Co-Author, Ruzanna Lisa
AdEasy, Southeast Asia’s first online marketplace for buying offline advertisement space. Founded in 2017 by veterans in the advertising industry, the CEO, Melissa Sim and Therine Goh, the COO, who saw the inefficiencies in booking offline ad spaces directly from media owners. Marketing In Asia had the chance to have a chat with one of the Co-Founders, Melissa Sim.
Hi Melissa. Welcome to Marketing In Asia. Melissa, you and Therine are veterans in the advertising industry. Please tell me about yourself; how would you describe yourself and what are your passions in life that shaped you to be who you are today?
I am an optimist, a go-getter, and a creative thinker. My interests in advertising, good design (architecture, packaging, graphic novels) and technology, drove me towards my role today at AdEasy. It honed my ability to do things differently and to solve real-life problems for people. The
most difficult thing to do is to simplify processes for almost anything as people tend to over complicate things. Everything we do here at AdEasy, we always prioritise the user experience in a simplistic way, and we continuously improve the look and feel of our marketplace based on user feedback.
What made you decide to create AdEasy apart from deciding to apply a digital solution to offline advertising?
I have always been on the selling side of the media. I sold billboards, train ads and radio airtime for media companies, before joining a media agency to learn how to be more strategic in terms of media buying and planning. After many years of industry observation, I noticed a gap – the underserved SME market. The time spent on a single client, regardless of the budget, would be about the same. Hence, it makes much more business sense for agencies and media companies to prioritise the larger spending clients and thereby neglecting the SME market.
I remember listening to Therine who is now my Co-Founder and other brand managers voicing out their day-to-day struggles at work and primarily not having enough time for even a day. It is especially true for businesses who don’t have big marketing budgets to employ media agencies. They would have to do the ideation, strategy and execution on their own. For example, even finding the right magazine ad space, they would have to speak with at least four to five different advertising sales reps. Every salesperson would either up-sell them or say that they are the right choice to make, I was an advertising sales rep, so I know the drill. At the end of the day, the overworked brand managers are left with a stack of media rate cards, and would have to spend (more) time comparing all the information gathered to make a decision.
In September 2013, I pitched this idea to Therine and asked her if she would use a website like
AdEasy, to book an Ad space in the same manner as she would book her travel accommodations and flights. She validated it, and we pitched this business concept to Alliance Bank’s BizSmart Academy SME Innovation Challenge 2013. We were the top 13 finalists, and the only business whose concept was written on paper while the other finalists were already operating their businesses for a year and some for over a year. It was our first business validation.
Who came up with the name AdEasy?
The name ‘AdEasy’ was a collective effort from our brainstorming sessions. We wanted a straightforward brand name, which represents what we do and something that is also easy to remember.
Why do you think offline advertising is important in this day and age?
Offline advertising will always be important regardless of the time or era we’re in because the offline advertising landscape will always be relevant as it evolves with time and technology from the good old times of putting up posters to evolving towards billboards, and now digital billboards.
Do you think that we should be embracing it and if so, what does it mean for the future of online advertising if we lean more towards offline advertising?
Contrary to common misconception, there is no one or the other when it comes to deciding between offline and online advertising. It’s about understanding the functions of each, and deciding which would work best to achieve your objectives. A good marketer would know how to strike a balance between the two, to be present in as many touch points as possible, while working within their marketing budget.
What challenges did you face when you first started out and did it play a part in helping to raise the funds?
Our initial challenges were getting media companies to work with us, and developing our prototype to show what our concept was. People usually understand better if there is a visual representation. Therine and I are no software engineers, our biggest challenge was to find engineers who can build it for us. The first three versions of AdEasy were fully self-funded by Therine and I. We only proceeded to raise funds when we launched the fourth version of AdEasy in May 2017, that was when we were confident that we got the website right and already had some traction.
Do you have any future plans to expand or improve anything using the funds you’ve raised?
We are still a long way from where we envision AdEasy to be. We are working on some exciting
features with the recent funds raised, which will change the way brands buy offline ads and track the effectiveness of their offline campaigns.
Where do you see AdEasy’s future going?
We are also looking to expand throughout SEA over the next few years starting with our neighbouring countries; Singapore and Thailand. Our vision for AdEasy is to be the go-to online ecosystem for advertising.
Do you have a message for those who are trying to startup their own business and what advice can you give them as a veteran in the field of media?
Get a CTO. If you’re starting a tech startup, it’s highly advisable to get a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) as your co-founder at the ideation stage. It will save you a lot of time and money. They are the executives in charge of your organisation’s technological needs as well as its research and development (R&D). They develop policies and procedures and uses technology to enhance products and services that focus on external customers.
Monetisation. Before even thinking about raising money, I believe in knowing how to monetise your startup. In my opinion, a cool idea can only take you so far. If it doesn’t generate any revenue, it’s just an idea, not a business.
Stay lean and keep your overheads low as long as you can. For early-stage startups (less than three years), focus on building your minimum viable product (MVP), and traction. Don’t worry about getting a big fancy office, nice address or unnecessary perks. My advice would be to hire only when you really need to, and to bootstrap as much as you can and as long as you can. You can have all the nice things later when you start turning a profit.