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When successful, established businesses tell their story, it usually sounds all very straightforward. The founders get an idea, work hard to execute it, and miraculously, it all works smoothly from the very beginning to result in millions of dollars earned.

The reality of start-ups in today’s economy is different – the initial idea is only the starting point that almost always evolves at any point of time. The founders of TheLorry, Malaysia’s on-demand logistics start-up, experienced this firsthand and have been on the tips of their toes since deciding they would capture the market’s overlooked opportunities.

TheLorry is a technology-enabled platform that matches lorry owners and drivers with private and corporate customers who need help moving house, office and/or general cargo.

Founded late 2014 by ex-colleagues Nadhir Ashafiq and Chee Hau Goh, TheLorry was initially intended to be the “Expedia for logistics”, but then became the “Uber for lorries” to focus on the business-to-consumer (B2C) market and then later switched focus to the business-to-business (B2B) market.

Ex-colleagues Chee Hau Goh (on the left) and Nadhir Ashafiq (on the right) have reinvented TheLorry three times within two years, showing how startups can adapt to unexpected factors.

It may sound like there was a lack of vision, but this is the reality of businesses in dynamic markets, especially developing ones. The growth of any company involves adapting to unexpected factors such as new competitors, new technologies or customer demands.

ecommerceIQ sits down with TheLorry co-founder and executive director Nadhir Ashafiq to find out how his company carved out a niche in Malaysia’s competitive logistics landscape and why they decided to pivot.

The Business Model Evolution of TheLorry

2014 – early 2015: Expedia for Logistics

At first, TheLorry built a website that allowed customers to access instant lorry rental price quotes online after sharing some common variables: the type and size of the lorry needed, the start and end points of the journey, etc.

The whole business was a two-man team at that time. While Chee Hau was pumping up marketing and sales, Nadhir was running around Kuala Lumpur and Selangor meeting lorry drivers and giving them Excel sheets to fill in their prices, which would afterwards be uploaded on TheLorry website.

TheLorry initially wanted to be “Expedia for Logistics” where users could choose lorry rental on the startup’s platform from selected service providers based on ratings and prices

Right away, there were several downsides to this model, the most pressing being the scalability of the model. It was a time consuming and tedious process to acquire the price quotes from service providers that sometimes involved over 900 price points.

The other reason was that TheLorry could not prevent customers from going directly to the service provider instead of booking through the website. There were several cases when TheLorry got to know that people were searching for their providers online either by customers’ own admissions or comments from the providers.

“Therefore, around the mid-2015 we moved to an Uber-like model where we would be setting the prices ourselves,” explains Nadhir.

Early-2015: Uber for Lorries

The switch meant TheLorry would need to match providers with jobs. At first, it was done manually until the company built an app in-house and the minimum viable product (MVP) within two months. The drivers could accept the job on the app, and thus the process became automated.

TheLorry built an app for drivers in-house within two months. It automated the process of matching lorry drivers with the jobs available.

As TheLorry had attracted funding at the beginning of 2015 from pre-accelerator program WatchTower and Friends and Singapore’s venture capital KK Fund, the company started scaling up by hiring people for their team. Their obsession became to grow bookings through their website and increase their fleet size.

The need for a second major pivot came when the company realised that lorry rental aimed at individuals was mostly a one-off event as people did not often move homes or offices. And apart from customer referrals, the company would find a difficult time sourcing new clients.

Mid-2015 – present: Lorries for B2B  

This is when TheLorry decided to push for B2B sales targeting commercial cargo market – manufacturers, distributors and freight forwarders with urgent trucking needs. Now business customers make around 60% of the company’s sales when it was only expected to make up around 30% of the entire business.

But every business model, no matter how successful, has its own set of challenges.

“There are a few drawbacks for B2B. First, the onboarding process of each client is longer and sales managers have to be hired to pitch our services and build a long-lasting relationship. Then, we also have to give corporate clients a credit meaning at least 30 or 60 days to pay for the services. But chances of repeat business are high and generated revenue is healthy,” says Nadhir.

