Alden Boon

Founder of TheSmartLocal Bryan Choo Shares His Success Recipe

December 21, 2016

TheSmartLocal began as a humble travel blog, and today it is one of Singapore’s most authoritative voices on all things lifestyle. The man behind its still-burgeoning success is Bryan Choo. We speak with him to learn what it takes to run a successful magazine empire.

Could you describe the essence of TheSmartLocal (TSL)?

TheSmartLocal is a hyperlocal lifestyle resource for young Singaporeans. We give Singaporeans ideas on what to do in Singapore, and through our positive content we aim to put a smile on people’s faces.

You started TSL in 2012. When did the brand become a profitable one? 

We started making a decent profit in 2014, attracting a regular stream of advertisers. I credit our early success to being fortunate enough to find talented staff who could take TSL to the next level. And understanding what people would share on Facebook — it’s funny how that is a real job skill.

Which kind of content gets the most engagement?

Articles with an angle that has not been done before.

What are the trends that are impacting content creation?

It’s getting harder for new influencers to break out and for existing ones to stay relevant. There’s just so much competition. Social media is now moving towards videos and live streaming.

With advertising content, how do you balance what the client wants to push out with journalistic integrity?

We don’t take on engagements we don’t agree with, and we stress to advertisers that we have creative control over our content. It’s important to start with the correct expectations, and that step begins at the sales meetings.

In November 2016, the TSL team moved into its 7,500-square-foot office in Kallang Bahru.
In November 2016, the TSL team moved into its 7,500-square-foot office in Kallang Bahru.

How does an aspiring writer or content producer find his own niche in this saturated milieu?

You have to offer something different. Raw and authentic content is a refreshing change. We started Zula.sg and Eatbook.sg to cater content to two demographics we felt weren’t catered to. Zula.sg for example appeals to the females of the millennial generation.

As founder, what is your leadership style and working relationship with your team?

Employees have to earn my trust. I babysit new hires until they prove themselves. I guide them and help develop them into managers. Then, I let them pilot their own cycles with their subordinates. That’s how we grew our departments to be autonomous. There’s a lot of trust between us, but that first has to be earned.

TSL looks like a fun place to work in. You have your themed Thursdays and what not. What is the culture like here?

We never pit colleagues against one another, threaten job security or use promotions as bait — tactics which some corporations use in the name of productivity. The office policies I implement focus on growing camaraderie amongst employees. Our colleagues form very close relationships, so TSL feels like a second family. Does productivity suffer? Well, yes, but I value a politics-free office environment and the well-being of my employees way more than optimal productivity.

Free travels… good food… celebrity interviews… It’s all so glitzy and glamorous.

People tend to see just the fun side of TSL. There’s a lot of work the team puts in. Yes, the nature of our work makes this job very fun, but the team works very hard as well. And we’re proud to function this way.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.

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