Bryan Choo (born 1983) is a Singaporean media entrepreneur who is best known as the founder and Chief Executive Officer of TheSmartLocal.com (TSL), one of the leading digital media publications in Singapore. The media group comprises a host of other popular media companies such as Eatbook, ZULA, MustShareNews, TelegramCo amongst others.
In 2012, Bryan Choo started up a hyperlocal lifestyle publication which would grow to become TheSmartLocal.com. After registering the company in 2013, he set out to grow the site first as a TripAdvisor-inspired review directory, before his article “52 Things to do in Singapore Before You Die” blew up online. The article had first been posted on 25 November 2013 and it went viral soon after, crashing the site's servers the next day. After that, he pivoted the site’s direction to be that of publisher.
Today, he helms TSL Media as CEO, whose brand pages collectively receive over 20 million monthly views, and has expanded to 7 other countries in Asia.
Prior to establishing TSL, Bryan Choo had enrolled at the University of Queensland, where he pursued an Honours program in Finance from 2006 to 2008. He also taught finance undergrad classes at university in his honours year.
Bryan is married to Elaine Teo (@elaineteoo). They met on the dating app Paktor in 2015. Shortly after, Elaine joined TSL for a while to help with business development. The couple have two children.
Before starting his career, Bryan was a competitive gamer and a 4-time WCG national champion in strategy games. He flew around the world and represented Singapore in his schooling days, and his biggest achievement was a global top 8 finish at the Starcraft 2001 WCG finals.
Apart from being a competitive player, he was a community leader that ran clanaLt.com and sc2sea.com, providing gaming news to the local community. He was also the founder of a semi-pro gaming team aLternative (aLt), which dominated the RTS scene in Singapore for over a decade with 9 WCG championship victories. Notable members of aLt that went on to achieve career success include:
- “nirvAnA” - Bryan Choo (TSL Media CEO)
- “Sheepy” - Marcus Wee (Aftershock CEO)
- “duckie” - Jonathan Tan (Prism CEO)
- “nobrac” - Leo Chen (Jumei CEO)
TheSmartLocal.com (2012 to Present)
TSL was one of the recipient of the iJAM Start-up fund by IMDA, an initiative to encourage more start-ups in Singapore. In his early days, Bryan was mentored by Vinnie Lauria of Golden Gate Ventures thanks to the connections made by the fund.
Under Bryan’s leadership, TSL Media Group grew to become a well-known lifestyle and travel publication, as well as an network of notable brands, including:
- TheSmartLocal (hyperlocal lifestyle/travel content)
- Eatbook.sg (hyperlocal food content)
- MustShareNews, or MS News (hyperlocal news)
- ZULA (hyperlocal female-centric lifestyle content)
- Wiki.sg (a local Singaporean rendition of Wikipedia)
- TSLMedia.sg (hyperlocal marketing and advertising news)
- Uchify.com (hyperlocal home and living content)
- TelegramCo.sg (the largest Telegram Network in Singapore)
As of 28 October 2022, these are the employee counts for the various sites on LinkedIn:
- TheSmartLocal: 122 employees
- Eatbook.sg: 20 employees
- MustShare News, or MS News: 12 employees
- ZULA: 11 employees
In 2013, TSL first got its big break when Bryan’s “first big listicle” unexpectedly blew up. Listicles are list-based articles that were characteristic of Buzzfeed’s content and Bryan had wanted to try the format out as an experiment. Bryan had not anticipated such an enthusiastic reaction from social media.
He had chosen a simple but “clickbait-y title” reminiscent of Buzzfeed’s editorial style and had been very optimistic about completing the article in 2 hours. However, he actually had to put in many more hours, only completing it at 6AM the next morning. On that following day, he had also caught a flight to Krabi. But during the trip while island hopping, he received numerous emails informing him that TSL’s server had crashed due to a surge in activity. About 100,000 people had visited that site on that day.
“I just published the article, then forgot about it…And then suddenly, I checked my phone and I saw like 200 emails. Like, oh my god, what is going on? Because back then, when I got 200 emails, it was rare. Now when I get 200 emails [and] it’s a Monday, haha.”