Servicing Different Customers: B2C versus B2B

Targeting B2C and B2B segments obviously require different approaches. TheLorry adopted online marketing strategy to acquire more individual customers and invested in Google adwords, Facebook ads and content marketing to drive as much traffic to website as possible.

This tactic, however, did not really work for targeting corporations where it is more effective when sales managers knock on client office doors for a face-to-face meeting – especially in the Southeast Asia business world.

“Online marketing gave us visibility, but to seal the deal, we needed a salesperson on the ground and account managers to meet customers to clearly explain our solutions. B2B sales is all about creating and maintaining relationships,” says Nadhir.

Once onboarded, corporate clients can use TheLorry app to hire drivers directly or in the case of any special needs they can turn to an account manager, assigned to each business. Through the TheLorry platform, clients can view all the past and present bookings and invoices as well as track drivers who are on the job.

As TheLorry is a technology-enabled platform, around two thirds of its business is automated. Compared to other start-ups, Nadhir says the company wants to be fully transparent with its clients and does not promise full automation because of the difficulty it entails.

“There needs to be a bit more scrutiny and a bit more manual intervention in order to get the business to run properly,” explains the entrepreneur.

As quality of service is important to any type of customer, TheLorry interviews all drivers and puts them through 2-3 test drives where their skills and professional manners are assessed. If clients give them 1-star rating after these test jobs, they don’t get the opportunity to join TheLorry driver family.

TheLorry team interviews all their drivers face-to-face and gives them test jobs before accepting them to TheLorry driver family to ensure quality of the service.

What’s in The Cards for TheLorry?

TheLorry still has plenty of room to grow. The B2B lorry rental market in Malaysia is estimated at $3.9 billion. There are no solid figures for the B2C market, but the company estimates that this segment is worth around $22.5 to 45 million based on property sales data.

TheLorry wants to become profitable in 2017 and expand to Thailand in addition to its existing services in Malaysia and Singapore.

Jumping on new and unexplored opportunities to raise revenues is one way to grow. Yet, one piece of advice Nadhir hopes other entrepreneurs remain mindful of is that potential top line revenue always carries costs.

Lured by potential revenue growth last year TheLorry took a business opportunity, which Nadhir did not want to disclose, in a field they had no experience and no clear plan to make unit economics profitable.

“In the end, we ended up in a situation where we were selling our service for 1 ringgit and our cost was 2 ringgits. And there was no way for us to increase the price to 3 ringgits,” said Nadhir, adding they decided to quit the business opportunity later that year.

On the bright side, there also have been surprising successes. In 2016, TheLorry introduced a new product – 4 wheel drive car rental, which turned out to be a hit for small and medium mom-and-pop shops who use them on a more regular basis.

As for 2017, the company’s end goal is to grow revenue by a certain multiple, not disclosed, to become profitable. In the second half of the year, TheLorry hopes to expand to Thailand in addition to its existing services in Malaysia and Singapore.

After raising $1.5 million in Series A funding early last year, TheLorry is still in touch with many investors but has no plans for fundraising as yet.

You can read more about TheLorry in SPARK40 here.

Nadhir Ashafiq’s Tips for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

  1. Validate your business idea – test the product, see whether you will have a market before spending money on it. Prior to TheLorry I spent RM 200,000 ($USD 45,000) on a thing which did not work. Don’t spend so much money for nothing!
  2. Read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, create minimum viable product and get as many people to review your product and launch as fast as possible at the lowest cost possible.
  3. Learn about online marketing, things such as how to drive traffic, conversion rates, upsell and do email marketing, if you will be working in ecommerce space. Good resources for this are kissmetrics.com, backlinko.com, quicksprout.com, neilpatel.com.  

 

By Aija Krutaine based on an interview with Nadhir Ashafiq

Over the last few weeks, we have looked at the ecommerce landscapes in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines to see how the five largest markets in the region are faring. The region itself is a diverse and fragmented landscape having disparate infrastructure and fickle government regulations, making it hard for global brands to find a one-size-fits-all solution to conquer $238 billion in market potential.

