Wong Chee Kui is the founder of Recherche, a curtains and blinds company. Before setting up his venture, he was selling curtains to businesses for his previous employer. After learning the ropes, he decided to dive into the world of entrepreneurship, something that he had always wanted to do.
So how did he get started, especially when his business has high overheads? Here’s Chee Kui’s story.
How did you get into the business of curtains and blinds, and why the name Recherche?
We wanted a unique name so that if we go into other businesses, we can still use it. Recherche means exotic here. We hope we are different than the others.
I have always wanted to do some business since young. I even thought of doing some AV rental business previously. However, I did not have the guts to start one as I lack the experience and contact. After working in my former company and learned the ropes, I decided to start this business as my first step into entrepreneurship.
Were your loved ones supportive of you starting out on your own?
My dad was very supportive of my idea and is always very concern about my business operations and profits. My mum, on the other hand, was quite unsure of the business and she would rather I work for someone than to start a business.
Image credit: Recherche
Image credit: Recherche
What were the challenges you faced when setting up the curtains and blinds business?
When we started, we had a hard time looking for end consumers to buy from us.
When you started Recherche, did you require a massive amount of capital? Can you share how much did it cost you to setup and how did you raise the amount?
We kept most of the expenses low when we started to the extent that we only bought one laptop to share among the three of us for those paper works and quotation typing. We raised about $150k to start off. The balance was used to roll the business as we believe that we should not owe any suppliers money.
We often hear people talk their business ideas but do not do anything about it because of capital. Do you think that it is a legit reason for stopping them from starting their business?
I think it is essential to have a strong capital. Although most suppliers give us 30 or 60 days credit, we believe in paying them early, either C.O.D (Cash on Delivery), cash in advance or on a 2-week credit. By paying first, suppliers are very much happy to work with us and are more efficient when we need help. However, if capital is a problem, start-ups can try to get more partners, investors or crowd-fund.
What are the challenges ahead for Recherche?
I think challenges ahead for Recherche is innovation. In terms of getting new products or unique products.
For people who want to start their own business, what’s your advice to them?
If you can, try. Entrepreneurship is fun although tiring. Watch your expenses and try not to have debts. Networking is important, talk with more entrepreneurs and learn from them.
Ms Ng Lay Peng founded Bask Communications in 2016 with less than S$4,000 in her bank account and six years of public relations (PR) experience. As one could tell from the savings, you are right; Lay Peng did not put too much thought into what’s to come after quitting her stable job to start her PR agency. Was it a wrong decision?
When and what made you decide to be your boss and to start Bask Communications?
Surprisingly, it was more of a spur of the moment decision than anything. I love being in the communications industry, meeting people from all walks of life and learning little nuggets from them, the adrenalin from tight deadlines, etc. However, I was feeling uninspired in my previous workplace and thought hey, what’s the worst that could happen even if I failed?
At that point, I could not visualise how my career progression would be even if I had switched to a different agency or go in-house. It was a toss between going solo and leaving the communications industry altogether.
I’m glad I made the move! It’s been such a steep learning curve and every day provides a different challenge.
How long did it take for you to plan before leaving your full-time job?
Less than a month! It was a classic case of doing it now or never. The more time you spend thinking about leaving the comfort of a stable income, the less chance there is of you doing it. I had less than $4,000 in my bank account, but I thought if I spent sparingly, it would last me a couple of months while I go about finding my first client.
What were the initial challenges when setting up Bask Communications? Does it take a lot to setup?
It takes a lot of grit to be a solo-preneur. In the first month, I was texting my ex-colleagues almost every day as it took time to get used to working alone. It takes time to build up a supportive network of people around you, and I’m super lucky that my first client, Kara Bensley from The Wyld Shop was exactly the kind of person I needed. She’s a beautiful ray of sunshine and radiates so much positivity that even at my lowest, the sky’s the limit.
In the life of an entrepreneur, the highs are very high and the lows are very low. It takes a lot of time to learn to manage one’s emotional and mental wellness, especially when you are trying to “chiong” as much as you can. Regarding skill sets, I had to learn to build my company website – a task I procrastinated for almost six months as I just couldn’t figure out how to build a WordPress site, learn to hire better, be a better and more compassionate leader and an employer, manage finances, the list goes on! I’m still learning every day!
Why the name Bask Communications?
