Welcome to Episode 37!
Our guest for STIMY Episode 37 is Ng Kai Yuan: co-founder of Our Grandfather Story – a Singapore-based digital publisher dedicated to uncovering timeless and overlooked stories across Southeast Asia.
Founded in 2017 with three other co-founders, Our Grandfather Story started as a school project! More specifically, an assignment for an Advance Photojournalism module at Nanyang Technological University. All four college students were tasked with coming up with a digital startup and the first video they created was on Singapore’s distinctive green & pink ice-cream sandwich bread.
To their surprise, the video went viral! And after acquiring investors (while still in college) and big corporate clients including Nippon Paint, Temasek Holdings & Singapore’s National Heritage Board, the four friends decided to turn their assignment into a real startup.
And in this STIMY episode, Kai Yuan shares exactly how that happened.
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Who is Kai Yuan Ng?
Kai Yuan & his 3 other co-founders met in college and unknowingly get started on a college project that would eventually morph into their own startup called, Our Grandfather Story!
- 4:51: Getting an advance photojournalism assignment that sparked the genesis of Our Grandfather Story
- 6:40: Why they named it ‘Our Grandfather Story”
- 7:17: Coming up with the concept of Singapore’s Ice-cream bread video, which went viral!
- 10:50: Turning a college assignment into a full-fledged digital media publishing company, OGS
- 11:30: Obtaining a seed investment of $50,000
- 12:09: Reaction from friends & family
- 14:46: Securing corporate clients without any track record
Straight out of college, all 4 co-founders started work on their startup: Our Grandfather Story.
And Kai Yuan shares how they build a media company from the ground up!
- 17:20: Managing budget while growing the team in the early days of OGS
- 18:18: OGS’ target market
- 20:16: Focusing on food content
- 23:11: How OGS uncovered “untold” stories
- 24:06: The most unique & “kepo” way that OGS has used to obtain a story
- 26:22: OGS’ biggest success – the Can Ask Meh? Series
- 28:56: How OGS created the video on “Parents Who Lost a Child” for the Can Ask Meh series
Expanding the OGS Universe
In the span of a mere 3 years, OGS has grown rapidly & garnered a rabid fan base. Over 300k followers on Facebook, 250k on YouTube & 70k on Instagram.
OGS’ offerings have also increased to include a podcast (Something Private) & animation illustration arm (O+).
Kai Yuan shares how all that happened: the most heartwarming moments, and also moments that didn’t quite work out for them.
- 30:35: Remaining sensitive to the questions asked
- 32:57: Creating O+ – the animation illustration arm of OGS
- 34:38: Creating the Something Private podcast
- 37:13: How OGS has gained its dedicated following
- 39:07: Sharing Southeast Asian stories during the COVID-19 pandemic
- 40:01: Who OGS is looking for to join the team
- 41:34: Maintaining relationships with the people they meet for OGS stories
If you’re looking for more inspirational stories of people in the science/creative industry, check out:
- Ep 32: Darrion Nguyen (Lab Shenanigans) aka the Asian Millennial Tik Tok version of Bill Nye the Science Guy, with over 600k Tik Tok followers!
- Ep 10: Benjamin Von Wong: Mining engineer turned social artivist/photographer whose works in the social impact space has generated over 100 million organic views
If you enjoyed this episode with Kai Yuan Ng, you can:
- Tag us at @OurGrandfatherStory & @sothisismywhy
- Tweet your thoughts & takeaways from the episode to Ling Yah here!
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I’d love to include more listener comments & thoughts into future STIMY episodes! If you have any thoughts to share, a person you’d like me to invite, or a question you’d like answered, send an audio file / voice note to email@example.com
Some of the things we talked about in this STIMY Episode can be found below:
- Kai Yuan: Instagram, LinkedIn
- Our Grandfather Story: Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook
- O+ by OGS: Instagram
- What Are Cows Doing in My House?
- Fluffy Rainbows – Singapore’s Ice Cream Sandwich; Parents Who Have Lost A Child
- Kai Yuan’s TEDx Talk
- Facebook Creator Lab 2020
- Subscribe to the STIMY Podcast for alerts on future episodes at Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher & RadioPublic
- Leave a review on what you thought of this episode HERE or the comment section of this post below
- Want to be a part of our exclusive private Facebook group & chat with our previous STIMY episode guests? CLICK HERE.
STIMY Ep 37: Kai Yuan Ng - Co-Founder, Our Grandfather Story
Kai Yuan Ng: So we have a team of video journalists who look for the stories. And then I would say we source them from everywhere anywhere. Can be the chicken rice uncle you talk to when you're buying your lunch, can be from the internet or it can be from the network that we built.
So there isn't really one place to get the stories. Most of the time the thing is about being very kepo, and then going to look for the stories.
So I think when we are out, we are always looking out for things and questioning things.
So we are all just very kepo. If you are kepo, you will find stories.
Ling Yah: Hey everyone. Welcome to episode 37 of the So This Is My Why podcast. I'm your host and producer, Ling Yah, and today's guest is Ng Kai Yuan. One of four co-founders at Our Grandfather Story. A Singapore based digital publisher dedicated to uncovering timeless and overlooked stories across Southeast Asia.
One of the most intriguing parts of the story is that all four co-founders were college mates at Nanyang technological university. The very first video under OGS was created as part of their school assignment on rainbow ice cream bread.
To everyone's surprise, that simple but poignant video went completely viral and this pool of friends decided to just keep going, creating video after video.
They attracted investors whilst still in college. And they've never looked back since.
