Interview with Lucas Ngoo, Co-Founder, Carousell

Carousell is a mobile classifieds app that makes selling as simple as taking a photo, buying as simple as chatting. Its intuitive interface is designed for the smartphone generation. Buyers can find new and pre-loved items all through a smartphone. For sellers, just snap, list and off you go.

What inspired you to start Carousell?

Lucas Ngoo, Co-Founder of Carousell
Lucas Ngoo, Co-Founder of Carousell

If you’ve ever bought or sold something on a forum or classifieds website, you’ll remember how difficult and frustrating it could be to list an item, or find something you wanted on these sites or forums. You often needed a pretty good idea of how they worked, as they could be rather complex and difficult to use.

In March 2012, the three of us participated in Startup Weekend Singapore and built the first Carousell prototype in 54 hours to solve this problem. The basis of the idea was that selling should be as simple as taking a photo, and buying as easy as chatting. We felt that this was important, as we noticed more people like us using the smartphone as their main device to access the internet.

We demo-ed the prototype, won the competition, but what really made us take the plunge and bring Carousell to life was the hundreds of people who told us they liked the idea through our Facebook, Twitter and our Launchrock landing page. Some even tweeted ask if they could donwnload the app right away! It was intense and crazy, and we loved it. After spending a year in Silicon Valley as part of the NUS (National University of Singapore) Overseas College Program, we were inspired to use technology to solve meaningful problems at scale. We thought this was a meaningful problem since it resonated with a lot more people than just ourselves. After Startup Weekend, we knew how we wanted to begin.

We started working on Carousell full time in May 2012. The first version was launched in the Singapore iTunes Store in August 2012.

Lucas Ngoo at a Carousell Tech Talk
Lucas Ngoo at a Carousell Tech Talk

You made it on the Forbes’ inaugural 30 Under 30 Asia list. What advice would you give young entrepreneurs that want to make it on this list as well?

Focus on using your passion and skills to solve meaningful problems, and doing good for a large group of people. Be bold in pursuing what you love, persist and work hard to achieve your goals.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Knowing that I’ll be working with a team of talented, passionate people at Carousell, using technology to let anyone with a smartphone snap, list, sell in 30 seconds. That might seem extremely simple, but the best use of tech is coming up with simple, elegant solutions for meaningful problems.

What were the biggest challenges faced building this business?

The first one and half years were tough. On the first day Carousell went live on the App Store, our server crashed due to a spike in traffic, so we drove down to the National University of Singapore and migrated our server to a better hosting provider.

At one point we had seven new users a day, but then we had 400 active users that we kept in close contact with. We emailed every single person who signed up. We built a relationship from there and discovered that the target audience that resonated most with our product were those between 15-24 years old, with no assumptions of how online marketplaces historically worked. Since then, we’ve continued to do things that don’t scale, because every single interaction with a Carousell user can make a difference to that person. We’re not just building a platform; it’s the community of users that makes it special.

What’s the most important thing you’re working on right now?

Overseas expansion is a big focus for us, and our recent hire of Chai Jia Jih (formerly the MD for Southeast Asia at Airbnb) as our VP, International, to lead this shows how serious we are in bringing Carousell to even more cities worldwide. In fact we are now at 12 cities worldwide including Taipei, Jakarta, and Kuala Lumpur. This June, we are officially launching in Hong Kong with competitions, games and giveaways throughout the entire month. Celebrations culminate in a three-day Mobile Marketplace event (24th – 26th June) popping up in four hot shopping spots for Hong Kongers to experience the thrill of discovering new and pre-loved items on Carousell. Our users will also have a chance to meet other people in the Carousell community who are passionate, inspiring and have meaningful experiences to share.

In 5 years from now: How did your startup change the world?

We’ve seen users turn to the Carousell community to sell their impulse buys, pre-loved or underused items that result from their online shopping sprees. We’re also looking forward to seeing how Carousell can help people declutter their homes by selling things they no longer want or need, instead of simply throwing them away.

Our goal at Carousell is to help individuals everywhere to sell their pre-loved items online easily with our community-based marketplace.

What do you think of Singapore’s Startup Scene?

Singapore’s startup scene is thriving, and it’s been fascinating to growing together with the evolving community over the past four years. Global investors have brought the mindset of a the long game to Southeast Asia, to support the new wave. Five years ago, you would have struggled to be running a pre-revenue start-up. No one would give you the runway to build a service, gain network effects and play the long game. We are in a more fortunate era where there is serious venture capital. In the past 12-18 months, a dozen hundred million dollar venture funds have launched to serve series A & B rounds.

What are 3 things you want consumers to remember about your company?

Simplicity, or Snap. List. Sell. That’s all it takes to post a listing on Carousell, and you can do it in 30 seconds. Our buyers and sellers use an in-app chat system to deal, so no more fumbling with SMS, messaging apps, or emails. Our intuitive, mobile-first interface makes use of smartphone features that people are already familiar with, making it easy for anyone to buy and sell using their mobile.

That leads to our marketplace. Carousell is a community of passionate and inspiring buyers and sellers with varied interests. We have die-hard Lego fans, bike enthusiasts, comic collectors, and even sneakerheads. Whatever your interest, you’ll find a matching buyer (and seller) on Carousell. We also organise community meet-ups for our sellers to admire each others collections, swap stories, and perhaps even arrange a deal.

And finally, there’s the inspiring experience of being on Carousell. If you haven’t tried it yet, you should! Unlike other classifieds or marketplaces that are text heavy and optimised for proactive search, Carousell is designed to make passive discovery a thrilling experience, with photos at the centre of it. It’s like browsing or shopping a beautiful catalogue. We love hearing stories of people who have been searching for something they couldn’t find anywhere, until they found it on Carousell.


Interview by Regina Larkö