26 October 2017 marks a special day for us – it marks our 5th year in existence.
While five years may not seem like a long time to those of you more accustomed to reading inspiring memos from Microsoft, Apple or Starbucks, it feels like a milestone to me. Let me explain.
To tell you the truth, our idea to start DollarsAndSense was borne out of ignorance. Timothy (I know I can’t just name-drop like the bigger companies mentioned earlier and expect everyone to know him. He’s the other co-founder.) and I were studying Economics and Finance but came to realise that we actually did not know much about finance.
We knew how to measure the confidence level of an outcome but weren’t confident of getting a job after graduation. We knew the Markowitz portfolio theory, but didn’t know how to open a CDP account to start building our portfolio. And we knew how to calculate total consumption of an economy but didn’t know how much of our salaries would be allocated into our CPF accounts when we started working.
This worried us. So, along with Timothy, I started researching these kinds of basic financial information and started putting them into short bite-sized articles that other students would find useful, but wouldn’t gawk at how long they had to spend to gain new knowledge.
And that was how DollarsAndSense started. With blatant disregard for business viability. Of course, this was also mainly due to the fact that we had no intentions of turning it into a business in the first place.
We realised the best way to disseminate these bite-sized articles would be through an online platform, and roped in our third co-founder, Kang Heong, to create our website and online presence. On 26 October 2012, 5 years ago, we posted our first article.
After graduating, we continued writing. This was a testing time, as well as a time that gave us the opportunity to learn much, as we were dealing with our real lives now compared to student lives. We almost disbanded DollarsAndSense once. I think this is a familiar scenario for many startups though.
We decided to persevere. This allowed us many more interactions with others who were starting to write and with financial institutions who were embarking on digital campaigns. Being employed full-time in other jobs, we could not really entertain the idea of doing these things meaningfully.
In 2015, we received some funding in the form of an angel investment that enabled Timothy to work full-time on DollarsAndSense and begin to start running DollarsAndSense as a real business (finally). Doing things the “DollarsAndSense way”, we decided that we could only afford one team member on a full-time salary for now. This allowed us to stretch our money and the chance to grow our business. On the sidelines, the rest of the team continued to work for free, of course.
In 2016, we added another employee, and I was able to join on a full-time basis in November. We were also able to add Kang Heong in mid-2017, putting onboard the entire co-founding team by our 5th anniversary!
The business has been growing steadily, which allowed us to do this. It’s also around this time where other websites in the industry were being called out for advertisements or sponsored content that did not add value to readers. As sponsored content is also one of our revenue streams to support our staff and pay our amazing interns a decent allowance, this mattered to us.
To us, this was not a problem because we always worked with clients on the digital campaigns that we believe will add value to our readers. In any case, we always write articles independently and put forward a genuine value proposition, while taking into consideration the messages, campaigns or products that our clients wanted to promote. This way, both readers and clients benefit. As what Timothy envisioned since day one, DollarsAndSense will always remain a website where content is available to readers at no cost – as long people are interested to read.
But it does not matter what we think. If readers think all publishers are up to no good with sponsored content, we cannot ignore it. So, we decided that we must stay true to our mission – to help readers make better financial decisions. Today, all sponsored content carry a disclaimer clearly at the front of each article, even before you read anything else. We are not sure if any other media publishers actually do that.
This does not make our content any less valuable, and we urge readers to look past that disclaimer. A well-written sponsored content can educate and value-add to readers much more than a badly written, non-sponsored, click-bait article. This doesn’t just apply to us, but other high-quality local finance websites and blogs in Singapore, many of whom, Timothy and I are fortunate to be able to know as friends.
So gauge the content for what it is before judging it as worthless advertisement. We still work very hard on each piece of content, and believe the majority of the writers in the finance space do so too.
This year, we also ramped up growth of new content types. Clearly, if we continue to stay static, we will lose relevance with our audience. This is why we have rolled out the first episode of our talkshow “DollarsAndSense Tonight”. The first episode, which was really a pilot, and hopefully a show of things to come, featured me! You can watch it here.
We think 2018 will be even more exciting for us, hopefully ushering in new types of content for our readers as well as new areas of growth for our business.
We hope you continue supporting us by reading and sharing our articles, giving us critical feedback when you think we fall short so that we can improve, and continue making small gains in your own financial education journey each time you read a new article of ours.
It has always been my dream to reach the day where I can finally end off a message by saying “and the rest is history”. We’re not there yet, and we will work harder, write better articles, think more creatively, and produce more engaging content for you, our readers.
Thank you for reading us.