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  • Chang Wen Lai is no stranger to a little risk.

  • As a former trader, he was used to making big bets on businesses.

  • I used to work in Barclays as a trader.

  • It was a very good life.

  • Maybe too good.

  • So when he stumbled upon an idea to build a business of his own, he was all in,

  • even if that meant switching the stock exchange floor for a mattress on his office floor.

  • That is being desperate because you just didn't have enough time to go home.

  • And getting a little imaginative with the truth...

  • Obviously if I went to a client and said that I have one van

  • and half the time it's out of commission,

  • she would probably tell me to get lost.

  • So I said 'No, we have multiple vans.

  • Don't worry about it.'

  • Chang Wen is the co-founder and CEO of Ninja Van, the multi million-dollar express delivery

  • business that's become a driving force behind Southeast Asia's booming e-commerce industry.

  • The 32-year-old started the company here in Singapore with two friends

  • back in 2014 and is now the trusted business partner of some of the region's biggest retailers.

  • But his original vision would have seen him become their competitor.

  • Slightly more than five years ago, I was running kind of an e-commerce company, small e-commerce

  • company, selling online, primarily in Singapore.

  • And every time we had an online customer, we went 'wow, that's really easy to get

  • a customer, no shop, nothing required.'

  • But the pain only hit after that when we had to deliver the parcel.

  • So many issues came up.

  • I think the entire logistics industry was just not set up for e-commerce at that point in time.

  • So foolishly I said, “Why don't we open a logistics company to solve this problem?

  • It should be easy, in a year we should be done, and let's find something else to do.”

  • So that's how it started.

  • Weeks later, Chang Wen and his two co-founders Boxian Tan and Shaun Chong were up and running,

  • leaving behind stable jobs in finance and engineering to expand their men's fashion

  • business, Marcella, and take on deliveries.

  • In the first year we were running both and we thought this is highly synergistic, to have

  • a business on one hand generating volume for another business.

  • But the more we did it, the more we realized that fashion business wasn't necessarily our forte.

  • And if we were to be a very neutral, agnostic provider of logistics services,

  • ideally you should be neutral.

  • So we decided let's focus on a business which we felt could scale a lot better,

  • and not just in Singapore, but across the region.

  • So the entrepreneurs pivoted again, shuttering their fashion line and investing their savings

  • to go all in on their delivery service, which unlike traditional delivery providers,

  • leverages heavily on technology.

  • It was a promising gamble.

  • E-commerce in Southeast Asia is expected to grow to $150 billion by 2025, thanks to rising

  • internet penetration and an expanding middle class.

  • But when it came to delivering orders, the region was lagging behind.

  • According to the World Bank's Logistics Performance Index,

  • the majority of Southeast Asian nations, with the exception of Singapore,

  • have a long way to go to meet the infrastructure capabilities

  • of the most advanced economies.

  • I would say I knew more about the micro aspects about it than the macro trend when I started it.

  • I have a problem, I have a business, I'm an e-commerce seller, I know the pain points,

  • I know how to solve it.

  • The three friends soon found out they were not the only ones eager for a new and improved

  • logistics system across Southeast Asia, however.

  • Indeed, just months after launching in Singapore in 2014,

  • Ninja Van expanded to Malaysia and Indonesia.

  • By 2016, it was live in Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand.

  • Today, the company claims to have 100% coverage in its six existing markets

  • and plans to go live in Brunei later this year.

  • I think it's in Luzon, in Philippines.

  • We have pictures of parcels being delivered by ox cart as well.

  • Wow, wow.

  • So you're really in the most rural parts.

  • You're 100% covered.

  • Yeah, 100%.

  • Chang Wen says that has everything to do with Ninja Van's technology, which has enabled

  • the business to scale quickly and empower its drivers, known as Ninjas, to efficiently

  • sort and deliver orderseven in the most remote locations.

  • The less people have to think, the more scalable a business gets,

  • the more consistent a business gets.

  • In 2014, Ninja Van was the first logistics company in Singapore to provide real-time

  • tracking updates. It later harnessed algorithms to optimize route deliveries and save on fuel.

