Ninja van

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Chang Wen Lai is certainly driven.

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In just five years, the 32-year-old entrepreneur has built up a multimillion-dollar international express delivery business responsible for delivering a million parcels a day on behalf of some of Southeast Asia's biggest retailers.


But it wasn't always an easy ride for the Ninja Van CEO. In fact, it took three abandoned corporate careers & one failed fashion line for Lai & his co-founders, Boxian Tan và Shaun Chong, kick-start their entrepreneurial vision.

"It's been a long journey," Lai recently told thangvi.com Make It.


It all started baông chồng in 2015. Lai had recently quit his job as a Barclays trader to lớn capitalize on Singapore's booming e-commerce market and launch a men's online fashion line with friends Tan and Chong.

"Every time we had an online customer we went 'wow, that's really easy lớn get a customer, no shop, nothing required," said Lai.

But as the young founders soon found out, making sales was just the beginning.


"The pain only hit after that when we had to deliver the parcel," said Lai, who relied on local couriers to lớn get his orders out. "I think the entire logistics industry was not mix up for e-commerce at that point in time."

So, he decided to lớn bởi something about it.

"I thought 'how hard can it be?' Just get a load of trucks, make sure you deliver on your promises và get it done. 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 và let's find something else to vày,'" Lai recalled.


Hitting the road


Weeks later, the trio were up & running, pooling their savings to lớn buy a second-hvà van & leaving behind stable jobs in finance và engineering to lớn create a technology-driven delivery service.

Initially, they ran the company, named Nin-Ja Van, in tandem with their fashion line, figuring it was "highly synergistic" to have sầu one business generating volume for another.


Nin-Ja Van's co-founders deliver their early orders with a second-hand van.
Nin-Ja Van

But after a year of juggling both, something had lớn give: The friends shut down their clothing business to lớn focus on Ninja Van full time.

"We realized that the fashion business wasn't necessarily our forte," joked Lai. "We decided let's focus on a business which we felt could scale a lot better — và not just in Singapore, but across the region."


A growing opportunity


Though he didn't know it then, Lai was onkhổng lồ something.

Bachồng in 2014, Southeast Asia was home page to one of the world's fast-growing e-commerce markets, thanks to lớn rising mạng internet penetration and an expanding middle class. Yet, when it came lớn delivering orders, the region was lagging behind.


I would say I knew more about the micro aspects than the macro trover when I started it.
Chang Wen Lai
co-founder & CEO, Nin-Ja Van

According to lớn the World Bank, Southeast Asian nations, with the exception of Singapore, consistently rank poorly for logistics infrastructure due to the region's fragmented geographic landscape and poor government planning.

"I would say I knew more about the micro aspects than the macro trkết thúc when I started it," noted Lai.

"It was: 'I'm an e-commerce seller, I know the pain points, I know how lớn solve it," he continued. "We thought a bit less about 'this is a big macro trend, e-commerce is going khổng lồ grow in ways we never imagined."


Fast expansion


The founders soon found they weren't the only ones looking for a modernized delivery solution.

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Months after launching the service in Singapore , Nin-Ja Van expanded to Malaysia and Indonesia in năm ngoái. By 2016, the business was live in Vietnam, the Philippines và Đất nước xinh đẹp Thái Lan.

The company now claims khổng lồ have sầu 100% coverage in each of those markets, và plans to lớn go live sầu in Brunei later this year.


Nin-Ja Van's co-founders Boxian Tan, Chang Wen Lai và Shaun Chong.
Nin-Ja Van

Lai said he believes that has everything to vày with Nin-Ja Van's technology-led model, which has enabled the business lớn scale quickly & empower its drivers, known as Ninjas, to efficiently sort & deliver orders — even in the most remote locations.

Indeed, in 2014, Ninja Van became the first logistics company in Singapore to lớn provide real-time tracking updates. It later harnessed algorithms to lớn optimize route deliveries và save sầu on fuel.

"The less people have sầu lớn think, the more scalable a business gets, the more consistent a business gets," said Lai.


Dealing with competition


Those innovations will be crucial if the company is to lớn grow its customer base as competition heats up.

Nin-Ja Van is one of a host of logistics firms, including GoGoVan, Lalamove và Logivan, to launch over Asia in the last few years — and they show no signs of abating.

In fact, Southeast Asia's third-buổi tiệc nhỏ logistics market is expected to grow at an annual rate of more than 5% over the next five sầu years lớn be worth $55.7 billion by 2025.


I think continuing khổng lồ focus on growing their revenue at a sustainable rate will put them in the right position lớn take advantage of any opportunity.
Kuo-Yi Lim
managing partner, Monk's Hill Ventures

But the CEO said he's confident he can phối his business apart. That includes by directly employing his fleet of trăng tròn,000 drivers, who, unlike the freelancers used by competitors, Lai said have sầu a vested interest in ensuring the business is built to lớn last.

"The reality in our business is it is not as though one day we have a million parcels & the next we have 10. There's a baseload requirement," said Lai.

"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."


Sustainable growth


As the three entrepreneurs continue lớn expvà the company, reaching profitability will now be a key goal. Lai said the company is profitable in some countries; in some others it is "cchiến bại."

Kuo-Yi Lyên of Monk's Hill Ventures, one of Nin-Ja Van's early investors, told thangvi.com Make It that's a target he phối for the founders early on.

Llặng, who took a stake in năm trước, said he told the founders then lớn focus on two things: Growing revenues và doing so sustainably.

"I think continuing to lớn focus on growing their revenue at a sustainable rate will put them in the right position lớn take advantage of any opportunity from a financial perspective," he said, highlighting possible future initial public offerings or strategic partnerships.


Ninja Van staff assembled at the express delivery company's Singapore warehouse.
Ninja Van

Already the company has struông chồng up a deal with ride-hailing giant Grab, which enables users to access the delivery service via the Grab ứng dụng.

In 2018, the business also received a record-breaking $87 million series C funding round from investors including European delivery group DPD. That took the company's total funding raised khổng lồ $300 million, which some say could put it on course to lớn become one of Southeast Asia's next $1 billion unicorns.

But Lai said he wants lớn ensure that journey remains slow và steady.

"We are not growing at all costs, we are growing in a responsible manner," he said. "To me it's very clear: Focus on the people, focus on our customers, & build services around them. Do all that, you will get profitable."

Don't miss: How a 32-year-old turned a high school yearbook idea into a $3.2 billion business

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