Leaders in Supply Chain and Logistics with Radu Palamariu

#09: Chang Wen Lai CEO at Ninja Van

October 19, 2017 Season 1 Episode 9
Leaders in Supply Chain and Logistics with Radu Palamariu
#09: Chang Wen Lai CEO at Ninja Van
Chapters
Leaders in Supply Chain and Logistics with Radu Palamariu
#09: Chang Wen Lai CEO at Ninja Van
Oct 19, 2017 Season 1 Episode 9
Radu Palamariu
Chang Wen Lai is the CEO of Ninja Van. At 27 and with no logistics experience, Lai Chang Wen started a company that netted $45m in investments.
Show Notes Transcript

Chang Wen Lai is the CEO of Ninja Van. At 27 and with no logistics experience, Lai Chang Wen started a company that netted $45m in investments. The learning curve was steep and it meant 22-hour work days, sleeping in the office, and even sorting parcels and doing deliveries himself.

Discover more details here.

Some of the highlights of the episode:

  • Route Optimization. Would AI be an important factor in improving it?
  • Why the founders of Ninja Van work so well together.
  • The importance of being hungry to learn and having less ego when working in a start-up. 
  • If you want to be a successful entrepreneur in South East Asia –  Don’t get married!

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Speaker 1:
0:06
[inaudible].
Speaker 2:
0:06
Hello and welcome to the leaders in supply chain podcast. I am your host erotic column, you global logistics and supply chain practice headed for Morgan Phillips executive search. We are in the business of recruiting top leaders to take your business forward, but also my job is to connect you with global experts, thought leaders and executives in all things supply chain to share the latest developments in the industry. This is episode nine and it is my pleasure to have as a guest Chango and life at 27 and we know logistics experience Chung when started the company Ninja van that [inaudible] $45 million in investments so far. We had a very steep learning curve, uh, 22 hour work days, sleeping in the office and then air and all sorts of other very interesting activities. He managed to build a very successful company so far. Uh, also Ninja van went on to redefine the industry by enabling next day in door to door deliveries for e-commerce firms and the customers.
Speaker 2:
0:58
And right now it's probably one of the most successful startup stories in the logistics space. Uh, having grown in the short span to a regional player, uh, it has a presence in Southeast Asia apart from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. They are present in Thailand, Philippines and Vietnam too. And currently delivering close to 100,000 parcels per day. So he's my pleasure. Welcome young men here today with us to share more on the [inaudible] story and what lies ahead for them as well as to tell us more in terms of his views on what type of people skills and culture they are trying to build to move things forward. Gentleman, welcome. And it's a pleasure to have you with us today.
Speaker 3:
1:33
Well, and they're here to be here, but I do happy to help and share whatever I can.
Speaker 2:
1:37
Super. So let me ask you, I mean, you have a, you guys have a very, very good success story. Very good growth story. Uh, tell us a little bit about, about the journey so far, but also what is next for Ninja?
Speaker 3:
1:49
Well, the journey so far, when we first started, we doing close to nothing at all. I think we kept a very open mind and let it all kind of mindset. So it wasn't about thinking that we could change everything but learning what the common players are doing and trying to innovate if it makes sense. And many times we realize that it doesn't make sense a little bit cause they're doing things the right way. And I think that takes a lot of you. You cannot have too much pride when you do this and things that you do everything better. And sometimes, you know over the last hundred years people perfected certain things and some things are just not meant to be changed. But understanding what has, I think what has really changed is technology and technology has definitely changed a few things. And the way I look at is technology. It's a very good transaction cost level. You know it makes certain things a lot easier, a more intelligent. And I think we, we take that mindset and we look at how technology isn't just a cost optimized in this business, but technology's an enabler for services to allow businesses which have evolved in the light of technology, a self driven method. And that it really is kind of the base in which we kind of believe we can make an effect change in this industry. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. No, I mean it makes
Speaker 4:
3:00
a, it makes a lot of sense. Um, and also, I mean, if he's not busy, if he's not broken, don't try to fix it. Right? It's a, it's a common commonality. And there was actually a question from, uh, from, from other different audience and we talked about technology and probably one of the most hyped to a certain extent, but also, you know, a buzz word that you hear everybody, everybody talking or a lot people talking is AI, right? Artificial intelligence. Um, so I wanted to ask you, so you know, a, as the technology side, artificial intelligence helps you to see that any simplication in last mile distributions. Uh, do you think there's ways in which it has the potential to disrupt the industry to help in the street?
