She is the Group Chief Marketing Officer of South East Asia’s largest automotive marketplace. A leader in MarTech space and a firm believer of simplifying technology to answer customer’s needs, she has led several “Singapore’s first” technological innovations. An energetic and inspirational Speaker, she has been listed as one of the world’s 100 Most Influential CMOs and Top 50 Women Leaders in Asia. She is certainly unstoppable and she is Manisha Seewal.
Let’s start off by telling our readers what CARRO is all about, Manisha.
Carro began as an automotive marketplace and we’ve since grown to offer a full-stack service for all aspects of car ownership.
We want to challenge the conventions of buying and selling cars by making experiences trustworthy and transparent through technology. These include in-house financing solutions through our sister company, Genie Financial Services, in addition to leasing and a suite of after-sales services such as auto workshops. One year ago, we also launched Singapore’s first car subscription service.
We started in Singapore 4+ years ago, but have since expanded our footprint across Southeast Asia to Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Moving forward, we aim to extend our reach to more markets in the region while improving our existing services in the automotive ecosystem.
In March 2020, something very exciting happened. Walk us through that.
Yes! In addition to my existing role as Carro’s CMO, I’m now also the CEO of Jualo.com, a leading full-stack hybrid e-classifieds marketplace in Indonesia, which Carro acquired in 2018 as part of our regional expansion.
As Jualo.com’s CEO, my chief task is to drive the company’s growth in Indonesia, namely through business expansion and synergising it closer with Carro’s automotive ecosystem.
This new role is indeed exciting; however, the breakout of the Covid-19 pandemic has made it more challenging than I anticipated. During this period, I’ve been acting less as a CEO, but more as a Project Manager. My top priority is keeping the team’s momentum with zero distractions. Since I can’t travel to Jakarta due to travel restrictions, I need to stay close to the team, virtually.
Despite the situation, I’ve found that it is a great time to hit the ground running and get your hands dirty. I can roll up my sleeves to rough it up and earn my team’s respect.
Every successful person has a routine that has been put in place. I am very curious – what are yours, Manisha?
I am an early riser and love seeing the sunrise. After waking up at 5am, I begin my day by exercising, which usually involves running by the beach and some meditation. I do this 4-5 times a week otherwise I’d get cranky!
I follow my routine closely as it helps me be disciplined, energetic, confident and – most importantly – mentally prepared for the day ahead.
Also, committing to this routine helps me get some alone time to focus on myself. I find that once we can quiet the mind and distil the noise, we tend to make better decisions.
How do you keep yourself motivated?
My team keeps me motivated. Specifically, I talk to and engage with them very frequently – not only about work, but also removing their roadblocks too. When I see each member of the team growing professionally and taking on bigger challenges, that gives me the energy to do better myself.
I also believe in giving back by imparting my experiences through mentoring and training digital marketing talents and budding entrepreneurs. Currently, I’m an adjunct lecturer at Singapore Republic Polytechnic, where I teach digital marketing to working adults, as part of the government’s SkillsFuture programme. This is a nationwide initiative to upskill Singapore’s workforce.
Manisha, I read somewhere, someone described you as the Marketing Yoda because you have great acumen in marketing and honestly, I don’t even know where to start on the tremendous amounts of awards and honours you have received, especially in the area of marketing. In your opinion, what separates a good marketing person to a great one?
A good marketer is one that sticks to their stream of work and goes by the book. They play it safe by following the rules and believe in not “rocking the boat”.
A great marketer masters the book and then breaks the rules only to re-write them. They are comfortable with being uncomfortable. This is the only way to make a difference. For being called the Yoda of Marketing, here is my favourite Yoda quote:
I must admit, over the course of my career, I had to unlearn and then re-learn. Having an open mind helps. But accepting that you can’t know everything, keeps me ever hungry for knowledge.
You have led several technological innovations; one of which has been cited as Singapore’s first “Netflix for Cars.” Enlighten us.
This refers to our subscription-based service, which we launched as a response to the modern driver’s needs and the emergence of the sharing economy. It’s also the first of its kind in our region.
