The Era of Digitalized Transportation [Ming Hui-Partner, Head of Operations at Moovaz]
We are living in a real-time economy, where speed, timing and efficiency are key. The past few years, we see an increase in the hot topic on Artificial Intelligence and accuracy in predictive modeling. This enables people to incorporate technologies in almost every aspect in our lives to drive efficiency.
This applies to digitalizing the traditional ways of transportation and logistics as well. However, this comes with inevitable challenges as well. In this blogpost, we have Ming Hui to share with us more about the logistic technology industry.
1) Hi Ming Hui, can you start by sharing more about yourself, and how you got started with Moovaz?
I graduated from NUS Business school in marketing, and I worked in a business firm for about 12-13 years. After that, I did about 3 years of research and consulting, and then left to spend 7 years running about 2 or 3 businesses. So you could say I’m kind of an entrepreneur myself.
Following which, I heard about Moovaz from the founders (who were my school mates back in NUS). Basically, they were in the logistic tech industry, and I found that the whole idea of what they were trying to do was relevant to what people needed. Thus, within 2 months I settled all my businesses and joined Moovaz, and so far I’ve spent about 2 years there.
Just a quick introduction to our company, we deal with international relocation, helping people to relocate around the world. Normally we’re talking about people who are expatriates, like people who move for work purposes such as a senior director from IBM from Hong Kong to the UK. We help them to manage their logistics and essentially help them to relocate their lives. We as a tech company intend to bring technology to this very old-traditioned industry, which has been existing for a very long time but doesn’t have anyone coming in to modernise it.
2) You mentioned that you started a business on your own, that must have taken a lot of courage to quit your job and start something fresh, what would you say are your motivations?
I guess the nice way to see it is that ‘Whoa, I have a dream and idea and want to conquer the world this kind of thing’, but for me, I would say that it’s the timing of the opportunity. For me, after the first 3 years of my first job, I saw that:
I had some savings (capital)
I also had some knowledge about what I’m doing, as the business I went into was also related to what I was working in in research and consulting
If I wanted to do anything, this would be the timing, as I wasn’t married and I didn’t need to commit to a family or kids, hence I felt that especially being a business school student I should just give it a try.
To be honest, I think a lot of people have a lot of nice stories behind starting their businesses with very noble backgrounds, but for me, you could say I'm a very operational and realistic person. Having said that, however, it’s not that I have no dreams, but I would say it’s more grounded in my reasons for starting a business.
3) What were the main challenges you faced in starting a business, especially quitting your stable job to start one? Have you ever had a point in time that you feel that you shouldn’t have quit your job?
I think everyone will have that thinking at some point, especially when the going is very tough. But it’s not something that one should be focusing on, if you’re always harping on that then you’re seriously in the wrong place.
I do agree that at some point of time I feel that I should have quit and found something better, but instead of my old job, I think of what else I could do better, looking forward. I feel that if after 3-5 years of doing your own business you’re still looking back to your old job, it’s like breaking up and still thinking about that person: You should be thinking about the next person you want to meet later on.
To sum it up in one line, you go from being a specialist to a generalist. Which means that when you join a big company, you only handle one thing all on your own, eg operations. But when you start your own business, you suddenly need to sell, you need to make sure the operations work, you need to do finance, fix the phone lines and wifi, throw the rubbish and even clean the toilet. To me, being very resourceful helped me a lot. If you are very direct and very straight, I feel that you will suffer a lot (at the start) if you try to do your own business.
4) What were some of the differences between starting your own business and being with Moovaz?
When I came to Moovaz I had a larger team compared to when I was starting my own business, but as a whole startups are never well stocked up in terms of human resource or any resource for that matter. We just need to be very very lean.
Instead, I would say that in my business I had a smaller team solving smaller problems on a smaller scale. In Moovaz, it’s bigger problems with probably just slightly more teammates to deal with it. There’s no way that you’re going to a startup environment and say that your company is well stocked up.
Overall, I feel that there’s not much difference, I find that I still do a lot of things myself, I still clear the rubbish and fix the wifi, nothing much has changed in a sense. I think what’s different is the teammates, and what’s good with Moovaz is that the starting founding team has a few good brains to help. If you’re in your own operations then perhaps you are your own limitation, and the company is only as good as you are if you’re the best person in the company. But if you join another company with a couple of other good brains around, you can bounce ideas off each other, which is the main difference for me.
For my own business, the team isn't very big and obviously cannot afford big talents, so sometimes the limit is me, for Moovaz you can do bigger things and move around more.
5) I understand that Moovaz has a big idea and there’s quite a lot to be done, from the initial phase with nothing to leverage on, what are some of the ways you pushed yourself to start off with?
‘Don’t think, just Do’.
The reason why I mentioned this is because like you said, our idea is huge, it’s very very difficult and something none of us knew how to do. Granted, one of our founders has been in this industry for 8 years before he started with us, so he had some ideas and context, so there was some foundation to start off with.
However, the whole system flow, automation, process flow and how we make a different customer experience is all from scratch, if you copy what others are doing that’s okay but you need to put some kind of twist into it. Having said that, if there are any people doing startups and they try in their first year to solve a big problem, my advice would be not to care about the big problem, but just solve the small ones first. We know that’s the bigger goal, but focus on your core business and just start doing that first. I remember that in the first 3-6 months, one of our sales founders leading the sales commercials didn’t actually know how to assess some clients' goods or items that they wanted. He just nodded his head and acted like he knew what’s going on, then took all the information to the back and quickly called all the people he could find to get a proper quotation.