In this episode, Kai Yuan shows how it all began. The early days of building OGS, how they uncover untold stories. I mean, let's face it. How do you find stories that haven't even been told or overlooked as well as how they've expanded to include animation arm, O Plus; a podcast called something private, and one of my favorites, Can Ask Meh?
Where they ask questions of people that as Asians, we would, well, rarely dare to ask. Likefinding love in an arranged marriage, survivors of sexual violence and parents who have lost a child.
But before we begin, if you've been enjoying this podcast and you want an easy way to support it, please leave a review on iTunes.
It's probably the best way for others to find the show. And I would really appreciate it. Now are you ready? Let's go.
Kai Yuan Ng: As a child, my eyes were glued to the TV. I think at a very young age, I was wearing specs because I watch too much TV. I love just lying on a sofa, drinking my milk and I watched a lot of TV when I was young, I guess which shaped my path into what I'm doing to do.
Ling Yah: And what about in high school? Were you already thinking about what you want it to do?
Kai Yuan Ng: I think I sort of had an idea of what I wanted to do. I kind of knew I wanted to be in the media space. Exactly what I don't think it was very clear back then.
In Singapore, we had to go through secondary school, junior college or Polytechnique before going to university right.
After secondary school, I actually thought of going to get a diploma in film. But actually I wasn't a hundred percent sure. So I went to junior college, which kind of gave, I guess, a broader education than after that going to a university.
Ling Yah: Was there a particular person or occasion that caused you to think, oh, I want to go into media or comms because later you also worked at gateway entertainment. And you also worked on vision.
Kai Yuan Ng: For me, I think generally the media spaces is very exciting. No matter may it be broadcasts, live shows or just documentary et cetera.
So, I mean, Gateway Entertainer was just theater shows, we did magic shows in Singapore and Malaysia, in China. I mean, I was very interested in that space trying some work there. Didn't feel I would last long in that area.
Ling Yah: Why do you feel like you wouldn't last long?
Kai Yuan Ng: I think in Singapore, the industry is not a huge theater. And I guess it's very draining physically and mentally. Coz like it's really late nights. You have to be there, call time early in the morning or you work late into the night.
So I don't think it was something for me in the long run, so I thought okay, I have my fun there. Let's go on and try something else.
Ling Yah: So you ended up going to Wee Keng Wee's school of communications and information at Nanyang technological university. What was the reasoning behind that?
Kai Yuan Ng: I knew I was going to do something related to the media industry.
Wee Keng Wee's school is the best school in Singapore, I guess. So that was what I did. I think it's one of the top schools in Asia, if I'm not wrong.
Back then when I was applying, I looked at it and they offered quite a good range of causes. Eventually I went on to do a mix of broadcast and journalism, which is kind of like my work today, largely rooted in documentaries, in journalism.
Ling Yah: So I think 2016, there was one particular assignment in the advanced photojournalism that really sparked the whole OGS and changed your life.
I mean, what was that assignment about and how did you conceptualize your project?
Kai Yuan Ng: We were in year three.
Everyone says that print is dead. In the class we were trying to figure out what's next? So we had an assignment where we were supposed to come up with a visual startup.
I mean, we had crazy ideas. Ah, I mean, one of the crazy ideas, there's wedding photography services, right. We wanted to provide funeral photography services to have some memories, your loved ones last events on earth.
It wasn't very conventional. I think there are such services, but it's probably not one that you commonly hear. Yeah.
So we sat on that idea for a while. After it we just thought yeah. Sounds a bit weird. Okay, maybe we try something else.
The assignment was to create a startup.
It was a time where there were many other digital publishers in the online space already. But we felt a lot of them were giving more content that was more functional in a sense that it's just for you to view and not for you to learn. Let's say the top 10 best places to go in the East. Top 10 best cafes. It wasn't so much about stories.
So we thought hey, why not let's try to tell stories in this space and see what happens. Even if we fail, nothing could go wrong. Cause it's just an assignment, right? That was how we started.
So we went out, we looked for stories then we started working on various pieces of produce. We put it up online. We gave our pitch, our grandfather's story.
Initially, it was not a very nice name. It was named Halves. So it was trying to tell two sides of the story. But we changed the name, I guess the day before we launched, because the spotlight halves weren't very catchy. So we changed the name. We published it and we pushed out the pitch, it went viral.
Ling Yah: Why Our Grandfather Story though?
Why that name?
Kai Yuan Ng: So the story behind that is that we did our research as well, talking to other publishers, finding out about their work, how do they curate their content, et cetera? So there was someone that we talked to, they said for them, how they position themselves to the audience is that they are their kepo neighbors.
They are their nosy neighbors.
So we thought who would we be to our audience? If we were telling stories, we were doing a lot of heritage content. If we were telling such stories, that will probably be your grandfather. So then that your grandfather's story and just nice and all that that's the saying, right?
So I was like, okay, maybe Our Grandfather Story.
Ling Yah: So the first video you posted in November, 2016 was fluffy rainbows Singapore's ice cream sandwich, which was a really, really fun video. It was very simple, I think, but very poignant as well.
So how did you come upon that idea of that story?
Kai Yuan Ng: We were year three back then, right. In year 2, I actually did another documentary, but it was a coffee documentary. And by chance, I went back to the shop to visit the coffee supplier and I met someone there was buying coffee and he was actually the manager of the bread confectionary.
So they said, hey, you guys want to do a video about bread?
Then like, okay. So I kept the contact, then when we started working on that project, that contact came back, I guess it's a good use, ?
And at that point of time, it was also driven by this article on Buzzfeed. Bassfield came up with an article dissing the ice-cream bread. Saying that you shouldn't eat ice-cream with bread. It's the wrong way.