However, despite the diversity of each country, there is a common theme apparent for ecommerce in the region. Here’s what we have discovered from the Southeast Asian ecommerce landscape in 2016.

1. The domination of Lazada – or soon, Alibaba

One player that has succeeded in making a name for itself in every country across the region is Lazada Group. The company, introduced by Samwer Brother’s Rocket Internet in 2012, has dominated monthly web traffic by millions in almost every country. Their recent acquisition by Alibaba has only cemented their position of power and plays a key role in Jack Ma’s big plan for Southeast Asia.

The only market with local players that puts up a decent fight with the giant is Indonesia. The country has several big players in the B2B2C sector – MatahariMall and Blibli to name a few – backed by big enterprises or conglomerates. But deep pockets is not the only thing that gives these players an upper hand, local knowledge of the market is also a big advantage.

southeast asia ecommerce landscape

With the looming news of Amazon’s expansion into Southeast Asia with Singapore next year, Lazada doesn’t seem to be worried as they have the advantage of years of consumer data and its latest acquisition of Redmart is seen as the latest effort to thwart Amazon at its own game.

2. M&A as a strategy to survive

Ecommerce is a long term game. Even with a good business model, companies need to be able to sustain themselves for the marathon before they even have a chance to make profit, let alone reap the other additional benefits of going online.

This year, the region has seen a lot of acquisitions as players attempt to expand market share or make an entrance. This includes the old news of ‘Alizada’, a $1 billion acquisition that left players in the industry trembling with excitement or the acquisition of Caarly by Carousell to accommodate the growing interest of people looking for cars on the mobile platform.

Some of the acquisitions were done by non-ecommerce players hoping to expand their reach. There is the latest move by K-Fit, a subscription fitness startup, acquiring Groupon in Indonesia and Malaysia; and the exit of Zalora in Thailand and Vietnam to Thailand’s conglomerate, Central Group, earlier this year.

With hundreds of players clamoring for a chunk of market share, it’s only time before natural selection leaves only the strongest and most committed players in the arena.

3. Payments sector is saturated, but no true problem-solver

Payments is still one of the largest hurdles for ecommerce in the region despite the financing boom for Southeast Asian fintech startups in 2016. Numerous startups are attempting to create a payments product for the sake of ‘doing fintech’ but aren’t addressing fundamental payment issues like a high unbanked population.

All across the region we see players in every market trying to address local financial challenges with little success. In Thailand, the government’s effort to create a cashless society with PromptPay has been halted indefinitely when Government Saving Banks (GSB) ATMs fell victim to the cyber criminal.  

Coins.ph in the Philippines is using bitcoin to increase financial inclusion in the country but is still at a nascent stage. In Indonesia, Telcos and even ride-sharing apps are fueling the high-profile race of mobile wallets – no doubt inspired by Alipay’s and WeChat early days strategy in China – but not a single e-payment option has become widespread.

southeast asia ecommerce landscape

Bank transfers and cash-on-delivery (COD) still remain the top two most preferred payment methods and continues to cripple ecommerce.

4. The key to C2C is through mobile

Consumer-to-consumer is estimated to make up at least 30% of ecommerce market share in the region but is tricky to measure because it happens on social channels like Facebook and Instagram and payment typically happens offline.

In Thailand, around 50% of online shoppers make purchases through a social network – making it the biggest social commerce market in the world. Consequently, it has attracted Facebook to make the country its first test base for social commerce payments and Facebook Shop.

This habit of preferring social commerce pushes players to focus on mobile to be able to capture the customer in an already familiar environment. In Singapore, 38% of online shoppers are making purchases through mobile, higher than the global average of 28%, and inspires home-grown companies like Imsold, Shopee and Duriana to focus on mobile platforms to appeal to more customers.

singapore ecommerce landscape

C2C players are also seen dominating Google Play Store in the Shopping category for every market, with Shopee being the most favored in almost all the countries. In the Philippines, the platform has become the answer to the high demand for popular international brands that only recently available in the country through official offline channels

5. Delivering ecommerce packages gets easier

The rise of ecommerce in the region has also boosted logistics infrastructure. The sector has reached an all time high of funding at $28.16 million in 2015 – led by aCommerce, the tech-logistics ecommerce solutions provider, with $20.2 million before its bridge series of $10 million earlier this July.

