A Web site for crushes and votes

newsmaker Astute young businessman Ian Lim believes helping video bloggers become stars will also rake in money for a site he's founded.
Written by Sol E. Solomon, Contributor
Ian-Lim, vlogCRUSH

newsmaker SINGAPORE: Ian Lim, a business-savvy young man in his mid-20s, is on the verge of promoting a concept he describes as Web 2.5--the bringing together of video sharing and social networking.

This comes together at vlogCRUSH, an interactive video-blogging Web site that he founded. A key revenue source for the site is that its visitors will be able to vote for their favorite video blogs posted there for a fee.

The Web site has so far been quite successful in securing funds. Spring Singapore’s Young Entrepreneurs Scheme for Startups (Yes! Startups) is providing S$50,000 (US$33,900) and The Creative Community Singapore initiative of Singapore's Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts is funding S$20,000 (US$13,500). Lim's alma mater, Singapore Institute of Management (SIM), is also contributing S$8,000 (US$5,400).

In an interview, Lim told ZDNet Asia about his business plans for the Web site.

Q: What is vlogCRUSH?
Lim: It is an interactive video-blogging platform that's actually an online variety program. We realize...among social networking, there are video-sharing Web sites, but there isn't one that caters solely to video blogging, and the focus has always been on the videos but never on the person [video blogging].

A businessman all the way

Young entrepreneur Ian Lim, 26, got his first taste of business success in the mid-1990s while still in secondary school. Then, he imported movie posters and took advantage of blogging's popularity, using the platform to display and sell the posters.
Lim started his internship during his degree course as a product reviewer for Asia Soft Online, but excelled and was promoted during the internship to chief moderator.
In 2007, he obtained his SIM-University of London degree in business.
After graduation, as event manager-cum-marketing executive, Lim planned and executed 10 gaming events for Asia Soft, and rose to join its business development team.
He subsequently moved to Cherry Credits as its international business manager and, within six months, concluded agreements with international content providers such as Gala-Net, Artix Entertainment and MTV Asia.
In 2008, Lim founded interactive video-blogging Web site VlogCRUSH, which he plans to launch later this year. Currently, the site has three key personnel--a producer, programmer and Lim who is its project manager.

So what we're trying to do here is to focus more on the person. It becomes like a personality and talent show where the person can do video blogs, or what is termed "vlogs", on a daily basis, and then get [other] people to vote for them in a popularity contest.

So we're going...to be a kind of online [variety] platform. Six months is one season. At the end of the six months, we [invite the vlogger who gets] the most votes to our [real-world] awards show. [That's] actually bringing online people together [in an] offline [physical setting].

After every awards show, they get elevated to what we term a "vlog star" [and get] to enjoy certain privileges such as exclusive invitations to events and also a monetary reward.

The main idea is that we want them to be recognized and we want them to be rewarded [as] we value their creativity.

Whenever people vote for them, they can compare their rankings. We have "love", "hate" and "neutral" rankings. It doesn't mean that if people "hate" you, it's a bad thing. Even if you're the most arrogant person, you [still] get popular.

To attract users, we have different membership packages, [which are valid] on a per-season (six-month) basis. Members get more [opportunities] to cast votes for their favorite vloggers every month. They also get invited to upcoming vlogCRUSH events and other perks.

We're targeting to launch this in Q3 this year [when] there'll be a closed beta for three weeks to one month, and then we do an open beta to all Singaporeans. In the first beta, we're targeting school clubs.

What makes us different from digital social Web sites like YouTube is that all [of them] generate revenue predominantly from Web advertising. For us, we have a micro-transaction feature which allows us to [charge]...users...micro amounts to vote or send a message, for example. We have a revenue share [arrangement with partners].

Do you already have partners for this?
One of them is actually [our] mentoring company known as Cherry Credits, a micro-payment service provider. It has a billing engine and we're using its technology to power the backend of the micro-transaction features.

Cherry Credits also has a distribution network between Asia and the Oceanic region, so it is targeting the youth market and emerging market where consumers do not have access to credit cards.

So we are leveraging the expertise of our partners on micro-payment engines, as well as our internal team to develop and craft vlogCRUSH. Advertising is still one [revenue source, but we expect] more [of our revenue] definitely to come from micro transactions.

Ultimately...our main source of revenue [will be] from licensing [to]...interested partners...from the TV and media industries. In the TV industry, they always have difficulty reaching [both] the online and TV audience [together]. Take American Idol. When [the show] goes on TV, it's very hot, but then [American Idol] created a Web site. Why did it create a Web site? It's because of [securing the bond]. It's a link between the TV show and Internet support.

