Eeleen Tan is the Chief of Global Expansion at Ninja Van and is accountable for Ninja Van’s growth across all operating markets. She plays a lead role in creating alignment across business units, countries, and regions in order to optimize resource allocation and jump-start innovation. In her role, she balances up the urgency of Ninja Van’s business demands with the strategic focus to build long-term sustainability.
KrASIA (Kr): Hi Eeleen, what has been the most rewarding part of leading the charge on global expansion? What has been the most challenging?
Eeleen Tan (ET): One of the most rewarding experiences is seeing Ninja Van grow from a one-city operation based in Singapore to a regional logistics giant with a presence in almost every city, town, province, or village across Southeast Asia. It’s not just about growing our network but also how we’ve managed to effectively change and improve people’s lives by allowing equal access to e-commerce opportunities, allowing even villagers to be a part of the global digital evolution through the buying and selling of goods online across Southeast Asia. This amazing progress is all thanks to our Ninjas in Singapore and across the region, and it’s truly inspiring in what we achieve as a team when we set our minds to it.
Of course there will always be challenges. The biggest one for me has to be juggling between keeping in mind our broad-based solutions and approaches to our regional operations and looking at problems through the eyes of a local. People across Southeast Asia value convenience and hassle-free solutions, and that commonality is shared among all countries. We need to translate that into on-the-ground solutions, that’s where we can’t afford a one-size-fits-all approach.
For example, when it comes to delivering parcels, in developed countries like Singapore we may try to solve for how we can leave parcels at a location in the most secure way possible. This may not be a priority in a developing country where we may focus more on how we can contact the parcel recipient for cash-on-delivery orders ahead of the delivery so the transaction is a smoother one.
Kr: What are the determinants of identifying if you’ve successfully expanded into a market (especially as we are in this pandemic)? Not just as a business presence, but also as a company that is respected, trusted, and well-received by the locals of that country.
ET: A good benchmark of our success would be whether we’re someone’s top choice when they need something delivered. Experience shapes perception and to create a good impression, it is important that when people use our service, either by sending or receiving parcels, they have a good experience with us and that any issues that may come up are handled well.
Our teams often share with us notes of appreciation and stories from our customers about how our work has made a difference to them. One story that has stuck with me for the last few months was about a man who was separated from his mother during one of the lockdowns last year. Both mother and son were located far away from each other and the man would send regular care parcels he ordered online to his mother to keep her spirits up. He wrote to us to share how one of our drivers had become friends with his mother after delivering so many of her parcels and that his familiar “Ninja Van delivery!” greeting was something she looked forward to every day.
It’s truly stories like this that humanize the work we do and remind us to always go the extra mile for our users.
Kr: How has your localization strategy changed since from Ninja Van’s beginning as a young company to what Ninja Van is now?
ET: Since the COVID-19 Pandemic, it’s been more important than ever to take a local view when managing a regional network or business operations. Travel restrictions make it challenging to establish trust and connection that is often vital to doing business in Southeast Asia. Even though technology has helped us to close that gap, we’ve found that being cognizant of the local issues and challenges inherent within each country is key, alongside having a capable local team that is able to manage issues on the ground. In doing so, we’re able to then create a consistent Ninja Van experience across all six of our operating markets (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Phillippines), while also adjusting to accommodate local market requirements and preferences.
Kr: Tell us more about the “logistics+” approach Ninja Van is adopting, and what value add it’ll bring to the customers and shareholders.
ET: E-commerce is at an all-time high. With lockdowns and travel bans still in place, we’ve seen a rise in shippers from B2C marketplaces, social commerce and brand sites. One way to help support these current and new customers is to be an end-to-end enabler for commerce within Southeast Asia. We sometimes refer to ourselves as a “logistics+” company; we don’t just offer last-mile delivery services, but we also provide our shipping customers with other value-added products and services like Ninja Direct, our one-stop solution that sources, procures and delivers goods for our shipping customers. In this way, we enable our shippers to achieve operational efficiency, allowing them to focus on their core business activities such as brand-building.
Kr: What advice would you give to companies that are considering scaling up beyond their home market?
ET: Two main pieces of advice from me:
Make sure that you’re starting off with solid foundations.
Taking the time to build up a strong framework and reliable processes will cut down on the problems that will come up further down the road. If you scale up too fast or build things in a haphazard way, you’ll end up losing time and money to correct those problems. At the same time, your business might suffer from a negative reputation which might be tough to shake off.
Do everything with heartfelt passion.
Growing a sustainable business takes a lot of time and hard work and if you don’t have passion for what you’re doing or believe in the company that you’re working for, it’s going to be a very frustrating process.