Speaker 3:
3:40
Well, I don't. I definitely think so, but perhaps not in the way most people think it will be. I think if you think about AI, you think of eponymous bot autonomy's drones upon them as vehicles moving. I actually don't, don't think that that's too close. I think it's still quite far across the horizon. I don't expect you to see ever one delivering my parcel in my apartment building anytime in the next few years. But I think what AIS great strikes and you look at Siri, look at cabana and all these, I think AI has the ability to improve the customer experience, not the lower cost. So again, back to technology as more often enabler for services rather than cost optimizer. People think that AI will allow us to replace human labor in delivering passes a hence living in cost. I would actually beg to differ. I think the first usage of AI in this business at least is how we use AI to provide a fantastic customer service.
Speaker 3:
4:28
It's like calling a call center, denigrating the eye, takes over. We place it on chatbots very fast and just all your questions and of course all this is on the basis that the information is there to be fun if the entire business doesn't run on technology, if you have no idea where your parcel is and it's a lot harder for you to answer these questions. But with AI I think you can answer a where's my parcel, I don't, can I change the delivery timing and then this gets effected and it push into our logistics systems, which then changes the time windows for example. So I don't the AI in terms of helping both consumers with their delivery experience and helping our shippers in shuttling the pickup slot in changing the details of a certain parcel, all of these can be a lot more seamless AI. And I think this is, this is the immediate path for us where we try to improve the shipper and consumer experience with AI.
Speaker 4:
5:18
Got it, got it. Yeah. So before we talk about a science fiction that you know better the next, next step ahead, right. So, and I think chatbots are, are relatively ARB or are becoming relatively or more and more, I wouldn't say mainstream, but more and more common. And I also believe that, I know the government of Singapore is using some of them for some of the services that they're doing. Um, and just out of this question and another question that just popped up in my mind also for the optimizations of groups, do you see any implication? Cause I was talking, I remember I was talking with Charles who was the CEO of DHL eCommerce and he was telling me that they're trying to do things when it comes to the delivery. We withdrew the optimizations and because it's adult times, it takes a mean that type of data if you take half an hour, one hour to do a delivery matters. But do you see any implications of AI also being used in that type of work or it's
Speaker 3:
6:06
so I'm in a, I would say it's less AI, it's more NLP. I mean it's all kind of under the same realm. You get [inaudible] optimization. I think the first thing most people forget or take for granted is that the address is accurate. Yeah. Without accurate addresses test and all that optimization. The question then is how do you get accurate addresses and on the back of accurate addresses, how do you build a strong optimation engine which learns from previous volts from your local abouts, which is able to adapt despite inaccurate broad networks. So again, so a few assumptions, right? The first assumption is we know exactly where the location is. The second assumption is we normally exec board networks in Southeast Asia. I think both assumptions are not valid. So before we even move into an organization, I think we kind of have to solve two problems. How do we use a variety of sources and our own internal databases and our own feedback mechanism to allow drivers to, to drive the applications to provide a very accurate address database. So we know when in addressing comes in when the executive dresses the second with MD, given the renewal, the exec, let alone have an address, how do we know which votes lead to it? And if you look at Southeast Asia, look at, in Asia for example, it's things not surprising to see a one way road with two way traffic. Yeah. [inaudible]
Speaker 3:
7:30
two we will be one one way traffic go even lost by things like that and even with no vote, but people are still traveling to it. So how accurate are these little networks? Not the most accurate. It is most accurate when you look at the data, which is moving, how your actual drivers are solving the problems on the ground and then building your own virtual network of both existing with networks. Because you know that this building, there is no good going through it, but somehow the driver or with managers are good at it. Building, deliver something, then go to the next building, which is seemingly a one floor we didn't tour and wouldn't work. Something's happened in the goal. We don't know. We don't exactly know what, but we are collecting all that data. Better understand that building a building B is not really one to [inaudible] but a 50 meter wall. And uh, God knows what offense, a hole in the fence and jumping a little while we got, we don't know, but he does it. So by solving the address and that's where NLP comes in very strongly. By solving the root network where there's a bit of AI algorithms, we are then better able to understand where exactly the location is and which roads lead to it. Then the automation algorithms coming. Yeah.