[For] a lot of shows in Singapore,...there isn't really a [platform for bonding] to hold the audience after the show ends [its run]…It just dissipates.

So what we're trying to do is a friendly-accessed login platform that we license to the media station. They can use it [to host] shows, etc., and they can still retain the audience.

The TV station [now] actually employs its own programmers and engages Web companies to do the whole Web site from scratch. In future, the vlogCRUSH platform [can be licensed] to TV stations so they can immediately roll out a customizable and commercially-ready platform online. We'd like [them] to have the voting features, functions, micro transactions, the streaming, uploading, everything. The media station can use it [without the] need to hire someone to develop it.

Your Web site has been quite successful in terms of funding. What do you believe attracted the fund providers?
There are two key factors.

One of which is that I [used to] come from the online game industry which is an emerging market. So that actually gives me an edge in terms of getting to know the youth market and getting to know how transactions are done online for the youth market.

The second thing is that I have a very strong team and we actually have a very convincing, and very sound, business plan. So when we went for funding, we were able to convince the funding partners.

How do you define the youth market and what does it seek?
The youth market in Asia is currently between ages 13 and about 23--that's the late teens and young adults, [for whom] credit cards are not easily [available] in the region.

The youth market is more tech-savvy, more into online activities and online games. They spend more time online than on TV.

There's also the viral kind of thing where if their schoolmates are talking about certain online [activities] that people are doing, like twittering, it will catch on.


It appears that the site's success hinges on the online variety program platform. What makes you optimistic that this platform will be popular among visitors?
MapleStory, an online game that was very popular in Singapore, didn't do a lot of advertising. It spread virally because friends of friends were playing it.

For vlogCRUSH, what we aim to do is go to different schools. We already started filming at the National Technological University (NTU) and polytechnics. So we're trying to get people to showcase themselves, their works...because when they do it, there is the word-of-mouth/viral effect, because people you know are on so-called "TV online". Once they get popular, they get fame, they talk and engage among themselves. That kind of [excitement] is what we want to create.

Why are you confident visitors will be willing to pay to vote for vloggers on your site?
It's [in] the name..."vlogCRUSH"--our tagline is "Who is your latest crush?". So...maybe you have a crush on someone [but] you want to hide behind the screen, you want to support the person as a sign of your affection and appreciation, you vote. So this is the kind of thing that will attract. [As most of these voters can't own a credit card, we've gotten around that by allowing voters] to purchase "scratch" cards available at 7-Eleven stores to pay to vote.

So you'll start with the Singapore audience?
Correct. We strongly believe that if we can do it in Singapore, we can do it anywhere else. We expect to break even within two seasons, [or 12 months] after commercialization.

Social-networking sites were created solely with consumers in mind. But companies have since found them to be key tools to help their businesses. Would you like your site to evolve into something that businesses would need?
vlogCRUSH is a pure entertainment site. At this point of time, we would like to concentrate on it for entertainment and fun. Sometimes, when you put business in the equation, it takes the fun out of things.

Given today’s economic downturn, isn't this a risky time to start a business with a totally new concept?
It is a "chicken and egg" situation when it comes to starting a new company with a fresh concept, especially for technological startups where time-to-market is a factor. There must be determination and belief in the business concept in order to get the ball rolling. [Despite] the economic downturn, we have managed thus far by forging collaborative partnerships and finding ways to leverage available expertise in the industries.

What advice would you give to budding young entrepreneurs?
Do research. Networking is very important. Don't go out on your own. Look for like-minded people to work with because leading-edge collaboration and having a very strong team can really go a long way.

When it comes to funding, is it easy to find like-minded people?
Not really. [When you are sourcing] funding for an online business, it's very much proof of concept, trying to put it down [in a way] that lets people grasp it. [For] investors,...this is still a new area where they're still not very familiar. They're familiar with production, manufacturing, but to generate revenue from [an] online [platform] is still very new. So to actually let them know that, yes, there's money to be made here and how we're going to do it, we have to [chart] it out very [clearly] for them.

Considering that something like vlogCRUSH is coming from someone young and the money is coming from people who are more mature, is there an age barrier?
There is an age barrier. The greatest difficulty is that some of them haven't even used Facebook, some of them don't know what Friendster is. I actually have to show them what [vlogCRUSH] is and to tell them how it links [with] the youth trend that is actually evolving online.

Even if they don't give you the money, you have to show them that without funding, we're still going to do this project. It's about...investing in the person and they believe that the person can carry it through.

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