Meanwhile, JNE, the largest logistics company in Indonesia, stated that 70-80% of its revenue came from the retail sector dominated by ecommerce and hopes to maintain its annual growth of 30-40%. German-based DHL is also reportedly raising the stakes to grab market share, including the opening of a hub in Singapore.

The on-demand delivery service, led by ride-hailing apps like Gojek and Grab, is also thriving in markets where traffic congestion is distressing like in Indonesia and Thailand. Their motorbike fleets allow them to achieve same day delivery.

Where in the Philippines, cross-border package forwarding services like ShippingCart and POBox.ph are targeting the unique high volume of cross-border transactions in the country to fuel their businesses.

The many facets of Southeast Asia’s ecommerce landscape

Despite the warnings about the region’s diversity, the core ecommerce bottlenecks in Southeast Asia boil down to one – poor infrastructure. Lazada’s strong footprint in the region did not happen overnight, its early-adopter status enabled collection of customer data and the ability to build its own infrastructure – logistics (LEX) and payments solution (Hellopay) – in almost every market. But it almost cost them its business before getting swept off its feet by Alibaba.

southeast asia ecommerce landscape

It comes to show that regional players need to be able to adapt their strategies by keeping tabs on the dynamic trends and consumer behaviors. They need to prepare for a long-term investment before hoping to make their mark in the region and if not – better stick to just one market.

Find the ECOMScape series here: Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines.

Malaysia Ecommerce Landscape

Malaysia may be the second smallest Southeast Asian nation but it doesn’t lack ambition to develop itself into a powerhouse. Prime Minister Najib Razak recently out-hustled neighbour Indonesia to appoint China’s ecommerce tycoon Jack Ma to advise the country’s government on its route to develop a strong digital economy.

These ambitions don’t come out of thin air. In 2015, Malaysia’s ecommerce market was estimated at $1 billion, which constitutes 1.1% of country’s total retail sales (though these numbers may be skewed). Malaysia’s ecommerce market is on a par with Singapore not only in market size, but also in terms of the well-developed infrastructure within the country compared to the rest of Southeast Asia. This might explain why Malaysia is the origin for some of the biggest tech companies in the region such as the taxi hailing app Grab and Catcha’s iProperty Group.

In the next ten years, Malaysia is predicted to increase the online shopping market size eight-fold to $8 billion, but where does the country’s ecommerce stand now? ecommerceIQ shares ECOMScape: Malaysia to provide a quick overview.

1. Surprise, surprise, Lazada emerges as the leading mainstream platform

Lazada, Southeast Asia’s clone of Amazon, has emerged as the leading business-to-consumer (B2C) marketplace in Malaysia with around 20 million visitors per month while closest rival 11street.my, a South Korean marketplace, grew to become the second biggest online marketplace with more than 7 million visitors per month only a year and a half after launching.

Malaysia Ecommerce Landscape

Locally-run Lelong.my, which started as an electronics auction site but now turning itself into a B2C marketplace, gets around 6 million visitors per month.
While these companies are still competitors to Lazada, none of them pose a real threat to Lazada’s leading position, especially after its acquisition by Alibaba earlier this year (deep pockets)

2. Service providers are early online adopters

Malaysia’s online space is filled with service providers who choose to sell services through ecommerce to happy users. A smart move considering 50% of Malaysians in a recent PwC Survey said they shopped online because of convenience.

These early adopters include:

  • KFIT: started its fitness business in Malaysia offering a subscription model for unlimited access to various gyms, and has now expanded to other categories such as selling online spa and beauty procedures.
  • GoCar: car rental by the hour or day through mobile app that offers an alternative to car rental and car ownership in Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur.
  • ServisHero: a mobile marketplace that allows search and booking of home service providers such as a plumber or repairman.

