June 26, 2019
Lai Chang Wen, CEO Ninjavan
Ninja Van won SVCA’s “VC Deal of the Year” Award in 2016. Nearly 3 years on, how has Ninja Van changed? How would you compare Ninja Van in 2016 to the Ninja Van of today?
In our world, 3 years feel like 10! In 2016, it was all about talent acquisition, scaling operations and product-market fit for logistics. Today, it is about talent retention and upskilling, efficient and effective management structures and exploring spaces outside of logistics.
In 2016, your investors were VCs like Monk’s Hill Ventures. Since then, large corporations like DPD and Grab have invested in Ninja Van. As an entrepreneur, how would you describe your experience working with VCs and Corporate VCs? Any differences or challenges?
To be accurate, DPD and Grab are not corporate VCs as it was direct from the corporate and on the back of very tight commercial integrations.
Working closely with large corporates allowed us to better understand organizational and management methods more suitable for large organizations. The largest difference would be a significant upskilling in internal management and business reporting required.
Grab has notably invested into Ninja Van in a strategic partnership where Ninja Van adopts GrabPay across its platform while Grab integrates Ninja Van’s services into its mobile app. What other benefits do you foresee arising from this relationship?
Unfortunately, we are not sharing the roadmap ahead in detail, but what we can share is that we believe the SME ecosystem will be best served via providing choice.
A simpler, everyday platform like Grab or a more enterprise centric platform like Ninja. Instant intra city delivery powered by Grab Express, or cheaper nationwide next day powered by Ninja
One of Ninja Van’s key differentiators in 2016 was its technology platform which enabled real- time matching of payload to capacity, ensuring timely delivery of products purchased online. Since then, with the increasing competition among retailers, logistics has become a competitive advantage. Amazon has been experimenting with drones and Alibaba is growing its logistics network through Cainiao. Traditional logistics players and even Singpost have upped their game investing more resources in this sector. Is Ninja Van investing in new technologies or growing into adjacent sectors with more innovative products/services or integrating smaller players?
We take a seller-centric approach in our strategy, where we believe most value-add should be around the seller, not the consumer. Our build-up of services surrounding the seller includes better relationship management, order processing, upstream services.
Respecting the flux between the seller and the consumer interactions, via platforms, social, communities etc, is key in our strategy as we will not try to build consumer facing platforms but instead support the sellers as they experiment with ever improving methods in reaching out to the consumer.
We do not believe significant improvements in last mile costs are feasible through technological improvements past a certain scale, hence would rather focus on the above.
There have been a number of Tech IPOs this year, although not all have done well. Do you foresee an IPO for Ninja Van on the horizon?
We do not expect to IPO for the next 24 months. Consolidation, driving stickiness in our shippers and profitability is key.
Given your extensive experience both in scaling a Singapore company across Southeast Asia and in raising funds for Ninja Van and Marcella, what advice or learning points can you share with aspiring entrepreneurs regarding growing their business and fundraising?
Be more visionary in fundraising and have good clarity on the path towards the vision. I lacked that at times and was too deep in the business to look out clearly.
Scaling across the region is difficult due to local cultures and the importance of local leaders. Regional and local interaction is difficult and we are still learning how to make the regional team more effective to local.