So he caused a huge uproar in Singapore. I'm not sure about Malaysia, but. Probably so then I think he did to take that to go down and stuff.
So we kind of rode on that and said okay since we are shooting a video, and there's this buzz around this going on, so why not do something about rainbow bread, right? Like we always buy the ice cream, right? But we never knew how the bread is made.
So we thought, okay, why not? Let's go to this place and let's shoot how they make it.
Ling Yah: And then you launched it on, I think Facebook and within a week ago, 150,000 views and then on YouTube as well as 128,000 views to date.
So was there a marketing strategy behind you guys pushing it out that it just went viral like this? Even the Straits Time picked it up and talked about it.
Kai Yuan Ng: In the beginning, there was no concrete marketing strategy. It was purely what people were interested in. What people were talking about.
Like they were talking about the rainbow bread. Okay. Let's put up something related to that. I mean, there was some thought in there, but it wasn't okay, we are going to do one Instagram post and we're going to put like, $1,000 ad budget behind it, that kind of thing.
I think it was really about, okay guys, let's do something that people are talking about. Show them something that they haven't seen before and hopefully, we get somewhere. So it wasn't very detailed planning, I would say. I guess half of it was probably luck.
So we shared it, our friends shared it, our family shared it then somehow, it just went crazy. I mean, we were quite shocked as well when it went viral because our Facebook page was literally nothing. We started from zero. It just went crazy.
I guess the name resonated with people as well.
Ling Yah: What were you guys thinking when you went viral, were you thinking, oh, let's ride on this, let's continue? Because I saw that you kept posting so many videos, at least once a month, sometimes five, six videos on the same day just released.
You guys were clearly very serious from the start.
Kai Yuan Ng: Yes, I think we were quite serious. We took the assignment quite seriously. So we, we had a content plan schedule. What videos are we going to post? When are we going to post the know what videos are we going to make? At that point of time it was let's complete the assignment, right?
It wasn't like, let's start a business.
Ling Yah: How many videos were you guys supposed to be releasing?
Kai Yuan Ng: Not that many. Oh, I can't recall, but probably maximum of five, I think. It wasn't a full-fledged half year long campaign or something.
It was probably two months. But after the assignment and had another assignment, so we actually convinced our lecturer to turn the assignment to be on the first assignment. So we actually managed to continue that.
So, I mean, it was quite fun.
Ling Yah: So at what point did you decide to bring it from an assignment into a full fledged digital media publishing company?
Kai Yuan Ng: Okay. Yeah. So after that semester we thought it would be quite a waste if we just leave it. So after that third semester, and then that was when we decided to start something and you'll continue working on this as our, I guess, startup.
I think at that point of time, there was nothing to lose. Even if we failed and we would still graduate. Can go and find a job somewhere else. So it was really like, okay, let's just try.
So very fortunately also we had some support from a seed investor to help us who funded us to kickstart the process.
Ling Yah: Your seed investor gave you $50,000, right? So how did that happen?
Kai Yuan Ng: We talked to the investor and we managed to convince them I guess they had some money to spare, so I guess that helped. But I mean 50,000, honestly. Okay. I mean, it's big, but it's not that big an amount of money, right?
We showed the potential that it had, what we wanted to build and laid out a concrete path lah.
So we took that to the investor. And we said hey, this is our plan, this is what we want to achieve. Hopefully we can make some difference together. You don't really know. So it's a viable business out of this. I mean, very thankfully our investor believed in us, even though we were just 4 undergrads.
So we just thought that we were making more and more videos after that.
Ling Yah: Were the people around you like your family, trying to stop you from doing this?
Because at the end of the day, the four of you are comm students. None of you have a business background and to do a passion and to run a business are two totally different things.
Kai Yuan Ng: I would say there are totally two different things and it's not easy to run a business.
I don't think anybody tried to stop us at that point of time. So I guess most of our family members were quite supportive but I mean, we were working crazy back then, because we were still in school, so we were having internships but also working on this startup we were during our final year.
I think we put in a lot of hard work during that time. Very little sleep. So the people around us were very supportive which really helps, I guess.
Ling Yah: Yeah I mean you registered OGS in 2017 where you were still in school and you already had your own office.
So very, very serious.
Were you guys doing anything to mitigate potential risks? Because I read there was this NUS study in 2017. At the time local Singaporean startups were operating at a loss. 24% had no revenue. So the odds, you could say we're against you.
Kai Yuan Ng: I think we were very cautious right at the start. So in terms of spending we really spend as little as though as possible.
And while we were trying to build a branded content revenue stream, we looked to other sources of revenue.
So while we were doing content building our platform, we were doing some creative work for other clients. So that helped to bring in some revenue.
But of course the thing here is we have to keep a balance, right? Most of the time what happens is people will just, oh, I have too much other creative work for other clients and I don't have time to do my own work, right. Don't have time to build my own product.
So I think we were very disciplined about it.
Okay. We're going to set aside this amount of time doing client work, and then we're going to set aside this amount of time to do our own work. So that helped at the start to bring in some money so that we could sustain.
So after a period of time, we completely dropped the client. We said okay, no more clients, what we are going to do our work.
And we are going to focus on building the branded content revenue stream. So that was kind of how we started. I think it's important to have a revenue stream even if it's random projects. Just to bring in some money, sustain the company.
Because in the long run, you don't wanna close down.
You just have to be very disciplined about it. So that you don't get consumed by those works. If you can, don't do client work. If you don't do client work, I mean, that's the best case scenario, but realistically I think it's very difficult.
