The Jay Kim Show #47: Shing Chow (Transcript)
Today’s guest has one of the most incredible startup founder stories you’ll ever hear. His name is Shing Chow and he is the founder Lalamove, formerly known as EasyVan, which is one of the most prominent logistic platforms in the world. Widely known as the Uber for logistics, Shing’s Hong Kong based tech company puts tens of thousands of delivery vans, lorries, and trucks on it’s platform for on-demand deliveries that match users and drivers across Asia. Lalamove currently operates in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Bangkok. As well as 50 cities in mainland China. Which is estimated to be a $1.7 trillion market for logistics.
The company recently closed a $30 million series-B round and is well on track to becoming Hong Kong’s very first unicorn. But what I think you’ll really appreciate is hearing Shing’s personal story which is how he quit his prestigious job being a strategy consultant at Bing, one of the top consulting firms in the world, to pursue professional poker. He used his poker winnings after seven years to then fund his startup which became EasyVan and, now, Lalamove. A very incredible story. Shing also provides a lot of insights and advice for anyone trying to enter the tech startup scene.
So let’s jump right into the show. I think you guys are going to get a lot of value out of this episode.
Jay: Hi, Shing. How are you? Thank you so much for being a guest on the Jay Kim Show. We’re very excited to have you here. For our audience listening in, can you please introduce yourself and tell us what you do for a living?
Shing: Sure. My name is Shing and I am the founder and CEO of Lalamove. So what Lalamove does is, essentially, get anything delivered inside the city within an hour using an app. So that’s what we do for a living.
Jay: Okay. It’s basically like a … I’ve heard it being called like the Uber for logistics or Uber for Hong Kong delivery.
Shing: Exactly. So that’s how we pitch it to investors, sometimes. So it makes it easier because it’s relevant to something that is really big, Uber. So we are, kind of, the Uber for intercity delivery.
Jay: I see.
Shing: But we are also, kind of, the fastest delivery company in the world. Our average delivery time is 46 minutes.
Jay: Oh wow.
Shing: So that’s a lot for us to get any company on the planet, right now.
Jay: Fantastic. So why don’t we take a step back because, I think, a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs would love to hear your entrepreneurial journey, and how you became successful, and how you started your company. So maybe we can start there and dig into a little bit further on the specifics of your company. But I would love to hear your personal story, if you don’t mind sharing.
Shing: Not at all. So I graduated from Stanford in 1999. So that was right before the internet bubble of 2000. And at the time I wasn’t into internet. I wasn’t aware that internet is this big wave that’s going to change … Not only our daily life, but a lot of the other industries. So, after graduation, I came back to Hong Kong, went into consulting for about three years. So in 2002 I got bored. And, so, decided to … Consulting is a fun industry if you’re really into giving advice to big corporations. But I kind of wanted to make my own course. So, do you play poker?
Jay: I don’t really. I know how to play. But my wife is, actually, a big poker player. So she would actually appreciate your story.
Shing: So it started as a hobby, but then I believed, at that time, I could turn it into a living. So I quit my job at Bing and started to play poker professionally for seven years and made … So during that seven years, I basically made enough money to be financially independent. But it was a pretty long journey cause, for the first four years, I wasn’t actually very successful. I was barely breaking even. So, of the four years, there’s this 10,000 hours of practice, right? So after four years, you accumulated kind of enough practices on the game. So that’s when it take off. So from barely breaking even to making $1,000,000 a month, that’s kind of where [inaudible 05:21] after four years.
So anyway, after seven years, I made enough money to be financially independent. But poker, in the end, is a zero-sum game. So if you have to win, someone else has to lose. It actually is a negative-sum because the casino, the house, has to take a cut. So I don’t want to spend my life, essentially, on something that is just zero-sum. So I wanted to do something that’s [craybag 05:38]
And, so, in 2009 I quit poker and started to find a project that I can kind of dedicate my rest of the life and searching for about four years. Essentially, at the end of the day, find this particular settlement that, I believe, will be a golden area for me to explore. And that’s how, in 2013, October, I decided to start Lalamove.