The PR answer is to let my clients’ businesses/products bask in the spotlight. I’ll let you figure out what’s the non-PR answer is!
What were the reactions of your loved ones when you told them that you have decided to leave a stable paying job to become your boss?
My father is self-employed, and I think it excites him that I’ll be able to take control of life in my own hands. On the other hand, my mother is ultra risk-averse, hated the idea of instability and wanted me to go into government agencies so that I will have a “metal rice bowl.” However, throughout the whole journey, they have been silently supportive with simple things like making sure that I remember to eat, sending me to do my media drops, allowing me to get away scot-free when I occasionally turned the house into a mini-warehouse and media library. It’s the simplest things that speak the loudest.
When a client engages a PR agency, what they are buying is the service of the executive who is running their accounts. Similarly, when a client engages Bask, they are essentially engaging me.
There’s a sea full of PR agencies already in the market even before you started Bask Communications. How did you position yourself and what did you do to get clients?
When a client engages a PR agency, what they are buying is the service of the executive who is running their accounts. Similarly, when a client engages Bask, they are essentially engaging me. What I try to bring in to every meeting and execution are positive energy and good vibes. As simple as that sounds, it helps to set the tone for your relationship with your clients and your business.
My first client was Kara Bensley from The WYLD Shop who was referred to by my friend Susannah Jaffer, former creative editor at Expat Living. Subsequent clients were also through word-of-mouth.
Lay Peng (middle) with Loo (left) and Kara (right) at The WYLD Shop
How did it feel to get your first client?
There was the fear of the unknown, excitement and motivation to do well, and gratitude for the trust, leap of faith and support.
The road to entrepreneurship can be lonely, and sometimes one may have doubts about whether it’s the right path. Do you have those moments and how do you stop yourself from sinking into negativity?
All the time! Finding the right people to speak to is vital, so is hoping that those people have the patience of a saint! At the end of the day, it’s important to question yourself on what do you want to achieve out of this journey. Give yourself both short term and long term goals to work towards so that you don’t lose track of your achievements. Recognising one’s progress is one of the easiest things to lose track of because we are often so hard on ourselves, always trying to be better, faster.
Image credit: Ng Lay Peng – Bask Communications
Image credit: Ng Lay Peng – Bask Communications
What are the key differences between being a boss versus an employee in a PR agency?
It’s a very steep learning curve in being a self-employed person. In addition to the execution of day-to-day work, there’s also learning to manage finances, interview new hires, and learning new skills via free online tutorial so that you can save cost on hiring someone to do it. That was how I gained my knowledge on building Squarespace site and SEO! It’s important to be resourceful. Ultimately, as a boss, you are responsible for the quality of your work, your agency’s reputation and how much income you generate. As an employee, there are more windows to sit back and relax. I love to travel so the number thing I miss is being able to apply for leave and leave work behind!
What is PR and why should companies value it?
I think it is difficult to box in what is the definition of public relations as it evolves so quickly, especially since the acceleration of the digital age in the past decade. At its core, public relations is about communications and the building of relationships across the various stakeholders, be in the public, customers, management, employee engagement. We focus on earned media through crafting strategic, timely and newsworthy stories that would interest both journalists and readers. Increasingly, owned media has also begun to play a significant role in our line of work regarding generating relevant content to engage public/reader we well as increase search engine ranking or web traffic.
I’ve met my fair share of people who understood the value of PR and those who don’t. PR professionals have very little visibility in the front line, but we are the people who help to create conversations around your business and products, manage and build a company’s credibility and reputation.
Image credit: Ng Lay Peng – Bask Communications
Are PR and marketing the same thing?
There are differences and overlaps between the two functions, but I do believe that both go hand in hand alongside digital strategies! I usually craft my PR strategies based on the business objectives, amplifying marketing strategies and brand stories, and then filling in the gaps to ensure sustained communication efforts and publicity. Where applicable, especially when it comes to marketing promotions, we will also advise on content creation and digital marketing strategies to complete the consumer journey.
What’s your advice to aspiring PR practitioners who are considering a life in PR agencies versus doing communications in a corporate environment?
It’s no exaggeration that life in the agency is a whole lot more hectic, but to those who enjoy the pace of life and having different and varied portfolios to work on any time, you’ll appreciate how dynamic agency life is. In a corporate environment, your role is more streamlined, but you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the business as a whole beyond your work function.
