In 2015, three friends launched Carro, a startup determined to transform how Singaporeans buy and sell used cars. In late 2021, they became a billion-dollar-business and achieved “unicorn” status alongside tech giants like SpaceX, Stripe, and ByteDance. But what does it take to go from aspiring entrepreneur to unicorn in just six years? According to Bryan Tan, chief data scientist of Carro, the answer is in the numbers.
We sat down with Dr. Tan to explore how a passion for critical thinking and problem solving defined his career, and why aspiring entrepreneurs should be looking towards data-driven decision making when launching their businesses.
Problem Solving from Different Points of View
GLOBIS Insights: How did you start out as a problem solver?
Tan: I’ve always been a natural problem solver. All along my professional journey, I’ve been solving problems of varying complexities across varying timelines, coming up with unique solutions along the way.
As a PhD student in Cambridge, I was working on solving the problem of nuclear waste containment. This problem’s timeline spans thousands of years due to the long half-life of uranium-235 and some of its radioactive daughters. It’s where I picked up most of my machine learning and coding techniques. The experience was more like an apprenticeship than a typical PhD. I was working under the tutelage of some of the world’s most renowned scientists, such as Dr. Ian Farnan and Dr. Simon Redfern. In this instance, the best solution was mathematically complex, yet elegant.
GLOBIS Insights: How about after graduating? How did you apply “elegant” solutions to your career?
Tan: As a policy analyst for Singapore’s Ministry of Defense, I worked on understanding the pieces to an interesting puzzle: career progression within the government. This was my earliest job, and it’s where I learned how to identify high-potential staff and properly reward high performance. The best solution for this problem was something that could be easily understood and implementable across a large organization.
As an educator, I taught quantitative sciences and coding to university undergrads. There, I nurtured young minds to become critical thinkers and appreciate the symmetries and elegance that exists in the real world, from the perspective of more abstract mathematical paradigms which attempt to describe the world numerically.
Here, the aim wasn’t necessarily to provide solutions for my students. I wanted to stoke their thirst for discovery and encourage them to seek out a deeper level of understanding towards the problems they wished to solve on their own.
GLOBIS Insights: How did you pair all this critical thinking and problem-solving experience with data disruption at Carro?
Tan: As chief data scientist at Carro, I’ve taken on many data-driven projects across diverse fields—all with the goal of helping to present our customers with holistic data regarding their cars.
As Southeast Asia’s largest AI-based used car marketplace, we’re aiming to transform the car buying and selling experience. We’ve disrupted the used car marketplace, where data opacity was the norm, and provided clients with deeper insights into their car sales and purchases.
Beyond the transactional side of the industry, we’re studying driver behavior and providing insights to insurers. Ultimately, we’re a data-driven tech enterprise. The best solution to the problems we’re looking to solve is one that will provide greater value and knowledge to consumers, dealers, and the public.
Becoming a Data-Driven Unicorn
GLOBIS Insights: How does it feel to see Carro go from startup to unicorn?
Tan: It felt great to have our hard work and innovations validated by investors. But we’re also very aware that this is only the beginning for us. We will not let our investors down. We’ll continue to grow the team, the business, and the future of used car ownership.
GLOBIS Insights: Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Tan: I have three core pieces of advice:
- The structure of your startup is very important. There are numerous moving parts in the early days, so it’s important that the team has a sufficiently diverse skillset and united mindset.
- Being a part of a talented team working toward the same goal is more important than individual talent. Synergies can result in teamwork when everyone puts their best feet forward to actualize a vision.
- Timing to market is everything. There is a time and season for everything from USB-A to USB-C. Sometimes it’s not about what is better, but what is faster to markets.
GLOBIS Insights: How important is data-driven decision making to startups?
Tan: This is the era of big data. Most startups seek out and look to address an unsated demand in their market. Big data is one way of highlighting that. Apart from using data to determine the actual demand of their product, other startups like Grab and Uber used data for supply provision. Data can also be a product itself. Data-driven insights can enable consumers to act with more confidence and in turn derive greater utility and benefit from the transactions.