If you have shopped for make-up, toiletries, diapers and other household products at online marketplaces like Lazada, Qoo10 and Shopee, chances are you have come across Ms Olive Tai's work. Ms Tai, 42, co-founded Synagie.com, which provides cloud-based software to help companies get a slice of the booming e-commerce market. Its subsidiary, beautiful.me, is an e-commerce enabler that has helped more than 200 brands inthe fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector - think quick-selling items like toiletries - build platforms to sell products online. Ms Tai talks to Chia Yan Min about the rapidly evolving e-commerce sector and the company's growth plans.
Q: Why did you start beautiful.me?
A: I've worked in the FMCG industry for about two decades. Before starting beautiful.me in 2015, I was working at health-and-beauty chain Watsons as a trading director. I realised the e-commerce space was getting bigger, but there was no Watsons-equivalent personal care store online. In addition, there were so many brands on the shelves in Watsons that were not online.
I wanted to do e-commerce but it was tough within a large FMCG company; there are usually many limitations and a lot of red tape. So I decided to come out and do something on my own, to make a difference to the FMCG companies.
My co-founder Clement Lee developed an application to help FMCG companies manage their online inventory from start till the end.
We also help brands build their online storefronts on marketplaces like Lazada, Qoo10 and Shopee. We do everything, from cataloguing, photo-taking and designing the "shop-in-shop" to analysing the big data, helping them manage inventory across multiple platforms, as well as delivery and warehousing.
At the same time, we realised that there was very little data available on how people shop online.
In the past, to find out how their brands are doing, firms would usually hire a well-known survey company. But what if I want to know how my brands did over the past week, or over the weekend, or in specific areas or geographies? This information was not readily available.
The beautiful.me platform allows brands to track these data - even drilling down to specifics like what brand of diapers is most popular among people living in Punggol.
Q: Why were FMCG brands finding it so difficult to move into e-commerce?
A: Most of the brand owners are using a very traditional third-party logistics or distributor model. They're used to fulfilling big orders. They don't have systems in place to fulfil small, pick-and-pack orders.
To list on e-marketplaces, you also need a dedicated person to catalogue products as well as come up with content and promotions.
Given that the e-commerce landscape is quite fragmented, big companies find it hard to justify hiring a specific person to do all this. Also, e-commerce is still quite new and there is limited expertise in these big companies. We have had to help brands do basic things, including developing simple content to accompany their online listings.
Q: What is Synagie.com and how did it come about?
A: We started a back-end system - called Synagie - to support our beautiful.me platform.
Now that we have economies of scale, we decided to make use of this platform to help other small-and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that want to go into e-commerce.
Synagie.com provides cloud-based software for multi-channel e-commerce fulfilment. It also helps SMEs and FMCG brands sell online by developing and managing flagship stores on e-marketplaces via its beautiful.me subsidiary.
Synagie.com is hoping to get at least 100 to 200 SMEs on board in the next 12 months. We are also aiming to get 50 to 100 new brands across the region on the beautiful.me platform next year.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you've encountered?
A: The company has grown very fast so we are always playing catch-up when it comes to our resources.
beautiful.me handles about 500 to 600 orders a day on average. This is expected to increase to 800 a day in the coming months and grow to more than 1,000 a day next year.
The number of brands we have on the platform is also growing. This makes it tough to manage manpower. When there are promotions or campaigns, orders surge 10 to 20 times just over those few days. It's impossible to double headcount within such a short period to pick and pack items. I often have to head to the warehouse and help out.
Q: What are your expansion plans?
A: The company recorded revenue of $3.6 million last year and we are expecting $8 million in sales this year.
We raised $5 million in seed funding from 2015 to 2016, and an additional $3 million earlier this year.
We expect to close another $3 million in funding by the end of the year. The additional funds will be used mainly for our regional growth.
We are expanding into Malaysia, where we are exploring opportunities with brands which do not yet have a presence in Singapore. We are also looking to hire more staff - we have slightly over 30 people on the team now and in the next couple of months, this should grow to about 50 in both Singapore and Malaysia.