This Startup Founder Turned Down $100 Million Offer for His Startup, Know Why

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A few years back, Quek Siu Rui was considering to sell his Singapore-based startup. Quek was only 26 and the offer that was being made was that of a huge $100 Million. But he said no: He wanted to keep building the business. 

That eventually turned out to be a good call. Quek’s company, an app for selling used goods called Carousell, is now valued at about $500 million, according to sources.

The CEO doesn’t regret his choice.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,’’

Quek said in an interview. He plans on building an enduring company. 

Six-year-old Carousell operates in seven markets including Singapore, Hong Kong, and Australia and is one of the region’s most popular virtual flea markets. People use it to sell everything from second-hand cars and couches to game consoles and, even things like purple wigs! 

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After raising $85 million in a recent funding round, Carousell plans to expand its business to Indonesia, the Philippines, and Taiwan.

“Carousell started in a fresh market with a new product offering that was tailored for Southeast Asia,’’

said Vinnie Lauria, founding partner at Singapore-based Golden Gate Ventures, a long-time Carousell backer.

About the startup

Quek and his partners, Lucas Ngoo and Marcus Tan, got to know each other as students at the National University of Singapore. The self-described geeks bonded over their hobby of buying and selling gadgets online. 

The team behind Carousell

As part of a university program, they spent a year in Silicon Valley and attended talks by entrepreneurs, including Facebook Inc. founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Carousell was founded in 2012, naming it after the Kodak Carousel projector featured as the cutting edge of technology on the TV drama “Mad Men.”

They won over millennial fans by making the shopping experience simple enough to be used on phones.

Quek, now 30, was inspired by Zuckerberg, who also turned down buyout offers in his early years.

Facebook has since become something of a rival with the debut in Singapore this year of Marketplace, its platform for consumers to sell used items. Quek isn’t too worried.

“The launch of Facebook Marketplace is a validation that the problem we are solving is massive,’’

he said.

The three founders have turned to machine learning and artificial intelligence as they try to shorten the listing process from few minutes to a few seconds. When a user takes a photo of an item, this app can recognize a pair of sneakers or a bag and suggest a category and title. That’s helped Carousell grow to more than 144 million listings. The company is now working to suggest optimal pricing. 

Employees at Carousell

There are local touches too. Its popular in-app chat recommends a response based on the conversation.

Future plans

This month, the company will roll out CarouPay, which allows users to complete transactions without leaving the app. It’s already unveiled premium services for sellers, paid ads and subscription services for car dealers and property agents in Singapore. 

Experts opine that the major decision in front of Quek and team is if this is the right company to sell out to? Is this the right time to give up control or should Carousell continue to aim higher? Quek acknowledges he continues to get deal inquiries – but the company is still not for sale.

“We want to be in the driver’s seat,’’

he said.

“We are less than 1 percent done.’’  

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