Speaker 4:
8:37
Yeah. No, excellent. Excellent points. And I mean, I think a, a lot of the times we take for granted, and especially in some countries in Southeast Asia that are very basic things like indeed, I mean, are you sure this is the right house and you know how you should, it's the right drought. So it's a, it's much more basic. Um, and moving onto it to, uh, to people say that the segment, I mean, and also talking about people and what it takes to build a successful startup, uh, uh, story. Uh, when you guys started, I think you had two co founders. I mean, you still have, you still have them, all the three of you with no logistics experience and, uh, the core team is critical of course. Um, tell us a little bit, how did you get together any secret for you working together? Very good as a team.
Speaker 3:
9:18
Well, with my CTO, we are friends for maybe like better or five years. He was always helping me fix any tech problems ahead, but any business I had before this, he figured it wasn't important or challenging and nothing they wanted to get involved. I didn't really realize that the last mile could be very complex, very excited. Although we severely underestimated the complexity of what we have to build. We thought that we could finish everything in two years, two years on, I think we are by 10% of the week. My COO [inaudible], he was my badminton doubles partner when I was 10 years old. [inaudible] at the same school ever since. So I think we innovate strong friendship amongst all three of us. We each kind of share the same vision. If we want to make an impact in what we're doing, we're not happy just going to work everyday.
Speaker 3:
10:01
And you know, what's what's, what was the purpose of why it's not just about earning money and what keeps us going and it makes us work really well. I think it's quite interesting. I think the mutual trust invests, but we have a rather clear segmentation of responsibilities. Allow us to align on high level objectives. We see them out that we see the peak, we know we want to get there, but we don't bug each other with how we should take our paths up. We try to own the up, but we trust that we will always be doing our best, finding the best path. And then we always winning the same point. Yeah. So a lot less conflict. You know, we don't try to come to consensus on everything. Yeah. Physicians generally focal in someone's cans and we try not to get overly involved unless our opinions are asked. Yeah. That needs a lot as we run very fast, but yet be very like, yeah, no, super,
Speaker 4:
10:56
super good sharing. Um, and, and since you're now growing a lot, I mean, you had to, uh, to recruit fresh blood in the team. Um, tell us a little bit of what skill sets and what mindsets are you looking for when you're recruiting talent too,
Speaker 3:
11:09
to move the company forward. So when we looked at this, we kind of asked ourselves, how do you get yourselves in the first place? What was the most important attribute we had? And I think it's quite similar the way I said before, it's a lot of it's self awareness, which means I'm a little, I'm gonna learn, I didn't know everything. But on learning. And self-awareness is fantastic for people who want to learn because they know that they do not know. The worst people are those who think they know everything. The second worst people are those who do not know that they do not know everything. And the people who be like the high people who know that they have big gaps in information. And these are people who keep poking, keep learning, keep trying, prove themselves. Whereas in in technical expertise, what is it in management leadership. So these are the kinds of people look for people who are hungry, people who know that there's a lot to learn in the active you want to learn. And of course what really helps with this is a very strong logical mind. So a smart person, the logical line was how do we to learn has no ego and it keeps him pulling himself everyday can eventually become great leaders in general. And this is exactly the kind of people we look for.
Speaker 4:
12:18
And I mean I think they, they, it, it paints a very good a portrait. But if I, if I am to probe one level further, how is there a way in which you identify? Because that's also very, sometimes it's, sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's not so easy to tell. How, how can you tell if somebody has that desire to then hunger to learn but at the same time
Speaker 3:
12:37
see Gore or, yeah, well I think the hunger to learn and less ego. Um, so Ninja could appear to be very traditional like hub and spoke networks on a a bit, a bit kind of a school book almost of sorts. It's when you put them with what is asking them, could you do things in other way when you see a sense stubbornness and, and willingness to shift his thoughts from the normal into something more, a bit becoming a bit more open minded. I think that's where you detected a lot on ego, UT tech. A lot of people think they know it all. Any interview [inaudible] refuse to keep an open mind. So there's, it's, there's no single question if like you can never ask them. When are you open minded? Like Oh,
Speaker 4:
13:19
you can ask, but there's, there's going to say yes. Yeah. Of questions. You never asked
Speaker 3:
13:25
how from conversation very strongly. Someone who's very opposite and very stubborn and immediately can tell someone who's super confident. Yeah. But no one's, no one knows everything and not everything is black or white. There are many shades of gray people who are willing to set that. This is a shade of gray, which I have an opinion on. You may have a different opinion, which is another shade of gray, but we are moving not alone later we pulled away, but let's explore and then the ability to explore and be still the fundamentals down to the core concepts is something we look for in the second stage. Yeah. Yeah. Super
Speaker 4:
13:59
good. A good, a good summary. Um, moving on to, I mean you obviously you are an entrepreneur. I think you, you had a, you had a successful and interesting venture before and in Japan as well. I'm wondering to ask you, what do you think, what does Sanjay, the word entrepreneurship mean to you?
