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Ever wanted to walk around looking like you belong in the Museum of Modern Art?
Described has a “fresh, fun, yummy fashion & lifestyle brand”, 9Lines merges art, fashion and design in its first season, with the aim of taking audiences through the lives of pop icons & make them accessible in daily life. The founding team follows the leadership blend of creativity and numbers, with Hasan Iqbal Rizvi and Saad Shahid respectively, both with half a decade of relevant work experience between the two of them. As the brains behind the business, they design everything from T-shirts to stationary, posters to jewelry, mobile phone accessories to bags; almost anything you would want a quirky and fun design on. They take pride in producing unique products with a major focus on print and illustration with bold and colorful designs.
It’s the brainchild of Hasan Iqbal’s love for creation and Saad Shahid’s fondness for pop art. The idea behind this was to create a label that shouted fun, quirkiness, edginess, and creative originality. People are consumed in popular culture but still 9Lines were very intent on exploring classic Hollywood, and drawing inspiration from the very many mass culture inspired visuals that have been long forgotten. They made pop culture even more visually appealing and accessible to people of Pakistan. To say necessity is the mother of invention wouldn’t be totally wrong in 9Lines’s case. Unable to find a small keepsake like a decent stationery compelled the founders to combine two things they loved to do–write and design. With the idea of creating notebooks that celebrate Pop Art, 9Lines transformed into much more.
Based in Lahore, they primarily function off of their Facebook page, the occasional exhibition and a snazzy little website where you can have a look at everything that they have in stock and get ordering. If the item’s in stock, it can be in your possession in about two working days. And if it’s a customization, then in about three days, obviously once you’ve approved the design. Delivery across the country is absolutely free and comes with the beautiful option of cash-on-delivery.
Jean-Jacques Borie, chief technology officer of Carmudi, recently spoke to Babar Khan and shared how his knowledge has allowed him to go from global architecture as well as helping developers in deep coding issues. His role, as we will learn more, goes beyond engineering and Jean contributes to corporations’ strategic visions and alignment with IT. Edited excerpts of the discussion follow.
Please describe the scope of your role at Carmudi.com and the impact of your work.
My role is to manage the technical teams to have a scalable platform that is reliable, fast, secure, easy to maintain and cost efficient at a global scale.
My teams are composed of experts in the field of web and mobile development as well as infrastructure. It is my role to ensure that the entire IT is aligned with the strategy and goals of the enterprise, to remove blockers that could slow the company down. I also need to make sure that current decisions don’t evolve into problems later.
A CTO in a start-up like Carmudi needs to have a solid knowledge of global scalable architecture. He needs to share his vision and then ensure that the team is committed to achieving it. However, it also needs to have great coding skills to quickly fix issues and make the right decisions when there is an emergency situation.
Building a project like Carmudi can be complex. You want to have a platform that is faster than any competitor’s in any country you are present. The internet connection quality can vary a lot. You have to optimize your application as well as to find the right connectivity solution for your markets. You need to work closely with your product team in order to challenge, optimize and simplify new features.
What advice do you have for aspiring tech entrepreneurs in terms of scaling companies to be globally successful?
Rocket Internet’s approach is very good and I suggest following their 4 pillars:
• Unparalleled experience in scaling world-class Internet businesses globally
• Deep technical and operational expertise
• Strategic partnerships and framework agreements
• Highly structured / best practices
• Centralized IP with regional execution
• Repeatable and scalable
• Founding 10 new companies p.a. on average
• Consistent returns across network of companies
• Proprietary technology platforms allowing rapid global deployment
• Comprehensive KPI analytics driving continuous optimization
• Provision of shared services to jump start new businesses at low cost
To conclude, what would you like our readers to know about the culture at Rocket Internet and what fresh incumbents can expect to experience?
On your first day working as CTO for Rocket and also the following days, you are immersed in their culture. You have an internal CTO’s channel of communication where every venture shares its experience, gives feedback and explains the problem it is facing and are trying to get rid of.
You have to understand that every venture is growing at a very fast pace, which from time to time can lead to some technical challenge and can count on help of an internal network. Rocket shares best practices with their ventures therefore minimizing risk. You have a standard process methodology to handle production. We have KPis defined on every team with target to achieve thus at central level as well as local level.
Venture’s start with a first release of a product done by Rocket-Internet that you have the freedom to adapt it and re-factor once is endeavor to you.