For Carro, our subscription service is borne of the insights we’ve gained from the sharing economy; people – especially the current and next generation – now prize experience over ownership. Applying this to the automotive sector, we’ve found that while many people in Singapore love the driving experience, they don’t want to be saddled by the burdensome commitments typically associated with owning a vehicle, such as costly maintenance and repairs.
We’ve seen subscription-based services do tremendously in a variety of industries across the world like Netflix, Spotify. Why not the automotive sector too?
Check out this article where I shared an overview of the sharing economy for cars.
Do you think this region is saturated with car marketplaces, and how do you plan to let CARRO and Jualo.com to continue to stand out in this noisy space?
It’s true that the region does have many car marketplaces, and, on the outset, it may seem that we’re just adding to the noise. However, we wanted to become a full stack automotive player that offers services for all aspects of car ownership. These include in-house financing solutions, insurance services, on-demand roadside recovery platform, car care workshop, leasing and our fully digital buy and sell platform. We wanted to go the extra mile in providing trust and transparency between sellers and buyers. This has driven our success in Singapore, but we wanted to replicate that across the region.
In Indonesia, we acquired Jualo.com as we felt that both our companies have the complementary vision to empower the e-commerce needs of local consumers. Cars and motorcycles are key verticals within Jualo.com with millions of visitors each month. This is why developing that synergy between Carro and Jualo.com is crucial; it can help us reach that vision faster under a single entity.
You oversee the marketing functions for CARRO in the region and Jualo.com, specifically in Indonesia. What have been your biggest challenges, Manisha?
Currently, the biggest challenge is keeping up the momentum for on-going projects. Given the Covid-19 situation, both Carro and Jualo.com teams are working remotely. It would be detrimental for anyone to lose focus and start worrying about the future.
I am a very hands-on leader and if you ask me, this is what helps my teams stay productive. They don’t have to second guess what is expected of them. Apart from regular team meetings, they have a safe platform to share their concerns directly with me during our 1-1 catch ups.
In Indonesia, my biggest challenge is the erratic internet connection at home, which sometimes makes the team unproductive. I am impatient, I know it. I am working on it.
Branding and marketing – in your opinion, which is more important in building a company?
It’s unfair to say that either marketing or branding should take precedence over the other, as it would depend when and where we do each of them.
To me, Marketing is an everyday effort. It’s a conscious action taken to lead customers to our products and services. It is delivered diligently through an on-ground plan that is developed with the intention of growing business and unlocking new customer segments.
Branding on the other hand is an outcome of delivering a consistent marketing plan. I see it more as a side-effect of Marketing done right.
I couldn’t agree more with the legendary David Ogilvy’s quote:
One example of our branding is our bright orange Carro company t-shirts. With Covid-19 making us work from home, I miss going to the office. So to maintain the right frame of mind, I wear a Carro t-shirt everyday at home on weekdays. It helps me stay focused and serves as an anchor to my team when we do video calls. My team does not need to wear one though. Also, orange is my favourite colour! Can you count how many orange cars I have had?
Where do you see CARRO and Jualo.com, say five years from now, Manisha?
In five years, we hope to have expanded to more countries across Southeast Asia and establish ourselves as leaders in the automotive sector in markets that we’re now present in. This includes cementing our position in Singapore while also improving our services in Thailand, Indonesia and services with more innovative products that can improve the automotive experience in those countries.
In Indonesia, we especially aim to widen our range of offerings on Jualo.com to make it the most trusted full-stack hybrid e-classifieds marketplace in the country.
To aspiring marketers, what advice do you have for them?
Be a Ninja Marketer. Marketing looks glamorous on the outside. But on the inside, it’s really about being customer obsessed. So be prepared to learn almost everything that the customer sees, hears and does. This includes processes, call scripts, customer service, operations, post sales etc. It’s messy and it requires learning quickly about business.
For example, as a CMO, I also get involved in HR matters like pitching Carro at recruitment events at INSEAD, NUS and SMU. I do this as Marketing needs to be able to articulate the business to stakeholders.
Champion the brand and guard its reputation like it’s the last thing you own.
For those who wish to get in touch with you, how can they do so?
Connect with me on LinkedIn.