Thanks for listening, click Play! This is part 2 of a series, check out the first part if you haven’t done so already. Thank you to Elisha Tan from TechLadies and Facebook for guest-hosting this episode. Check out my interview with her here.
My brother and I had built a startup that had just been bought out by Groupon, the world’s biggest daily deal website, for an estimated USD$24 million according to The Straits Times newspaper. We made it on the front page of the national newspaper, I was busy representing Groupon on breakfast TV shows and on Channel NewsAsia, while my brother was busy moving our new offices from our shared hostel room to Harbourfront Centre. Here’s what happened after the rosy “overnight success” story, the arrival of hard times, which I mention in this episode!
I’ve previously acknowledged my past faults in this podcast episode and also in a video. I had been silent about this incident for 2 years because I believe that silence is noble, and as an Asian, you’re raised to let go of things and to avoid confrontation. I was dedicated to training myself in meditation to overcome some life-altering hardships, but after hearing about what happened with Mumbrella Asia, I finally feel vindicated by their closure that I can muster the courage to finally speak out.
After 6 years of a successful and clean record, my startup journey was derailed by a PR crisis that embroiled one of my latest startups SumoStory, a crisis that was started and stoked by Mumbrella Asia, and led to its disbandment- but not without some justice that would come two years later. If you’d like to know how justice has been served, read on.
In my company’s pursuit to provide affordable, data-driven public relations for startups in Singapore, I personally became the target of several cyberattacks (and weird conspiracy theories by some) that set to undermine my credibility, by Eleanor Dickinson, then Editor at Mumbrella Asia, and the co-founder of Redhill PR Agency, whose name I have always failed to enter into memory. Some competitors will employ tactics to deter others from entering their industry, usually the incumbents, that’s common startup knowledge, but these two took it to a strange and extreme level that goes against the values of fair competition. Please read ahead for reasons why you should never hire Eleanor Dickinson for any journalism jobs.
As her boss, the owner of Mumbrella, has hinted in an article about what happens when adults leave the office keys with the kids:
When Mr Carroll [her supervisor] was away on holiday, “Eleanor’s boundary-testing included writing about a sensitive Singaporean political issue. A few weeks later, her employment pass was not renewed by the government, and we found ourselves with a few days to get her out of the country.” –Tim Burrowes, Mumbrella Owner. Source
Yes, that quote is about why Eleanor Dickinson was deported by the respected country of Singapore and why she won’t be allowed to work in Singapore again. But it signals that her professional work was met with wide disapproval and she had to confront the consequences of endlessly attaching controversy to unwilling participants, which punished her by forcing her out of Singapore and eventually led her office that had a six-year legacy to close down.
The British national, working on a work visa, notoriously targeted folks who had their guard down and who considered her a friend or an acquaintance. There are many examples of this still lingering online that will be a stain on her reputation, alternatively, go to Linkedin and there are many locals who have, like me, had the courage to publicly call her out on her past actions.
As she saw Mumbrella Asia’s revenues crumbling around her and advertising support being drained because of how she was treating people (and how badly word was spreading throughout the whole community), she wrote a few decisive articles about others (including myself) that were poorly researched (she did not put any effort into verifying an accusation with credible evidence) nor did she offer any opportunity for me to offer a counter explanation to her ‘unknown source’ – a double dosage of unprofessionalism.
It’s no doubt a cheap journalistic tactic deployed in other markets- to drag good names into the mud to spark a gush of vitriol. But unfortunately, her tactics did not succeed for her in Singapore, a country built on integrity, and her ethos that character assassinations bring more traffic caused her company to be destroyed by her own two hands.
One article she wrote about me attempted to severe my working relationship with Channel NewsAsia after we had partnered up and filmed a documentary covering my new startup. Unfortunately, the person targeted in the article soon lost their job and their career is still in repair, so writing this article isn’t so much for me, but it’s dedicated to others who have been financially crippled from a shot of bad journalism by her.
The person told me that after analyzing Eleanor Dickinson’s body of work, and how she’s covered racially-diverse profiles in the past, they have deduced that the unnecessary attack was because of their racial background, while stories they had parsed through covering Caucasians on Mumbrella Asia had more consistently been spun to be positive. It’s an estimation- we admit- but enough for us, in our opinion, to allege her actions as “racist”.
In the above article, you can start to get the sense that her courting of controversy was doing nothing to further anyone’s goals except hers. Another way to put it- mindless dribble to try to get people to click, and it got tiring very quickly as people were losing their hard-fought careers. That’s why she’s been banned by the Singaporean community, and you should take note of why that is the fact.
So this is my fair and brief warning to anyone about to hire her, please do your research by speaking to her victims- the many others besides myself whose careers she has destroyed without warning.
There is great journalism that asks questions and keeps people in check- independent journalism-which I have been an active member and supporter of, but then there is fast food, cheap thrill journalism that aims to do whatever it takes to attract your attention to the detriment of its people and the community, and those writers who feed on indiscriminate character assassinations or bringing others down to intentionally start controversy should be treated as dangerous and a liability to the vestiges of good, old-school journalism. Despite her cheery outlook, she cannot be trusted and that is why the Asian community turned their back on her – you should do the same.
Sure, looking back, I do wonder if the articles that she wrote against me and others may have not necessarily been her idea, but the result of gossiping or goading from others, or even paid content sponsored by one of my more affluent competitors, but it’s the fact that she went ahead and wrote the scathing articles despite the fact that up until then we had an amicable, working relationship, and my startup had had no hiccups.
