Logistics — Lai Chang Wen

As far as passions go, a love for logistics is as rare as it gets. “I’d be lying if I say that logistics is my passion,” says Lai Chang Wen, laughing. In 2014, the 31-year-old founded the courier company Ninja Van, which runs an extensive network of delivery vehicles in 426 cities across six Southeast Asian countries. “My passion, however, is in solving problems.”

The need to scratch a problematic itch led to the birth of Ninja Van. Lai, a former trader for Barclays, had previously launched a custom-tailoring start-up called Marcella. “I realized how expensive and inconvenient it was for small businesses to ship their products,” he recalls. “I thought I could fix it.” He sold Marcella, rolled up his sleeves and got down to finding a solution.

Ninja Vans are outfitted with GPS tracking so customers and suppliers can track shipments in real time, but Lai says that “providing real-time information isn’t everything.” The majority of shipments in Southeast Asia come from small businesses that “suffer the biggest pain points,” he adds. “Instead of making them travel to the post office to deliver a parcel, we should give them the same level of optionality as customers, just like calling an Uber, but at a postal courier price.” To achieve that, Ninja Vans make short trips to even the most rural of Southeast Asian locations for pickup or delivery before linking up to larger, more cost-efficient regional hubs. “At scale, data gives great insights; we’ll learn the best routes over time,” he says.

From his Singapore headquarters, Lai has swiftly scaled up across the region, partnering with e-tailers like Zalora, Lazada and Shopee, and hiring a thousand full-time staff. The breakneck pace of Ninja Van’s expansion is powered by the firm’s smart use of data. “Automating intuition makes operations on a massive scale possible,” he explains. “Most of the steps are made by the computer, and you equip people with basic skills.”

Lai says entrepreneurs enjoy easy access to financing and talents in Singapore. Among Ninja Van’s investors is the European delivery company DPDgroup. The company also  receives financial advice from Goldman Sachs Singapore. “Singapore is a very easy place to start a business because of the legal infrastructure. You can get something legitimately up properly, experiment fast and move quickly,” he sums up.

In brief:
As a launchpad into Asia, Singapore provides easy access to capital and is a conducive market to test drive new operation solutions before a swift rollout in other countries.

Industry diary:
Supply Chain Asia Forum 2018
July 11 to 12, 2018

The annual affair is a networking platform that draws hundreds of logistics professionals in the region to share knowledge, trends and developments in the sector.

Foreign clients definitely trust you a lot more when they know you’re a Singapore company. They know you’ll get things done. You don’t oversell, and so there’s a certain level of trust when they’re dealing with a Singapore company.

Did you know?
In August 2017, the government launched the new EntrePass scheme, making it easier for talented and innovative tech start-up entrepreneurs to settle in Singapore.