Ling Yah: Speaking of client work, I understand in 2017, you also got a $10,000 grant from NTUC innovation and enterprise arm, and they actually set that you need it to secure at least one corporate client within six months. So I'm wondering in that early period of OGS, how do you go about securing a corporate client?
Kai Yuan Ng: It was a lot of cold emails.
So we went about and we just dropped everyone emails saying that, hey, this is who we are, this is what we do. We tell stories. Do you want to tell stories with us? Do you want to make use of our platform or audience and let's try something new.
I had to go onto LinkedIn, connect with everyone.
Drop them a message and say that it is us. This is why we are doing, do you want to try on a project with us?
So that was really at the start. I didn't really, we didn't really know before the industry. We are not established as a company. It was really trying to establish a lot of connections and seeing if there are people who are willing to try out new things.
So then I think very fortunately we ended up with like I think our first client was Nippon Paint.
So we did a video of them cause they wanted to try something new.
I guess, cause there are only so many ways to sell paint, right? So then they say that, okay, this time we're going to try telling your story.
So we did a story together with them about Hindu house blessings, which was really interesting. Cause the Hindus actually bring a cow to people's homes to bless the home.
Ling Yah: They want the cow to urinate and poop in the flat. It's a blessing.
Kai Yuan Ng: So it's really cool. It's just like how the Chinese role of the pineapple, I guess, but for the Hindus it's a bit different.
So that was a really cool story and a really cool client, why wouldn't you do this? I because usually they already have that X that showcase their products, right. That showcase that, okay, this is the pain, this is what it's good at.
It's odorless. There's the Sumo day, et cetera. .
They needed to try other forms of marketing. Something a bit more soft sell, something about stories, something that the audience can probably relate with and give her character in the Nippon Brand .
So in the end, it worked out pretty well, dove on their social media channel. It was something fresh for the audience. Because if not most of the time you will probably see an ad about paint, right? Having a discount, having a propulsion or this paint has these functions.
It was something different for them, for the audience.
Ling Yah: I'm still a bit puzzled. How paint has anything to do with cows?
Kai Yuan Ng: No, cause it's like home blessings, right? So when you move into a new house, you need to have whole blessings. Did you pick your house?
I mean, the link is not very direct yeah, but you could see the branding and you could see the new house.
Ling Yah: I imagine all of you really, really had to hustle. So everyone, I suppose, was doing everything. But I imagine you also needed more men power people who were willing to go full time with you as well to really create the content, right?
So how did you plan it out? How did you grow that team and that content while still remaining under budget?
Kai Yuan Ng: Okay. So we were still in school at that point of time. So we had to hire someone. we hired our senior two years, our senior who graduated.
So we said, like ah we're doing this cool thing. You want to come on board and traders up with us, so very thankful. And she said, yes, they really like, okay. We worked together with her, and produced the stories. And it was quite a fun time, I guess.
Then I think shortly after we hired another senior, so it was like two seniors working with us.
So that was how we kind of got through the very first year. So, I mean, we really don't help. To be honest, if we were to have done it by ourselves, I think it would have been quite impossible.
Ling Yah: Were you very clear in terms of what market you are targeting and the kind of customers you expected to bring on board? You guys were quite unique, right? There were not that many people creating the kind of content that you are creating.
Kai Yuan Ng: I think in terms of the space where each digital publisher sits, I think we were quite clear that oh, we are about stories, not so much about fashion, not so much about lifestyle, vice video, about stories.
Soin that sense, we were quite clear about that. And we were clear about who our audience was going to be like at that point of the time we were growing the Singapore audience, I'm looking at people within 25 to 34, slightly older crowd, people who probably care about stories. Cause I think if you're too young, you probably wouldn't care about it.
There's nothing wrong with it. Yeah, just that it probably won't catch your interest. I mean, but they will grow eventually. And I think you will matter to them one day. So we were quite clear about that and we were quite clear that we are gonna have branded content on this platform. We are going to work with advertisers in Singapore who wanted to advertise their campaigns.
Ling Yah: I understand that you were profitable in your second year of operation, which is incredible. So how do you manage to get there? Because some of your first clients were like Temasek, National Heritage Board. There were big clients who were willing to give you a chance when you were just starting.
Kai Yuan Ng: I think we grew our audience in the first year, quite extensively. So we really put out content that they liked, put out content that they want.
And at the same time we also trying very hard to be like a client base. I guess those two were the key things that helped us to get there. So being very conscious of what the audience wanted and how we can ship a product that fits both us, the audience and our client.
It would have bread. So then we will work really hard to chase after the brands. We are saying that, Hey, this is what we want to do with you. Why don't give us a chance, let's try it out. So I think those two are the key factors though.
Ling Yah: I was looking through all your videos and I noticed that there are some videos that were really, really successful. There's this one with grandma young Singapore's 90 year old hockey legend, 1.1 million, then there's the $1 Nasi Lemak Promise.
Again, 1 million views at this buffet restaurant you pay as you wish nine minutes. And so it seems like there is a trend which is food. People really care about food.
So is this something that you were aware of and that's why you did so much on food as well?
Kai Yuan Ng: Yes. Yes, you're right. I think I forgot to mention that.
This is a really good point. Yes. So at the start, we did a lot food stories. I think maybe out of 10, maybe seven of them will be in various ways. Of course we try not to repeat but tell it in the same way lah. We put different treatments to the different stories or we look for different kinds of food.
But yes, at the start, we covered a lot of food content which is why one of our content pillars it's actually flavors. We cut back on that go after we established a rather extensive base of audience.