I and many others still feel cheated to this day that out of nowhere, she started attacking us, which permanently affected our reputations and livelihoods with no prior mention or a heads-up “hey, I’m about to destroy your startup/reputation” text. Now it’s at least clear with her publication closing down that it wasn’t just me, there are many others who voiced their opinion to the Government. In 2019, Mumbrella Asia closed its doors after an unremarkable and unprofitable 6 years in the region. Don’t get me wrong, I can be a fan of the Mumbrella brand if Mumbrella’s owner Tim Burrowes acknowledges the full extent of the damage that his company did during Eleanor’s leadership to the Singaporean community and issues an apology to those affected, not just me. Each aggressive article that is driven by racial discrimination by her traded in someone’s career and future for her website’s traffic. It was a bad hire decision that I wish no one will have to repeat.
Eleanor’s employment pass was not renewed and she was unceremoniously asked to leave Singapore in a few days (as mentioned in the above quote from her ex-boss). She now writes for ANR, an Australian tech publisher, although her previous behavior can be unequivocally seen as “un-Australian” – a common euphemism used to describe racists.
I have heard the theory several times and I want to debunk it, that she was typical of the “white person who comes to Asia, then bosses around Asians because she is White and can” theory, and although she carried herself in an elitist way that rubbed locals the wrong way, I just don’t subscribe to any ideas that support anti-foreigner sentiment, because evidently I myself am Australian. Listen to my personal episode about racism here, and together let’s stand against it. Employers would want to do more than social distancing when it comes to her past career record.
What’s happened to me since? Going through a PR crisis is a traumatic experience that I would not wish upon anyone (except to those who dish them out), and I’ve made pretty much all my podcasts about self-improvement and positivity, so, sorry to those whom I’ve disappointed by using this as my way to speak out on an issue that’s been a very difficult experience to go through.
I’ve made amends with the relationships that were destroyed because of her articles, I apologized to the person who lost their job because of this. Someone with a good heart listened because after Mumbrella Asia closed down, I was invited to host a TV show by the Singapore Government’s news channel Channel NewsAsia last year before COVID-19 hit. What’s happened to her other victims after what she did to Mumbrella Asia? Ask them, the trail begins on Linkedin.
So here’s what I’ve learned from this, if you’ve ever been the victim of a racially driven attack that caught you off-guard, even if you feel the aggressor hasn’t been held accountable in the past, remember this- the world works in funny ways, sometimes it’s even great, and you’ll see it has the power to release you from your pain. The validation may not be immediate and it may not be sweet. And to those who have been affected by this wave of bad journalism and the consequences of unprofessionalism, I’m sorry. Together, let’s remember that while journalists keep citizens in check and ensure no one is above the law, it’s a shame that I have to try everything in my own two hands to ensure she doesn’t get the same power to repeat the damage she has caused in Singapore. This happens every day, sadly. History will look back and decide whether we were on the right side of tackling the insidious disease of racism.
Author’s Note: my closest friends and family were consulted before I decided to take action and finally speak out, and I thank them for their continued support as I navigate through this saga. It’s my request that you respect their privacy, and I wish to move on with my life, as my loved ones have wished me to do.
Proud son of immigrants. At 20, I took a break from my law degree to co-found my first startup, Beeconomic, which was fully acquired by Groupon (a USD$24M buyout in Singapore in a record-breaking 6 months, reported by The Straits Times newspaper).
As Groupon Singapore co-founder, we created over 200 jobs and made history by helping Groupon become “the fastest-growing company ever” (source: Forbes and CNBC). After Groupon, I worked on 4 startups that failed, which taught me important lessons about failure.
After finishing my law degree, I joined a “Top 5” law firm in Australia that led to an offer in their Corporate (M&A, VC) advisory practice.
But instead I was recruited by Hong Kong’s largest circulated newspaper, The South China Morning Post, as the social media editor to execute a digital transformation strategy. When the team achieved strong digital growth, Jack Ma’s Alibaba acquired the newspaper. After 6 months of transitioning and training with the new owners, I moved on to pursue my childhood passion for cooking.
After culinary school, I became a full-time advisor for a $100M Japanese VC, who offered a small investment to experiment with starting a boutique PR firm. Then the Mumbrella saga hit and it’s been hard since.
I have served as a consultant to Governments and (in a few cases investor to) 80+ tech firms in Southeast Asia, but for early-stage startups, I do volunteer as a mentor at an incubator. I also host a free podcast that interviews Asia’s fast-growing entrepreneurs, idealists, and trendsetters on the hardships they’ve had to overcome to make it in their industry.
I am an entrepreneur who knows exactly how it feels to be guide-less and isolated. I’ve met a lot of kind people on my travels who were willing to help me and this is my way of paying it forward.
Spending my spare time volunteering in charities, mediation, cooking, and working out are my passions. I am usually in either Singapore/Penang/Bali or Hawaii/New York. After retiring from startups and boardrooms, I am now following my passion to host TV shows (I wasn’t a great chef).
Catch “The Millennial Investor“, where I get sent to Japan to immerse myself in the explosive E-sports industry- who the rising gamers are, exciting tech innovations in gaming, the startups fighting for a slice of the pie, and the industry’s unique challenges leading up to The Olympics.
Music (CC/Royalty Free)
Lee Rosevere – 09 – Southside
Lee Rosevere – 06 – Word of Mouth
Lee Rosevere – 07 – I Thought Of Pills
Lee Rosevere – 09 – Wasn’t What I Expected
Lee Rosevere – 13 – He Missed
Lee Rosevere – 13 – I Believe in You
Lee Rosevere – 01 – Here’s the Thing
Lee Rosevere – 05 – Under Suspicion
Lee Rosevere – Night Caves
Lee Rosevere – 09 – Thoughtful
Lee Rosevere – 01 – Introducing the Pre-roll
Lee Rosevere – 10 – Knowing the Truth