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Bjorn Gan

Back in 2014, I started my career as a banker in Singapore, and subsequently as a management consultant in a US-based company, hoping that someday, I will be sparked by a billion-dollar opportunity. That did not happen. Despite spending years in corporate since I graduated, I had always been looking for an opportunity to build my own empire, even though I did not know what I wanted to do back then.

My family has been running a retail and wholesale business in the beauty line since 1993. The business model was traditional. They would open up stores at offline spaces and hire salesmen to expand the B2B business. It was through this business that my parents were able to support my study overseas in Australia, and I am grateful for it. However, as an ambitious young man, the traditional way this business was conducted just did not seem appealing to me. 

 

Until one day, I came across this opportunity – Alibaba Netpreneur Program (Malaysia). I quickly registered, and after a few rounds of interview, I was selected as one of the delegates to visit Alibaba Hangzhou Headquarters. The experience was life changing. I was inspired by the core value of Alibaba, as well as the people that I met during the program, which shifted my mindset drastically. It might be a cliché, but it was those 3 weeks that made me decide that I wanted to pursue e-commerce as a career.

 

Looking out, many businesses are still unaware of the trend; and looking in, the lowest hanging fruit for me is to transform what I have learnt, which obviously meant reworking the family business that had been feeding me since young. With my parents being of the older generation, they lack knowledge of the internet, so the decision was natural for me to take the trading business to the next level – bringing our business to one of the largest e-commerce marketplaces in Malaysia – Lazada.

 

I strongly believe e-commerce will be the upcoming trend of retailers and will be their focus, so I went on to pitch to both directors of the business – my dad and mum. As older business people, my parents remained skeptical of the “opportunity”. Looking at their excited child, (in almost the same way the first humans discovered fire) they did not want to shut me off, so they made me an offer to sell the products that they have, by setting a fixed cost price, and I could go ahead and sell them however I like, on a consignment basis. 

 

I can never forget my first sale. I sold a beauty product that was priced at RM6.50, and my cost for that product was RM5.90. I earned RM0.60 and have yet to include the cost of packaging and transportation. Little did I know that this RM0.60 profit will turn into a million-ringgit GMV business today.

 

With the experience of my first “profit”, I gained my confidence in online sales, but obviously my business partner (my father) did not think so. Having spent his whole life making a handsome amount of margin from the trading business, the mere RM0.60 profit seemed like a joke to him. But for me, I thought it was quite decent as I made a 10% profit, the cost I incurred was only the cost of packaging, I told myself: “what if I can do 1 million sales a month? I will be earning RM100k profit, I could retire with that amount of money!”

 

With this mindset, I came to realize this is a volume game, and combining with what I have learnt from Alibaba – always focus on providing value to your customer, my store brand scaled quickly, especially since the 2020 March pandemic. Our online business grew 10x online, and enough to bypass our offline business that had been built over 30 years. Not only my family, but the world came to realise that e-commerce is inseparable in the current business landscape. It might sometimes sound easy, but life is not a bed of roses. We went through a lot of thick and thin, but as an entrepreneur, we are constantly facing problems. As long as we don’t give up, and stay focused on the goal, there is nothing that we cannot solve.

 

We are coming into the fourth year of running our ecommerce business, and now our focus has shifted heavily surrounding the Lazada ecosystem. Looking back, I am grateful that I took on the opportunity and stepped out of my comfort zone. We have to constantly improve and sharpen our skill sets, so when opportunity presents itself, we are able to seize it and tackle it as hard as we can!