Jay: Okay, so, this is fascinating because you graduated from one of the top universities in the world that is well-known and you were working for one of the best, most prestigious, elite companies in the world, Bing. And when did you pick up poker? Like how did you learn about poker? Were you casually playing from a young age and you just decided … What was that thought process like? Cause I think that a lot of smart people, you’re obviously smart … I feel like a lot of gamers, they always have this dream like, “Oh, I can do this for a living.” I have a lot of close friends that love to play blackjack and they think they can do it for a living, but they can’t. So how did you learn how to play poker? And how was that whole transition process where you were confident enough that you could make a living off of gaming?
Shing: Actually anything you do as a hobby, if you want to make it as a living, that’s hard. That’s really hard. Usually very hard. Example of soccer, any kind of sport that you can do as a hobby but, if you want to turn it into a living, that’s very hard. And actually if you asked me, there wasn’t a long thought process. It was just kind of an instinct or something that I’m passionate about. So, at that time, I was just playing poker nights and days. So I decided this is something I really want to get good at and this is something that I really like to do. So that’s how I went to it.
As I look back, right? Sometimes you look back and then you kind of figure out why you tried or how that becomes successful, and I kind of boil it down to APP. So ability, prospect, and passion. So if you want to create a success out of what you do, you have to basically have to have that ability to do it well. That thing has to have a prospect. And not only do you have to have the ability, but you also have to like to do it. You’re passionate about it.
So, for example, a consulting prospect … Consulting is always sees something as having promise and prospect. And I believe I actually have the ability to do it well. Just not something wake up at five in the morning I just want to jump into. So, for me, poker was that something that I wanted to wake up every single day, not even brushing my teeth, and just went right into it. So, for me, that was kind of very passion driven, but then it turns out to have something that has prospect, and turns out something I have ability in. But the other two was kind of luck. Just dumb luck. So I was just driven by passion, at that time. I was young so I didn’t know what’s the framework to think about major decisions like this.
Jay: Right. And, obviously, you knew that, if you had to, you could go back and get another job whether it be Bing, or another consulting gig, or somewhere else in traditional industry.
Shing: That’s true. But I was thinking that after four years, I don’t know whether I can actually get another job. Four years of, actually, not doing anything but gambling. So I don’t know whether someone would hire me.
Jay: True, true. That would be a challenging interview explanation.
Shing: There was a tough point. I mentioned the first four years I wasn’t actually making money. But, interestingly, I never thought of giving up. I was just imagining, after four years, at that point if I had given up and I had to look for a job, would anybody hire me? And that, I think, would be a challenge.
Jay: What was the discussion or conversation with your family, your support network, your friends, that sort of thing. How did that conversation go when you-
Shing: So I hide it from my family, my parents, because I know they won’t support it and, basically, they will be sad to hear that this is the choice I made.
Shing: So I hide it until I quit. So with my friends, they all think it’s cool.
Jay: That was easy.
Shing: Don’t have to hide anything from my friends. But my parents, I know they’re very traditional, right? So they have a kid that’s doing well in school, went to top college, was working in a decent job, and suddenly want to give up everything to do gambling. So that’s very hard to explain it to them. So I decide not to explain.
Shing: And that’s … I can’t call it a white lie. I think it’s a lot better than … And, obviously, I come clean after I quit. And once they learn you can actually make a living off of that and quite successful, and I have actually become quite successful with it, I think they can accept it. But not when it’s under so much uncertainty, right?
So I mention four years is without, when I was still struggling. So imagine I, kind of, explain it to them during that four years, struggling years. That would be a, not a very happy situation.