Six years ago, Susannah Jaffer was a fresh graduate who moved to Singapore from the United Kingdom in search of work. At the earlier part of her career, Susannah spent more than half a year in a PR agency working as an intern before being recruited for a job at Expat Living magazine in 2013, where she took on various roles such as a fashion and beauty editor to a creative director. Although everything seemed to be going well for Susannah’s career in editorial media, in October 2017, she decided to call it quits and left her full-time job to start her first business, ZERRIN.com.
Why? Here’s her story.
You were a fashion and beauty editor turned creative director at Expat Living. Future was bright for you. What made you decide that it’s time to quit full-time and start ZERRIN in the world’s most expensive city?
I got to the point that what I was doing every day was clashing with my values, so I needed to make a change. That was always on my mind and was negatively impacting my mental health. At the same time, while the spark of an idea for ZERRIN was in my head, I decided “if I don’t follow this now, then when?” It seemed crazy at that time, but so do many things before we put our mind to them, do the work and manage to achieve them.
What is ZERRIN and what are its unique selling points?
ZERRIN is Asia’s first multi-label e-commerce platform for sustainable fashion and beauty brands. Through a mix of responsible retail, content and events, our goal is to enable, educate and empower women to #ShopMeaningfully, and to reignite a sense of connection to our purchases in an accessible, down to earth way.
ZERRIN makes it more convenient for women to shop and discover independent conscious brands in one space. We’re the opposite of other fast-fashion marketplace concept retailers out there. Instead of a message of mass consumption, low prices and deals, we advocate slower, more thoughtful purchasing and appreciating quality over quantity. We’re also working hard to build and bring together a community through our blog, pop-ups and educational events. I see ZERRIN as more than just a retail store, but a movement, lifestyle and mindset.
Yes, Singapore is expensive. Luckily, the overheads of running an online store are a fraction of the cost of renting a physical space. I’m thankful that my career path, and mentors I’ve met along the way, have taught me resourcefulness, which meant I was able to set the business up and not break the bank.
What were the initial reactions of your loved ones when you broke the news to them that you are going to be an entrepreneur?
Call me lucky, but they never really questioned me. My dad was an entrepreneur from a young age, moving over from India (where he was born) to be an accountant. Eventually, he was earning enough to bring his family over, and he went on to start his own business. He likes to joke that I got it from him. He’s still working full time and managing two businesses at 78.
My partner has been a big support too, in a constructive way. He also works in retail, so there are aspects of my business that he could relate to and give feedback.
What were your challenges when putting your plans together?
Setting up the business while working full time in a demanding creative role. That got tough at times. I didn’t leave till after ZERRIN had launched. Thankfully, my boss at the time was very supportive when I told her about my plans. I’ll always be grateful for that.
Another factor was my budget. I had no external investor, and everything was on a shoestring. This got me down at times, but I learnt to pick myself up, revisit my long-term strategy and make informed decisions from there. I prioritised investing in areas of the business that my gut told me were the most important, like branding, essential website coding and some photography. Everything else I did myself – PR, marketing, additional e-commerce/blog photography, digital marketing, social media, accounting…the list goes on. Despite being on a budget, I didn’t want the vision of the company, and what I put out there, to come across as so.
What were the things you learned when setting up an e-commerce store?
There’s a lot to do. As a retailer carrying multiple brands, there’s so much to market, which is a blessing and a curse. Some days, it can feel like I’m not doing enough.
Also, you can’t just put a product out there and hope it sells. Consumers today are way more savvy than five years ago, and will see through your brand if it’s offering is lacklustre. The quality and authenticity of your message are also crucial, as is the strength of your brand story and vision. As a multi-label retailer, I think it’s vital to tell that story (in various ways) continually and not let it fade into the background, otherwise what’s your value proposition and how will you scale?
Where do you see ZERRIN in the next five years?
If all were to go to plan, we’d be an international name, and trusted as a destination for conscious brands, serving customers all over the globe. We’ll also have established a full lifestyle content channel (online and offline) which brings together our community of customers, brands and inspiring individuals paving the way for more responsible retail industry.
Will ZERRIN eventually open a brick and mortar store? If yes, why? If no, why not?