Growing pains and initial struggles (2012 - 2013)
In 2012, Bryan began building up TSL from scratch, from his bedroom. He had intended to publish local content by Singaporeans, who would have a more accurate perspective of the country than foreign writers. In that sense, local writers would be more well-informed on local cultures and happenings, which was how the name “The Smart Local” or TheSmartLocal.com came to be.
Furthermore, it was difficult to utilise social media as an avenue to increase the outreach of his content, as it was mainly used as a platform to keep up with the life of one’s friends and family. These were the circumstances that Bryan had to work with.
“That was at the time where we were probably in the, “let’s try” and, well “unprofitable, pre-revenue” stage, essentially right? And during that stage, the TSL was very different from the TSL today. Well, first of all, there was just one person, me, working from my bedroom, trying to make it work.”
Bryan had once spoken of two “missions” he set out to accomplish with TSL. Firstly, he had planned to create a hyperlocal site whereby Singaporeans could share about interesting activities and eateries to check out. He also intended for the site to be a “positive” and wholesome platform in a period where locals held the perception that their country “[was] like a very boring place”. Thinking back, he describes his initial plans as “idealistic”, as he had set out on this venture armed with only two aspirations in mind.
“When I started TSL, there was no business plan. It was just like, back then I think it’s very idealistic, it’ll be, “Okay, let me just, let’s just create something of value to people and then like, money will come in, and then like, uh, yeah maybe, we’ll even have some employees besides me one day.”
Another issue that TSL faced in its early days was the lack of enthusiasm when it came to crowd-sourcing reviews for content. Bryan attributed it to the time-consuming aspect of such roles, as well as a difference in culture. On one hand, in Western countries where blogs and publications like TSL were more common, people were used to giving positive affirmations and reactions to things they were exposed to. On the other hand, people were more pessimistic and quick to deal out criticism in Singapore, which adversely affected the traction and performance of TSL’s articles at the beginning. In fact, Bryan shared that they only received approximately 100,000 views a month at the time.
The early days were as struggle as a sole founder, and he slept in office and worked 16 hours a day. Things eventually stabilised, and TSL grew to be a very popular brand due to the hyperlocal relevance of the content and the brand safety they enjoyed with advertisers. TSL media also had pioneered a unique way of creating branded content for advertisers, that would go on to influence the way indirect advertising was done on social media in Singapore.
“Media Brand of the Year” Award at Mumbrella Asia Awards (2018)
In 2018, TheSmartLocal.com was shortlisted as one of the five brand finalists for the “Media Brand of the Year” Award and won at Mumbrella Asia Awards alongside VICE Media, CNBC.com, South China Morning Post and Tatler Asia.
“I’m really proud of how far the TSL team has come, but I also feel intense pride for how a homegrown local brand took the gold home for Singapore. This is not just a win for us, but a win for all the small local media brands hustling out there. When the tide comes in, all ships rise.”
Launched 2021 Start-Up Fund
In 2021, TheSmartLocal.com published an article on its corporate website, TSL Media, stating that the company would be launching a Start-Up fund to invest in e-commerce entrepreneurs.  The company said that they will utilise their media properties to aid in the launching of products and acquiring customers. It was later revealed TSLMedia launched their first brand under the TSL Start-Up fund - PLUCKED.sg, which sells an assortment of freeze-dried fruit snacks.
Today, TSL occupies about 20,000 sqft over 3 floors in an industrial building in Kallang Bahru.
Other occupations and memberships
Young Presidents' Organisation (2021 to Present)
Mensa Singapore (2019 to Present)
Government Work (2018 to Present)
Besides TSL, Bryan also serves/has served on government panels such as:
- The youth action plan with Senior Minister of State, Sim Ann
- A mental health task force with Senior Minister of State, Janil Puthucheary
- A mental health steering committee with Minister of State, Alvin Tan
- A AFAM (to Strengthen Marriages and Family Relationships) group with Minister of State for Social and Family Development, Sun Xueling
SC2SEA.COM (2010 to 2013)
After graduation, Bryan decided to launch an e-commerce gaming site, SC2SEA.COM where he made a more than comfortable income off of it. From 2010, it grew to become a major APAC SC2 gaming portal.
