by Cheryl Tee, Wee Kim Wee School of Communication Studies
28 March 2018
Six years ago, McDonald’s outlets islandwide ran out of curry sauce - but Mr Karl Mak ran into a business opportunity of a lifetime.
“We were pissed… People were buzzing on social media. Everyone was like, ‘What are we going to do?’” said the co-founder of content production outfit SGAG.
He decided to create a meme that those riled up by the loss of the popular condiment could relate to.
But Mr Mak, then a third-year student at Singapore Management University, was met with a quandary. He could post it on established social media site 9GAG where nobody, save for a smattering of Singaporeans, would get his brand of humour, or create his own online platform catering to a local crowd - which he did.
Together with a friend, Mr Mak uploaded the meme on a new Facebook page - SGAG - which went viral. In 24 hours, it hit 500 likes.
“For the rest of the year, we just made memes all day long,” he enthused.
Today, SGAG sees an average of 10 million visitors per week, and has offices in three different countries. Apart from its usual dollop of memes and gifs, the company films branded content for clients, such as Airbnb and Samsung, for a millennial crowd.
Mr Mak was in Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore for a Leadership in Technology Entrepreneurship (LiTE) Bites session on March 28, which is part of a series of lunch talks hosted by the Nanyang Technopreneurship Center. It is open to NTU students and faculty eager to find out more about an entrepreneurial career.
He spoke to over 40 students at the hour-long talk, doling out advice on how to keep a business viable.
“We don’t have millions in our bank to burn, so we had to stay lean, stay profitable from day one, and just kind of step by step, brick by brick, build what we are today.”
It was this disposition that bagged Mr Mak a spot on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list last year in 2017. The award took him to Boston and Manila, where he got to rub shoulders with personalities like former CEO of PepsiCo and Apple Inc. John Sculley III and YouTube personality Casey Neistat.
“It’s been a whirlwind since,” he said. “SGAG became so much more than what it started out to be.”
Before SGAG, Mr Mak had founded, and shut down, a tech start-up - an experience which “forced him to learn so much” as he got to “progress and see how things are built”.
But he stressed that entrepreneurs had to be ready to face major upsets in their start-up journey.
“It’s a crazy, emotional rollercoaster. You’ll be crying one day, the next day you’ll be hugging your co-founder, the next day you’ll give him a slap and break up. You need to power through all of that.”