If it does happen, I don’t think it will be in Singapore. It doesn’t seem sustainable. Rent here is astronomical and I’ve seen enough stores open and close throughout my short career to know it’s not a wise move. Physical touch points are essential though, so pop-ups will always be key throughout the year. If we do eventually open a brick and mortar store, it will be more than just a retail space!
What’s your advice to people who want to start their e-commerce store?
It’s always going to take more work than you think. If you’re not digitally savvy or are not willing to learn, then forget it. Above all, starting any business is always a risk. You have to be willing to take it. There’s no guidebook, and you have to depend on yourself to get things done and make it all happen.
Whatever your concept, know your target customer and market, and do enough initial research to determine whether you’re product offering will stand out. Write a business plan! It doesn’t matter if it’s not the most detailed document on the planet (unless you’re pitching to investors from the start, of course.) It helped to gather my thoughts, guide my thinking and strategy. Being prepared is always a good idea!
Justin Fernando is a videographer and an award-winning photographer. He has recently left full-time employment to further his passion for camera works in the world of freelancing. So why did Justin trade a stable job for one that has no guarantee? Here’s his story.
Where were you before started freelancing and why did you leave?
After graduation, I joined my first company doing videography and editing for a year before I was approached to join another company that was starting up. In that company, I was the primary videographer and did editing and graphics as well. I was there for seven years and left just a few months ago to start off on my own. I guess I felt it was about time to venture out on my own and into the unknown. We all like to be comfortable, and I just decided to take the leap of faith and see what’s out there.
How did you conclude that it’s time for you to start out on your own?
I still love my job. However, after seven years I was looking for more progression. I decided to risk the safety of a monthly salary to start off on my own. It was a difficult decision, but it just felt right.
After almost half a year, I enjoy owning my time and developing relationships with my clients to understand their visions. It has become less of a touch-and-go, and more of coming together with them to create contents that are engaging and visually stimulating.
What was your loved ones’ reactions to your decision?
My parents have always been supportive of me pursuing my passion. Never have they told me to get a better job like banking or engineering or what most Singaporeans deemed as a “proper” job when I was growing up. This is the one thing I am grateful for – having parents who are supportive of what I am interested in doing.
What is your photography style? Portrait, architecture, landscape, etc.?
Image credit: Justin Fernando
Image credit: Justin Fernando
Image credit: Justin Fernando
Image credit: Justin Fernando
I love taking travel landscapes and portraiture. In my travels, I like heading into the rural parts of a country. The innocence and purity you can capture speak for itself. It’s a unique experience each time when you smile and ask to take a picture of them, show them the photo and see the gleam on their faces as they look at themselves and return the smile. It is humbling, heartwarming, and goes back to the basic of strangers connecting in a foreign land, even when we don’t share the same language. I usually get their contact and send them a print. In Singapore printing out pictures is not very common anymore, and it’s easy to forget the joy of having something physical and tangible to hold, look at, and maybe even passing on to their family in the future.
What was your most memorable work for photography and videography?
Having completed a countless amount of projects over the years, it’s difficult to pick one. When I first started off roughly 9nineyears ago, the Canon 5DM2 came out and changed the way videos were made. At that young age, I was tasked to shoot and edit my first television commercial. It was a surreal experience to have the opportunity to shoot a TVC and doing up a car rig when these were usually left to the veterans to helm. Seeing it broadcasted on national TV was tremendously memorable.
Since starting out on my own, I have had the pleasure of partnering Bask Communications to work with Red Bull Racing for Formula 1, revolving around the concept of Dan & Max trying durian for the first time. We had to work with a tight timeline of having only 15 minutes for the shoot, and editing it overnight so that it will be ready for timely dissemination the next day. The video garnered over 13 million views worldwide and won two PR awards – Best Use of Broadcast/Video and Most Creative PR Stunt – for the campaign.
Freelancing market in photography seems to be saturated. Just browse through Instagram, and you’ll see tonnes of them. So what differentiates you from them?
Yes, these days it does seem like everyone with a camera is a photographer! I try to let my work speak for itself and it’s equally important to provide good service and build the relationship with clients.
One of the most common questions asked in photography and videography is whether gear matters. What’s your take on that?
Gear to me is absolutely secondary. While it does play a big role in aiding you to achieve your final product, I have also seen great stuff done on a shoestring budget. Sometimes not having the luxury of expensive gear pushes you to think more creatively about what will generate the best results. Having always wanted to go against the grain, I decided to go with Sony instead of the obvious two choices around and have not looked back. Of course, every brand has its pros and cons, it’s a matter of knowing what to use to attain the needs of the clients.