So then we slowly calibrated, oh, the kind of topics that we were going for there also today, I think food is probably not the largest Kind of contained everything.
Now it's I'd say, it's quite evened up on the different topics, the topics about like heritage topics talking about inequality, topics talking about the underprivileged et cetera. it's a better spread of content, I'd say.
Ling Yah: How'd you decide on which content to focus and spend time on. Were you using like Google trends or was it just, I happen to like this uncle's story who happens to be the last guy who is a street side barber, and I'm just going to do it because some content creators.
They really just look at trends, right? They'd be looking at SEO and they want to write that way.
So what was it like for you guys?
Kai Yuan Ng: We do look at trends but they're not everything. I think one of the things how we curate our stories comes from a very journalism background. One of the things we do get is news values, if you just Google it, you can probably find it like news values.
There are a few factors, like audience size how close is this to the audience, et cetera. I guess it was quite rooted from that, and we kind of tweak it and look at also what would the audience like to hear and also look at what is lacking out there, so it's not always about what's trending and what's everyone's already too weak.
It's also about things that people are not talking about, which is also, if you look at our YouTube channel, one of the series is called, can ask meh?
It's a talk show where we really talk about topics that people don't dare to talk about. Don't want to talk about, just because I guess Asians are shy.
We really like try to suss out these kind of small little topics that are difficult. There's Isn't only one way to curate the content. Sometimes it's super high. The feel of it of course influenced by some statistics and so on, but generally try to look out for what our audience wants to see, and what is kind of lacking out there cause we want to fill up the space there.
And at the end of day, for us is really two things: entertain, but also educate. So that is what we always keep in mind.
Ling Yah: I'm just really intrigued because that whole point of what's not there yet. What hasn't been covered the untold stories. How do you cover stories that you don't even know haven't been covered yet?
There was one I was really intrigued by. There was this 12 year old girl pursuing a passion as a tattoo artist, such an obscure story. I mean, you must know someone who knows someone who knows her you to find her.
Kai Yuan Ng: I would say like our journalists are very good at doing that.
So we have a team of video journalists who look for the stories. And then I would say we source them from everywhere anywhere. Can be the chicken rice uncle you talk to when you're buying your lunch can be from the internet or it can be from the network that we built.
So there isn't really one place to get the stories. Most of the time the thing is about being great people going to look for the stories. So I think when we are out, we are always looking out for things and questioning things.
So we are all just very kepo. If you are kepo, you will find stories.
Ling Yah: What has been the most unique kepo way of you finding a story?
Kai Yuan Ng: The most memorable story was one that we chased for a year. So there was one morning I was on a shoot. It was at a wet market.
I saw this basket of bean sprout husk being sunned. Just lying there. But I was very confused because I thought it was useless. I thought you'd probably throw it away .
So I went to look for someone to ask, so I went to the vegetable store and asked the auntie, right.
Why are you doing this? And she said oh, it was made use for chou chou. Which is like the pillows that baby have. The small pillows slightly they make for babies
I thought that was quite cool. We actually wanted to do a story with her, but we have to wait for a year because after that she stopped making it because it was the rainy season and they couldn't sun the beans for us. Yeah and then it was seven months.
And you couldn't make it because it's bad luck or something. So we waited waited. After a year, we finally did that story.
So the vegetable aunty actually suns the beansprout husk and her sister sews the pillows. So I guess are just pretty cute.
Ling Yah: And I imagine you must have really experimented to try and expand the OGs brand. So there must have been successes and they must have been failures as well.
Could you share some of the failures, the things that you tried that didn't work out?
Kai Yuan Ng: Hm. Okay. I think there are a lot of topics that we've tried that didn't work out. Some of them we try to tell stories in different ways, slightly be let's say more art house form.
I mean, it might be nice for us, but maybe not for the audience. So we are always experimenting. So if you look at our YouTube channels not every video is 1 million views. I think we have filled a lot. There are some videos that are just like thousand over views.
So those are the videos that failed. I mean, you can't have 1 million views for everything. But, we experiment a lot and I guess we just learned from our fingers, why doesn't it work? What can we do to improve it?
It's really experimenting on the different topics. Let's say we try out telling a story this way for this topic. If it doesn't work out, maybe we should try another way of telling it.
So we probably won't stray away from talking about that topic. It's just about finding different ways to talk about this. Maybe it doesn't work so well in the form of a video. Maybe we can try Instagram stories. Maybe we should try to talk. Maybe you should try I dunno, an article or something.
So I think that's how we experiment with them.
Ling Yah: I love that your standard for failure is a couple of thousand views. What about the successes? What were your big successes in terms of experiments?
Kai Yuan Ng: I think one of the biggest successes I would say is Can ask Meh? So I think it was a series that really did very well, in terms of the viewership.
And I think it will put out a lot of conversations, which was very important for us. We don't just want to put out stuff that people need to watch. I think we want to put out stuff that people will talk about we'll reflect about.
So from this whole series, we have received a lot of comments from the audience that they shared these with their friends.
They've connected with their stories. They discussed it with their friends or teachers have shared this in their classes with their students, which was really amazing culturally.
I would say it's really one of our biggest successes, to create content that can value add to people's lives. Something that they can watch every week and learn from.
Ling Yah: Can ask Meh as one of my favorites as well. I was diving into it and I just really loved that you asked these unconventional questions and when I see them read the questions that I go, Oh, you asking them these questions?
How did this series come about? Cause as I understand it it's quite difficult to produce, right?
It takes quite a long time, a lot of money. So how did you strategize bringing it to life?