Jay: I can’t imagine that. I mean, it’s always … Yes, you’re right. It’s always better to ask for forgiveness than for permission. Especially from conservative parents. But, yeah, four years of grinding it. That’s impressive. Okay so after seven years, the first four years was a grind, the next three years you were quite successful, you made a lot of money, and then you realized that maybe you weren’t fulfilling a big picture desire or need in the world, right? So you decided to search for a company to start. What was that process like? At that point, after seven years, you said, “Okay, I’m done with poker. I want to do something else.” How did you identify, I guess, EasyVan which is what it was known before Lalamove, right?
Shing: Yeah, so, I actually just went about looking for different industries. And I was actually into investing. So I was looking through different list of company to see if there’s any inspiration from anywhere. And I actually started some companies. I started a beauty clinic in Hong Kong.
Jay: Okay, sure.
Shing: And I started some [Weetau 12:53] shops selling organic stuff in Hong Kong. So I was not only looking for but I was just starting. And then in late 2013, I heard about Uber, so it’s this amazing company that is doing tremendously in the states and I look into it. And at that point, my first instinct was to do something similar in nature but then I … It turns out there are many other people who are already doing that.
Shing: So I was asking. So that’s a very good idea, obviously, using mobile internet to connect demand and supply, right? One that’s the driver, one that’s the passengers. Can I apply that similar concept to elsewhere? And it turns out that in Hong Kong that was a really business model that connects the shipper and the van driver. So we put a core center. But instead of using data to do the matching, they’d use a voice. So if you were to get a van in Hong Kong in the past, you’d call a call center. And the call center will actually shout into radio to get your driver. And the driver, after getting the information from voice, from this [yes center 14:05] Will actually call you up and pick up your goods.
So that’s how it was done for almost 20, 30 years in Hong Kong. So that was a proven business model, sharing of vans for interested [inaudible 14:17]. We just took that model and make it digital. And we are actually not the first one to do, actually, make it digital. There was already someone else, actually two other companies from Hong Kong, doing that. So it was, kind of, an easy decision that this is something, I think, would work. And it’s just a matter of not only taking this model and making it digital but actually replicating the [fact 14:43] elsewhere. In southeast Asia and also in mainland China.
Jay: Right. So one of the things that you’ve spoken about in the past and David, our mutual friend, has also talked about when he looks to invest in companies, is this idea of Hong Kong founders … And you’re quite international. I mean you were educated abroad so you have a larger, global perspective. But a lot of Hong Kong founders, their challenge is that they are too closed minded with expansion, right? So they think … Obviously it’s important to dominate your home-market first. But a lot of them stop there. And, from an investor standpoint, if it’s not scalable beyond one city, and Hong Kong being one of the harder cities to start a company just because of the high fixed overhead costs associated, it’s not that attractive. So at what point did you realize that there was proof of concept, that this business model would be scalable within the region?
Shing: Actually, from the very start, I knew I wanted to make this, at least, a regional or global … At least very, at the minimum, a regional company. Because I believed in mobile internet. Well there is no city-state internet company. So you have to scale it beyond a single city to be successful. And for that particular reason, Hong Kong is actually a particularly bad place to start a company, in a way. Because Hong Kong market is unique. When you’re unique, that means whatever works in Hong Kong may not work elsewhere. So that’s bad. Because if you start something from, let’s say, San Francisco, you can replicate that into New York because you have a very homogenous market.
Same thing in mainland China. Something that works in Shenzhen or Beijing will work in [Muhan 16:28] or Chongquing. So you have a much, much bigger domestic market. And that’s why, if you look at the core internet companies in the world, they all coming from either China or the States. So I knew that if I want to build a great internet company, I have to absolutely move it beyond Hong Kong to do that. So even within, I think within seven months we started in Singapore. And within a year, we were in China. And right now, we are actually in 76 cities.
Jay: 76 cities within the region?
Shing: Yes, yes. In three-and-a-half years. I knew from day one that I knew to do this regionally, at the minimum, if not globally.
Jay: That’s incredible. So as someone who … I mean you have basically no background in logistics, right?
Shing: Yeah, no background in logistics. I have no background in management or no background in tech.