What are the gears for both photography and videography would you recommend for beginners?
Sony Alpha makes great, small full frame cameras that film great videos. As mentioned, there is no one size fits all formula, it all depends on how comfortable you are with your gear. Samyang makes awesome glass at affordable prices so starting off on those primes is a sure win start.
What is your advice for people who aspire to be freelance photography?
My advice is just to go for it. The most important thing is that it should bring you joy. You should wake up in the morning not dreading going to work and that is how I know the work I do is not just a daily requirement in life but a joy that completes it.
Ms Erin Chen’s professional revolves around a topic that many Asians, including Singaporeans, still find it hard to talk about even in this open society. It’s about sex.
Erin is the Founder of SPARK Fest Asia. She is also a Sexual Wellness Advocate, Sex & Relationship Counsellor and Speaker. She started SPARK Fest Asia with the aim to provide a curated space to get people to begin conversations on sex, pleasure and relationships openly, and to encourage the next generation of local innovators and problem-solvers to overcome current challenges in this area. This is why at this year’s SPARK Fest Asia 2018, there will be sextech hackathon.
How long have you been in the sex therapy industry and why did you venture into it?
I’ve always been a sex geek at heart. Some people grew up loving fashion, or cars or cooking – I had an affinity for sex. Not the act of sex, but a curiosity about the human sexual experience and its connection to culture, psychology, wellness, relationships, etc.
I would be that friend who would share every new fact that I came across about sex with friends. I was that friend with whom friends felt safe confiding in when it came to talking about sex.
Though I’ve always known that this was something I was passionate about, what inspired me to take action was when I came across a company called Blue Bella, which has since pivoted to become a lingerie company. At that time, it was a home party company that did at home workshops for women where they can also purchase pleasure products. What inspired me was the woman who started it – she was Oxford-educated and the company also had a social mission to help educate and develop young women. It was the first time I saw that it was possible to do something different in this industry. And so I realized how much room there was to do things better and differently in this space.
After ten years in the corporate world, I decided to dive right into it and received my Master’s Degree in Science in Medicine (Sexual Health) from the University of Sydney.
Before starting my sex and relationship counselling practice in 2017, I owned a pleasure products company where I ran workshops for women and couples on various topics related to sexual wellness. That gave me a lot of insight into the psyche of women and men when it came to the questions and interests they had in this area. I started noticing a common theme in these workshops that also extended into my private practice – people are not used to talking about sex. There is a lot that most people miss out on because they never or rarely had the chance to explore this area without judgement. This is what inspired me to start SPARK Fest.
What were the reactions from your loved ones when you told them that about what you do?
My parents questioned me on my decision; it is, after all, an unconventional one. However, since I embarked on this career and over time, it has opened up conversations about sex with my parents. These days, they are very supportive, and my father is a business mentor for me.
What were your initial challenges starting up your business?
I’ve started three social enterprises in sexual wellness – a pleasure products retail company, a sex and relationship counselling practice and SPARK Fest Asia. And the challenges that come with each are similar, as they are related to the perceived taboos of sex on an institutional level.
For the pleasure products company, the primary challenge was the ability to advertise through traditional means. Facebook and Google have a stringent ban on anything related to sex. For example, for areas such as gambling, financial services, and alcohol, Facebook’s policy is to follow local advertising laws. However, with sex, businesses in this area often find their ads banned or removed, even when they are not explicit in nature and could be of a more educational nature.
For SPARK Fest, the challenge has been to educate and create awareness around what sexual wellness is and how it can be different than the way we are used to seeing sex portrayed in the media or porn. Seeing sexual wellness as part of overall wellness is a very new concept — similar to how mindfulness was a foreign concept to most a decade ago. It’s difficult to imagine something you’ve never experienced before. And so it takes time for people to trust what we are creating.
Image credit: Sinnead Ali, Co-founder, SPARK Fest Asia
That said, we do find that once people get a glimpse or experience the kind of new conversations and approach we are creating, they are very receptive and enthusiastic. For SPARK Fest, I think this is because Sinnead (my co-founder) and I have always maintained the philosophy that SPARK is not about telling people how sex should be or not be. We are not here to give positive answers. Instead, SPARK Fest exists as space for people to get accurate and diverse perspectives so that they can choose what will empower their sexual wellness journeys.
