“WHAT IS DESIGN?”
“I think design is just problem solving,” Joel simply responds as he sits across from me at a table in Tiong Bahru Bakery.
Enter HAYSTAKT, a Singapore-based online platform that houses independent brands and makers. In between sips of hot tea, Joel Leong, the founder and director of HAYSTAKT, tells me that it all started out when he realised he was surrounded by friends who were making their own products, ranging from furniture to popsicles. Despite not having any background or training in design, he has always been drawn towards well-made products.
You can say that we’re a platform for design, but I actually look at the whole business as something that we designed as well.
If there wasn’t technology, there would be no Haystakt basically.
Riding on the Maker Movement, which originated from the US and eventually started to make its waves in Singapore, Joel saw a business opportunity and seized it two years ago. Upon noticing that earlier attempts to outsource the work were not good decisions, he took matters into his own hands and reined in the help of a former secondary school friend turned co-founder, Melvin Tiong.
“We complement each other perfectly,” Joel mentions, pointing out that Melvin is more into the technical side while he is more visually inclined. Having rapport from years of friendship also helps. They picked up coding on their own, a valuable skill in today’s internet age, often solving problems on their own by coding directly.
As a young start-up company, HAYSTAKT has seen the light of being labelled as hipster since its inception in 2012 but Joel assures me that there is possibly some truth in that. In contrary, the idea from the start was always to reach out to the masses. And with PROJECTS, they were able to do that.
HAYSTAKT prides itself for “relook[ing] retail as a whole industry, trying to break it down and look at how things can be better done with the internet, with technology today.” The idea that most of the money, namely 95%, goes to the makers directly is something they care deeply about. Joel explains that in a retail line, price mark-ups are inevitable and may not be profitable for the makers. In fact, it restricts them by restricting their audience. They started talking to a lot of designers that they met—HAYSTAKT has approximately 100 regionally-based makers on the shop site—about the problems they had: one was pertaining to how much to produce and the other, how much to price them for.
What PROJECTS, the new crowd-pricing platform on HAYSTAKT, does is delay the making of these two decisions and put them in the hands of customers to confirm pre-orders first before makers start the production process. It allows for efficiency and sustainability while at the same time, makes it possible to incentivise and reward customers. “The crowd actually does the curation. The crowd says yes I want this product to be made, therefore I’m going to order it. That is technology working for it right there.”
It’s not art. If it’s art, it’s really niche so you can price it very high. But if you’re doing design, a lot of times it’s about getting mass adoption, getting people to understand why you did things in a certain way.
Besides PROJECTS, HAYSTAKT was originally built as The Makers’ Marketplace, an online shop where discerning consumers get to have a glimpse of the creative process and learn about the stories behind the products before they go on to buy ready-made products or finished products from PROJECTS.
The Makers’ Journal, an online-only publication focused on people, product and process, is also built on the same concept of storytelling and transparency. Joel calls it “transactional entertainment” whereby when you read the story, you learn about the product and then at the end, you make the transaction knowing who and where your money is going to. Due to language barriers for makers who hail from a different country, they might not be able to tell their story as well so HAYSTAKT could tell the story for them.
When asked about the part of his work he enjoyed the most, he laughs and says that he enjoys almost everything about it. He pauses and thought for a moment before uttering: “I love the fact that all the information is at our hands and we can act upon it and improve things. I like the fact that we are a company that goes from zero to one, as in we are inventing new things rather than just copying other business models and replicating them—that really excites us every day.”
As a company, we move really fast so we try things out all the time, we’re not afraid to break things. We try it and see if it works. If it doesn’t, we put it back and then try something else.
Photo credits to HAYSTAKT