TL; DR: Sleek offers digital legal services that simplify the business incorporation process in Singapore and streamline mandatory corporate reporting and accounting. The company offers a rich menu of business-to-business connections, including local Singapore managed service providers and hosting services to reduce audit and compliance risks. The company maintains its edge by diving deep into customer feedback to develop new products for its clients and inform its entry into market segments that previously resisted digital-first solutions.
Singapore remains a popular destination for corporations because of its business-friendly climate. The island nation ranked No. 8 overall on the Forbes Best Countries for Business list in 2018, which included sub-rankings of No. 1 in trade freedom and No. 6 in investor protection.
The entrepreneur-friendly country, where economic growth has been consistent, offers a haven of stability with easy access to major Asian financial and industrial centers.
But even a welcoming economic climate doesn’t necessarily translate to smooth sailing for startups. Adrien Barthel, Co-Founder and Chief Growth Officer of Sleek, said he experienced several frustrations first-hand when he established a company in Singapore after migrating from the tech sector.
“It was a complete nightmare. It was not transparent in terms of pricing. Everything was paper-based,” Adrien said. “The service providers were not efficient, and they were making spelling mistakes with my name. When you pay someone $3,000 a year for your basic admin and paperwork, that’s quite annoying.”
Those frustrations led him to co-found Sleek with Julien Labruyere. Sleek incorporates companies in Hong Kong and Singapore and helps them manage taxes and corporate governance through a customized digital platform. The service promotes partnerships with managed service companies, including hosting providers, to fully extend the virtual reach of its clients.
And despite the paper-focused culture of bureaucracies everywhere, Sleek handles everything digitally.
Digital Legal Services Help Businesses Launch from Anywhere
Companies with a legal presence in Singapore still need the equivalent of a Singaporean agent to manage filings and facilitate contracts, regardless of whether the company is a subsidiary or a branch office. That’s where Sleek’s online corporate secretary services come into play.
The online service handles incorporation, annual returns, director management, general meeting requirements, and routine administrative updates. It also includes filing fees to the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority, although it doesn’t cover strike-offs or other filing fees and penalties.
“Many entrepreneurs are vacationing in Asia,” Adrien said. “So today on Sleek, you can incorporate a company in Singapore or Hong Kong with everything happening online. No papers to sign. It’s completely digital and very transparent.”
The corporate governance solutions pair well with Sleek’s online accounting and employment-visa platforms. Sleek offers a full finance stack — including payroll, bookkeeping, receipt scanning, and mandatory filings — as well as an in-house legal team dedicated to immigration support related to visas for workers and their dependents.
The SleekSign service, which is free and unlimited for all clients, offers real-time tracking, secure online storage, and streamlined document preparation. Significantly, in Singapore and Hong Kong, SleekSign signatures are legally binding.
“We’re here to give legal existence to your company and to take care of all the time-consuming work that comes along with entrepreneurship,” Adrien said. “We have thousands and thousands of businesses. We have vanilla producers in Madagascar, and we have timber exporters. The beauty is that it’s one common solution. Even if you’re a multinational, you have the same needs.”
Comprehensive Connections Include MSPs and Hosting Providers
One of Sleek’s significant differentiators is its access to local managed service providers. A company opening a Singaporean subsidy, for example, rarely opens a physical office in the subsidy’s operating jurisdiction.
Sleek doesn’t force entrepreneurs to navigate a complex web of national and international MSPs and hosting providers. Instead, it streamlines the process with a vetted list of candidates covering the bases of corporate needs across all industries.
Adrien notes that 80% of startups fail after six months. Sleek’s goal is to nurture them through the end of the first year. One way to get them there is to connect them with affordable services.
“We provide them with vouchers to AWS, Google Cloud, and other service providers as well,” Adrien said. “And so this is why we went to all the big names that were available in Singapore and Hong Kong.”
By focusing specifically on what’s available in those markets, Sleek ensures that companies doing business in those countries partner with vendors who understand local law and participate in various audits. That minimizes adverse regulatory action arising from oversights that a non-local MSP might incur, given its lack of familiarity with the jurisdiction.
Sleek’s governance, signature, and accounting products pair with relevant MSPs and hosting providers to offer entrepreneurs a turnkey ecommerce solution. It also helps other industries that don’t require a heavy physical footprint in Singapore or Hong Kong.
“I come from the tech industry, and I was in e-commerce before. In the beginning, our first customers were tech-centric companies. They were all telling you what they need: a cloud service provider, a CRM, a payment gateway,” Adrien said. “Then we had all these companies coming after the ecommerce companies. Our goal is to make their lives easier.”
Interestingly, one source of connections for Sleek’s MSP roster comes from tourists who help Sleek identify emerging new tech companies and ensure they’d be a good fit for its customer base.
Sleek: Innovating for New Segments Based on Customer Feedback
It’s no secret that the Covid-19 pandemic has altered the way businesses function. Working from home may prove persistent in some locations and some industries. Government regulations against in-person meetings also mean that routine travel, including hopping on a jet for a business dinner, has been significantly curtailed.
Singapore’s Covid-19 resource page highlights that the government continually changes rules, including travel procedures. It’s difficult to plan for a paper-and-handshake world when the rules change with little notice.
As global business adapts to social distancing and life after lockdowns, Sleek aims to stay ahead of the curve by anticipating the next tools its customers require to remain competitive in a digital-first corporate management space. The customer success team at Sleek works directly with clients to fine-tune existing products, but the team also monitors data trends to identify potential new product offerings.
“Thanks to the customer success team, we have a goldmine of insights on how to improve the product and make a product that people love,” Adrien said.
New-market growth is critical and is now driven by technology. Adrien shared with us one of his early experiences with the application of technology and governance in Asia.
“One day I was talking with a friend and said, ‘These guys are asking me to send a resolution by DHL to Japan and Europe,’ where the shareholders were. ‘And I cannot find a tech answer.’ My friend told me to use DocuSign,” Adrien said, “So I took a subscription then went back to see these guys.”
After telling them about soft copies and that e-signatures were the future, Adrien said that the company shocked him by demanding paper documents instead. Despite Singapore’s famed efficiency, a paper-and-handshake culture prevailed even when it added extra friction to daily business processes.
“So basically, I decided to build a solution. And that is the story of Sleek. It’s a technological answer to a basic pain point.”