Gushcloud: Asian style social marketing targets the USA (and Justin Bieber)

One of the interesting developments in the Asian start-up scene over the last year has been the invasion of Western venture capital firms.

Someone has obviously predicted that Asian tech is the next big growth market and that has resulted in the likes of internet clone giants Rocket Internet expanding aggressively in south east Asia and big investment deals like the $60m being ploughed into Singapore website Property Guru by Deutsche Telekom.

But where is the invention I hear you cry? Where is the Asian success story?

Bizarrely, it might well be on US soil right now. As one of the start-ups from the last year has headed West to try and crack the American market.

Gushcloud takes a beautifully simple and original idea (real word of mouth social marketing done by the public and not brands or celebrities) and mates it with a playful user interface.

I loosely call it social influencer marketing (SIM) and it works on the principle of brands being able to use people active on social media to spread their message (and pay and measure) in bite sized social chunks, rather than in humungous global above the line campaigns.

This is genuinely one of my favourite local companies. I love the idea, I love the implementation and I love the fact that it is replicable on a global scale. I really think they can succeed on a much bigger stage.

Gushcloud co-founder and CEO Vincent Ha says all Asian companies should consider the move to Calfornia, and says his company wants to act as a pioneer for others out there looking to follow.

He says they’ve learned some hard lessons so far and he even gets the chance to throw in a comparison between startups and Celine Dion.

But what are the differences between the Asian ecosystem and the American one? And what does this have to do with Celine Dion and Justin Bieber? Read on to find out. And of course visit to get a real feel for what they do.

When did you decide to make the shift to the US and why?

Vincent: Right from the beginning my co-founder and I made the decision that if we were going to do something, it had to be significant and global. Part of that motivation was that we felt that if we were to stay and build an innovative product within Singapore alone, we wouldn't last long as a company as the domestic market is very small. The other part of that is also informed by my ambition and desire for Asian startups in particular, Singapore startups to impact the world.

The United States was a natural choice for Gushcloud is in the intersection of advertising, marketing and technology. The US represents the largest markets for each of these industries. One of the goals is to succeed in the United States and Singapore simultaneously and building a good product that works in more than one country. 

What has been the reaction so far. You are getting traction in your home market but the US is a totally different dynamic. Is your presence there teaching you anything interesting. Is your business model evolving at all as a result?

The short answer is yes, our business model is evolving and we've gained enough insights to formulate or pivot as a company and shifts in strategies. Part of initial feedback from brands and consumers here was that they were looking for more of everything: More traction, more meaningful ways of engagement, more addictive experiences for consumers, just more. At first we pushed on stubbornly because of our belief in our product but after a while we realize that there was a bigger opportunity in absorbing the feedback and improving our product such that it could work not only in South-East Asia but in the United States as well. We realize that we've been given a rare opportunity as a very early stage startup - to achieve product-market fit in more than two countries and we want to take full advantage of this. 

In this journey, we've begun to make a habit out of achieving the impossible and it’s that inspiration that drives us to succeed in a challenging market like the US.

Do you think more Asian companies should head to the US or is the market big enough here?

I believe that if you're a technology company and if you want to be global you should be in the United States from the earliest point. The level of innovation and serendipitous happenings here is just unparalleled. For example, in a couple of networking sessions you could be connected to a whole bunch of VCs and potential client leads and that valuable network takes on a life of its own in Silicon Valley. Whether the market in Asia is big enough for a company or a competitive set of companies depends entirely on the space. There is a really good article by Jeffery Paine of Founder Institute Singapore about startups and their product markets:

What do you think of the Asian start up scene in general? And what needs to be done to improve it?

I believe that we have the drive, the willpower and the ability to succeed as Asian startup entrepreneurs. What I think we need are more success stories to pave the way for our ecosystem and that duty falls on us as hungry entrepreneurs. We do not lack infrastructure. What we lack are precedences. For example, if Gushcloud raises money at a $100 million valuation with X, Y and Z metrics, it sets up some precedence for the local community. Like an investor or a startup can now look at that as a comparison point when negotiating about valuation. It’s similar to what Celine Dion and Justin Bieber did for the Canadian music industry. All of a sudden Canada became a legitimate international hit factory. 

Till we build the next Pinterest or Instagram, there will always be an invisible ceiling on the risk appetites of Asian VCs as they have no reason to expect more than a $20 million valuation as the odds of success beyond that number is extremely low in Asia compared to the US.

How would you describe your business? And what is the next step? How are you going to win over the US crowd?

Gushcloud is a social media marketing platform that connects people to gushworthy content and brands in a meaningful way. This statement will become self-evident when we launch our new platform towards the end of June :) I'll hold my tongue on this till we launch our new platform and that's something we're really excited about!

Fundamentally, we believe in a few things:

We believe that the reason why people tweet, share and gush about stuff on social media is because everyone has an unspoken desire to be recognized – the need for attention. Gushcloud is that platform to fulfill that desire for recognition. Being recognized feels good.

 We believe that because of the need for recognition, brands have a unique opportunity with Gushcloud, to provide recognition for each relevant expression by an individual, thereby creating good feelings towards the brand and connecting them to people in a more meaningful way.

We believe that when individuals are given recognition and brands connect with their consumers, the world will be a happier place.

I think these guiding ideas will continue to shape the Gushcloud platform and help us to be a truly significant and global company.

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Politics & Current Affairs

Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?

Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.

Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.