Interview with Marcus Tan, Co-founder and President of Carousell

(picture courtesy of Marcus Tan)

Marcus Tan, President of Carousell, has always been passionate about design and community. He had the opportunity to develop these two areas of interest during Carousell’s nascent stages where he worked on product and brand design, as a self-taught designer. He was also heavily involved in community building. He is still deeply involved in those aspects but his role has since expanded to Marketplace Ops, People and organisation development.

Digital Senior is excited to sit down with Marcus to find out more him and his ventures.

1) Why did you choose to study Marketing and Technology Entrepreneurship in NUS? What school activities did you partake in while studying in NUS?

Before university, I volunteered and organised numerous charity events during Polytechnic education because it was fun and impactful.  In that process, I learned that to create sustainable social impact, there needs to be a business model around it.  Marketing and entrepreneurship were fundamental factors in driving adoption and turning ideas into reality. I saw where the world was heading and realised that technology is key to new businesses as it can solve problems at scale.  These factors led me to choose Marketing and Technology Entrepreneurship in NUS. During my time there, I joined NUS entrepreneurship society and helped organise the business plan competition Start-up@Singapore. That allowed me to deepen my understanding of the local tech ecosystem.

2) What was your greatest takeaway from NUS?

Learning about start-ups and new ideas during our time in the NUS Overseas College Silicon Valley program was most impactful.  The biggest takeaway was not a singular lesson but being able to spend months in a tech-centric, risk-taking environment, where people believed strongly in being able to use technology to solve problems and make an impact on millions of people. Having the opportunity to learn from students at Stanford, tech start-up founders, and guest lecturers like Reid Hoffman and Eric Ries, inspired us greatly.

When we returned from the Valley, my co-founders Siu Rui and Lucas were inspired by the likes of WhatsApp and Instagram to use technology to solve problems, and that was why we started Carousell.

 3) Growing up, did you have a role model you looked up to?

My mom is the role model and the superwoman of my life. She’s always giving, loving and resourceful. Like many women of her generation, she was the pillar of support for our family, even if that meant her career had to take a backseat. She taught me that it was never too late to work hard to realise my dreams, and this empowered me to take the leap with Carousell. Her sacrifice gave me the start I needed, and for that, she’s the ultimate hero in my Marvel universe. If there’s one thing I could say to her, it would be “thank you” for the unwavering support all these years.

When I first left my job to run Carousell full-time, my mother expressed her worry. I could understand where she was coming from as it was an unconventional route. However, despite her initial concerns, she showed me her full support through her actions.

When we first started, she printed flyers promoting Carousell and gave them out on the bus, at work, and wherever she went! This taught me a valuable lesson of being relentlessly resourceful when building a business. Whether it is solving difficult problems or getting the word out, this “never give up” attitude has stayed with me till today.

4) Share with us your internship experiences. How did they shape you and how did the benefit you for the real world?

Having interned in a range of companies, I learnt that passion impacts the company’s culture, especially from the leadership team. The level of passion from the leadership affects the culture of the company. It also has a deep impact on the employees’ experience.  This is something that has shaped the way we hire. We believe in hiring people who are passionate about the domain. There are a ton of challenges that you’ll go through daily in a start-up, and the only reason why you’ll keep persevering and pressing on is because you care a lot about what you do.

5) What is the inspiration behind Carousell? Why the word ‘Carousell’? Was there a backstory behind Carousell?

The first few versions of Carousell’s name were very different. They were more utilitarian, and reflected the purpose and function of the app. That was during the Mad Men craze, and we were awed by Don Draper and his story of the Kodak film projector. We thought that his description of a device that goes backwards, forwards, and tells the story of our lives was so similar to how we felt about this app we were building. In our minds, Carousell could become a community for people to share new and old things, and the stories behind them. As these things pass from one owner to the next like on a merry-go-round, our shared experiences would bring us together as a community as well.

6) What is the satisfaction you gain from building and leading Carousell?

At Carousell, we want to inspire every person in the world to start selling. Watching the app have a real impact on the community is most exciting for me.

We’ve heard stories of users who became friends from buying and selling, or using the platform to do good. In the Philippines we’ve even had a celebrity, Maine Mendoza <mainemendozaaa >, who sold her preloved items and donated her earnings to charity. These are stories from real users that remind us why we started and keeps us focused on the mission.

7) Where do you see yourself ten years down the road?

I hope to continue building an organisation that lasts through time and uses technology to create social impact. The tech and business landscape is ever-changing, and the next ten years would probably be completely different. What’s important for me is to stay focused on the mission – to inspire every person in the world to start selling, with the goal of becoming the #1 classifieds marketplace for anyone to sell in the world. The problem we are solving is a global one, and we have this once in a lifetime opportunity to be the world’s largest community marketplace because of the mobile phenomenon.  For now, we want to reimagine the classifieds business, making buying and selling simpler for millions of users worldwide. We have started building Classifieds 4.0, which is defined by three key pillars – smart, convenience, and community.

Smart : To use the latest technology like artificial intelligence and machine learning to create the best user experience. For example – we recently launched smart chat-replying which makes it a breeze for users to reply to chat messages with highly relevant suggestions, and it even pulls out information from your listings that the buyer might have been missed out.
Convenience : Based on our research and feedback from users, one of the most requested features is payment & shipping services. We hope to make selling convenient for the time-starved generation by making it simpler and safer for people too busy to negotiate or meet-up. This also adds additional layers of trust and assurance on our platform, and users can deal confidently on Carousell.
Community: Lastly, we want to continue to build a strong, social element into the marketplace, so we are not just a platform for buying and selling but also one where individuals can gather to share and discuss their favourite topics or passions. It is about connecting people — bringing them closer to interact and help each other out on Carousell.

8) What is one quote you live by?

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. — Steve Jobs

9) What are your hobbies?

Outside of work, I enjoy photography and playing football in my free time. What excites me about photography is that it blends art and technology. While the technical knowledge of exposure, aperture, and ISO can create the right settings for a photo, an eye for composition and aesthetics is needed to tell a good visual story.

As for football, I grew up watching football games with my dad. I like the idea that it’s a team sport and every player’s position is important. I respect football players for their flair, and how it takes years of hard work to refine their skill.

10) What advice do you have for young undergraduates who are still looking for their meaning and purpose in life?

You need to find the balance on the following three things. I believe the intersection will derive purpose and meaning. Firstly, identify what you are most passionate about – a subject or domain that you can spend hours and days being obsessed to learn and practice.

Secondly, identify your strengths and what you are good at. Whether it is programming or marketing or something else, find it and work on it. As Malcolm Gladwell said, it takes 10,000 hours to be good at something. Do not try to improve your weaknesses. Time is limited, work on your strengths and find people who will complement your strengths or plug your gaps. Lastly, find an area that is valuable and useful for humanity. When you can use your passion and strengths to fill a gap in the world, that’s the sweet spot for satisfying and purposeful work.

About Carousell

Carousell is a classifieds app that makes selling as easy as taking a photo, buying as simple as chatting. Launched in August 2012, Carousell began in Singapore and now has a presence in seven markets across Asia. With over 144 million listings, we are one of the world’s largest and fastest growing marketplaces in Southeast Asia, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and is backed by Rakuten Ventures, Sequoia India, 500 Startups, Golden Gate Ventures, DBS and EDBI. The Carousell marketplace has a diverse range of products across a variety of categories, including cars, lifestyle, gadgets and fashion accessories. Download the app for iOS or Android and visit for more information.




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