I think it’s good that all of us had working experience, so we use that experience to handle clients better and use that working experience to handle clients better, but just whack. Get numbers in, getting traction, whether user-based or sales numbers, as long as you start seeing it grow then at least there’s something going on.
6) Along the years, how have you seen the changing trends in this logistic tech industry in the region?
I feel that, to all the people out there who want to do startups, I would say give log tech a try, go and research more about log tech. Honestly, logistics is growing like crazy with things like e-commerce, because everything is online now. Even for Grabfood, logistics is a crucial part, such as handling people, trucks and transportation vehicles etc. What I can say is that the reason why not many people want to do logistics is that it’s not glamorous, it’s not ‘sexy’, you think of rusty old metal containers and dirty warehouses in places like ulu pandan instead of places like CBD fintech and all that.
But the good thing is that the more unglam it is, the more barriers to entry there are, and opportunists are there. Amazon is a log tech company, and look how big they are, just because they’re dealing with something that’s not glamorous which people don’t want to bother with. People don’t want to bother about logistics, that’s why they can care less about what goes on behind the scenes as long as it works for them. If we’re talking about social tech, Instagram etc, you need to spend a lot on how it’ll look like for the consumers, unless you have a very good sense of all these things and a good team of designers. Logistics itself is very traditional too, very old school, you’re still talking about uncles driving trucks and people who are not super sophisticated in terms of the systems that you’re using, so it’s difficult because you need to train all those people to use systems but the opportunities there are a lot. I am a very big advocate of log tech as I see a lot of potential there.
7) In the future, will self-driving vehicles help to improve safety and become necessary in the logistics industry?
Definitely. In the US, companies like Tesla are all trialling driverless truckers. The human labour cost of trucking is considered very expensive, and that’s already considered the cheaper option if you compare it to air shipping. Even then, human labour costs are considered very high, and they still need to sleep. A driverless vehicle can just go all the way. Imagine New York to California in half the time, which means half the cost!
I think yes, the logistics industry as a whole will improve in hardware and software, but more importantly, it will improve in system processes. Some people are still using paper and pen to write, whereas in a lot of other places they’re already using an app or a software, or are web-based etc. It’s about bringing all these people in the logistics industries, from every part of the world. Even in Singapore, it’s not one way. For instance, if I send something from Singapore to North Korea, North Korea needs people with resources using similar technology. Otherwise, my high tech system will be of no use, as the other side could ask for paper documents, mailing etc.
So for logistics worldwide, many different people and service providers in different countries eventually feel they could adopt more technology as a whole. As more and more logistics companies come up with solutions for various parts of the supply chain, then as a whole logistics will get better and better. We’re already quite powerful because of how e-commerce has driven the logistics scene, but that’s just e-commerce. There are so many other things in the logistics field.
Zatalyn: Agreed! In whichever field we can always ask how we can do better and be more efficient and improve safety.
Yup, but the amount to improve in the logistics industry is a lot bigger than let’s say, finance. Essentially, let’s say you want to do a tech product for finance, then what you will find is that there are so many things that are done already, the systems are quite robust and a lot of people are doing it. However, when it comes to logistics you can probably find problems that are not solved yet, that gap or improvement is probably a lot bigger with greater potential with more things to play with compared to fintech or social media, for instance, if you want to create the next big Instagram, the potential is so small. But if you want to play with logistics, the potential is bigger, or other industries like agricultural and medical tech. Not to say that social and fintech isn’t good, but the area to play is smaller.
8) Could you provide your top 3 tips for startups looking to start something in the logistic tech industry?
1. One of your founding team must have some knowledge in whatever you’re trying to do, be it something you study about, have experience in/family is doing. For instance, let’s say 3 of us get together and none of us have any idea of logistics, it might be very very tough. A lot of companies out there, be it ninja van etc, a lot of them do have background experience, for some of them it’s their family business, for others they’ve worked in the industry before. For me, if you don’t mind you can always work in the logistics industry first to understand, then you can come out and try, which might be easier for you (otherwise it might be quite tough).
2.I would say that because logistics is very real and physical, try to keep to something you can sell and get revenue from. Playing the kind of user base kind of game such as burning and losing money for the user base logistics may not work very well especially for investors. For instance, Carousell’s long term goal was to get a user base, hence they didn’t need to monetise or get revenue. If you try and use this same model for a log tech company, it might be a bit tough for investors to hear.
The fact of the matter is that in logistics itself, you can immediately earn money, hence investors will ask why you aren’t earning money. The investment climate right now is that investors are a lot more careful, they want to see a business that can earn revenue and can self sustain at any point in time. Hence, the idea of building a startup that’s just building a user base for 3-4 years is very hard to find.
If I want to do a logistics company to just do delivery, I can actually charge people for the delivery because it’s a physical service. So for your business idea straightaway, you need to preferably put in that money revenue-generating business model from the start. Otherwise, if not you’ll be questioned very badly about why you don’t want to earn money now, why you’re losing money from the start.
3. Be prepared to hire people straight from the industry. Compared to other tech startups where they mostly hire engineers and developers, young ‘techy’ people, sometimes in the industry you need people from the industry, we have people who used to be from relocation, shipping and trucking companies who have nothing to do with tech at all, but we just need their experience to meet our knowledge to tell us how to operate our business and let me learn what is required so I can start to build our systems and technology. So be prepared to hire people from the industry.
Have someone that has prior knowledge on your team,
Have a revenue-generating business model from the start, and
Be prepared to hire experienced people from the industry.
Thank you Ming Hui for taking time off to have this interview with us!
If anyone has any more follow up questions, feel free to connect with Ming Hui on LinkedIn and reach out to him!
If you have any other follow up questions, do email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Watch the full video interview here: https://lnkd.in/gXySxKv
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