The biggest news in Singapore recently was the announcement by Carousell that they have raised USD 35 million for their Series B: TechCrunch, TechinAsia. Rakuten Ventures led the round while previous investors also contributed.
The round drew the attention of Lim Der Shing, who writes one of the more frank and penetrating entrepreneurship blogs in Singapore. He noted that this appeared to be the first time that a pre-revenue startup raised Series B in Asia. There could be other examples, but Carousell was the most recent one, and a brand that most people know.
A week before the announcement, I was at Startup Weekend 2016. Invited to give a pep talk, I mentioned Carousell (and Vulcan Post but that’s another story). Someone taped part of the speech and put it on Instagram.
By now, Carousell’s story is well-known: that they started from Startup Weekend 2012; that they renamed their original creation, Snapsell, to the catchier Carousell; that they raised their first round of funding, ie, angel, from NUS (ACE “YES” grant) and us; that they went on to raise funding from other funds subsequently.
Startup Weekend 2012 was the first startup event that we sponsored in Singapore. Being based in Beijing, I could not attend the event but asked the organisers to introduce the winners to me on my next trip to Singapore.
At that meeting, the Carousell team was not ready for fund-raising. Meeting at the Yellow Room at Blk 71, they said the product was not ready and that they wanted to focus on that.
A few months later in Beijing, I received an email from Elisha Ong, then CEO of Burpple and by then one of the top foodie apps in Singapore. Elisha re-connected Carousell and me. We arranged for a call that same night and I remember negotiating the terms with Siu Rui in the living room of my Beijing home and wiring the funds over shortly.
I got to meet the team again some months later on my next trip to Singapore. They were working two rows away from me, at the same NUS Plugin space that I also hot-desked out of. They were bootstrapping like every other startup at Plugin, eating cheap chicken rice from the old hawker centre and taking the last bus home every day to maximise their working hours and reduce the time they spend on the road. They were working long hours every day including weekends.
When Carousell raised the next round from 500 Startups, Golden Gate Ventures, etc, they offered us pro-rata. They did not have to but the gentlemen in them did.
Very honoured to have been part of the journey.
Image source: Huffington Post