What inspired you to start the SPARK Fest as well as host Asia’s 1st sextech hackathon?
Through my work in private practice and also hosting workshops and events related to sexual wellness, it became clear over time that there is a general need for better access to understanding and exploring the area of sexual wellness. Sinnead, my co-founder, also made similar observations when she worked in the mental health area and now as a yoga instructor focused on women’s health.
There are so many myths, misconceptions and unnecessary shame and awkwardness accompanying this area that is hurting relationships, overall well-being and general quality of life. And when we looked at what was available for people – their options were either porn or adult novelty type events, product-focused expos, medical-focused conferences or tantra centric gatherings. All of these events are great – and not everyone feels comfortable engaging with this topic in those various settings.
We saw a gap that needed to be filled – making sexuality fun and normal! Like any other area in wellness be it yoga, nutrition, mindfulness – no one has yet to take this approach and we wanted to provide that platform for the community to connect with the multidisciplinary and wide range of professionals and change makers that bring sexual wellness to life.
Ultimately, we are doing this for our future children. For them to grow up in a world where sex is not shrouded with shame and embarrassment, and where they feel free to make informed choices that give them fulfilling sexual experience and relationships – however that looks like.
Image credit: Bask Communications
In general, our Singapore’s society is still mostly conventional. What were the considerations made over the years when planning for SPARK Fest?
Our main priority is to normalise the conversations about sex. It is very common for people to think of sexual intercourse when they hear the word “sex”. That is why we emphasize that SPARK Fest is a sexual wellness festival – it looks at more than just sex (and by the way, sex includes so much more than just sexual intercourse!). There are many elements that are at the intersection of healthy sex and sexual wellness – from physical well-being to emotional well-being to self and relational well-being and on a bigger picture, a community’s well-being when it comes to the quality of life of its citizens.
Sexual wellness is something that universally affects everyone, at all stages of life – whether you are single, a parent, or retired. And SPARK Fest aims to be the place where everyday people like you and me can gather to learn and take away something that can be actionable to improve their sexual wellness.
For example, you can attend a talk on how to talk to your kids about sex and how to go about navigating it (Having the talk: Do’s and Don’ts When Talking about Sex with Your Children), or sit in on a panel discussion on how intimacy can be kept alive (THERE IS NO NORMAL SEX). You can even participate in the first Future of Sex sextech hackathon ever in Asia to innovate ways to improve challenges in the sexual wellness world.
As you can see, we’ve curated the programming carefully to address various topics from pleasure to sex ed to relationships to the various health aspect of sexual wellness to gender roles. Fundamentally, we want to empower people to fulfil the experiences that they want. We are not here to tell people how sex should be – you are the expert of your own sexuality. We are the platform that supports your discovery of that.
It is also important to involve the innovators and change makers because they are the people who will keep creating solutions that help improve sexual wellness for everyday people! We wanted to showcase these individuals as well because we believe it is powerful for people to see that there are people driving change in this area – and who knows, someone in the everyday crowd might be the next Steve Jobs of sexual wellness. How cool would that be!
Image credit: Bask Communications
How did the idea of hosting Asia’s 1st Future of Sex sextech hackathon come about and why is it important to organise it?
The overall mission and goal of SPARK Fest are to normalise sexual wellness as a part of the whole wellness conversation. To accomplish that, we strive to bring together a community and space for people to explore and approach the topic of sex with thought leaders, brands and advocacy groups in this space. Part of that means also to seed ideas and solutions that will improve and impact change in the sexual wellness world.
When we saw the sextech hackathon being held in NYC last year, we knew that it was a great way to help bring about more conversations in this region. Afterall, change requires action and hackathons are all about action and problem-solving.
At the same time, we knew that Bryony Cole from Future of Sex was organising the 1st sextech hackathon in Australia this year as well. What began as regular calls to exchange ideas and best practices organically turned into a natural collaboration for Singapore to be the first city in Asia to host the Future of Sex sextech hackathon.
We both believe when we start to remove the taboo and shame around sex and see it as a typical and universal to the human experience, we will naturally begin to seek solutions for the current challenges that exist in this space — that is what makes this space so exciting!
What can we expect from the hackathon?