Speaker 3:
14:15
Well, I think what it means is, yeah, really to fail if you try your best. So entrepreneurship isn't about saying, I always want to be successful. Entrepreneurship is saying, Oh, you embark upon a journey where I constantly learn be it because I'm successful, I feel so I didn't have a successful set set up before you feel, but actually like to bring up because I learnt and it's always what's next and remembering what's behind it, which makes one in entrepreneur. Yeah.
Speaker 4:
14:44
I mean when we typically learn more from when we are, when we fail and when we are challenged rather than when we are comfortable with that and don't we. So I guess there's, there's a commonality in that. And if you cannot put up with failure, I mean I guess you shouldn't start the business because there's, there's a lot of that [inaudible] in a successful company you feel many times for many other aspects, correct? Correct. So I think that that's a part of life, but sometimes, uh, and I've also been in Asia for about, uh, about 10 years in Indonesia. You have the, the concept of the losing phase, right? So it's something that, um, you know, for an entrepreneur is almost impossible. I mean, you cannot give, you forget it because isn't, there is no need to worry about it. It's just maybe the best we didn't look at, you know, if you want to be an entrepreneur, you should turn your face away. You're first assume yes. Nothing to start with everything again in right. Yeah. Beautiful. Down through the face. It's a good expression. I'll use it for the future. Um, and let me ask you, what's, what's a piece of advice, I mean, that you receive through your genius entrepreneur that you think he was, was really valuable or if it really stuck with what really helped you?
Speaker 1:
15:46
Well,
Speaker 3:
15:50
the best advice I've gotten was keep your eye on the price. Don't worry about a lot of small things. That's one. Actually, no, I think the best advice I've ever had was they in life, there's never a vague action, but there's always like thing to do at the right time. And I think this applies a lot to management philosophy, but man, is it culture or strategy? There is no right culture. There's a right culture, the right time. So be very cognizant of two extreme ends of the spectrum and figure out which shade of gray should be at any point in time and how it's always evolving. So when people are super prescriptive and say, look, the way to be a manager to me to be, you know, a leader is to this Geminis bullshit. Nothing's ever one extreme. And yeah,
Speaker 4:
16:49
and it is, there's no such thing as a, I mean this way. I mean a lot of people pretend to know it all and they pretend to be gurus of this and that. But ultimately is there really a formula for success? Maybe. I mean to you, if you keep yourself open that formula to the different circumstances and different contexts and be very clear that it adapts and it changes along the way. Like you said, that maybe it's the formula for success when a company is you can men in a company's a thousand men, I think you run things red differently so no one can see this is the right thing to do. Yeah, yeah. You know, you should know how a treatment company looks like and a 10,000 person company looks like and try to figure out, you know, how you should evolve along the way. Yeah. Um, is there any, any personal habit that you think contributes to your success? Like I mentioned we should have a bit OCD, so I like to respond to things very quickly. You know, I believe in being very responsive and I think it's got a key attributes which one of us initially would have confidential mode customers.
