Digerati50: Lelong’s Richard Tan stays relevant

Digital News Asia (DNA) continues a weekly series that profiles the top 50 influencers, movers and shakers who are helping shape Malaysia’s Digital Economy. These articles are from Digerati50, a special print publication released in January 2014. For information on customised reprints of Digerati50, email [email protected].

  • ‘List Lelong? Let’s see how that goes …’
  • Savvy in picking up on trends and signals from the online world
Digerati50: Lelong’s Richard Tan stays relevant

RICHARD Tan, the cofounder of lelong.com.my, believes in starting small and building a niche before expanding. His journey as an Internet entrepreneur exemplifies this. Launched in 1998, the pioneer Malaysian auction site took seven years to break even, which it did in 2005.
 
He and his cofounder Wei Kwok Seing were never disheartened as they could see the site gaining traction, year after year. Plus, they resisted all the hype around the Internet back then and did not take any money from investors. There was no external pressure to become profitable quickly.
 
Lelong is no longer just an auction site, but has slowly evolved into a B2C (business-to-consumer) marketplace too, with many individuals setting up their own stores on the site.
 
In line with this, Lelong has built its own verification system to ensure its community can conduct transactions with trust.
 
Today, it is profitable but because it is a private company, Richard has never shared its financial performance beyond saying the site registers between RM130 million and RM150 million (US$39 million and US$45 million) in annual trading … and that its financial performance is good enough for him to mull a listing.
 
“List Lelong? Let’s see how that goes,” he says, while at the same time expressing reservations. “And have aggressive shareholders demanding ever higher profits?”
 
It is clear that he does not welcome the pressure from any listing. But that does not mean he is not keen on growing. In August 2013, he quietly launched his Indonesian site zuperklik.com.
 
However, typical of his low-profile nature, he did not want media attention on the Indonesian site. “We have actually refreshed the site as we find that the apparel vertical has much more potential than electronics, which is what we focused on first.”
 
The quick refresh of his Indonesian site reveals how savvy Richard is in picking up on trends and signals from the online world he has spent the last 15 years in.
 
This was behind his 2009 decision to launch his premium e-commerce site superbuy.my. “Over the years we have built up a strong base of loyal customers whose spending power had increased and who were looking for an online shopping experience that was more consistent, offered better service and better guarantees.”
 
He thinks Superbuy fits in nicely for them, besides serving as a channel for people who don’t want to buy from Lelong. Indeed, Superbuy offers an Amazon-like customer service experience, with refunds given with no questions asked if buyers are unhappy with the quality of goods purchased.
 
Richard is able to offer this as he is buying the goods directly and shipping them to customers, thereby controlling all customer touch points.
 
As for Lelong, which is among the top five local sites in Malaysia with six million visitors a month, a sprucing of the site is in the works. “We are reviewing it now to clean it up as there are just too many options available” – a consequence of catering to various requests from users over the years.
 
Despite the cluttered nature of the site, it still draws high repeat users. In fact, Richard claims it has seen consistent double-digit growth “from all aspects,” be it transactions, unique visitors or pageviews.
 
Moving forward, the focus on Lelong is to help merchants sell more and to simplify the process of buying and selling.
 
Indeed, while broadband penetration and credit card use are often cited as the typical markers to look for when asked about an e-commerce tipping point, Richard begs to differ.
 
He thinks the tipping point for e-commerce will arrive when 25% of brick-and-mortar stores have an online presence.
 
We are still a long way from that. But when that tipping point arrives, you can bet Richard would be among the first to ride it.

 
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