Kai Yuan Ng: When we started conceptualizing the series, we knew we wanted something, a long form series on YouTube. We really didn't think about money. And we just thought about what is the current space lacking?
At that point in time, I think we just came to a conclusion that we lack a place where we can have honest conversations and a safe space, basically for people to talk about different topics.
So that's how it started yeah and also because I have one co-founder that really asked the most random questions and the most like unexpected questions.
And she's never shy about asking these questions.
She's also the producer for the whole series. I mean, most of the videos Oh, she's behind it. That is kind of how it started .
So she really asked the most crazy question. It would be like, Oh my God. How do you dare to ask that?
So that is how it started loh. Since then, we just carried on and it's been doing quite ok.
Ling Yah: So do the interviewees know these questions are coming or when they read it, that's the first time they're seeing it.
Kai Yuan Ng: They don't know the questions beforehand. For every interviewee that we invite on the board, we do a pre-interview with them, to find out more about their stories.
But we don't give them a list of questions saying that, okay, these are the questions we are going to ask you. So most of the time when they come here, it's the first time just seeing the questions.
Ling Yah: So one of the stories that really touched me was something that you published in June, 2019.
It was the parents who have lost a child and it's gotten over 5 million views. And I was really, really moved because of just the subject matter. And how do you even find these six parents? I mean, you can't physically go around and be like, who has lost a child and is willing to be interviewed in front of a camera?
Kai Yuan Ng: For some of them it was friend's friends, some of them was, we also partnered with an organization to look for these people. It took a long time to find them. Not everyone was open to being interviewed. And that's fine, nothing wrong with it.
But I mean, there was a community that we were speaking to, I mean, those who came about were very willing to share their story because they wanted to help. They wanted to, I guess be a source of support for people who might be facing the same situation.
We eventually settled on those profiles that you currently see there, but there are still many people of whom we have spoken to. But eventually we couldn't film them because they felt that you know. They just wanted to be anonymous.
For all the other stories on Can Ask Meh as well, sometimes we work with organizations, especially with the topics are very sensitive and because most of the time I would say we are not the experts. I think we are really here to try to tell a story.
But we are not the experts in helping them with that particular situation. It's usually better, I'd say to work with an organization. We avoid any other problems that may arise.
While we want to tell these stories, we shouldn't have any negative impacts or make any negative impacts on their lives.
Ling Yah: Some of these topics, I forgave the driver who killed my sons, or a survivors of sexual violence. So very, very heavy topics. How do you maintain that level of sensitivity if you will?
Because as we talked about earlier, the questions are a bit random. For instance, again, the one with the child passing on like, you start off with , how do your child pass on?
What was it like in the hospital? Do you go for baby showers? So these are very difficult questions. How do you know that you have gone too far?
Kai Yuan Ng: So we do a pre-interview with all our profiles, right? Before we do the actual interview so during the pre-interview we try. As much as possible to see their comfort level. I mean, we try not to ask them the exact questions that we will ask during the interview. But we'll stick to them.
We will talk to them , try to get a gauge of what's their comfort level, talking about their stories. So the point of view is I would say, very crucial to the makings of the video that you see.
And every interview and pre-interview is actually very long. So the final product that you see will be 30 minutes.
But for every interview probably lasts an hour or two pre-interviews. Probably I really talk to them two or three times before the actual shoot. So I think we spend quite a lot of time connecting with them, making sure that we are here to tell the story in a responsible way.
So I think one of the things that we think about a lot is treating them like humans. It was really like a relationship with them, just being responsible, wherever you are telling their stories.
Ling Yah: Have you seen any real life impact that came out of Can Ask Meh?
Kai Yuan Ng: Yes. I think we have had a lot of audience who wrote into us to say that after looking at the video it was really helpful for them because some of them were stuck in the same situation and they needed some form of support for some of the profiles who came on to the show.
it was good for them as well. I remember one of the profiles from the episode about Life in prison. Like if they talked about how they will commit to this and this ensures that they have to protect our reputation and they cannot do funny things anymore.
Which is actually quite interesting, we never thought he would say something like that.
And I think we have a lot of people who use these videos as educational materials, which is great. Because you will very rarely get to hear from these people. The fact that we can put them together presented in a form where it's easily accessible.
Ling Yah: Another arm that OGs has, old plus. it's your animation illustration brand. Can you share with us the idea behind O+ and why you have it?
Kai Yuan Ng: O+, we started because we were telling them about documentary stories.
But there were some stories that had some limitations but we still wanted to present them in a visually beautiful manner. There were some stories that were sensitive. We had to protect people's identity. Oh, there are some stories were just, no visuals, there was nothing to shoot.
So for example, things like mental health, it happens all in your head.
If you were to shoot me talking about mental health of all your crew should explain to you and that's it.
So we wanted to explore different visual forms to try to tell a story. So there was how we ended up with O+. A space where we present, everything with illustrations, with animations.
To try to tell stories in different ways that could still attract audiences. if you look at it, Social media platforms, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube. It's all very visual.
So we tried to use like you know, the visual form to communicate with the audience.
Ling Yah: I think you also do comic strips as well, right?
Kai Yuan Ng: Yes. The comic strips have been doing pretty well, I guess, on the grid. You can't post it on YouTube but the Instagram audience, like love the comics. one of it it's called Sincerely Singles, like series about singles.
It's like a slice of life. I think it'd been doing quite well and people can relate to the stories. I think with like the comic form, it also allows us to put out more narrative stories.
Not necessarily like the usual documentary stories that we do, which is really fun. A lot of the stories are still drawn from personal, real life experiences from our writers.
