By June Ramli
Kuala Lumpur, Nov 3: When the ladies ban together, there is bound to be something phenomenal following suit.
That was what exactly happened when three women decided to work together to start “Cult Creative.”
The trio Lina Esa, Manisha Jagan and Shermaine Wong decided to start a job board that help creative solopreneurs and freelancers land gigs from time to time.
DailyStraits.com recently sat down with Wong and asked her a raft of questions about the formation of the startup and its plans for the future. This is what we found.
How did the idea of Cult Creative come about?
Malaysia’s unemployment rate increased to 4.8 per cent, the highest this decade due to the pandemic, and we wanted to find the solution for this significant gap in the market, especially for the creative industry. Existing professional platforms were built from another era, but do not properly serve the creative community, and they do not reflect the aspirations and personalities of future-focused creative professionals. We aim to redefine what it means to be creative, to defy stigmas attached to the arts, and to change deep-rooted mindsets. Cult Creative was materialised during the turbulent early days of the Movement Control Order (MCO) in March 2020 with creative content published on Instagram. From there, Cult Creative garnered a following of over 19,000 followers on social media in just a few months. As they started getting traction and support from the local creative community via virtual experiences, Cult Creative recently launched our beta professional networking app for creative individuals and brands looking to hire creative talent.
How did you guys meet and what made you decide to partner-up with each other on this venture?
Lina and I used to work in the same publishing company, ACP and Blu Inc where I worked as Harper’s BAZAAR Sales Manager and Lina as Editor of CLEO. Lina also featured Manisha as CLEO’s Hotshots. During my time in my experiential agency, Tish Events, Manisha (who runs a talent management agency, MTalent) and I were pitching for a couple of projects together.
As Cult Creative grew, I toyed with the idea of creating professional networking for creative individuals and shared it during an IG Live, where Manisha coincidentally tuned in. She expressed her interest to collaborate, as she had a similar idea to run a talent network six years ago. With that, we enlisted Lina’s skill sets in content and building communities and the rest was history.
What were some of the challenges you faced as a trio in starting this business?
Since our inception, we have pivoted from only having Instagram to a full-fledged e-commerce platform for our paid-members and non-members to purchase monthly digital experiences and a beta professional networking app for creative individuals. Most recently, we have found that our members have started experiencing Zoom-fatigue with back-to-back work-related video calls. To combat that, our digital experiences are designed to be immersive and engaging. For instance, every first Friday of the month, Cult Mixer provides a fun opportunity to meet new connections in a virtual speed-dating format paired with activities like art-jamming and vision-boarding to de-stress and unwind.
How does the platform help creative freelancers?
Cult Creative is best-positioned to resolve pain points for creative professionals and for businesses hiring creative talent. Our beta professional networking app allows creatives to build a one-stop profile, discover other creatives, be discovered, and collaborate. We currently have 100 active members and have hosted over 120 digital experiences. Currently, we have over 120 employer brands and over 500 jobseekers within #CultCareers.
How does Cult Creative differ from other job boards?
The first iteration of Cult Creative product has quickly proven to be a market fit, judging from its immediate volume of creative signups. What we love about the product is that it does not reinvent the wheel. It optimises the offline process of connecting to jobs based on past experience/former colleagues and sharing work in an in-person meeting. The user experience highlights the gig, the non-linear nature of a creative’s work, and beautifully showcases a creative’s prized projects and talented collaborators.
There previously really hasn’t been a job platform built for creatives. Cult Creative solves that problem. This is the LinkedIn for the creative world. Today’s job market needs Cult Creative because businesses are looking to recruit creatives directly, but lack the network and resources to find qualified, diverse talent.
Cult Creative connects the creative community through portfolios, collaborative features, and opportunities. Currently, the beta professional networking app allows the customisability of its creative portfolios, allowing each user to showcase their work in different ways. Potential employers, meanwhile, post creative jobs, and after a job has been completed on the platform, it can become the next piece in the creative’s portfolio.
All the digital experiences are led by experienced creatives in our community and they’re designed to give our community the skills, mentorship and inspiration they need to succeed.
Ultimately, our plan is to put machine learning over the data to enable us to suggest personalised, real-time opportunities to both employers and creatives based on their experience and preferences.
Is Cult Creative another version of Fiverr or Upwork?
We have identified a gap that is unfilled in ASEAN. Competitors like Fiverr and Rtist undervalue a creative’s work, while we envision Cult Creative to be the region’s go-to platform to accelerate career potential and create a need for a regional talent pool.
Do you screen the freelancers before featuring them on your website?
Cult Creative provides a concentrated, creative hub for job-hunting, and allows users to customise and display their project and portfolio. All creatives are welcome to the site, however, we encourage them to complete their profiles and portfolio to enhance their chances of being discovered and hired.
Who are your competitors?
What are some of your expansion plans for the next financial year?
We have big expansion plans to roll out within ASEAN, starting from Indonesia and Singapore. In the interim, we’re hoping to forge stronger connections with government agencies like MDEC, Cradle and HRDC to champion and connect Malaysia’s creative industry through amazing portfolios, collaborative features, and opportunities regionally.
Finally how do the three of you settle when you get into a business argument?
The great thing about being a women-led startup is that we are intentional, mindful and respectful of each other’s opinions. A big part of our culture is empathy so we listen to each other’s opinions, and ultimately vote based on data, experience and knowledge of the scenario.
June Ramli is the editor of DailyStraits.com. To stay in touch with June, look her up on Twitter @junesairaramli