Damian Sia is the founder of Motorist.sg – an online platform that makes buying and selling cars in Singapore easy.
Human Asia has an exclusive interview with Damian.
Tell us how it all started. Why Motorist.sg?
Damian: I founded SeekSquare.com and Quotations.com.sg back in 2011. They started out as platforms that helped anyone obtain quotations for any services or products. For example, if you were looking to print a box of name cards, you could submit an enquiry through Quotations.com.sg, and vendors would reply with their quotes. Over time, I realized that out of all the enquiries, car enquiries were the ones that were being consistently transacted successfully. That’s the reason I zoomed into the car industry and founded Motorist.sg.
I saw a gap in the market where most people either have no idea how to sell or scrap a car, or they simply can’t remember how to. After all, these are not daily activities, and it can be troublesome and time consuming. And because of this, some drivers may take months to sell their cars, getting into trouble with authorities for missed deadlines and wrong paperwork, or even end up getting scammed.
Through Motorist.sg, with just one click, drivers are able to obtain the guaranteed highest offers in the market, without any paperwork, and sell as fast as 24 hours, without even leaving their carpark.
Tell us about the full range of services you offer at Motorist, and how is it different from visiting a traditional car dealer?
Damian: Motorist.sg is Singapore’s leading auto-concierge platform that simplifies vehicle ownership. We help you manage your vehicle and provide a range of on-demand auto services. You can connect to a network of motorists and motor services so you’ll never miss out on what you need to know.
We offer a virtual dashboard where auto-reminders will be sent so you will never miss important dates such as your Certificate of Entitlement (COE) expiry, vehicle inspection, road tax, and servicing again. We offer a dedicated vehicle assistant to help with scrapping, selling, and renewing insurance.
Motorist.sg also connects you to thousands of other local drivers to foster a kampong spirit amongst fellow motorists in Singapore. We offer a platform to gain and exchange knowledge with fellow local drivers to clear your doubts and queries. And finally, you can keep up-to-date with the latest COE results and other useful resources such as vehicle advice, hacks, and interesting listicles!
But how is this different with just going to a traditional car dealer?
Damian: Traditionally, car owners need to drive their vehicle down to the showrooms where they get quotations from used car dealers on the spot, but this is a time-consuming and draining process, and it involves a lot of bargaining. Through Motorist.sg, car owners receive offers as fast as within 24 hours, from as many as up to 170 government-certified car dealers, and the best part is that all this can be done as conveniently as with just a click of the button and it is complimentary!
OK, then how would you ensure the seller gets the highest price?
Damian: Our partners purchase vehicles for a variety of reasons, from reselling and stripping the car down for spare parts, to exporting and providing rental services. By reaching out to more than 170 partners, we create transparency, by allowing them to ‘fight’ for your vehicle through our closed bidding system. Having the largest quantity of vehicles available for bidding daily, our partners are tuned to the level of competitiveness, which equates to highest prices for our customers.
Why do you think your business model is a market fit for Singapore? Would it translate to any other market in the region?
Damian: Being one of the most advanced and connected country in the world, Singapore’s automotive industry and drivers are surprisingly still traditional and unconnected. The process of selling a car is not transparent, with scams still happening, and drivers are at the disadvantaged end of this. In fact, snail mail is still the main point of contact by our Land Transport Authority to inform drivers of their important expiry dates.
Motorist.sg believes that the process of selling a car can be simplified through technology, with transparency, zero paperwork and efficiency. Motorist.sg provides the ability to complete end-to-end transaction within 24 hours. Managing your vehicle can be made smarter and effortless with intelligent reminders sent straight to your mobile and important procedures can be completed with a tap of your fingers.
Motorist.sg is has a vision to simplify vehicle ownership. I believe that this vision resonates with Singaporeans. Even though the market is still unconnected, most Singaporeans are already very savvy and embrace technology, which means that the market is ready for this disruption.