So they just talk about their lives.
Ling Yah: And another offering that you have is Something Private podcast. So what was the idea behind that?
How did they come about?
Kai Yuan Ng: Okay. The idea behind that one there. There were a lot of conversations about women's health and wellness. and we wanted to talk about them. And because of the team consisted of largely females. So yeah, we thought why not we start a podcast to talk about these things.
And I guess also because Paul Carson was a way for us to tell stories in a more sensitive way , without the need for visuals to delve into sort of topics In a deeper form.
So I mean, podcast whales, I think generally lead a lot, much longer than Facebook videos, right?
They allow more space to talk about certain things and also a level of anonymity for certain stories, which are important. So there was how we kind of started that and I guess, because. Oh, we went off the top. So yeah, a great space to have compositions.
So I think we managed to get various interviewees to talk about different issues. Which will start very interesting for us.
Ling Yah: I mean, how has the reaction been? Because some of the topics are really interesting. It's making masturbation mainstream or orgasms or polyamorous relationships.
Kai Yuan Ng: I think video, a space to explore. So I think we are grateful for that, where you can just really talk about any and everything.
So I think that the response has been very good. we get people writing into us and say that wow, this is what I want to hear about out there.
And also because our host and also the interviews they really share a lot about their own experience which is I guess, very helpful for listeners, right? Because they're looking for something to relate to a form of support or really just to hear more about people's experiences and learn from them.
That was really good. And Nicole, like the colleague who hosts the podcast, I mean, she has been there from the start, so she's managed to build a relationship with the audience. I mean, she was sort of, that speaks to the dollar difference that pop to them on Instagram, et cetera.
You have to really just interact with them and talk to them about the different topics now.
Ling Yah: I noticed she also has mean and greet sessions as well with listeners. So I suppose people knowing her personally is what really drives the podcast too.
Kai Yuan Ng: Hmm. Yes. I mean the horse is crucial. You're interviewing , right? And the host is the constant. So having a host there is really important.
So, she has been the one driving this and the meet and greet sessions really help, what, I think it's a platform where she can speak to the audience, and also as a form of support. And also It's a place where we can get feedback about what are the things that you would like to hear about .
Ling Yah: Looking back, you've only started in 2017, so it's only been three years and you already have 3 million views monthly, on YouTube. It's 250,000 followers.
Instagram is almost 70,000 and Facebook's over 300,000 followers. What do you think it is about OGs that really resonates with the people, such that you have gained such a following in such a short period of time?
Kai Yuan Ng: I think one thing is that people generally kepo, but Asians don't dare to speak up, talk to people. So I think we are always very curious about what's going on in people's lives or what's their story. . But I think we just generally don't dare to ask, so I guess we are here to ask those questions and that's how like, we've managed to generate so much attention and traffic.
But I think people are really just generally curious. What's going on, what's their story? Just that I think Singaporeans are shy. I mean, not that different.
I guess that's how we managed to get so much attention. Cause we really like going to people's lives, talking about their stories, things that you would probably want to ask, but you probably don't dare to ask or you just don't have the chance to ask it.
Ling Yah: What do you feel have been the biggest milestones for you?
Kai Yuan Ng: I guess starting off as a startup from just being at a school assignment, hiring our first hire, our second hire and so on and so forth.
Starting the different brands. So O+, something private. So I think those are pretty big milestones.
And also, I guessin terms of building the team has been quite a fun journey as well. We started off with just two people doing everything from the production put a post production of publishing the videos.
Now we have the creative team, we have the post production team. We have the animation and illustration team. We have the business team.
Got our YouTube Silver play button. Aiming for Gold next , hopefully soon. So many, many different milestones.
Ling Yah: And I believe that you have also expanded because your aim is not just to tell Singaporean stories, but Southeast Asian stories So you've gone to Malaysia. Some of your most recent videos were from Yogyakarta during COVID.
So how did you go about doing that while based in Singapore?
Kai Yuan Ng: We couldn't fly there. We have a producer who speaks there who did that story. We realized that we actually wanted to tell Southeast Asia stories to bring the region closer together.
I think we are interlinked in many ways. We just don't really know much about each other. We did some Malaysian stories, we have a producer in Indonesia working on some stories as well. We've done some stories in Vietnam. So in the future, increasingly we'll try to tell all these stories from these famous countries.
I mean, right now it's a bit difficult. We are always looking for creatives from the different countries to try and see how it can work together to bring these stories to life.
Ling Yah: So is this a call for content creators to apply? Who are you looking for?
Kai Yuan Ng: Okay. To be honest, we don't have enough resources to start an office everywhere, but we work with freelancers who want to be able to tell stories in these countries.
We are looking for director, producers, who work on documentary stories to work together with them to bring up stories in their own countries that they feel that are important for the world to know about.
We can't afford to have an office everywhere. Maybe the future.
Is there a particularLing Yah: platform that you focus on?
Because I think as content creators, you always feel you need to be everywhere and then your attention is split because he can't focus and you can exactly repurpose the same thing in other platforms. So how do you go about thinking about these?
Kai Yuan Ng: I guess you probably wouldn't have enough resources all the time.
We are always lacking resources. So I think it's thinking about which group of audiences important to you.
So for example, if let's say the group of audience that's important to you is on Tik Tok. Then that's where you should be. So we look at a group of audience by demographics of, , Each range what a type of people that we want to connect me with.
And then you decide from there where you want to pool your resources. I mean, after a while you try to be everywhere. But I guess you can shoot it once in a while. So, I mean, previously we started off on Facebook and then we moved on to YouTube.