  • The company has also been able to use its data to hire more drivers during peak shopping

  • periods such as Singles Day and Black Friday.

  • Whether it's in the sorting process, I mean, you can see the sorting center,

  • it's all quite automated.

  • There are portions of the process which is people.

  • But in those processes you see that the devices they're using helps them to decide and those

  • lead to very consistent outcomes.

  • It hasn't been all good news for the young founders though.

  • Ninja Van has faced criticism on social media for shortcomings in its customer service,

  • which Chang Wen acknowledged.

  • Our business is never perfect and you never will be. As long as it is a scaled business

  • and there's a people element, it will never be perfect.

  • So what we have learnt is that if you're at 99% perfection, do you push for 99.5?

  • Or do you push really hard to make sure that the 1% of errors are handled in a perfect manner?

  • So that's where we're focusing on a lot.

  • That determination is something that's caught the eyes of investors, including Facebook

  • co-founder Eduardo Saverin, who helped fund the company's international expansion.

  • Kuo-Yi Lim from Monk's Hill Ventures was another one of Ninja Van's early supporters.

  • I sat down with him to learn why.

  • I first met Chang Wen and the team when they were pitching me Marcella,

  • and we weren't so compelled by it.

  • But in the conversation talking to Chang Wen he shared with us the challenges that he had

  • and through that conversation he had ideas about how to make it better.

  • Were there particular characteristics that really stood out?

  • That made them look like go-getters?

  • I think so.

  • I think it's the right balance between being thoughtful

  • and at the same time as being biased towards action, right.

  • You can be thinking too much and doing too little,

  • or doing too much but not really thinking about it.

  • Chang Wen is hoping that will stand him in good stead as competition heats up.

  • Ninja Van is one of a host of logistics firms including Lalamove, GoGoVan and Logivan

  • to launch over Asia in the last few years, and they show no sign of abating.

  • In fact, Southeast Asia's third-party logistics market is expected to grow at an annual rate

  • of more than 5% over the next five years to be worth $55.7 billion by 2025.

  • But the Singaporean co-founder says he's confident he can set his business apart.

  • He says he's doing that by directly employing his fleet of 20,000 drivers,

  • who, unlike the freelancers used by competitors, have a vested

  • interest in ensuring the business is built to last.

  • It is not as though one day we have a million parcels and the next we have 10.

  • There's a baseload requirement, and the baseload requirement is best served by people

  • who know they are being taken care of, by people who are experienced in their job,

  • by people who are tech-enabled, and that's our approach.

  • In 2019, Southeast Asian ride-hailing giant Grab invested in Ninja Van and integrated

  • its delivery services within the Grab app, unlocking a new customer base for the company.

  • Grab isn't the only company getting behind the young founders.

  • In 2018, the business received a record-breaking $87 million series C funding round

  • from investors including European delivery group DPD.

  • Ninja Van now claims to have raised over $300 million, which could put it on course to become

  • one of the region's next $1 billion unicorn.

  • Logistics now is a very hot investment theme.

  • If you think about what has been done already, it's just scratching the surface.

  • A lot of people are going to come online in terms of buying stuff, purchasing more stuff.

  • And that's just one demand driver for logistics.

  • Kuo-Yi says other drivers include healthcare and industrial goods.

  • That's going to drive the demand for more sophisticated, more efficient logistics,

  • and open up the space for new players and incumbents alike to address.

  • But now that Chang Wen is finding himself on the receiving end of these big bets,

  • says he's more determined than ever to make sure his vision succeeds.

  • That includes carving out a sustainable path to profitability.

  • We are profitable in some countries, in some we are close.

  • Which countries would they be?

  • I think that's all we will share for now.

  • We are not growing at all costs.

  • We are growing in a responsible manner.

  • We do not believe that growth or a monopolistic market is the end goal.

  • To me, it's very clear: Focus on the people, focus on our customers,

  • and build services around them.

  • Do all that, you will get profitable.

Chang Wen Lai is no stranger to a little risk.

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彼は銀行を辞めて東南アジアの次なる大事業を築き上げた|Make It International (He quit banking to build Southeast Asia’s next big thing | Make It International)

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    Summer に公開 2021 年 01 月 14 日
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