Thanks for sharing your time with us, always a pleasure.
Mr. Simons recently spoke with Babar Khan, the entrepreneur in residence turned managing editor in the Dubai office of Ephlux Insights and the former CMO of Application Services with Ephlux in the MENA region. They discussed strategies to detect and develop ideas that have the potential to impact how companies think about competitive advantage. Edited excerpts of the discussion follow.
What are the key drivers of successful innovation-driven entrepreneurial (IDE) ecosystems?
We operate from our global Headquarter in Berlin, Germany. In fact, one of the reasons why we do this is because this city has developed into some sort of ‘European Silicon Valley’. A historic city, lots of free time activities and low living costs have attracted many young international professionals. They tend to be more innovative and hence we have seen an incredible growth of small and medium sized tech firms.
People are one of the major drivers of innovation if they get the right environment to work and foster in. What also helps are flat hierarchies. Many established companies have failed to reinvent themselves because the same people that have been there for years have been trying to control and manage progresses too tightly. Only if it is part of the company culture that going against the stream is worth a try, it will lead to innovation. In conclusion: Bringing together the right, young and ambitious people and motivating them to try and make mistakes will give an innovative edge over your competitors.
What digital capabilities does Rocket Internet focus on?
Over the last years, Rocket Internet has gathered significant experience and best practices especially in the eCommerce sector all over the world. Particularly from a technical perspective we are able to do things right the first time by looking at what Rocket ventures have done before. This includes scalability of the platform but also other important topics such as security.
Beyond that, Rocket has established an enormous global network of brilliant people. We as Carmudi benefit from this as we ourselves operate all around the world. Hence, there we have access to a large pool of first-hand knowledge and experience that we can utilize in all of our markets. For example in Pakistan we have direct connections to many of the major online players in the country.
What data is most critical to your people’s ability to work smarter?
For us customer data is absolute priority. We use a variety of tracking tools to gather quantitative data but also a lot of qualitative feedback to constantly reevaluate what our users like and don’t like about Carmudi. Of course this data needs to be 100% accurate. Only then it allows us to get a clear direction on what we want to achieve as a company. By channeling our effort on what makes a difference to our users, we work smarter and more efficiently overall.
How do you derive value from business complexity while keeping that complexity manageable?
Business complexity has never been something we are trying to achieve in any way. However, rapid growth and expansion automatically increases the complexity of operations. We counter this through clarity and simplicity in hierarchies as well as direct and to-the-point communication. We operate in Asia, Middle East, Africa and Latin America. The only way we can keep this young but global operation manageable is pulling it together as much as possible. This means communicating with each country at least once a day. Global calls also do not require a set meeting time. We are always reachable and mostly only a click of a button away.
What metrics do you use to track whether you are delivering customer satisfaction on a daily basis?
Although we are not an eCommerce business in the classic sense, we use very similar metrics. One of the KPIs we look at is the conversion rate of how many users that come to our website actually inquire with our sellers for any of the offered vehicles. Furthermore, we measure the engagement on our site, i.e. metrics like how long do people stay and how many pages do they view in one session. Furthermore, we gather qualitative feedback from our users. This is made possible for example through direct dealers (or more generally speaking, sellers), events but also through e-mail questionnaires we send to our valued users. We appreciate any feedback and we also spend a lot of time evaluating and acting upon it.
How have you gained a competitive advantage in the digital economy?
We benefit greatly from international synergies. With our global headquarter located in Berlin we have access to world class resources and people with a lot of international experience. We couple this with local talent in the countries we operate in, such as Pakistan. This a somewhat “glocalised” approach, which comes down to combining synergies from experiences and learning around the globe with localized knowledge in the countries we operate in. So far we have found that this is one of our greatest strengths in delivering outstanding value to our customers.
How does Rocket Internet create, identify, and evaluate new venture opportunities?
In our case it is actually remarkably simple. Car classified websites have been super successful in many of the developed markets around the globe such as the US and Germany. In combination with Rocket’s expertise in emerging markets, we are convinced that we can provide a great offering to our clients in Pakistan and other countries around the globe.
In your experience, how has the process of starting new ventures varied geographically and culturally?
Of course differences between geographies and cultures are huge. Our approach is one of Glocalisation. We identify international best practices to maximize synergies between different markets. With these best practices we enter the market in a relatively standardized way. However, as we continue to learn more about a specific market and regions within it we continue to localize our approach. From our experience this gives us a great competitive edge. We keep the speed up but build something our local customers want.