We have plans to expand within Southeast Asia in the next two to three years. The Malaysian market alone is ten times bigger than Singapore. The need for technology is higher as the country gets larger, and technology can save much more time and protect drivers with transparency and safer transactions.
What was the biggest challenge for Motorist in the beginning and what is the biggest challenge right now?
Damian: The biggest challenge for Motorist.sg in the beginning was to change the mindset and behavior of car dealers, as many of them are what we call “old school uncles” that do not believe in technology. The majority of the car dealers have been in the industry for more than twenty years and only believe in the traditional model. I had to go down to the car dealers to convince them one by one to give this a try, and once they saw the value in the technology, slowly, the word of mouth for Motorist.sg started to grow in the industry.
Currently, the key challenge for us is that our main revenue model is sensitive to government regulations. A change in a new government measure can mean a huge boost or decline to the entire industry. Motorist.sg has been studying the trends, and we have been progressively diversifying our services and offerings, as well as overseas expansion plans, to mitigate against the effects of future government measures.
Where do you see Motorist.sg in three years from now?
Damian: Motorist.sg’s next three to five-year plan is to expand the business through other business verticals in the Singapore market. At the same time, we want to explore other Southeast Asian markets and replicate our successful model there. This plan will be executed in phases by our management team and consultants.
Damian, tell us more about yourself, your family background, and memories growing up.
Damian: Born in 1987, I completed my education with a double major in computer science and information system from Murdoch University. I started my first company when I was 24 and successfully made my first exit in 2015. I’m a passionate serial entrepreneur, and currently develop and own several companies.
I am the only child growing up in a single family environment. My mum runs a Japanese KTV pub and I didn’t get to see her much as a kid. Growing up in such environment cultivated me to be very independent, and whilst having the luxury of time being alone, I’ve become curious with objects within my reach. I’ve destroyed countless home electronics, in order to figure out the principle of how things worked.
I got my first computer when I was 11 and became very interested in the internet for its vast information. I started coding IRC scripts and found passion in programming which led me to who I became today.
So what drives you on to start new businesses over and over?
Damian: There are multiple reasons why I wanted to be an entrepreneur. Both of my parents are entrepreneurs, and that inspires me to follow in their footsteps. I do not fancy the corporate nine-to-five world where everything is so structured and mundane. There is too much red tape and that often results in the limitation of an individual’s capabilities.
I’ve always believed in doing something bigger, to improve people’s lives and to change the world. Obviously I also want to make money. There are two options to make more money – the first is to become a high-commission salesperson, and the second is to start your own business. I’m not exactly a salesperson, therefore I choose number two.
It’s not an easy route taking on the path of entrepreneurship. I’ve been through countless roller coaster rides to come to today’s little success. During your low periods, it’s your family and loved ones that will help pull you through. For myself, I’m thankful to my mother and wife who supported me throughout the journey.
You need to believe in your vision and goals for the company. Believe that what you are building is going to impact and change the whole industry. With that vision in mind, it will help guide and drive you on to your goals.
Looking back, what regrets do you have in your entrepreneurial journey and what would you have done differently?
Damian: Looking back, there are some regrets which became valuable lessons for me and which I would never repeat again.
My key mistakes and lessons were:
Giving away immediate equity for new partners. If your partner is performing, there are no issues. But otherwise, they become the burden of the company and create unnecessary imbalance in the team. With that, I have learnt that new partners coming into an existing business or starting a new business with should always be on a share-vesting agreement. This will help to assess the performance and capability of the individual before actual shares are allocated.
Sharing of sensitive information with fellow entrepreneurs and business friends which ended up being used against the company. Signing a non-disclosure agreement is good practice when sharing such information.
At the end of the day, what does success mean for you personally?
Damian: Leaving a legacy when you are gone.
Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Damian: Be humble.
Be like a sponge to learn from others and accept all forms of advice and critics.
Be willing to do the dirty work.
Work hard and play hard.
Give some of your time to family and loved ones.
You can visit Motorist at http://www.motorist.sg/