Q&A with Bolt Media co-founder Yi Wen Chan: Brands need locally based creators to make content marketing work in Asia

Chan Yi WenYi Wen Chan is a former Business Times journalist who co-founded Bolt Media, a Singapore-based startup that helps businesses become media companies by matching them with content creators, in July last year.

The 25 year-old, who was named in the Forbes 30 under 30 list for Asia’s media and marketing sector, tells Mumbrella in a Q&A about the content marketing opportunity in Asia, why she started Bolt, how it works, how she got funding, and why brands need locally based creators to make content marketing work.

Why did you launch Bolt?

I used to be a journalist for The Business Times [covering energy and commodities], a financial daily under Singapore Press Holdings group. The reason I stepped up to build Bolt is because I saw how print advertising, the main source of revenue in traditional media, was fast declining because the readership of broadsheet papers is stagnating, so businesses are less willing to buy print ads.Inline images 1

Another issue that is impeding the transition of ads to digital is the rise of ad blocking technology. I have installed ad blocking software myself. I find that ads are irrelevant a lot of the time, and are often seen as annoying. Readers’ time is limited, and so they want to read something that they click on, not be bombarded by ads.

Businesses are finding it hard to push their brands out, as online ads are being blocked. So how else do you push out your brand to the market? In this regard, a lot of businesses are now becoming their own media companies, by producing content that their target markets want to read, but they lack the tools and skills to do so. The issue is how to find the right people to create your content, and having the right tools to collaborate and manage your content strategy.

In my observation, most of the content marketplaces amass storytellers for English-speaking markets, particularly the US. But the Asia Pacific markets are still relatively untapped, and as a business, you probably don’t want to hire someone in the US to be writing for you about local experiences here in Asia. Technology is global, but content is local. What brands need are locally based writers who understand the culture to create content for a local audience. And that’s why we launched Bolt.

How exactly does Bolt (click here to see the site) work?

Bolt MediaEvery writer gets their own portfolio. It’s like LinkedIn for writers although on LinkedIn people get endorsed for skills they don’t have. My top endorsement on LinkedIn is social media marketing, and as a journalist I wouldn’t say that’s my number one skillset. I am also endorsed for journalism, but it still doesn’t showcase the type of writing skills I have. Writing for food is very different from, say, writing about technology or healthcare. On Bolt’s platform, the content creator’s specific skill sets are determined by their past experiences.

The portfolio helps brands and agencies find the appropriate content creators in answer to a brief they’ve posted through the platform, saving them time and the ability to tap into a network of specialised content creators, instead of relying on a few inhouse generalist writers.

Our system also allows for creating, editing, tracking of changes, and project management. I basically took a lot of editorial tools that we had back in the newsroom, enhanced them so that they are best suited for the digital space, and we’re now offering them to agencies and businesses that don’t yet have a system in place.

Timothy Li (co-founder), Nicholas Chen (content strategist), Chan Yi Wen (co-founder), Thomas Nguyen (engineer)

Timothy Li (co-founder), Nicholas Chen (content strategist), Chan Yi Wen (co-founder), Thomas Nguyen (engineer)

How did you get funding?

We are supported by SPH Plug and Play, Singapore Press Holdings’ media accelerator, Infocomm Investments, and US-based Plug & Play. To get funding from SPH Plug and Play, about 280 teams pitched ideas for the first batch, there were three rounds of selection, and eight were selected. We were one of them. We are also incubated by NUS Enterprise through a government tech grant, and have raised funding from several angel investors.

How does Bolt make money?

We take a cut based on the number of matches, and we license the content management system on a monthly basis.

How much does the service cost?

We’re now testing out different pricing points to find the sweet spot, which is not that easy. It seems like a dark art. The pricing will probably range from a few hundred dollars to S$1000 to use the content management system, and we take a 15% cut from transactions that go through the market place, based on volume of matches per month.

Give us a few examples of pieces created through the platform.

One example is about mobile marketing in the education industry on Trumpia.com, and another is on anti-ageing secrets that you can practice at home for IMEDEEN that featured in PrettyHealthy.sg.

When was the precise moment that the idea for Bolt came to you?

There was no lightbulb moment. There was a solution I noticed in the US, but there wasn’t one for Asia Pacific. We created a solution that is right for Asia Pacific based on the conversations we’ve had with agencies and marketers around the region, and we’re always tweaking it and adding new features based on feedback from customers.

How is Bolt scaling? Do you have enough writers yet to make it work? How many writers do you think you need?

Our aim is to be regional in scale, with our platform supporting mutiple languages, for instance, Simplified Chinese or Bahasa. Clients want to reach local audiences in their native language. The next step is to reach out to writers beyond Singapore, across the region.

Your business model some agencies might see as a threat to their business, as it’s replacing one way clients would traditionally source talent. What do agencies say to you about your idea?

Some have said that it makes total sense, as they don’t have to create content in-house. They take on a client, and handle content strategy, but also have to do the creation piece. But with Bolt, they can just focus on what they’re good at, which is strategy.

What would you say is a key challenge that your business faces?

A trend I’m seeing is that agencies and big brands don’t tend to outsource content through general freelance platforms. I guess they associate these platforms with poor quality assurance, and see them as a noisy marketplaces. These platforms don’t just cater for content, but for a whole range of services. So agencies do not outsource through system, and rely on personal networks.

That’s fine if you want to find one writer every quarter. But if you need writers on a regular basis – because as a content marketer you behave more like a media company – it can be tough to be rely on personal networks.

A lot of startups don’t make it. What’s the plan if this doesn’t take off, or LinkedIn raises its game to offer a similar service?

I have a very good advisor and investor, Turochas ‘T’ Fuad. He’s the former CEO of home rental marketplace travelmob, which some refer to as Asia Pacific’s Airbnb. In 2013, travelmob was acquired by vacation rental marketplace HomeAway. T believes that as a company, your main priority should be the customer, not the competition. Competitors will always be there, and they’re not going to be the ones paying your bills. Also, if competitors like LinkedIn come into this space, it’s further validation of the market opportunity!

Where do you want to be in three years’ time?

I want Bolt to be known as the go-to place to get quality content in APAC, a natural choice for outsourcing content.

In APAC, certainly Singapore, it is said that it’s not a place to be a creative person, and isn’t conducive for a career as a writer. People don’t normally label Singapore as a creative country. But I think that with the rise in content marketing, Singapore a great place for writers and creatives to be, as the marketing arms of the numerous big MNCs are headquartered in Singapore.

Back in Business School, during my undergraduate years, my peers would often ask me why I wanted to go into journalism or the content industry? After all, the media industry is undergoing a tectonic shift and print media is regarded as a “sunset” industry, and not very sustainable. But I have always believed that the bigger the change, the greater the opportunity, especially if others are shunning it. I want Bolt to be part of that change.


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