Jay: So this is awesome, as well, because I think it’s inspirational. Whenever I meet, and I speak to founders that, basically, are non-technical founders or choose to tackle an industry that might be very difficult, or technical, or complicated that they have no background in, or no connections in. And it just makes their story all the more impressive and inspirational. What would you say were the hardest challenges at the very beginning when you had this idea, you knew it could be something big, but you’re sitting there and you’re like, “Okay, Shing. I have this great idea.” You’re saying to yourself how do I execute it? Where do I even begin?
Shing: The first step is hire the right people. Since I don’t code, I knew that I have to get an app in the app store. So just hire someone that can make it happen. So in the first week, we actually put together the tech team. So I just interviewed tons of people using head hunters. And, essentially, I just asked them a few questions. Actually two questions. I show them a competitive app and say, “Can you do that? Can you write this app?” And second is, “Can you finish this app in four weeks?” So in a month. So there it is, can you start tomorrow? So if they say yes, I just hire them.
Shing: So that’s essentially what we did. And I think that a biased reaction is very important in the very beginning. A lot of people will think about this idea, I’ve got an idea. But when you ask them to put it into action, they never do it. But just a lot of people, they have a long theory of how to get there, they might even know eating the right stuff and exercising is the right thing to do, but they’re … Most people, actually, never take actions.
Shing: So I think we have this virus. Actually I have a co-founder, Matthew, started this with me. Yeah. Both of us have a lot of biased reactions. So sometimes, obviously, we make some dumb mistakes. But that’s a lot better than not doing anything and sitting there for waiting for a perfect solution.
Jay: That’s right. So tell us the story about EasyVan like the name. And at some point, you changed it or you relabeled it as Lalamove.
Shing: Yeah, EasyVan … We started in Hong Kong, we focus on van. So we were trying to come out with a name that is easy to remember. So EasyVan was easy to remember. That’s how we got started. And, later, we expand out of Hong Kong and in a lot of cities in southeast Asia, our main vehicle that we went into the market was motorcycle. So EasyVan wasn’t an appropriate name.
Shing: So we were trying to come up with a new name and we want something that is easy to remember. Because a lot of our new users are actually coming from referral. And if someone had to refer you, they had to refer by name, right? And that name has to be easy to remember. And when you think Lalamove, if you come across this, it’s pretty hard to forget. So that’s how … And also it rhymes with our Chinese name which is [Ohlala 20:37] So that’s how it came about.
Jay: So it was also very strategic.
Shing: Naming is very important because, as I mentioned, 50% of our users are actually coming from referral. And sometime it’s just not online. A lot of times it still happen offline. So if you want to recommend us a software, recommend an app, recommend a brand, if you don’t remember it, it’s pretty hard to recommend it.
Shing: So naming it is important.
Jay: Very important. So you started off the company bootstrapped. It was just all your own poker winnings, I guess?
Jay: At what point did you decide that you needed external funding?
Shing: Actually I was pretty naïve when I started, obviously, just like everybody else, I thought it was just an app, how hard could it be, right? To this day, even now people ask me how many do I have, I say 700-800 people, now, working in company.
Shing: They say, “Why do you need so many people. It’s an app, right?” So, obviously, I was that naïve to … I thought internet company was easy. It’s just an app so you can just get a few guys, right? And I actually didn’t know I would be needing a Lala [packhill 21:51] So I thought $2 million Hong Kong was enough. So that was what I put in. I thought 2 million was all I’d need. If I use up 2 million and I was still [inaudible 22:04] Call it a day.
Shing: Then a few months into the ventures, I knew that I needed a lot more than that. I put in $10 million Hong Kong. And then I realized, literally one day I thought, “10 million [honmondeez 22:18] No, I need $10 million US.” And that’s why, now, I started to go out fundraising. And now, obviously, I knew that $10 million US is not enough. I need $100 million US. And that’s how I go at it again and raise money.