Speaker 3:
17:43
Well, essentially if you text me or you send me an email maybe from like 3:30 AM to six 30 yeah. Are you read three hours? Get a replied. But any of the time, if it's important, you probably get replay in two minutes and I think that kind of responsibility is super important. Our business, because it's an in logistics, you're never 100% you always have failures, you always have edge cases, but it is in handling these failures which you really make a work. I don't profess to handle 100% of edge cases either deftly things slip to this prayer, but this culture of we know that we can never be perfect, but we try to be perfect at fixing our infections. Yeah, we tried to catch everything which falls through the cracks, but we know that they'll always be cracks and I think this culture permeates through the entire organization and it allows us to be a lot more responsive, a lot more caring, a lot more mindful of what our plans, care and need. I think it's helped us really grow up like this from one customer to thousands and thousands of them now. Yeah,
Speaker 4:
18:46
and I mean also there are people who typically appreciate it, right? Right. Is there, do you call that? There's a term for it is the customer recovery. Yes. Right. Yes. And actually in those moments is even more important because a, there's the, there's the chance of deepening your relationship with their client if you do it right. You know, if you pretend not to, you know, just lay low and don't do anything, then of course it depends the problem. Yeah. A good point that you made it. But don't get me wrong, I'm not saying they're perfect customer recovery, but if you look at priorities,
Speaker 3:
19:15
if we had limited resources and I'm asked to move my SLA from 1999 to 99.9 or move my service recovery from 90% to 90% I always choose service recovery. Yeah. Because when people are pissed off, they get really unhappy
Speaker 4:
19:31
and now know there's also, you have social media and they're getting really unhappy and really loud. So it's, it's a, it's a, it's this. Another reality is that thankless business. So if everything goes well, you're late or you shouldn't be the case. So you just five minutes late because of heavy reading or why do I care this? Have you been anywhere? Exactly. I mean need. Yeah. Um, can you share, do you have any, I don't know, resources, online, websites, courses, anything that you keep yourself updated to learn to, uh, to keep up the trends are on your desk and
Speaker 3:
20:02
well to be honest, I think it would be a shame to say that might not really. I think my best source is Facebook. Make friends with people who are useful, not people who just keep taking pictures of themselves that we, you get the best knowledge base. I mean, I, I, I do unfollow a lot of people post platelets because for themselves, but you realize that your friends are your networks. They should the best source of knowledge. They post a lot of very relevant articles and you read it. And I mean, I use Flipboard as go and I subscribe to quite a number of publications, but I find the best to close my friends. Yeah. I mean it puts an interesting article. Yeah. Yeah.
Speaker 4:
20:38
Got it. Um, interesting. Interesting. Final question from, from us, if you could give some advice to somebody graduating university and I know that you know, you're, you're very
Speaker 3:
20:48
young as well, but uh, you had a different trajectory. So what kind of advice would you give for a, for a young graduate or university, but it just can seem quite out of the ordinary. But I would, my first advice is don't get married and it was a bit funny, but wait. Right. So I believe that going to a startup isn't to get your quick bucks or anything, but it's really do Quicken your, your learning curve at the expense of your wealth. Chances are you're gonna do the start up, pull over. Then if you go for a MSC lane, 9% of chance or your expected value is definitely lower. This means that the only reason why you're doing the start up is so that you can learn in two years what you have learned in six. However, I think to really get a good listing of a startup, it is good experience.
Speaker 3:
21:38
Corporate life. I mean you see a lot of bad habits coming in from people who use university and join a startup, poor email at a good pool book, get the good somebody just, they just don't know how the real world functions. I mean, you might die internship, but it's not the same as working two, three years. So my advice would be don't get married, work for two years, but quit after two years. If you're married, you cannot put it in your skin, your mortgage should pay, or hopefully you don't have the kid by by name your kid. Good luck. You want to create and branded as your life. So don't get married. Work in a big corporate for two years. Understand and qui scope and why are Coplex doing what they're doing. They are good reasons for that. Then leave, join a start up experience how it is to work in a treatment group, but always remember how it was to work in a 30,000 men group and along the way adapt. Yeah, I think this gives you, you know, you get both extremes and you learn along the way. Yeah.
Speaker 1:
22:33
Got it.
Speaker 4:
22:34
No good. The good, the good points. Um, and maybe the, maybe the point is not to get married, but don't buy a house and get married. The don't, don't buy a holiday. Don't, don't get the extra headaches in Southeast Asia. It's gonna be really hard to get married. Don't buy a house. That's another go to law and never going to allow it too long. And they never gonna allow to
Speaker 3:
22:53
Brad dotted on the hour.
Speaker 4:
22:54
Yeah, cause I've tried to find so I'm assuming. No, but a good, a good, good point. So time man. Thanks a lot for your time. Thanks for sharing really good the insights today and then suppose a place to do is to have you with us,
Speaker 3:
23:07
whatever. I'll come it.
Speaker 5:
23:10
Thank you for listening to our podcast. If you like what you heard, be sure to follow us on [inaudible] dot com slash podcast for all the show notes, links and extra tips covered in the interview. Make sure also to subscribe to our emailing list to get the news in the Nick of time. If you're listening through a three inch platform like iTunes or Stitcher and you like what we do, please kindly review and give us five stars so we can keep the energy flowing it get more people to find out about our podcast. I'm most active on LinkedIn, so do feel free to follow me to stay tuned for our latest, uh, articles as well as future guests for the podcast. And if you have any suggestions or any other idea, please feel free to write to me. I respond to all and also please make sure not to miss our next episode where we are. We'll be having a few other C level and top leaders in supply chain joining us. Stay tuned.
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