Independents.ai (Singapore) a Startup Connecting World Class Teams with Brands

Independents.ai

Independents.ai is a Singapore-based startup focused on connecting world class teams to brands, for any of their marketing needs. Their vision is to make top marketing and creative talents accessible to every brand, regardless of their size, or marketing budget. 

Their promise is to match teams within 48 hours with this 3 step flow:

  1. Curate marketing and creative talents based on their skills and expertise, track record, team dynamics and availability 
  2. Form them into teams and,
  3. Match them to each client’s marketing project’s unique needs

We speak to the 3 Co-founder team, Jit, Khairah and Weina behind Independents, to find out more about their inspiration, background scoop and vision of where they’re headed.

From left to right: Dr. Weina Du, (CTO), Jit Sandhu (CEO) and Khairah Rahim (COO and CMO)

SZ: Tell us about your background  

Jit: I’ve been in the advertising industry for over twenty years experience in the creative field as a writer and creative director.  Started my career in London and worked in Hong Kong and now Singapore in multi-national agencies and for global brands.

Khairah: Marketer with over a decade experience in regional marketing and sales in Sony and start-up Popsical. 

Weina: Data Scientist with over a decade in top firms like Rakuten, A*STAR and OCBC.

SZ: Tell us how did you come with your company/startup/product idea?

Jit: All three of us joined the Antler programme to meet other talented founders with different skill-sets, but with the same ambition and drive to make a difference. We found similar passions around creating communities and driving industry transformation with big game-changing ideas. Harnessing each founder’s particular experience and skills, we found an opportunity in the advertising industry and the way the agency business model used to service clients, which hasn’t really changed for almost 70 years. We feel now there is an opportunity and business need, to look at decentralising talent from the old centralised agency model, to provide much better value for clients’ marketing budgets.

Khairah: As a marketer, it’s always been a dream to work with top creative agencies and teams – because there’s a belief that they monopolise top talents to produce great work. However, unbeknownst to outsiders, the current advertising system is flawed – an industry veteran recently cited that only 35% of top agencies’ staff are made up of creatives, and that the rest are the support staff like sales, admin, and more. This means that when a project budget is paid to an agency, roughly only 35% goes to actual production value. Today, the trend of downsized agencies coupled by the wave of digital nomadism – has seen many experienced creatives venturing out on their own. This includes top creative talents who used to be monopolised by top creative agencies. This presents an opportunity for all brands to tap on experienced and highly qualified talents from around the world and to fit that into their budget – and we hope to be the medium to make that possible. 

Weina: I’m always interested in workforce innovation and look into contributions from the data science point of view. My last venture was in matching talents to positions. Since then I became very keen to explore the possibility to create a project based employment model. That’s what we are working on now, focusing on creative talents.

SZ: Who is the person that inspired you to do what you do?

Jit: Without sounding cheesy, personally I’d have to say it was my dad, who always instilled a work ethic in me and told me to make sure you ‘enjoy your work’. Which is coming in handy now as there’s a lot of work to be done building this business, but luckily i’m still enjoying it.

Khairah: Striking it out as an entrepreneur is a culmination of learning from mentors like Mr. Umar, a boss at my previous company, and my father in law, Mr Ashroff. Watching them in action, building something from nothing has been inspiring, and I’ve always believed in pushing myself beyond my comfort zone – and this seems like a natural challenge to embark on now. 

Weina: There have been many successful Chinese entrepreneurs in the recent decades, they all inspired me in some way. But I don’t have a particular idol, I just wanted to be an entrepreneur myself.

SZ: How is your company/startup/product different from competitors?

Weina: One type of our competitors is generic freelancer websites include fiverr, upwork, toptal, etc. Compared with them, we have our focus on the marketing and advertising industry. We only onboard creatives who can take projects within our focused field.

Another type of our competitor is creative freelancer websites, including getcraft, calvary. We are different with them in that our platform allows, or encourages, individuals to form teams in order to take bigger projects.

