From not knowing what he wanted to do, C.K. Wong is riding high in the e-commerce arena, writes Oon Yeoh.
C.K. WONG didn’t really know what he wanted to do. He studied Mathematics at university because it was his favourite subject in school.
Upon graduation, he joined a software company.
“You can become a good programmer if you’re good at Mathematics because the core of programming is Mathematics,” he rationalised.
Wong ended up spending eight years working in software development. As part of his job, he was required to travel to many countries in Asia including Japan, South Korea and China.
It was during that time abroad that he noticed that e-commerce was starting to take off. It was also during those trips that he began reading about it. Fascinated, he started blogging about it in 2008.
It was just a matter of time before he would make the leap. In 2010, he started his own online store selling a wide range of products including fashion items, children products, baby products and kitchenware.
“It was fairly successful,” he says, noting that at one point he was receiving around 50 online orders a day.
However, selling products to consumers wasn’t his cup of tea. He was more interested in other businesses. Two years later, in 2012, he joined Japan’s leading e-commerce platform, Rakuten, when it set up shop in Malaysia. He eventually started his own e-commerce enabler, Silvermouse.
Wong talks to Savvy about why he decided to start his own e-commerce-enabling business. He also shares his views on the e-commerce industry in Malaysia.
What made you decide to quit Rakuten?
Working in a big corporation helped widen my perspective in terms of knowledge, process and network but my personality isn’t really suited for a corporate job. I like entrepreneurship and even though I was doing well there, I was constantly thinking about how I could start my own business.
How did you source for business when you first started your company?
Even before I’d left Rakuten, I was already blogging about e-commerce (www.ecommercemilo.com) with a friend.
The exposure and branding that I got from my blogging endeavours allowed me to secure some clients even before I founded Silvermouse. So I actually didn’t have to rely on angel investors or venture capitalists to fund my start-up because I had clients from Day 1.
What does Silvermouse do exactly?
While we have positioned ourselves as an e-commerce enabler from the beginning, these days we’re now more and more like a digital marketing agency.
An e-commerce enabler deals with many facets of e-commerce such as setting up the system, operations, fulfilment, etc.
These days, our focus is on digital marketing via platforms such as Google Adwords, Facebook, Instagram LINE marketing and so on. We also do microsite development and even animation video production for marketing purposes.
How do you distinguish yourself from other e-commerce enablers or digital marketing agencies out there?
It’s true there are many digital agencies in the market but we won a prestigious recognition from Google Partners in 2015. It’s notable because we were the only solely Malaysia-based company to have won that recognition that year. We’re also one of the first agencies in Malaysia to be listed in the official Facebook agency directory.
Who are some of your famous e-commerce clients?
For retail, I would include AEON, Senheng and Caring Pharmacy. For e-commerce, it’s Hermo, Shoppu, IPmart, MDeC and eGHL. Other famous brands include Sony, Stabilo and GSK.
What do you make of the blogshop phenomenon which pre-dated most online store initiatives?
At one time blogshops were hot. They were easy to set up and cost nothing. But these days, that’s not the main way people shop online now. There are so many ways to sell online now. There are so many marketplaces and platforms. You don’t need to set up a blogshop for those purposes.
What would you recommend if an individual or a small company wants to do some basic e-commerce?
I’d say you can first try selling at online marketplaces like Lazada, 11street or Lelong. Get your feet wet on e-commerce using these popular platforms before starting your own online store.
It’s easier to start selling via online marketplaces compared to your own store, as they already have a lot of customers for you to tap. Starting and growing your own store require a bigger investment in terms of time and money.
Lazada seems to be the 800-Pound-Gorilla here. What do you think will happen if Amazon decides to come here?
Yeah, Lazada is the big player here. As for Amazon, I really think it’s too late for it to come into Malaysia now.
There are obviously many key success factors but if you had to list the top three things that are necessary for e-commerce to succeed, what would they be and why?
Firstly, know your products well. Product-wise, it helps to focus on niche or certain vertical markets when starting up.
Secondly, be prepared to work very hard. Online retail has some advantages over offline retail but it is not any easier to do.
Thirdly, become web-savvy. It’s always an advantage if you understand the Internet better, whether it’s digital marketing or the latest web technology.
Do you feel e-commerce is a way for companies to future-proof themselves?
Absolutely. Companies that do not adopt e-commerce may face challenges to remain competitive.
Indeed, e-commerce has the potential to improve productivity over traditional companies that focus only on brick-and-mortar businesses. It also allows companies to vastly expand their market.
Malaysia has 16 million digital customers but the Asean region has 87 million. Firms that can reach out beyond Asean will gain access to more than a billion digital customers around the world.
Where does Malaysia stand currently when it comes to e-commerce?
I’d say Malaysia is at an inflection point. When we trace how other countries — including South Korea and the USA — have matured over the years in terms of e-commerce adoption currently, we can see that they underwent an extended period of accelerated growth. (See diagram, bottom left)
We see similar e-commerce growth trajectories currently in some economies such as China, Taiwan, and Singapore, which are witnessing a rapid increase in e-commerce adoption in their respective countries.
Malaysia is in a prime position to accelerate from its current nascent growth stage to an accelerated growth path for e-commerce.
Do you personally shop online a lot?
Yes I do but it’s not just me. All my team members at Silvermouse are frequent online shoppers. There are parcels coming into our office every day. For local sites, I like shopping at Lazada and Lelong. For niche items, I look abroad to Taobao or AliExpress.