By TEH SHI NING
'NETTING more' is PurpleClick's new tag-line, and a promise it intends to deliver. Just one week into the new year, the online search marketing firm's sales hit the same volumes attained for all of last January, says founder Leonard Tan.
Heartened by the rising interest in search engine marketing, Mr Tan believes that this solid start will set the tone for PurpleClick this year. 'We're going to strike while the iron is hot,' he says. Hence, 2010 will be one of accelerated growth for PurpleClick, with plans to add 10 more employees to its current headcount of 24 and more aggressive regional expansion into Malaysia and Thailand.
In fact, Mr Tan's newly assumed title of chief executive officer is meant to facilitate these regional expansion plans. Stanley Tay, previously the firm's general manager takes over as managing director, with a focus on business development here in Singapore.
This is not to be an expansion lacking in foundations though. The multimillion dollar start-up saw double-digit growth last year, and despite the recession's impact on the marketing industry, expanded its customer base by 25 per cent.
PurpleClick now has hundreds of clients paying for its search engine marketing services, which help companies tap keywords used in online searches to direct sales leads to their own websites via text ads on Google or Yahoo.
But numbers aside, 2009 was also thrilling for PurpleClick on the awards front. And while Mr Tan says he does not believe in winning awards for the sake of winning, he says that these have contributed immeasurably to the company's steady growth last year too.
The first business award came when PurpleClick clinched the Emerging Enterprise award 2009 last June.
'The prize package itself was very helpful and well-rounded. For an SME like ours, in last year's difficult economic environment, everything would have been about sales, sales and more sales. But with the prize we could look at marketing, training, and developing our internal efficiency as well, at the business as a whole and not just sales,' Mr Tan says.
Last year's winners each walked away with $360,000 worth of prizes, including an interest-free loan from OCBC, a government grant, accounting software and financial consulting packages. 'We would not have thought of spending money on these areas otherwise. The prize really did help to cushion costs, and gave us the guts to hire six more staff too,' says Mr Tan.
But the non-monetary gain from the win was more precious. 'It was our very very first award, so we'd got the whole team involved from the very beginning when we had to decide whether to compete. I mean I may be the spokesperson, but all the actual preparations for the award were done by the team,' he says.
'So when we got to the finals, and won, everyone in the team shared in the sense of satisfaction and pride. 'Hey, we work for an Emerging Enterprise now,' we'd joke with each other in the office,' he shares.
'Getting the money and the prizes was really great, but as long as you have money you can do all of that. But things like morale, pride, unity, are extremely important to a small start- up like ours. And these are things which even $500,000 may not buy.'
There were other non-quantifiable spin-offs from being crowned an Emerging Enterprise too - such as many more open doors. 'We started getting more calls from MNCs, who typically want to work with reputable companies, ones which are endorsed, validated. So the award gave potential customers more confidence in us.'
This was also true for SMEs, which remain PurpleClick's core customer base. 'It was especially helpful when we wanted to reach sceptical SMEs - and we're one ourselves so we don't blame them. They won't want to risk putting money with an unreliable company.'
And, it has opened doors with government agencies, both in terms of sales and in collaborations to educate SMEs on the value of what PurpleClick sells, Mr Tan says. 'They see what search engine marketing can offer to SMEs looking for a springboard into overseas markets. Instead of the usual tradeshows and exhibitions, they can get exposure to very targeted groups of customers via online marketing too, which costs less.'
In addition to the above pluses, Mr Tan describes a 'snowball effect' which saw PurpleClick pick up a string of other awards in the second half of last year. These included the Shell LiveWIRE Award for its creative business model and sturdy business, as well as top industry awards for search marketing agencies at last year's Marketing Agency Awards. It was also the only Singaporean company to receive the Brand Leadership Award, given out by the World Brand Congress last November.
Recognition has been valuable both in hiring the talent it needs to expand, as well as in gaining credibility with foreign partners.
The firm already has a registered entity in Kuala Lumpur, and a sales representative in Bangkok, but hopes to explore opportunities in the Philippines and Indonesia this year too.
In other exciting news, Mr Tan says the company is looking for new premises to fit their growing family. From the zinc-roofed back-end of a Chinatown shophouse, to an office in People's Park Complex and then its current Outram Park premises, each office move has ushered in fresh growth for PurpleClick.
He expects the upcoming one to be no different, and hopes to create a comfortable working environment for the team - possibly with the luxury of a rest and relaxation area, though, that 'will depend on the dollars and cents', the entrepreneur says.
This article was first published in The Business Times.