Jit: I feel our biggest difference is our ability to deliver unrivalled value for our client’s marketing spend. As we’re able to match any marketing project with the most experienced, specialised team available and put 90% of that budget into the asset creation and not other overheads, so our clients are guaranteed the best quality they can afford. 

Khairah: The big vision is to aggregate all talents on our platform and to be the expert at what it takes to form and match high performing creative teams at scale. As a marketer, I can appreciate the value of a platform sieving through the many options there are, and using a rigorous matching criteria to deliver the best match. This is very much in line with the future of work. Most of our competitors focus on individual talents at scale, or are agencies which match teams manually, thereby limiting the number of projects they can take on. 

SZ: What is the business model of your company/startup?

Jit: We take a 15% fee from the project budget. 10% is used for operational costs and 5% is kept for a bonus payment for the independents talent if they receive a five-star review from the clients. So overall 85 – 90% of the budget is paid to creatives for their work.

SZ: How do you come over the challenges you face on a daily basis?

Weina: Three co-founders will sit down and have a discussion. Normally we’ll research the background and depth of the challenge, see whether we can handle it internally, and seek help from our network, including our peers and coaches, if necessary.

Jit: The interesting thing is there’s a new challenge almost everyday, so you never know what you’re going to get. But the secret is to keep moving forward and doing your best to solve them as they come, without getting overawed by them. It also helps to have a team of solid founders you can share the experience with.

Khairah: I think it pays a lot to have a team of co-founders who are committed and who believe in the same vision of changing the way marketing is done using our unique skills and experience. Whilst we may not always get it right 100% of the time and may have differing views, I am thankful that we are open to learning from one another, and have demonstrated humility to know that there will always be something to learn from, in this experience of building Independents.

SZ: What is the most difficult decision you have to make in your business?

Jit: The most difficult decision I had to personally make was to take the leap and start this venture in the first place. There’s a lot more easier options that were available, but this was the most exciting, scariest and craziest all rolled into one, so it was really the obvious choice.

Khairah: To build a startup sounds very glamorous, but there is a lot of work to be done. It’s a lot like jumping off the cliff, and building a plane or a trampoline(?) so you cushion your fall, and hopefully bounce up again. That has been the biggest challenge of them all. I am however deeply thankful to be able to embark on this, and I acknowledge what a privilege it is to be able to build on our shared vision together. I’m deeply thankful to my fellow co-founders Jit and Weina too, for believing enough in one another to take this leap together.

SZ: What is your advice to the new entrepreneurs ?

Weina: It might be too early to give advice since we are still an early stage startup. But here is something I’ve learnt so far, find a valid gap in your industry. Your business value is to fill that gap. Your entire development is based on how solid that basis is.

Jit: I think you have to find something that means something to you on a personal level. It’s going to be a lot of work and uncertainty, but if you’re passionate, committed, or inspired in some way, you’ll find a way through. You simply have to keep on keepin on.

Khairah: There’s really no one way to do things. There will be 1000 versions of ‘truth’ but only you can shape your reality. Don’t be afraid of closed doors, and remember with every closed door, it just means you get to move more quickly to discovering the next door to open. Being an entrepreneur means you have to believe in yourself first, before anyone else can so keep hustling, and be consistent.

SZ: Anything you like to add or any funny story?

Khairah: Looking back, it’s hard to believe it’s only been about 2 months since we started. Building Independents from scratch, involved creating its vision, and believing that we have what it takes to truly add value. Everything you see – including the website was a bootstrapped effort of the team and our friends to bring to life this vision. The fighting fish you see on our website – that Jit chose really out of chance, now has a strong symbolism to us – we’re trying to punch above our weight and fight the old industry norms that were built on a great promise, but which has dwindled through a flawed system, thereby eroding value to clients. We want to give power back to the fighting fish – the independent creatives on behalf of brands