Can we make selling a three-second process – snap a photo and that’s it?” ponders Quek Siu Rui, Carousell’s CEO and co-founder, at Tech in Asia Singapore 2017.
With the help of AI
While Carousell has just started pursuing this vision, Quek sketches out how he hopes to get there.
Machine vision – the ability for computers to see and recognize objects like humans do – will give Carousell the ability to match a photo uploaded by a user to its database of items.
Combine this with its pricing data from tens of millions of transactions, and the app could recommend to users what price to set for a product.
“Most people tend to be very optimistic, they believe their item has sentimental value and they price it too high, and they don’t get a good experience,” says Quek.
With the seller’s experience the primary focus of Carousell, making them happy is the priority. And that means helping them sell faster.
The scrappy three-person team launched Carousell in 2012 and has since grown to 140 employees. It listed 57 million products and expanded to seven countries in 2016.
It also hired so-called “grown-ups” – senior executives with deep operational experience – to run various internal functions.
Former Airbnb regional managing director Chai Jia Jih joined Carousell as its vice-president for international expansion. Another prized hire is Winnie Khoo, managing director at PropertyGuru, who’s now in charge of monetizing Carousell.
Next came a flurry of three startup acquisitions in less than six months. Its purchase of used cars marketplace Caarly is noteworthy because it announced Carousell’s intent of conquering car classifieds.
Quek describes the acquisition as entirely serendipitous. In fact, he initially went to the Caarly team for advice on how to tackle cars classifieds. The consultation turned into a courtship when both teams felt a strong sense of alignment.
Carousell’s move into cars is simply the result of its users growing up. It observed more users buying and selling cars, baby and kids items, furniture, and home appliances.
Although it’s now chasing the lofty goal of becoming synonymous with selling and decluttering, its aims at the beginning were humble.
“When we first started Carousell, it was not even meant to be a company,” says Quek, who was motivated to build an app to let him easily sell the mountain of items sitting in his home.
“We really just got to building the first version of Carousell for ourselves.”
This is part of the coverage of TIA Singapore 2017, our conference taking place on May 17 and 18.
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