In 2012, he also took up the role of Events Manager from 2012 to 2013.
Chosun Media (2012)
In 2012, Bryan was an Author for Chosun Media, where he co-wrote the “Mad for Singapore” edition with his then South Korean partner/blogger, in Chosun Media’s travel guide book series.
Overthink podcast (2020)
In October 2020, Bryan sat down with two Overthink podcast hosts for their IMO series, where he talked about the creative industry in Singapore and entrepreneurship. In particular, how these two things were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the then-Phase 2 restrictions.
Vulcan Post interview (2017)
Bryan chalks TSL’s success up to staying ahead of the game, quality content, and a positive company culture.
Bryan says analysing trends and keeping up-to-date with algorithms helped tremendously with organic reach and engagement.
“Before Facebook, nearly all traffic came from search, so you had to be good at SEO. The first big change was in 2013. Many Singaporeans started using Facebook and listicles were what worked best then. So we created viral articles consistently that trended on people’s feeds and that’s how we got our initial traction.”
This strategy also worked when Facebook’s new algorithm started pushing videos higher into their users’ feeds.
“By 2016, we had a fully trained Facebook video team dedicated to creating Facebook videos daily across our sites. This was how we grew Eatbook.sg to over 100,000 followers fans organically over a very a short period of time.”
Coming up with quality content is also essential to a site’s longevity, Bryan emphasises.
“Sometimes when we get a client, we’ll send a writer and photographer on a shoot for an entire week all over Singapore! This type of manpower investment would be considered absurd to most publishers, but because we did so much ideation and A-B testing over the years, we were confident that the article would perform well […] and most of the time, the articles do – this particular article above ended up getting over 34,000 Facebook shares, which is an advertiser’s dream!”
In terms of cultivating a positive company culture, Bryan says the important part is essentially hiring the right people.
“We are extremely particular about who we recruit because a single toxic employee could create politics and an unpleasant work environment. Team fit and attitude are very important and no single ‘rock star’ employee is bigger than the whole company.”
- Choo, Bryan. “Bryan Choo”. LinkedIn. n.d. Accessed 14 October 2022.
- TheSmartLocal.com. “About Us”. TheSmartLocal.com. n.d. Accessed 14 October 2022.
- Overthink. “The Origins Of TheSmartLocal (ft. Bryan Choo) | IMO Ep.38”. YouTube. November 24, 2020. Accessed 14 October 2022.
- Choo, Bryan. “52 Things to do in Singapore Before You Die”. TheSmartLocal.com. November 25, 2013. Accessed 14 October 2022.
- Chan, Melissa. “TheSmartLocal Founder Bryan Choo – From Champion Gamer To Media Entrepreneur”. Yahoo! News. October 27, 2017. Accessed 14 October 2022.
- Liquipedia. “World Cyber Games 2001”. Liquipedia. n.d. Accessed 28 October 2022.
- Clan aLt achievements
- “TheSmartLocal.com”. LinkedIn. n.d. Accessed 28 October 2022.
- “Eatbook SG”. LinkedIn. n.d. Accessed 28 October 2022.
- “MS News”. LinkedIn. n.d. Accessed 28 October 2022.
- “ZULA”. LinkedIn. n.d. Accessed 28 October 2022.
- Choo, Bryan. “THESMARTLOCAL WINS MEDIA BRAND OF THE YEAR AT THE MUMBRELLA ASIA AWARDS”. BRYAN CHOO. November 16, 2022. Accessed 28 October 2022.
- TheSmartLocal. “TSL Launches 2021 Start-Up Fund”. TSL Media. October 8, 2021. Accessed 28 October 2022.
- TheSmartLocal. "THESMARTLOCAL'S NEW OFFICE TOUR! IS IT BABY GOOGLE? | TSL Vlogs". YouTube. December 8, 2016. Accessed 28 October 2022.
- Overthink. “Founder Of TheSmartLocal Talks About The Creative Industry (ft. Bryan Choo) | IMO Ep.37”. YouTube. October 27, 2020. Accessed on 21 October 2022.