What’s your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs on navigating the venture capital investment process?
Unfortunately, I cannot share any details on this. However, one advice I can give to other entrepreneurs is that being convinced yourself of what you do helps a great deal in convincing other people that your venture has a great future ahead. Hence, always question yourself whether you are really on the right track.
How should aspiring entrepreneurs start enhancing and expanding their networks?
From time to time, networks can be incredibly helpful. Always remember that if you want something from someone you must always be willing to give in return. Approach people with an open and helpful attitude. Don’t think of it as building a network but rather as getting to know people. This way your relationships will be more personal and hence way more fruitful.
Thank you very much, Mr. Simons, for sharing your perspectives with us.
Rory Sutherland, vice chairman of Ogilvy UK, once famously said that when everyone else shouts ‘paper’, the rewards go to the man who shouts ‘scissors’.
Crescent Textile Mills is engaged in the business of textile manufacturing comprising of made ups, processed fabrics and yarn made from raw cotton and synthetic fibers. Like most fashion, apparel and textile companies in Pakistan, they launched a flagship brand by the name of Cres Home Store this year and their director, Ahmed Shafi, sought out an agency specializing in conversion marketing. In June 2014, they hired MWM Studioz.
In what Sasha Strauss calls “the time before now”, agencies create strategies and execute them to the letter. They created a creative calender to plan out what would be broadcasted (often one way) to the target audience. Their clients approved this, felt safe and in control. Not so much anymore.
Now agencies (must) recognize that users want a conversation, not a monologue. It can be a debate, and one where listening is prioritized over speaking. Agencies must also realize that external events occur, far outside their control. So when the city where your market is based has an Ebola crisis, will you insensitively continue promoting two-for-one offers? Sports wins, innovation announcements, competitor strategies are outside our control. Are they and the behaviors they create accounted for in the creative calender?
“Strategy does give you a direction, but it should not shackle you into one box,” says Ahmed Shafi, “we don’t know when or who will score a touchdown in the Superbowl. So will you fixate social engagement around a pre-created calender? Conversations occur in real time. You can go in with your ideas, but in the end, listening matters (and is rewarded) more than speaking.”
While most agencies focused social and digital engagement consider conversions as the number of buyers divided by the number of visitors, MWM Studioz instead considers what was spent against what was earned in numbers.
“Likes are, for the most part, worthless.” proclaims Ahmed. “They are at best a perception building tool. But what brands forget is that customers are smart when it comes to social and digital. They know fans can be bought. They know not to judge a book by its cover. They know to associate value and purpose with themselves. The CEO of MWM Studioz, delivered on this and focus on conversions.”
Industry experts shared that customers in this category seek quality and Crescent, with its 500 to 700 thread count products, has delivered for decades. The product cycle is such that on average sheets are purchased every 3 to 4 months. Crescent’s are purchase every 8 months and are slow moving items. So the sweet spot is between new and returning customers.
Danish applied behavioral economics to translate offline in-store browsing & buying behavior into the online space. Crescent’s product quality, compared to others, for example with 500 and 700 thread count.
Research in this space shows that the average order value at competing eCommerce stores in the high end category is PKR 2,200 to PKR 2,500 while Crescent’s is between the PKR 5,000 to PKR 6,000 range.
In light of this success story and its unorthodox approach, its worth noting that Dr. Jules Goddard of London Business School attacks the idea of ‘best practice’ since and notes that if everyone does the same thing, you get clutter and get commoditized in your offer and brand perception. To conclude, no-one benefits from this: not consumers, not businesses, not share-owners.
The internet changed marketing by enabling a completely new service and transaction channel. Then came social media along and changed the way how people communicate and share experiences. Then came the mobile internet, apps,… and the change just accelerates.
This Mary Meeker’s and Liang Wu’s presentation, a rather comprehensive one, is about the current state we all need to be aware of. (original presentation at http://www.kpcb.com/insights/2013-internet-trends)
- Shared Value = Symbiosis between society and business
- Platform/standard based = Symbiosis between platform owner, partners and customer
- Co-created = Customer & company
- Coalition = Several companies working together for a customer
As the velocity of change accelerates further, it becomes more and more difficult to keep up with it alone. Symbiosis strategy represent a great opportunity. Learn more about Symbiosis strategy here.
Author: Toni Keskinen, Marketing Architect & Customer Journey Designer
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