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Crowds at We The People's soft launch pop-up event from Aug 15-21 were estimated at about 10,000 a day. Co-founder Ryan Sim credits these numbers to the store's location at Orchard Central, right next to Somerset MRT station.

Some of the products being retailed at We The People include Flyte, a levitating lightbulb (S$496).

Watches made from natural materials from Bamb-u watches (S$139-149).

Un-grip, a smart solution for the awkwardness of holding one's mobile phone (S$17-29).

By the people, for the people

We The People is one of the first stores in Asia and the first in Singapore to exclusively sell products funded with Kickstarter.
Sep 2, 2016 5:50 AM

HOW many times have you sighed at the quality of your online order and muttered to yourself that this is the last time you're shopping on your computer? When you're looking at glossy images on your screen, the biggest gripe is usually that there's no real way to tell if what you're "adding to cart" will actually be what you receive in the mail.

And with the uncertainty that surrounds online crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter, any measure that adds confidence is more than welcome. At least, that's what Ryan Sim hopes.

The co-founder of We The People, one of the first stores in Asia and the first in Singapore to exclusively sell products that have been funded with Kickstarter, says: "We handle the curation of the products, and we have tangible stock of them in our store, so people don't have to worry about what they're going to get anymore. They can actually see and feel it for themselves."

Positive reviews

The curation process is simple. As with any other online platform, products on Kickstarter haven't been seen before and some come with manufacturing problems or don't work as advertised. Mr Sim and his partners peruse the comments section of each item, so "if at least 70 per cent of the reviews are positive, we'll stock them", explains the 27-year-old. "We also look at the number of backers each project received so we can judge if there's enough demand for it before we take on that risk. If they don't have at least 1,000, there isn't much point in us partnering with them."

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The business model is a normal retail one. Kickstarter itself is not affiliated with the store, and instead, We The People reaches out to projects on the platform that are fully-funded, close to being fully-funded or already retailing elsewhere.

Launching pad

Mr Sim notes: "It makes sense for them as well, because while Kickstarter is most popular in places like the UK and the US, Singapore is one of the top supporters in Asia. So for those projects that are looking at expanding into the Asian region, having their products in Singapore means they have a launching pad for the rest of Asia."

With 17 products already in stock, and more coming in every week, it would seem the people behind the Kickstarter campaigns agree.

Formerly a digital agency executive, Mr Sim co-founded slim wallet company Kisetsu with a friend two years ago. They used Kickstarter and received US$8,000 in pledge money after asking for only US$2,000. Since then, they've run five successful campaigns which have all overshot their target funding. "When we first started making the slim wallets, it was more of an experiment," he points out. "We started with zero capital, except maybe a S$50 prototype, and it was just so amazing to see that there were people out there who wanted to help us make our products."

And this is, states Mr Sim, the best part about crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter. "Because you don't have the traditional model of finding individual investors, there's a lot more freedom to innovate. You can do things you wouldn't normally be given the clearance to do, and that leads to so many interesting projects that people haven't seen before."

Some of the products being retailed at We The People include Flyte, a levitating lightbulb (S$496), the Peak Design Everyday Messenger bag 13" (S$349), watches made from natural materials from Bamb-u watches (S$139-149), and Un-grip, a smart solution for the awkwardness of holding one's mobile phone (S$17-29).

All prices are the same as the recommended retail prices on Kickstarter but there is one bonus for customers - they don't have to pay the shipping fees.

We The People had a successful pop-up event from Aug 15-21 in the atrium of Orchard Central where the store will be located, drawing a crowd of about 10,000 people every day. Mr Sim says: "I think people know that Kickstarter has a selection of well-designed products, so it isn't difficult to attract their attention."

Once the 700-square-foot store has a stock of 50 or more products, We The People will either move to a new location, or open a second store in Singapore. But for now, the team is busy with the opening of two new stores in Busan and Seoul respectively, by the end of September this year.

Mr Sim concludes: "The entire concept is built around the power of the crowd and how crowd-funding brings ideas that would never see the light of day to life. People are interested in things that are out of the ordinary, and we want to empower everyone by showing them we don't have to rely on big companies anymore."