Postcards from Scandinavia to Singapore

However, in the business world, the postcard has become more than just a collectable postal item. It has transformed into a “free card”, a persuasive marketing medium used by advertisers and marketers for branding and awareness. Since the early 90’s free cards globally sell anything from clothes and cosmetics, movies, mobile phones and automobiles to arts events. Generally, the content skew is toward fashionable lifestyle products and entertainment.
In the Singapore of 1995, the idea of free cards was unfathomable. It took one gutsy and very observant Swedish lady to change all that.
With a one-way ticket, street smarts and sheer determination, Monica Magnitun started ZoCard – a term now synonymous with the “free card” industry in the region.
Taking an adventure break from studying at Handels, Stockholm, she arrived in Singapore with childhood friend Gabriella Hermann. They were to sell vacuum cleaners for Lux but after a few months, recognizing a need for the media, they decided to start ZoCard.
The concept, which some say originated in Sweden in the 80’s, was simple: advertisers would pay for creative ad campaigns on postcards that would be distributed free in restaurants, bars and shops.
ZoCard is recognized as the region’s most successful and popular free card company, but not without having faced the challenges that most companies encounter during their early days.                   
“We were introducing a new and unknown medium. Only the international advertising agencies knew what we were on to…they knew of its success in other countries but it was unavailable in Singapore” recalls Monica. “Local companies often wait and see who has tried an idea rather than strive to be the first to do something different. Furthermore, we had no network or client base to work with.”
Despite the initial skepticism, their unwavering confidence and strong belief in their vision paid off. They had instant success and saw profits immediately. For the next two years, Monica and Gabriella multi-tasked and did everything on their own – including carrying heavy racks all over Singapore to install them in 50 venues. Soon they convinced major players like Nokia, a more daring and innovative company, to be among the first to use ZoCards. Other Scandinavian advertisers having appeared on ZoCards include Film and other festivals through the Swedish and Danish embassies and trade commissions, as well as commercial names like Ericsson, Ikea and Skagen Watches promoting the latest must-have product.
Gabriella left three years after starting ZoCard while Pierre Perrett, a former ad agency man, bought over her share and went on to become it’s Creative Director and Monica’s husband and father of their three children – Bianca, Nicholai and recently, baby Astrid.
Monica’s family isn’t the only one to grow. The ZoCard family had increased from a two partners to 22 staff including their own distribution team and three vans dispensing the cards at over 500 venues. The company presently generates a targeted S$2 million a year in revenue.
So what made Monica decide to stay in Singapore to start a business?
“There was a certain air of freedom and the opportunity to be experimental and adventurous. We did not have the well-meaning pressure on us that, I would imagine, family and friends might have put on us had we started ZoCard in Sweden”, said Monica. “But it was more timing than anything else… the local food and entertainment culture was experiencing a radical change – mainly evident in the proliferation of hip and trendy “branded” coffee bars. This accommodated the kind of culture we aimed at reaching – the local and foreign PMEBs (as the marketing buzzword labelled them) Professionals, Managers, Executives, Businessmen.”
Raising a family in Singapore is a different issue though. Unlike Sweden’s generous maternal and paternal 1 and a half years’ of paid maternity leave per child, Monica had only 2 months of paid maternity leave as a foreigner.
Nevertheless, according to Monica, getting domestic help in Singapore is extremely affordable making it possible to juggle work and family life.
“Running your own company and having a family means you get to mix both sides in your life, no matter where you are. However, I think being here is great exposure for my children to a multi-cultural society that embraces different nationalities so well.” she adds.
And what tips does she have for fellow Scandinavians who might like to start a business or a company in Singapore?
“A very basic guide – you should register a business name or company, get a work permit and open a bank account. You can do all of that within one to two months”, she advises, “You should also know that in Singapore, it is a cultural courtesy to exchange name cards (respectfully presented with both hands) so invest in making quite a few, good-looking business cards.”
“Also, wherever you might start a business, be certain you like the location because you will probably end up spending most of your time there!”
Photo by: Cassandra Schultz

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