So now, like YouTube is still our main focus. But with other platforms it's on the site. So Instagram et cetera.
If you look at our videos, I'd say mainly they're still made for YouTube.
One of the thingsLing Yah: that you always do is you basically feature a lot of people.
And I think you've mentioned before that you always try and form relationships with these interviewees even after the video. So how do you do that?
Kai Yuan Ng: Okay. That's quite a difficult question.
I think one of the things is that we all work on stories that we are interested in. We're personally invested in it.
I guess that really helps. We just like to make friends, I guess. Even today, like the video journalists, they go out, they work on a story, they become friends with their profiles and I would just like to talk to people.
just a generally quite friendly bunch. Even today, if I pass by a shop , where the profiles are, just , say hi to them. I mean,there isn't really a method, it's just keeping in touch with them in whatever ways you can lo.
Ling Yah: So COVID has been with us for more than a year now. How has it impacted you personally and also OGS?
Kai Yuan Ng: When COVID hit, we all have a stay home for three or four months. That was difficult because it meant that we couldn't go out to tell stories.
We pivoted to using zoom doing video calls. We did a lot more comics during that time. . So that period was extremely difficult, I would say, because a large part of our work is going up to talk to people and just suddenly we. couldn't do that anymore.
We had to change the way we tell stories. Shooting like on zoom just calling people.
So that was actually really difficult lah.
So after the whole circuit breaker, it got a bit better. We could slowly in small groups try to go back to telling stories again. . And it helped that we work in small teams.
So it's not like a film crew of 20, 30 people. It was just two or three people. After the circuit breaker, then we could start to go out and tell stories again.
Ling Yah: And what about digital consumption? I imagine you must have increased since everyone was stuck at home, can't do anything else but perhaps the type of consumption was different and I think you focused more on food, right? Cause everyone was cooking at home.
Kai Yuan Ng: We had a series where we invited people to cook with us. I can't really cook very well.
So we had a video of sourdough. We had a video about this dish called kacang pu. I think it really kind of looked at what people are doing, what they were looking for stuff that they could probably try out himself as well. So we did a series of home cooking videos.
For Singapore at that point in time, there was also general elections. So we also did a bit of election content. It's quite interesting as well, but also very stressful.
Ling Yah: You were also helping your community as well, right? You were partnering with different content creators, like trip advisor and hawkers to help them go through this period.
Kai Yuan Ng: So we were working with them to profile life stories and businesses that need that help. during that whole period it was very challenging for, especially the hawkers or small businesses.
So we worked together with them to try to drive traffic to them so that hopefully we can help them to generate some sort of revenue so that they can sustain their businesses.
Ling Yah: What are your future plans?
Kai Yuan Ng: I mean, we definitely hope to tell more stories that region hopefully in I guess the next couple of years.
The other dream is to continue to grow brands. So O plus, Something private. I mean they're not huge now. We definitely hope to grow them bigger. And to be able to tell the stories , to our audience.
Ling Yah: Do you feel your view of life has changed after interacting with all these people and telling all these different stories?
Kai Yuan Ng: Yeah, I think I would say I used to think that Singapore is quite boring. I don't think so now after doing so many stories, hearing from so many people, discovering so many things in Singapore, I guess my view on that kind of changed.
Singapore is a very exciting space. I'm sure Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, et cetera, like all the other countries as well.
I think we just tend not to look at ourselves. We just had to look outwards . But I guess fortunately COVID has forced us to look inwards which is great. So people are rediscovering things in their home countries, right?
Ling Yah: Is there anything that we, the listeners can do to help make your life better?
Kai Yuan Ng: Share your stories with us.I think that that would be really cool. I mean, just write into us and drop us a message on all social media pitfalls cause it would be really cool if we could share your stories and see if we can put that into something nice for the audience.
And of course like I mean, watch our videos. Subscribe to our channels.
But I think, share our stories with us.
Ling Yah: What kind of stories are you looking for?
Kai Yuan Ng: I mean it can be about anything about yourself, about your favorite food. Your favourite hawker or your neighbors, we want to hear everything
Ling Yah: Do you feel that you have found your why?
Kai Yuan Ng: I would say yes. I think for me it's about really entertaining educating.
That is really what is important for me. And really I guess , making an impact in this world while I'm here.
Ling Yah: What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?
Kai Yuan Ng: Haven't really thought about that. But I guess I'm thinking that can continue to be there while I've gone. You know, really thriving by itself. A place where people can discover things and constantly learn for it.
Because I think the content that we do, we like to call it timeless.
So something that you can look at it now you've learned something from it. Maybe two years later, you look at it, you learn something. I guess that is what I hope to leave behind something that can constantly maybe teach you something.
Ling Yah: And what do you think are the most important qualities a successful person should have?
Kai Yuan Ng: You have to be really hardworking. I think you need to take risks. And really not be afraid to fail.
So I think these are some of the important qualities that I think are important for me lah. I mean, not to say that I'm successful, but I mean, these are important to me lah.
Because if you work really hard, you try if you fail, that's fine. You just keep going, keep trying. And I think eventually you will get you somewhere.
Ling Yah: Where can people go to connect with you and support you and what OGs is doing?
Kai Yuan Ng: Connect with me on LinkedIn just like on Ng Kai Yuan and you will find me. Search for our Grandfather Story, you find it as well.
Can go to our YouTube channel, Instagram, Facebook and Tik Tok as well. So just search for Our Grandfather Story.
Ling Yah: And that was the end of episode 37.
The transcripts and links to everything we've just talked about can be found at www.sothisismywhy.com/37
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