Digerati50: Fulfilling the fulfilment gap

  • Warehouse robbery perfect learning experience, think twice before each move
  • Things started turning around after joining  MaGIC Accelerator Program in 2016

Digital News Asia (DNA) continues its series that profiles 50 influencers who are helping shape Malaysia’s Digital Economy, from Digerati50 2020-2021 (Vol 4), a special biennial print publication released in July 2020. The digital copy can be downloaded from the sidebar link.

The following in an expanded version of the article which first appeared in print edition in June 2020.

Digerati50: Fulfilling the fulfilment gap

It started with waiting.

Specifically, it started with Ng Yi Ying – then an advanced computing master’s degree student at Tsinghua University, China – waiting for her instant noodles to cook. With her in the kitchen was Liu Yi Shu, her friend and landlord who was then working at Amazon China.

As it turns out, instant noodles weren’t the only thing cooking in the kitchen that day. Both of them identified a huge potential in cross-border shopping between China and the Southeast Asia (SEA) region. Together, they began their first venture as online sellers, bringing product selections from China to Malaysian, Singapore and Thailand. This was novel in 2012, before the advent of Taobao and other e-commerce platforms wide international reach.

Liu brought in her expertise in logistics, while Ng brought in her technological know-how. Their business grew, but they quickly encountered a problem. There is a huge gap in cross-border logistics, where it can be so expensive that it could easily take up 45% of a product’s cost.

Moreover, as Ng identified, it was commonplace to see approximately 30% of the items received by end-users as being somehow defective during delivery. Most of their time with the e-commerce business was spent responding to tracking queries.

The duo understood that for e-commerce to thrive in SEA – a region fragmented in terms of geographic distribution and preferences – the market requires localised logistics solutions that can cope with the rapid movement of goods. It needed something faster. It needed something uncomplicated. It needed something flexibility to support different use cases.

It needed something, well, AllSome.

The duo would start AllSome Fulfilment in 2018, a platform focused on cross-border e-commerce fulfilment, which encompasses processes including inventory storage, the “pick-and-pack” stage and all the way up to shipping the parcels to the buyer’s doorsteps. What AllSome does is to make it all easier and more efficient, as well as more affordable.

AllSome’s services are divided to two features. AllSome Dock allows online merchants to procure, receive, repack and resent parcels conveniently. AllSome Track, on the other hand, is a package tracking system for both merchants and buyers to track their orders online and get notifications within a minute.

All in all, AllSome works by receiving package on behalf of merchants, check for quality and accuracy, repackage them and then ship them out to clients. They also help with tracking the package cross-border, which is often filled with gaps due to different tracking processes in different countries.

That’s not all. AllSome collaborated with partners who have extra space and transforms them into fulfilment hubs, or what Ng calls “virtual warehouses”. These could be spare warehouses or shop lots, which addresses the cost issue of owning large and expensive warehouses which are often situated at far-flung places, thus requiring more expensive and complicated logistics.

AllSome would train partners to perform the process of receiving goods, storage, pick and pack and handover to the courier service to complete the last-mile delivery process. “It’s like an AirBnB for fulfilment,” Ng summarises.

This ultimately provides for a more affordable fulfilment service to SMEs – Ng says that AllSome makes for a 50% cheaper and 50% faster process.

By making logistics faster and more affordable, Ng believes that AllSome can remove barriers to e-commerce, allowing people to start online businesses and subsequently build their own brands instead of being swallowed up by the throngs of competitors on online shopping platforms.

Getting AllSome started, however, required more patience than waiting for a package to arrive. The duo was met with several setbacks. Finance was, of course, the initial challenge. While Ng and Liu had the right idea, the funds to execute it was lacking.

In order to build their prototype, the duo agreed to invest in ready stock and resell them quickly to earn their first capital. But the night they completed their very first prototype, tragedy struck. Their home office was burgled, with the thieves making away with around US$48,150 (RM200,000) worth of ready stock products, equipment and smart devices. Even their car was stolen.

Purchasing the necessary devices to continue their work nearly left them broke. To top it off, they faced challenges in monetising their tracking system, as it didn’t appear to be something companies were willing to pay for.

Things turned around for the better though with their acceptance into the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre( MaGIC) Accelerator Programme in 2016, with mentoring and guidance helping set them on the right direction. AllSome would also be accepted into Batch XI of Chinaccelerator, an experience that helped deepen their understanding of Chinese e-commerce and cross-border markets.

Adding to that, AllSome was accepted and graduated from the Y Combinator accelerator’s Winter 2019 class.

This all culminated in a US$1.925 million (RM8 million) seed funding round led by Indonesian based East Ventures, which AllSome raised in late 2019. With the fresh fund, AllSome has set its eyes on Indonesia for its first SEA expansion, with Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam down the pipeline.

AllSome now has a network of 250 virtual warehouses in China and Malaysia, serving 50 clients across Southeast Asia and with the capacity to handle 120,000 parcel deliveries daily. [As of June 2020] 

[Ed: As of end Oct 2021 Allsome has 500 warehouses in China, Malaysia and Australia and has grown 6x since June 2020.]  

Thinking back on their journey, Ng says that they’re grateful for not giving up, despite the costly setbacks. “The experience has been perfect for learning,” she says. “After being robbed, we started doing things more carefully. It trained us to think twice for every movement. With our customers relying on us, we have to make sure that everything is perfect.”

AllSome wouldn’t have happened if not for the instant noodles, but Ng knows it wouldn’t truly exist if they had given up when faced with the worst. “Don’t give up. Just keep at it. We changed from an e-commerce platform and we met people in this exciting journey that helped us get on the right track,” she concludes.

Digerati50 2020/2021 is proudly sponsored by Maxis - Powering Malaysia's 5G era.


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