Digerati50: ‘There has to be a better way’ says Stephen Francis

  • Give consumers what they want with core value promise of freshness
  • Competitive market, but sees “user habit’ as his biggest challenge

Digerati50: ‘There has to be a better way’ says Stephen Francis

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 June 2020. The digital copy can be downloaded from the sidebar link.

This article first appeared in the print edition in June 2020.

WHO would have thought that a missing jar of coffee at 6am would have led Stephen Francis, a former tech journalist to go out and launch his own online grocer all because he thought, “there has to be a better way”.

Not to get his favourite coffee of course but for consumers to be able to order what they want and get it delivered fast and with quality. Not getting his early morning coffee kick eventually culminated into online grocery store MyGroser in Sept 2019. At the time, Stephen has already cut his teeth as an entrepreneur running Arcis Communications, a PR and communications company that was already representing major supermarket and food supplier brands.

He naturally pitched to them his idea of a quality online supermarket, but the established players were lukewarm, saying “we just don’t think it’s that big an opportunity.”

Cue Stephen to roll out some data points. Southeast Asia’s grocery market will be worth US$309 billion by 2021. Despite the market size he points out that no one dominates the space in Southeast Asia.

And when it comes to groceries in Malaysia, Stephen is determined to make sure he is there to give consumers what they want with the core value promise of delivering freshness and convenience.

Thus he founded MyGroser with Michele Malini (who is also his partner at Arcis Communications) and roped in, Alex Wong, a former director of operations at Cold Storage as the Head of Groceries.

He believes that there’s space for at least five players. One will be the super premium brand, one will be a mass market cheapest-to-win and three will be in the middle with MyGroser as one of them.

Positioning to be a quality but competitively priced player was not going to come cheap as Stephen knew he had to invest in the proper infrastructure. He started by building a supermarket in a warehouse. “We invested several million into this operation, and it’s been worth every damn cent,” he emphasised. What that investment got him was the ground floor of a warehouse with shelves, a freezer, a butchery, a fish station and a bakery so that bread can be baked fresh every day. Only employees will “shop” there, fulfilling orders made online.

Stephen likes to recount the story of the grandmother and the lemons as an example of MyGroser’s commitment to customers. An elderly lady had bought some lemons from MyGroser but called to complain. The team at first was unsure why, which bothered Stephen. “This is something that we need to figure out, because she she’s taking the time to tell us she’s not happy,” he recalled.

A staff grabbed another box of lemons and went over to the lady’s place. It seems she was not happy that some of the lemons were less ripe than the others. “We allowed her to pick from the box and this made her happy,” said Stephen. And what does a happy customer do? “She placed an even bigger order the next time.”

While competition in the online grocery segment is tough with even brick and mortar stores offering online proceries, Stephen is more concerned about habit. That’s his biggest challenge.

While the world we live in has changed almost overnight thanks to the pandemic caused by the new coronavirus, the irony is that one of the few positives to the new normal is consumers turning to getting groceries online.

For MyGroser, Stephen shares that this has resulted in demand growing by over 1000% during the first part of this year. He has also seen revenues and number of deliveries made daily grow ten times in just the past two months, since the Movement Control Order (MCO) went into effect 18 March 2020.

Chances are that most consumers will not be flocking back to grocery shopping, having experienced ordering from the comfort and safety of home.

Betting that the consumer habit has changed, Stephen is now raising an undisclosed first round of funding, having been self-funded till now.

“We want to increase the number of products that we offer from 9,500 to 12,000 and further expand our coverage beyond the Klang Valley to other parts of the country.” Will investors bite?

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


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