SINGAPORE (June 4): Two years ago, at a Sustainable Business debate organised by Britain’s Guardian newspaper, Ikea’s head of sustainability Steve Howard made a startling observation.

“If we look on a global basis, in the West, we have probably hit peak stuff,” he said. In other words, consumption of many goods had reached a limit. The statement seemed almost counter-intuitive, coming from the world’s largest furniture retailer.

But he had a point. If having more “stuff” is no longer satisfying, then society must be hitting peak consumerism.

Enter the so-called experience economy, where people chase experiences, not material goods. Amid this paradigm shift, we find entrepreneurs such as Kevin Ou, founder of Jetsetters. His fledgling business — barely into its tenth month — caters to an exclusive band of consumers who now pursue extraordinary exploits.

For a not-so-small sum, you could attend a Hollywood movie premiere, or rub shoulders with your favourite act at the Grammys. Perhaps you would prefer to meet Paris’ macaron king, Pierre Hermé, and then dine at the city’s hottest Michelin-starred establishments. Or improve your forehand in a one-on-one session with tennis world number one Rafael Nadal.

Ou, 38, is a veritable dreammaker who lives to realise your ultimate fanboy or fangirl fantasies. “Material things come and go, but your experiences last a lifetime,” says the Singaporean, who first cut his teeth as a celebrity lensman in Los Angeles.

“The first celebrity I photographed was Kiera Chaplin — Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter. This was for Los Angeles Magazine 15 or 16 years ago. I was very nervous, because she had been shot by all these old-school, big-name photographers before, such as Richard Avedon, whom I grew up idolising and learning from.”

Having lensed everyone from Mariah Carey and Justin Bieber to Floyd Mayweather Jr and Elijah Wood through his Hollywood production company KEVINOU, INC, Ou’s little black book has been growing from strength to strength.

Ou says that photography awakened his entrepreneurial skills. With an enviable network of industry contacts, he founded several companies dealing with talent management and celebrity marketing.

In the mid-2000s, Ou co-founded the celebrity home and lifestyle magazine Modern Home + Living (MH+L). Despite sounding like a journal targeting stay-at-home mums, the publication was, and still is, a high-powered glossy that offers readers tantalising glimpses into celebrity homes.

It is a unique and highly successful business model. Ou and his partners would approach home furnishing and appliance brands such as Miele and ­KitchenAid to outfit a celebrity home with, say, US$10,000 ($13,390) worth of products. The home would then be photographed in all its (sponsored) glory and immortalised in the pages of the magazine. The brands get celebrity endorsement for a tenth of the price of a regular commercial. It is a win-win situation.

“That [business model] grew very quickly. We did MH+L TV shows, MH+L Furniture. We eventually worked with million-dollar developers to create penthouses, where a designer would curate different home furnishing brands in those penthouses. Everything from the table to the wallpaper and the chandeliers were paid for. And we hosted many events there, such as the NBA Finals post-party and Rihanna’s album launch party.”

Ou and his partners sold the company in the wake of the global financial crisis. Upon his return to Singapore in 2011, he was approached by several brands and companies wanting to tap his ­Hollywood connections. At first he obliged without asking for compensation. But as demand grew, he decided to make a business out of it.

Celebrity marketing firm The Lumenere Group, with offices in the US and Singapore, was forged as a result. Ou learnt that while such firms are a dime a dozen stateside, they are rare in Asia. “If you wanted Brad Pitt, who would you go to?” he asks rhetorically.

“We’re trying to establish ourselves as the definitive talent agency in Asia. If you’re looking to promote your brand internationally, we use celebrities as a tool to help elevate your brand.”

Since its inception in 2012, ­Lumenere has been supplying ad agencies and events companies with celebrities. Jetsetters grew out of that. “It’s the same set of contacts, we’re simply repurposing it in different ways. Instead of being B2B, it’s now B2C,” Ou explains.

Ou is careful to point out that Jetsetters is neither a ticket broker nor a concierge service. In fact, the six-man team works with a network of concierges around the world (around 40 at the moment) as well as over 100 entertainment suppliers to fulfil customers’ desires.

In six months, Jetsetters has attracted 298 members, with 33 of them having bought an experience package. Eighty per cent of his clientele are Indonesian, with the rest made up of Singaporeans and Thais.

An annual membership is complimentary with a minimum spend of $50,000. A yearly renewal fee of around US$2,500 will be levied. This, he says, will cover the cost of producing near-field communication-enabled membership cards, which help verify customers’ identities with global concierges.

Ou does not often sample his own product, as it were. But the ones he does sample are extremely memorable. The most unforgettable experience took place in November 2017 — at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in Shanghai.

“The fashion show was fun, but what stood out for me was the private dinner party that Mohamed Hadid — father of model Bella Hadid — threw [at Jean Georges] to celebrate his daughter being in the show. Most of the [Victoria’s Secret] Angels were there. Jean-Georges [Vongerichten] himself was there. Chinese celebrities were there. Where would you get such an opportunity?”

With corporate social responsibility being an important component of any business these days, Ou makes it a point to channel a portion — from 20% to 100% — of the profit from each experience towards an adopted charity. This year, it is the Make-A-Wish Foundation, with whom Ou has worked in the past. (He volunteered his photography services and is currently a Wish Granter).

“I’ve always understood that what I do is superficial. If I disappeared tomorrow, the world wouldn’t miss me,” says Ou, who is expecting a son with wife Xindi this month. “So, we’re trying to adopt a global charity every year. My goal is to take this model and replicate it globally.”

For now, he is applying the experience concept to the voluntourism model.

“Sometimes when you donate, you don’t feel connected to the cause,” he reasons. “So now, we’re working with some charities to create experiences. For example, with Rainforest Trust, you could meet the rainforest’s indigenous inhabitants and even live among them for a while. When you experience something, you become a brand advocate.”

Regarding the controversies surrounding voluntourism — some organisations have been accused of exploiting local communities — Ou reassures us that he uses his better judgement when picking charity partners.


Timothy Chiang is a design junkie through and through, believing that everything from a doorknob to the entire building needs to display thoughtful design. He lives for meeting design luminaries.

This article appeared in Issue 833 (June 4) of The Edge Singapore.

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