So I think one of the key trait of being entrepreneur is continually updating your sense of the world. So sometimes there’s things that I think is the case but it’s actually not the case. And you have to realize that quickly and make adjustment. For example, funding-wise I was pretty naïve. I was pretty naïve in terms of piecing a decent tech team to achieve, make a company work. So a lot of time things I don’t know and you have to learn it quickly so that you turn some of the unknowns into knowns.
Jay: Hm. That’s good advice. I think that it’s always a challenge. I mean, entrepreneurs or startup founders, they’re always faced with … There’s a lot of ego, sometimes, that you have to battle with yourself. Because, as a founder of a company, there’s a certain level of expectation. Especially when you go in front of investors. That you have to know your entire market, and your business model, and everything down to a T.
But, a lot of times, that’s not the case. Especially for founders that enter a industry or a segment that they don’t have any experience, prior. Then they need to reach out and partner with the right types of investors to, actually, take them to the next level, right?
Jay: Right. So let’s talk about how guys are looking with your regional expansion. You mentioned you were in 76 cities, is that right?
Shing: Yeah, 76.
Jay: So where is your largest market currently?
Shing: Right now our largest market in China it is Shenzhen or Guangzhou. And then in southeast Asia, it is Bangkok.
Jay: Oh, wow. Okay. Interesting. And what sort of expansion plans do you have for 2017 as far as extending that reach?
Shing: We are going to make it at least 100 cities in the region. So that’s our plan.
Jay: Any specific cities that you are targeting aggressively for this year?
Shing: The new cities we open up … For example, in China, we already in the major cities, right? So these are the top-tier cities. As well, we’re going to put a lot more resources into. But believe our model would actually work in a lot of the second, third, or even fourth tier cities. So we set actually 100 cities in China, including southeast Asia which is going to be at least 10 more. SO it’s going to be, by the end of the year, it’s going to be 110 cities. So we believe our model will actually work in cities with about 4 million populations. In China, even the 100th most populated city has 4 million populations. So that’s how we set at 100. And in southeast Asia, we haven’t been to Malaysia, we haven’t been to Indonesia, and we haven’t been to Vietnam. So these are the cities we would like to be in by the end of the year, as well.
Jay: Lots of opportunity. And what was your experience, specifically, expanding into China. Because this is a challenge for many … Even the likes of Uber, the great giant Uber, that went in to China, tried to steamroll their way through, and essentially failed because they either didn’t have the right partner or they didn’t really understand the market before they tried to enter it. So what was your experience with China expansion?
Shing: So, I think, one thing is determination. We actually chopped the company in half and one team focusing on southeast Asia and one team focusing on China. So we are separate tech team, we’re separate HR, our marketing ops, etc, in China. So we built a separate team just for China when we went into China. So that’s [league 25:27] determination. Some of us actually come from Hong Kong and went to live in China. And I think that’s determination, then, makes a difference. And China is a big market, right? You can’t go into that market half-heartedly. And that’s the approach. So we chopped the company in half and make sure that we have that skill and resources particular to this market.
Jay: That’s always a challenge, as it seems, on how to figure out China. And a lot of people really need to rely on good, local partners, or investors that will help guide them, navigate through China.
Shing: I think one thing is mentor, right? So if you don’t believe you can do it, likely you will not be successful in doing it. They wonder we are pretty committed. I say whether we make it or we die. And so our move to China, just be very determined in making it happen.
Jay: And you are doing a very good job, there, Shing. So that’s awesome.
Shing: So far so good. But it never end. So I think we are having decent year, so far. Internet things can turn so quickly that you could be gone if you make a major mistake.
Jay: This is true, very true. So you guys just did a pretty big, series-b round, right?
Jay: And, so, congratulations on that. And I think one question many listeners will probably be looking for an answer for is what is the future funding looking like for Lalamove? Will Lalamove be Hong Kong’s first unicorn valuation company?
Shing: We are trying to be first one. If not the first one, maybe one of them. We believe we have the right team and we are in the right market to make it happen. And our goal is to do it within a year or two. So I think that’s our target and whether we can accomplish it, I think that it boils down to us executing. So pretty optimistic.
