Digerati50: News, with a dash of spice

  • Presents current issues, tackle hard questions in entertaining, sometimes brash, way
  • Industry’s most extensive writer’s guide, helps writers craft content that is engaging

Digerati50: News, with a dash of spice

WHAT do Penn & Teller, Jon Stewart, and Trevor Noah have in common? Besides being entertainers and comedians, they all inspired the founding of new media outlet Cilisos.

“I drew a lot of inspiration from these guys when I first had my idea to start Cilisos,” says Lau Chak Onn (pic), cofounder of the news site. “My aim really is to present current issues and tackle hard questions in a very entertaining, and sometimes brash, way.”

Cilisos (Malay for chilli sauce) was started by Chak, as he prefers to be called, after advertising tycoon Vincent Lee had expressed an interest in starting a content website that resembled BuzzFeed.

Chak was approached to run the business but he presented a variation of his take on BuzzFeed – something that Lee liked – and Cilisos was born in April 2014.

The 35-year-old entrepreneur says the site is aimed at making information more accessible to Malaysians, and does so by looking at current issues and events using the elements of entertainment and analysis.

“What we’re trying to do is extend the reach of information that might otherwise be too difficult or too boring for most to consume,” says Chak.

“There are many sites that report the news, but I see Cilisos as being more about analysis and commentary, and that’s where we’d ideally like to make an impact.”

The site regularly reaches between 250,000 and 350,000 users a month, generating up to 600,000 pageviews. Users also spend an average of about four minutes per page on Cilisos – longer than most sites, he declares.

Chak isn’t new to the media and entrepreneurship. As a writer and editor, he has had stints with Chip Magazine, Stuff, and Newman, and he sold advertisements for MSN.

But he believes Cilisos has created a new category in Malaysia, where current events are intermingled with memes and ‘coffeeshop talk,’ but he readily acknowledges that the content space is tough to be in.

“We were warned about it, and so it makes our acceptance in the market all the more vindicating,” he says with pride.

“We’ve noticed that unlike a lot of other sites, people who share Cilisos content mention us by name, often very flatteringly.

“Also, the four minutes’ average time spent on the site shows us that we’ve at least partially succeeded in making current events more digestible … to us, that’s a huge achievement.”

Chak says Cilisos manages to hold readers’ attention by having what he believes is Malaysia’s most extensive writer’s guide, which helps its writers craft content that is engaging.

“We have this process called ‘peppering’ - every three paragraphs of text will be broken up with an image, quote, joke, meme, or poll ... so that it doesn’t seem too long-winded,” he adds.

At the end of the day, Chak says his goal to keep Malaysia informed is strengthened by the collective good of other quality publications too, such as independent news portal Malaysiakini and business weekly The Edge.

“I don’t think Cilisos would be as brave in its coverage if it wasn’t trailblazed by other, bigger boys like Malaysiakini and The Edge,” he says.

“We should continue to have that this strength in numbers ... and Cilisos is part of that wheel to keep Malaysia informed, in our own little way.”

[Disclosure: Cilisos.my is majority owned by media and advertising tycoon Vincent Lee, who also owns IdeaRiverRun (IRR). In November 2014, IRR took a substantial stake in DNA with an approximately US$300,000 (based on the exchange rate then) investment.]

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