Malaysia Ecommerce Landscape

3. Mobile shopping platforms on the rise

66% of consumers surveyed in the PwC report have used their phones to make purchases. It implies that the majority of 50% of respondents who have started shopping online in Malaysia within the last three years are heading straight to mobile marketplaces.

Among Malaysia’s most popular shopping apps are companies such as local imSOLD, Singapore-based Shopee and Carousell, Japan’s Qoo10 and global players like Taobao and eBay.

Malaysia Ecommerce Landscape

As Malaysians on average spend 3 hours per day on social media, social commerce becomes quite popular – 31% of online shoppers in Malaysia have purchased directly via a social media channel. The most common being Facebook and Instagram, which is preferred by 41% and 22% of Malaysians, respectively.

4. Good banking system means one less problem for ecommerce

Malaysia has well-developed banking infrastructure and as a result, its residents are more accustomed to digital payments than most Southeast Asian nations. 37% of Malaysia’s population uses mobile banking, while nearly 20% made digital payments and used banking cards in 2014.

According to the global payments solution provider Adyen, the preferred payment method of 42% online shoppers is online banking where shoppers are redirected to their online banking environment to complete purchases.

Malaysia Ecommerce Landscape

Source: The Global Ecommerce Payments Guide by Adyen

As a result, there are plenty of payment gateway solution providers in Malaysia, yet few companies offer mobile wallet solutions as they would struggle to change Malaysian habits regarding using online banking.

Malaysia Ecommerce Landscape

5. Newcomers fight to grab a share of logistics

Successful ecommerce in Malaysia has contributed to increased competition among logistics service providers. The country does not have major infrastructure issues such as islands or bad roads like in the Philippines and Indonesia, posing less obstacles for startups to offer straightforward parcel delivery.

Malaysia Ecommerce Landscape

Traditional last mile delivery companies such as POSMalaysia, Nationwide Express and SkyNet have been somewhat lagging behind adopting new technology and are now being challenged by newcomers like Ninja Van, who proudly states it’s “powered by proprietary cloud-based technology”.

And it’s not only rookies in logistics fighting for their share. In Malaysia, the competition is quite tough among fulfillment service providers who focus on serving the needs of online merchants.

Companies such as DHL, SP Ecommerce, aCommerce, theLorry.com and others are battling for clients not only among themselves, but also with the biggest client – Lazada.

Malaysia Ecommerce Landscape

Lazada already pushed its own logistics service, Fulfillment by Lazada (FBL) in Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines. The online marketplace offers end-to-end fulfillment solution at a fixed cost per item delivered. As the biggest player in the market and scaled operations, Lazada’s price may be hard to beat.

“Increasingly, having an online shopping functionality is becoming the norm, rather than the exception and it is only going to be more widespread,” said Jon-Paul Best, Head of Financial Services for Nielsen Malaysia.

Click here to download the full, high resolution version of ECOMScape: Malaysia and join the ecommerceIQ network to not miss out on ecommerce market trends and insights.

For more information on other ecommerce landscapes, take a look at:

ECOMScape: Indonesia

ECOMScape: Thailand

ECOMScape: Singapore

ECOMScape: Philippines

A Singapore-based startup, Funding Society raised $7.5 million of Series A round, reported Tech Crunch. The company allows SMEs to access loans from individual or institutional lenders. The fund will be used to expand the operations in Malaysia, in addition to Singapore and Indonesia under the name ‘Modalku‘. Sequoia India led this investment round, along with several angel investors. 

The company claimed it has paid out $8.7 million across 96 loans to date and has 94% repayment rate. Fund Societies CEO, Kelvin Teo said the data shows the company’s reliability.

Funding Societies is primarily focused on working capital loans, to finance the day-to-day operations in a company. In Singapore, the average loan size is $67,000 ($90,000 SGD) while the number falls lower to $18,500 (SG$25,000) in Indonesia. It charges an origination fee to the borrower (3-4% in Singapore, 5-6% in Indonesia) and 1% monthly fee to the lender. It claims to have an approval rate of between 15-25% for loan applicants.