Jay: Yes. I am too. And I’m very excited to … I’m looking forward to watching your success and I’m rooting for you because I’m a fan of Hong Kong, the founders that are successful, and I think it will be very good for our city and for the ecosystem.
So, Shing, thank you so much for your time today. I just have a couple more questions to ask you. And you obviously have a very, very unique story and have experienced a lot of success, thus far. And we wish you the best of success in the future. If there’s one piece of advice that you could give to a aspiring startup founder, maybe here in Hong Kong, that wants to get into … Wants to build a business, a company from the start. Given your experience on how you navigated those early days, what piece of advice would you give?
Shing: I think it is bias. Have an extremely high bias for action. Don’t think too much. And in the beginning, it’s a lot of trial and error. For example, when we build our team, we don’t necessarily get the top quality people to join us, and that’s good. We need to get the product out there so you can really sit there and wait for the perfect candidate to come along. And so we just do whatever we can to get the results we want. Our result, at that time, was getting the app on [playsor 30:01] And, in the end, it took us about eight weeks to get it there, slightly below my target of four weeks. But we still get it there. So have a bias for action. I think that’s important. A lot of people just sit there and think too much. And that’s not my style.
And secondly, really think through if you want to take on this journey. Because it’s actually quite hard. And, most of the time, you’re guaranteed to fail. You look across, right? A lot of people … Success is actually the exception. And, a lot of times, it depends on luck at the beginning. We have quite a bit of luck. Our first funding was quite easy. But our second and third funding, if we didn’t get it, we would have been in debt. And it was just, I believe, by luck that that some of my words [inaudible 30:54] So they put in the money when nobody else did. And [inaudible 30:59] also from Taiwan also believe in us when nobody did. So were twice, almost two months away from bankruptcy and we got saved. And we got saved just by luck.
So, imagine, you put in all the work, but at the end of the day, you’ve got nothing. Is that something you’re willing to accept? If you are willing to do something because it’s going to be successful, then I actually advise you no. Not jump into building an internet company. Building a traditional business is okay. For example, if you want to open a clinic or open a restaurant, that’s what they call a business. A very [stern 31:39] business model. And if you, let’s say, open a restaurant, if it’s the best restaurant in the city, you will survive. But the internet, it’s actually a tournament structure. It’s the Olympic structure. I call it the Olympics of business. It’s only the first one that anybody would care. And it’s the first one that actually would get the most pay off. So everybody remember who [inaudible 32:06] but nobody remember who runs second.
Shing: And I think that’s the same thing in internet. It’s a lot more brutal. So make sure that you’re ready for the journey if you want to do it. And I believe that, actually, most people aren’t.
Jay: Yeah, I think you’re right. It’s like a high-stakes poker game, Shing.
Shing: True. High-stakes, poker tournament game.
Jay: Yeah. That’s right, that’s right. Shing, where’s the best place that people can find you, follow you, or connect with you on social media or your website if they want to learn a little bit more about Shing or Lalamove?
Shing: We have Lalamove Facebook. I don’t have a … I obviously have a Facebook page but I actually don’t spend a lot of time on social media, and maybe I should. We’ll see, usually a fast way for people to [inaudible 32:52]
Shing: Twitter, or Facebook, or what would be your suggestion
Jay: Well, I’m not a social media expert by any means, stretch of the imagination, but I’m sure your investors are just fine and happy with you focusing on the company and growing it. I’m sure you can find someone else to deal with your marketing.
Shing: Yeah, I actually want Lalamove to be high-profile but I want myself to be low-profile. So Lalamove should be a lot more famous than I am.
Jay: Awesome. All right, Shing. Thanks so much for your time. I appreciate it. And I think our listeners are going to really enjoy this interview. So we appreciate all the words of wisdom and for sharing your personal story with us, as well.
Shing: Thank you, Jay.
Jay: All right, take care now.
Shing: Bye bye.
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