Firstly, we are very excited to be partnering with Bryony Cole of Future of Sex and Disruptor’s Handbook to run this pioneering event in Asia.
Secondly, it is important to point out that this is not a hardcore coding or technical type of hackathon. In fact, if you are not techy – you can still participate! A great team actually includes people from various backgrounds – from business, to design/creatives, to those who have a passion to make a difference in this area.
The 48-hour event will provide participants with opportinity to collaborate and get involved in the fast-growing sextech indiustry. Speakers, mentors and panellists from around the world will come together with participants to address a set of challenges at the intersection of sexual wellness and technology.
Example challenges from previous hackathons include “How to make condoms cool?” “How to make the sexual expression more accessible for the 1 million Australians with disabilities?” and “How to reinvent sex education for teenage girls?”
Other potential areas that can be explored include fertility, access to sex ed, the gender gap, sexual violence, and the list goes on! The specific set of challenges chosen for this particular edition will be shared with participants in the week before the hackathon.
Over an intensive weekend of team-building and creation, a variety of solutions will be generated.
Hackathons specifically encourage a diverse range of voices to participate in order to discover better solutions to current social issues. We will provide the tools and frameworks to bring ideas to life, along with mentors providing workshops and recommendations to help the teams deliver a final pitch – shark tank style!
According to the Guardian, sextech is a USD 30 billion industry growing at 30% a year, potentially outpacing high growth sectors like drone manufacturing. Why are we not hearing more about it?
Sextech is being discussed a lot more in the West, in particular in the United States. NYC is currently the epicentre of new and exciting female-led startups in this space. It has been covered by the New York Times, the Guardian, BBC, and many other mainstream publications. It has garnered attention in the US because issues around sexual harassment, women-centric healthcare, diversity and women at work have gained more spotlight in recent years in the American media. These conversations gained speed partly because of political and current events. As they become more aware of these issues, the natural question would be to look for potential solution and innovation ideas.
I think we are not hearing more about it in Asia because we are at the beginning of these conversations, which makes for an exciting time to come!
What’s the traditional perception and some misconception of sextech, and how can we expect it to evolve?
In the past year, The New York Times, Forbes, The Guardian, and many other global media have covered sextech. However, what you know of sextech is likely limited by three common storylines that tend to dominate media in this space: sexbots, VR pornography or female-designed vibrators. These three headlines have perpetuated the idea that sextech is only about sex itself. No doubt, innovations around our orgasms are important and fascinating conversations in their own right, but sextech goes beyond robot girlfriends, virtual reality dates and sex toys. Sextech is defined as any technology designed to enhance sexuality.
Bryony Cole from Future of Sex had shared with us that, this area breaks down into four major fields: remote sex, virtual and immersive sex, robots and augmentation. Cryptocurrency tokens for the adult entertainment industry to ensure the privacy of transactions, VR experiences to swap genders, apps to turn your smartphone into a microscope so you can measure the number and speed of your sperm. The possibilities are infinite, awe-inspiring and at times, somewhat terrifying. In many ways, we don’t know where we will go. Hackathons are a way of inviting a wider audience to ponder the future of sex and have a hand in its direction. Plenty of areas need improvement in sexual health and education, the world over. We can expect to see those innovations emerge in this second wave of sextech. Of course, there will also be unexpected ways this evolves and impacts society. Technology has always influenced how we have and think about sex and fall in love. In the last few decades, the invention of the Pill, online video streaming, and dating apps have all radically changed sex, companionship and the cultural attitudes toward it. Where we go from here, is up to us.
The participants at the Future of Sex hackathon in Singapore are pioneers in a new and exciting industry setting the agenda for human experience and sexuality in the 21st Century and beyond.
What are some of the exciting trends, opportunities and potential in the sextech industry today?
A tremendous opportunity for forward-thinking entrepreneurs is to address issues that impact sexuality beyond the obvious, from sexual violence and abuse to global health crises like AIDS and STDs, and to education models that can help us live healthier lives. This is the true intersection of sex and technology.
We can also serve grossly underserved markets for sex, such as the ageing population, and those living in isolation and people with disabilities. Dating apps for the ageing population, better access to sex education and sexual partners through immersive technologies like VR, and telehealth platforms for sex therapy are all examples of how sextech is accommodating the unique needs of these populations. There is so much untapped potential in sextech when we reach beyond the obvious.