The fund will be used to expand its SME loans operations in Malaysia, in addition to Singapore and Indonesia under the name ‘Modalku‘. Sequoia India led this investment round, along with several angel investors. 

In addition to the expansion, the fund will also be used to comply with myriad of regulatory variations in the three countries where it currently operates. It prided itself on being compliant with regulations and ensuring the safety of investors money.

“Industry regulation has been announced in Singapore, but it will still take some investment to reach that level of compliance,” Teo added. Likewise, in Indonesia, he said the company is working with regulators to introduce a framework to regulate peer-based lending.

Outside of compliance and expansion — including expansion beyond capital city Jakarta in Indonesia — Funding Societies is planning to invest in its product to streamline its services for borrowers and lenders, add more services to make the investment options more tailored to the investor needs. The company target to reach breakeven in two-to-three-years.

A version of this appeared in Techcrunch on August 9.  Read the full article here

Mobile-first shopping and fashion discovery app, Goxip is in the midst of raising another round of funding to boost their growth in Southeast Asia. The app targets over a million downloads in 2016, both from its home market Hong Kong and the newly launched market, Malaysia. The next funding will be notably larger as the company plans to launches a marketplace and expanding to a new market.

Earlier this year, Goxip raised a seed round of $1.6 million, one of the largest in Southeast Asia, but the team anticipates the cash run to shorten as their growth speeds up.

“Our next phase is to develop a marketplace and execute that in the next two months, or less. We are looking to partner with local designers and retailers as well,” Juliette Gimenez, Goxip CEO and co-founder said during a press conference. “We don’t have a fixed runway for what we raised, but we may be utilising the funds to grow faster than we originally expected.”

Goxip is Raising Fund to Build a Marketplace

Source: goxip.com

Goxip Marketplace

Goxip’s marketplace will be built for merchants and individuals to run their own online stores. They have also been eyeing Thailand and Indonesia as potentially new markets, but the team said 2016 will largely focus on growing its business in Hong Kong and Malaysia. The team is also aggressively hiring to pull off its growth plans.

The Hong Kong-based startup announced a $1.62 million seed funding in May, led by first-time tech startup investor, and socialite entrepreneur Chryseis Tan who committed $1.5 million for a 30% stake in the startup. Another $120,000 was contributed by Ardent Capital, which has a track record investing in ecommerce platforms around the region.

Chryseis Tan is also the daughter of Malaysian tycoon, Vincent Tan, who owns the conglomerate Berjaya Group operating various businesses in food and beverage, retail, automotive, property and gaming, has been a key mentor to the Goxip team.

A version of this first appeared in Deal Street Asia on July 28. Read the full article here

Standard Chartered invests in technology hub

Scope International CEO Matthew Norris with Malaysian Minister of Trade and Industry Mustapa Mohamed. Source: Digital News Asia

As part of the Group strategy to improve its global business services (GBS) centers around the world, in addition to investing $3 billion over the next three years, Standard Chartered Group said it would invest $30 million into its global technology and operations hub in Malaysia, Scope International Sdn Bhd, reported by Digital News Asia.

“The investment will focus on.. technology, retail banking, private banking, wealth management and in improving the bank’s controls,”- Matthew Norris, CEO of Scope International Malaysia

Established in 2001, Scope International Malaysia is wholly owned by UK-based Standard Chartered Group and provides software development, banking operations, IT support services and customer services capabilities to the group in up to 70 markets, and has a total workforce of 5,000.

This is the third GBS centre – the other two are based in India and China.

Last October, Scope International Malaysia opened its Collective Intelligence and Command Centre (CnC), which involved a US$10-million investment.

Fintech opportunity

Norris doesn’t view fintech startups as a threat to the banking system, and is open to collaborating with fintech companies that share common objectives with the bank.

“Fintech is the new buzzword. We are investing on our own technology that will not only compete but complement fintech companies,”

A version of this appeared in Digital News Asia on June 28. Read the full article here.