was launched in May 2009 by SingTel Digital Media, a subsidiary of Singapore Telecommunications Ltd.

This fast growing site attracts 1.2 million unique visitors a month with its day-to-day information on local, international and entertainment news, events listings, food reviews and shopping deals.

Asian e-Marketing held an interview with Ms Varsha Rao, CEO of Singtel Digital Media, to find out more about the leading lady of Singapore’s popular local search and lifestyle portal.

Varsha became interested in the Internet in the mid 1990’s while working as a consultant at McKinsey. “I liked it so much that I quit McKinsey and started a company in 1998 called, right in the middle of the infamous dotcom boom. It was a beauty products and accessories ecommerce start-up, which we took from nothing to 125 employees and then sold only two years later. Since then, I’ve been involved in the net in one way or another, because I’ve found the growth and pace of change so exciting”, she said.

The impressive speed of the Internet is reflected by which finished its beta version just a year after its launch. “By working with content partners and our dedicated editorial team, provides engaging and comprehensive content across a broad range of topics – including food and drink, events, shopping, movies, news as well as entertainment – all with a distinctly Singaporean point of view”, Varsha explains and notes: “In July this year, we took into account feedback from our users and launched a fresh new look for the site, with an enhanced design and improved features. These include discounted movie tickets, not-to-be missed shopping deals, more local technology and beauty/fashion content as well as an improved business listings channel. Visitors also have access to invaluable reviews, ratings and in-the-know articles for 20,000 restaurants and hawker stalls as well as over 150,000 business services in Singapore. A community element has also been incorporated and users now have a chance to be an Star Reviewer and read and rate what others have to say about a business, movie or event.

What it takes to build, provide and operate

Due to her prior start-up experience, Varsha managed to implement within a short timeframe, limited staff and budget. Her constant commitment to meet her customers’ needs has been the key to success, stating: “We gathered feedback and conducted focus groups and took this all into account when redesigning our site. We now offer a cleaner design, an improved search experience and we increased our emphasis on reviews, community and more such features as requested by users. We also built upon our editorial team and invited other prominent and influential bloggers to join our existing group of contributors such as Mr. Brown, Dr. Leslie Tay, Bagaholic Boy and Tracy Philips”. The redesign also served’s advertising clients, with its more unique and customised advertising platform, more opportunity for high impact ad formats and channel sponsorships as well as customised solutions. The success of, which is now ranked in the top ten most popular Singapore websites (based on Hitwise reports) is the result of her hardworking and dedicated internet savvy team.

1111_1“For the first half of 2010, the whole team focused on improving the user experience and on creating innovative advertising vehicles for companies as well as making sure value is being delivered”, she said, adding: “With our new look and the great positive feedback we’ve been receiving from users and advertisers, our big opportunity now is to have more users learn about and become loyal fans. Even with 1.2 million unique visitors per month, we know that since we are only 1 ½ years old, we still need to grow awareness for the portal.”’s unique value propositions is a highly local experience and one that combines engaging content with local reviews and search. The company’s CEO explains: “The user generated reviews we have, offer a uniquely Singaporean perspective. We currently have over 25,000 of these reviews which I strongly believe provide valuable insights for our users.” What also makes stand out, according to her, is its relevant and comprehensive local search of over 150,000 business listings which helps users quickly find the right business or service provider they are looking for.

Other unique features of include an events calendar, a Food & Drink section that keeps users up to date on what new restaurants and hawker stalls have recently opened its presentation of great local recipes and a comprehensive search and reviews experience.’s movies section, also, is said to be the only site in Singapore where you have show time listings for “all” Singapore cinema operators in one place, direct links to buy tickets and exclusive discounts on any Golden Village ticket you purchase through the site, as well as a Shopping/Hot deals section.

“As a result of our unique content, our strong traffic, and our distinct ad platforms and customisations, advertisers have the opportunity to advertise and engage with audiences in new and different ways”, Varsha claims. “Advertisers also really like our rich media formats and our ability to do customisations, but most importantly, advertisers like the results and response rates that they see when they advertise with us”, she adds. Of course, good analytics are important for effective online marketing as it gives the advertiser and publisher insight into the effectiveness of messaging, ad formats, and creative in a way that offline media such as print, television and outdoor just cannot deliver on. Varsha knows best that online marketing has the ability to be optimised and continually improved upon resulting in better ROI, which is on top of the branding impact that online advertising delivers. serves its ads in general through DoubleClick and shares the click through rates with their advertisers. Internally, uses analytics to constantly measure its site’s effectiveness and also provides a mobile app for instant access on the go.

Without a doubt, the leading lady of has her finger on the pulse of the digital marketing scene. Her vision of the industry’s future proves: “I see increased migration of advertising dollars to online over the next several years as users’ consumption of online and mobile media continues to grow. At present there is a disconnect, users in Singapore are spending upwards of 25% of their leisure hours online and yet only about 3 to 5% of advertising dollars are being spent online. Over the next few years, I predict that markets will become more confident and leave behind traditional media which is showing declining readership and engagement and go to where their users are and this increasingly means online. In addition, I predict that mobile and tablet devices will offer new and interesting advertising opportunities for advertisers as audiences grow on these platforms.”

By Daniela La Marca