Before we start, here are some facts & figures of Lelong.my.
- Incorporated since: 1998 by 2 founders
- Total employees now: 30+
- No of registered members: 800,000
- No of registered sellers: 10,000 (around 2,000 sign up for online stores)
- Monthly visitors: 3 million
- Monthly transaction: RM 8 - 10 million
Q: How did Lelong get started?
A: I joined Cyber Village as a Web Business Manager under Tony Pua in 1997, selling shopping cart solution and you know, it's not easy to do so in 1997!
Then, I started buypc.com.my (you can call it a predecessor of Lelong), a platform for people to easily browse price list for computer hardware, and trade second hand goods. Techie people are used to newsgroup during that time, so I invited a lot of people from there to use buypc.com.my.
Apart from for sale item, we let people bid, which was quite advanced during that time. It slowly evolved from computer, to mobile phone, home appliance, and other products which becomes Lelong of today.
Note: Wei was doing a MBA's paper 13 years ago and he had planned his e-commerce business roadmap, from C2C to B2C. He has used that paper to pitch for investor to start Lelong during that time and gotten it. Guess what, he dropped out from his MBA with 1 semester to go and concentrate on Lelong. The rest is history.
Q: What were the main challenges especially during the early years?
A: Fraud, infrastructure issues, not enough users. There were also a lot of competitors, 7 auction sites in year 2000, even Maxis had an auction site that time! After the dot-com bubble burst, all of them died except us.
Along the years, we have implemented our own verification system, able to reduce fraud to a very minimum rate. In recent years, sometimes we don't even have a fraud case in months.
Note: Wei was a frequent guest at police station during the early years, helping to facilitate the fraud cases.
Q: 7 years of losses, how did you survive that?
A: Yes, we don't make money from Lelong and only break-even on the 7th year.
During the early years, we sustained ourselves and Lelong by providing hosting, doing e-commerce projects, developing own CMS and sell.
We never lost faith in Lelong because it is growing all the time, so we thought Lelong will make it one day. Luckily it did after 7 years!
Q: You have fierce competitor burning tens of millions, what's your thought on this?
A: OK I assume you mean Mudah. Actually, Mudah brings more threat to newspaper rather than to us. They are both competing on the classifieds especially cars, properties and jobs.
There are also many channels to dispose second hand items, you can do it in various forums and classified sites.
But, Lelong is a place for more serious sellers, in fact it's more like a B2C rather than C2C. Therefore, we don't see Mudah as our direct competitor.
Q: Talking about B2C, you spun-off Superbuy during 2009. Is it a lot harder doing B2C? Seems like nobody has yet to hit it big locally.
A: The early users of Lelong also grow older together with us. These bunch of maturing users with more spending power are now looking for something more consistent, better service, better guarantee and convenience. So we think Superbuy will fit in nicely for them, also it serves as a channel for people who don't want to buy from Lelong.
Doing B2C is definitely harder than C2C. You need more resources, from directly handling customers, suppliers, goods, delivery to customer service.
Seems like nobody has yet to invest heavily in B2C locally to make it big. You need a lot of resources to penetrate the market. You need to look into the long term ROI. You need to hit certain high volume level to justify the ROI.
Malaysians are generally not a risk taker if compared to Hong Kong, or United States if you are talking about online business. Local investors might think that the market is too small, so nobody is willing to do the educational work. They rather go into property investment, or something else.
There are no longer infrastructure or broadband obstacles, it's just the whole investment environment is not there. Nobody has been adventurous enough (in B2C), yet.
Q: You are the biggest e-commerce company in Malaysia, and you have gone through a lot. What are your advices to anyone out there starting or running their online business?
A: First, believe.
Second, "don't dream big first". What I mean is to start small, focus on niche, and service the very niche area well. Along the way, you will find your own path.
Q: What are your objectives and expectations of organizing the e-commerce fair?
A: We would like to create an occasion for sellers to meet the buyers. Let the sellers meet their customers physically and build trust. It's a lot easier to conduct future businesses, repeat buying when the trustworthy is there.
There are a lot of people want to know more about e-commerce, and the e-commerce fair is the best place to do so. We have gathered all the industry players under one roof, from hosting, solution vendor, payment to logistics. We are also organizing talks on e-commerce topics and it's free for everyone to attend and learn.
It's also a venue for industry players to learn from each other. For example, SMIs might need to learn from the small sellers on conducting online business. They can forge business partnership with each other, the opportunity is endless.
If you are interested in e-commerce, make sure you attend this!