In Conversation with Shannon Low, co-founder of Mobrick
March 16, 2009 by Bernard Leong Filed under Entrepreneurs, Featured, Interviews Mobrick is a web technology company that creates new ways of socialising in online networks and communities. They have produced two interesting products: (1) Zinerepublic, an easy way to create and distribute your own crowdsourced zine, where anyone can be a reader, writer and editor, create your own zine out of your own and other users’ articles, and submit articles that other editors might like to use in their zines; and (2) Shoplette, a collective shopping intelligence service you can use to tell your friends what you bought and where you bought it, and find out what your friends have bought and where they’ve been shopping. We have managed to catch Shannon Low, one of the co-founders of Mobrick to tell us the story behind their latest launch of Zinerepublic. BL: Tell us your story. What did you do before starting up Mobrick? Shannon Low: Prior to founding Mobrick, I spent 8 years in the public service working at various government ministries and agencies, the most recent being my last 4 years in the Media Development Authority where I worked in industry development, investing in local animation and game development companies. At the end of 2007, I decided to do something different, and left the public service to start up Mobrick. BL: Tell us the story behind Mobrick and how you guys started up Shoplette and followed by Zinerepublic. Shannon Low: Mobrick is a web technology company that creates new ways of socialising in online networks and communities. In short, we create web 2.0 community platforms for people to share their passions. The company is run by two partners, Loon Kok Keong and myself, who used to be schoolmates. Our first released product was Shoplette (www.shoplette.com), a niche social network for shoppers, where users could tell their friends what they bought and where they bought it from, kind of like a Twitter for shopping. The idea came from a typical conversation among friends - one person would say “Check out this new … that I bought!” and show it off to their friend, and the friend would almost always ask in reply “Where did you get it?” That gave us the idea to create a social shopping intelligence tool to enable shoppers to take that conversation online among a community of like-minded shopaholics.
Zinerepublic (www.zinerepublic.com) is our second released product and was a spin-off from a monthly online zine called the2ndrule (currently in deep freeze) which I started with some friends in 2000. It became a way for writers, designers, photographers and other creatives to get their work published. Zinerepublic started out as an experiment while we were working on Shoplette. We wanted to see if we could do something interesting in the publishing space. We saw a need to make magazine publishing easier, more accessible and more democratic than how the traditional publishing industry does it. So we decided to build a prototype early on and play around with it. We continued working on the prototype as we were running Shoplette, until eventually, we decided to find out what people thought of the idea, so we released it for public testing earlier this month.
BL: What does Zinerepublic do? What makes it different from the magazine publishing platforms in the past? Shannon Low: Zinerepublic is our attempt at a revolution aimed at democratizing magazine publishing. We believe that magazine publishing - from article sourcing and content generation, to editing, assembling and publishing issues, to subscription and distribution - should be open to everyone, so we’ve created tools to make it easier. Zinerepublic is an easy way to create and distribute your own crowdsourced zine. On Zinerepublic, anyone can be a reader, writer and editor, create your own zine out of your own and other users’ articles, and submit articles that other editors might like to use in their zines. On the site, users can create zines, submit articles for zines and subscribe to zines. To make zine publishing easier for zine editors, Zinerepublic allows users to crowdsource for articles, edit, assemble and publish periodic issues of their zine, and also provides a subscription and email distribution system so that people can subscribe to and receive new issues of their zine. BL: What are the three main features in Zinerepublic that you like the users to explore? Shannon Low: The key thing we want people to try out is creating their own zine. On Zinerepublic, it’s as simple as signing up, clicking “Create a zine” and customising your zine. Then comes the fun part - assembling your issue with
your own articles and crowdsourcing articles for your zine. You can write your own articles, submit them to the article pool by clicking “Submit an article”, and include the article in your zine, or you can browse through the article pool by clicking “Check out new articles” to look for articles that you might like to include in your zine. As an editor or curator of your zine, you get to pick what goes in, and you can play around with the order of the articles in your issue so that the issue “flows” in the way that you want it to. Once your issue is ready, hit “Publish” to distribute your issue to the world! Once you do this, your issue will be emailed to users who have subscribed to your zine. So don’t forget to tell your friends to check out your zine and subscribe to it by clicking “Subscribe”. And do check out other users’ zines and try subscribing to them too! BL: Do you have any future features that you like to implement on Zinerepublic? Shannon Low: There are a bunch of improvements we’re looking into, like more customisable layouts for issues and articles, as well as printable issues, but we’ll save that for another update, eh? ;) BL: Are there any interesting groups who have used your platform to publish their own online magazines? Tell us some successes so far. Shannon Low: We’ve had some interesting zines created by users on the site. One is “The Little Arts Academy’s Magazine”, which is a really nice cooking zine with great dessert recipes. It was created by the Little Arts Academy, an interdisciplinary art school for children managed by the Old Parliament House Ltd (who also run the Arts House) that offers training in dance, drama, new media, visual arts, music, singing and cooking. They use their zine to help publicise their culinary classes for children, and they’re currently into their second issue. You can check out The Little Arts Academy’s Magazine here:
Another is “Half Flat”, which is a stunning art zine featuring the works of four groundbreaking illustrators based in Singapore. The four artists were holding an exhibition of their work earlier this year, and we worked with them to put together a zine that they could distribute to help publicise their exhibition.
You can check out Half Flat here :
Both have been very creative and interesting uses of the zine format. BL: Other than the online advertising model, how does Zinerepublic sustain itself? Shannon Low: We started Zinerepublic as an experiment and an attempt to democratize the process of magazine publishing. We’re still experimenting with different revenue models to see which ones might be the most interesting. On the online advertising front, we’d like to see how to bring advertising concepts from traditional magazine publishing into the online space. We’re also looking into offering different kinds of freemium and premium services. As a company, Mobrick builds and owns platforms such as Zinerepublic as a means of long term growth. To sustain ourselves, we also do client work and build web 2.0 community platforms for brands and clients who want to use them in online community campaigns.
BL: What do you see as the three most important attributes for an entrepreneur? Shannon Low: First, I think an entrepreneur needs to dare to try. It takes a bit of a leap to go out and try to do something different, and you’ll never know if it’ll work out until you give it a go. So trying is the first step, and as easy as that sounds, it can sometimes be a huge psychological hurdle. Second, and most people will say this too, is a healthy dose of self-belief and perseverance. A lot of people are going to tell you “no,” “don’t do it,” and “it’ll never work.” You’ll also go through rounds and rounds of disappointment as things don’t work out the way you hope. You’ll need to believe in yourself (and your team) a whole lot to get over them. Finally, I think an entrepreneur needs to not be afraid of failure, because the odds are stacked against you and chances are, you’re going to fail. But so what if you fail? Just pick yourself up, learn from it, and start over. I think one thing we’ve learnt is that it’s not that hard to start, and it’s not that painful to fail. It’s executing well that’s the difficult part, and that’s what you need to focus on the most. BL: Given the current financial climate, what advice do you give to budding entrepreneurs out there? Shannon Low: I’m not sure we’re really qualified to give advice to budding entrepreneurs, as we’re learning about it ourselves. One thing I can say is that for people contemplating starting up, there’ll never be a “perfect” time to start a company or do something new. If you’re waiting for the “right” time to do it, you
never will. As long as you have something you want to create and you believe in it, just go ahead and do it, because you’ll never know if it’ll work out until you try. We’re still finding out ourselves.