With traveling being quite the thing nowadays, travel blogs and review sites have become some of the more popular and searched websites on the internet. But naturally only few stand out from all the competition.
Launched in August 2012, Singapore-based travel & lifestyle review website TheSmartLocal has been getting a lot of attention as a rising star in the startup scene. The site’s content format combines blog-like editorial content and user generated reviews; while sometimes incorporating Youtube videos that provide a more elaborate experience of a place, and caters to the modern traveler who might prefer consuming rich media content. Currently ranked in the top 20 most visited local media sites in Singapore, TheSmartLocal has also expanded to include Malaysia reviews.
Boasting 600,000 unique monthly visitors and over 20,000 reviews , we have no doubt that TheSmartLocal is moving towards their aspiration of becoming the ultimate resource directory for both locals and tourists alike. Bryan Choo, founder of TheSmartLocal shares with us about the site.
Name: Bryan Choo
Website Type: Travel & Lifestyle
1) Can you tell us a little about The Smart Local and how it got started?
I remember always getting frustrated when searching for information in Singapore. For e.g who’s a good driving instructor to learn from, who could I hire for my wedding photography or which shop in Sim Lim wasn’t going to scam me. I felt there needed to be a hyper-local resource portal that could provide this information to all these questions in a systematic, sustainable way.
So the idea was to create a crowd-sourced review portal similar to TripAdvisor/Yelp but the important difference was that it’s written by locals, catered to locals and it aimed to fill up the holes in all these niche areas. I believe it’s always the locals who know their country the best, not foreigners – hence the name TheSmartLocal. Our content is built from the inside out and not the other way round and it’s very relevant to locals. When we expand, its going to become very relevant to tourists as well and provide them with the best traveller information possible. Nowadays, tourists are more into having the “local experience”.
2) How do you stand out from the other travel sites out there?
What makes us different besides the local perspective is how we have a blog/magazine section. We regularly create travel features with professional level photos, videos and write-ups of our travels. We want to share our stories in a way that engages our readers, so the reading experience is fun and memorable and we hope it helps inspire their travels too. These features take a certain skillset and a lot of time to produce and I guess that’s why no one else in Singapore does it – you must be able to monetise your work to make it worth all that time developing your skills and creating the media. You basically need high traffic on your portal.
When we first started, we did not have the traffic to justify this to advertisers, but did it anyway because we enjoyed it. Nowadays, we get regularly commissioned by hotels and tourism boards to create content like this, essentially doing what we love. So although we have become a sustainable business now, we faced a lot of uncertainty at the start. I believe it was the effort we put in that has helped set us apart.
3) What are the main challenges faced by you in this highly dynamic online media ecosystem?
My main obstacle so far has been the lack of talent. I’ve found it very hard to find talented tech engineers in Singapore. And Singaporeans generally do not enjoy being vocal (unless its about politics haha!) so the contribution rate here for crowd-sourced reviews is significantly lower than western countries.
There’s also always the danger of something in the digital landscape changing. Google’s search algorithm, Facebook’s edgerank algorithm, etc. So we have to constantly keep a look out and continue to evolve when necessary.
4) What’s the best tip you’d like to give to new and aspiring publishers?
Don’t just do something you truly love. Do something your truly love which you will be able to monetise some day. But when you are truly passionate in something, you’re likely to become very good in that field, emerge as an influential expert and eventually be able to make a living of it. I guess that’s why people always say “do what you love”. But many miss what’s required to get there and that is a lot of hard work and discipline.
5) What role does Innity play in your business and how has it helped?
I like that Innity Ads are innovative and it’s this innovation that sets it apart from the other ad networks.
6) Where do you see The Smart Local in 3 years time and what do you hope to achieve?
Traffic-wise, according to Alexa we are currently in the top 30 most visited local sites in Singapore, and top 200 when the rankings are combined with international sites. I hope we one day make it to the top 10 overall sites in Singapore. I hope for TheSmartLocal to be an all in one resource for everything Singapore. I hope to provide Singaporeans with the best information possible so they can end up making the best decisions in their lives. Whether it be which school to send their children to, which hotel to hold their wedding at, which holiday to go on, etc. So many lives can be positively enhanced with just that extra bit of information, which did not exist before.
In 3 years time I hope to have replicated what we’ve done here in other markets like Thailand, Hong Kong and Australia and that is when you will see the synergy between the portals come in and we may even be able to compete on a global scale. But it’s still a long way ahead so I’m really just dreaming now.
7) If your website had a superhero mascot, what would you call it and what superpowers would it have?
It would be called Jesse and would shoot out tiny lighting bolts of happiness out of its eyes. Everyone who’s hit will forget about their troubles and be able to lead happy, fulfilling lives.
Life is too short, so enjoy it!