That he has to shuttle between so many cities is indicative of the breakneck speed at which Shopback – it directs shoppers to partner merchants and offers them a percentage of their purchase money back – is expanding, since its launch in 2014.
Currently in six countries, including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, it directs over $35 million in sales to some 1,300 partners every month. Its 3.5 million users, including 500,000 from Singapore, place 740,000 orders a month. To date, they have signed on merchants ranging from Singapore Airlines and Net-a-porter to Lazada and Taobao.
The idea for Shopback was conceived during a late-night chat with friend and former Zalora colleague Joel Leong. They realised the cashback model existed in the US and China but had yet to take off in South-east Asia, where e-commerce was gaining traction. Sensing an opportunity, both quit their jobs, signed on another four co-founders, pooled $30,000 of their savings, and launched the cashback portal in five months.
As Shopback continues its steady march into new markets, including Taiwan and Thailand, Chan has scaled the business beyond its initial cashback model by pulling together data to help users make informed purchase decisions.
The team recently launched a ride-booking aggregator which provides fare estimates for rides on Uber, Grab, Comfort and carpooling app Ryde. Riders are able to select the cheapest ride and see at a glance the relevant promotions codes available.
Even as Chan continues to release new and improved versions of Shopback, few are aware that the team had previously launched three other shopping platforms, such as a one-day-sale concept, which they quickly took offline when the businesses failed to gain traction.
“The validation is very quick. You don’t have to wait two years. If the concept doesn’t work, iterate. Working on a start-up is like flying an aeroplane, while trying to build it at the same time,” the trained engineer says. Chan knew they’d hit the jackpot with Shopback when their first customer made a purchase two hours after the site went live.
A year ago, the company shifted its focus to developing more functions, such as movie screening aggregators, for its mobile app. “Digital is about making things accessible and the phone is your most convenient computer,” he says.
His drive to keep going and to continue expanding through Asia stems from the company’s incredible growth after the fi rst year of business. Within the fi rst 12 months, they realised they were seeing monthly exponential growth in transactions of about 20 to 30 per cent, which was “not normal”.
The success has not come without cost, most notably, a lack of personal time. “Friends know me as the guy who is always late,” he remarks. To manage his schedule, he adopts an open calendar, which allows his staff to book meetings directly with him. It works for his personal life too. “My girlfriend sends a calendar invite as it is a surefire way to get my time,” he says.
“Today, we handle over 24,000 transactions a day. Can we turn this into tens of millions? Why not? That’s the power behind a product like ours where there is true scale,” says Chan.
Co-founder and CEO of Shopback
YEARS IN OPERATION: 3
THE TECH: An online portal and mobile app which directs shoppers to partner merchants and offers them a percentage of their money back after a purchase is made.
IN 60 SECONDS
When I don’t want to be disturbed, I switch my phone to airplane mode.
Tragedy is missing out on an opportunity. Once, when we were hiring, we were too slow to act and lost a candidate to a global Internet giant. I have a photo wall of “misses” in the corner of my office to remind me of these missed hires.
My greatest indulgence is time for myself. I recently treated myself by watching an entire season of Narcos in one day. I also enjoy having wine with friends.
This story was first published on The Peak on Nov 1, 2017.