How the Man Behind TheSmartLocal Got Started

TSL Logo BigThe jobsDB Team were lucky enough to sit down with Bryan Choo, the brains behind, for a chat about his expanding business venture. The Singapore startup, which started out in 2012, now sees close to a million unique visitors each month.

It has been an amazing ride for Bryan. Here’s what he has to say about TheSmartLocal:

Hey Bryan, how will you describe TheSmartLocal for readers who haven’t heard of it yet?

It’s a hyper-local one stop portal for Singapore. Through our lists, guides and review database, we provide readers with the best information possible on things to do in and out of Singapore.

As founder of TheSmartLocal, what inspired you to start this company?

I wanted to build the TripAdvisor or Yelp of Singapore. The problem I found with those portals was how the information wasn’t localised. TripAdvisor had foreigners recommending the best places to eat Chilli Crabs in Singapore, while Yelp had Americans telling their readers about Singapore from their American perspective.

These portals were more catered to foreigners than locals. I believe it’s actually the locals who know their country the best, hence the name “TheSmartLocal”. I wanted to build a local resource that could be used around the world.

What were your goals at the beginning?

By creating a portal with 95% of our reviews being contributed by locals, I felt I was able to develop a better product different from other review sites at a very fundamental level. Also, travellers today are looking more towards the “local experience” so it was quite timely. I wanted the site to be able to answer questions like “Which shop in Sim Lim is not going to scam me?” or “What other 24-hour delivery is there besides McDonald’s?” through crowd-sourced, credible reviews.

Today we have over 20,000 localised reviews on our site, with one in every five Singaporeans visiting our site each month.

TSL has grown rapidly since its inception in 2012. How did you manage to build such a wide fan base in a short period of time?

I was fortunate to have prior experience in web development and growth hacking, a marketing technique aimed to maximise exposure. I had previously built another community turned e-Commerce site from scratch in the Oceania region, centered around one of my other passions. I’ll like to think I’ve engineered a solid formula for growing sites into large media properties, and I look forward to testing myself again when I expand TSL across other international markets.

Was your biggest challenge competing with bigger known names? What are some of your other challenges, and how did you overcome them?

One of our core values is being a company that adds value to people’s lives. Traffic and advertisers are some of the positive externalities that automatically come with being a value provider. We don’t even have to approach advertisers because of the value we are able to give. Instead, they keep coming to us!

We focus on content first, and I feel that we’ve put way more effort into our content and media than other sites out there. We’ve also figured out how to create content people will want to read. Because of these two points, we are consistently able to give more value to our readers.

Our biggest challenge has actually being finding suitable talent to join our company. It took me a long to find a talented full-time deputy editor for our company, but thanks to JobsDB, we’ve recently being able to fill this position. We’re still struggling to find a talented PHP developer for our company, and have recently posted a job application for this position.

What do you think makes TSL different?

We are both a publisher and a review database at the same time. It is like a TripAdvisor, Yelp, blog and magazine hybrid written by locals. I’ve not seen any other site like ours – most of the time networks break their sites into several smaller niche sites under the same group, rather than making one super site like what we’ve done. It’s still debatable which the better approach is.

So, what is next for TSL? Are you planning to expand further?

Yes. By the end of the year we aim to open TSL in two new international markets while building more hyper-local ancillary sites and channels to support our content distribution.

What advice can you give to readers who want to set up their own businesses online?

The nature of online business is such that start-up costs are low. You can easily manage setting up your business on the side, while maintaining a full time job. If you think that is too much work, entrepreneurship might not suit you.

You should only consider leaving your full time job if it does take off. That would be the safest way to transit into entrepreneurship, and I’ve seen quite a few succeed already!

This article is either written or edited by jobsDB Singapore. If you like what you’ve read or want to publish it on your website, write to us at [email protected]. We’re always glad to hear from you!