Roy Ang: Grab Executive to D2C Founder, Evo Commerce Consumer Secrets & Overcoming Pivot Challenges - E444

· Founder,Start-up,Southeast Asia,Podcast Episodes English,Executive

 

"Tech has evolved tremendously over the past decade. When we first started E27, there weren't any unicorns or VCs. It was really just the beginning. No one knew what was happening or what the trends could be, but everyone was excited. We saw a lot of builders, people with dreams and passions, building it up. The vertical has evolved to a point where Web 2.0 is quite mature. You have the infrastructure for logistics and payments. Most of the applications are there to solve problems. Finding a big problem to solve is tough now. But then again, new verticals have popped up over the years. AI and crypto are big things, and you'll definitely see more trends coming up." - Roy Ang

 

"For zero to one, you generally need to do everything and get your hands dirty. It's a lot of syncing up with Mohan to see the direction forward. Every decision takes a lot of resourcing, so we just need to plan better. We make tons of mistakes, but we also learn from them. Generally speaking, it's a smaller setup, so the team itself, the 10 people you work with, has to be extremely important. Everybody has to execute, and the key thing is to find replicable models that you can build a business on. The focus and the people are just a bit different. When I joined Grab, it was already a well-established organization with a few hundred people. You need to know your exact role and how you fit into the entire machine that has been built up. It's crucial to be crystal clear on the objectives given to you and how to execute them. Grab evolves extremely fast, even for older employees. I had different roles every three months just to fit in. Clarity on what you can deliver, being part of the team, and being a team player are important skill sets." - Roy Ang

 

"In this climate, because of a tech winter, everybody's looking at profitability. The chances of a D2C making money and still growing like 10x are not low—they're actually quite high. When you pull back all your marketing, you break even. You just need to find another one or two funnels that can give you positive returns, and you can still hit that 10, 20, 30x return profitably. I generally feel that it's an interesting vertical to bet on at this point in time. Of course, if market conditions change and interest rates go down, you can return to higher-risk assets. But right now, I feel that D2C is actually not a bad asset to back in this climate." - Roy Ang

Roy Ang, CEO & Cofounder of Evo Commerce, and Jeremy Au talked about three main points:

1. Grab Executive to D2C Founder: Roy began his professional journey in banking but soon realized it wasn't his calling. After a year, he shifted to the tech media industry, landing a job at E27 through a bold cold call to Mohan Balani, E27’s founder. Roy thrived at E27, organizing tech conferences across Asia. This experience ignited his passion for tech and startups, leading him to Grab in 2016. He also helped build Grab’s financial services division which scaled from a team of five to a 2000-person operation and created payments and rewards programs for millions.

2. Evo Commerce Consumer Secrets: Roy's entrepreneurial spirit led him to co-found Evo Commerce in 2020, just as COVID-19 began. He and his co-founder initially started a live-streaming software for celebrities and influencers. However, they found the market for live streaming limited and non-recurring, prompting a pivot to direct-to-consumer (D2C) products. He launched Evo Commerce with a hangover supplement called bback, capitalizing on his personal experience and market demand. He transitioned to personal care products like hairdryers and curlers, leveraging their digital marketing expertise to achieve rapid growth.

3. Overcoming Pivot Challenges: Roy openly discussed the personal and professional challenges of entrepreneurship. He explained that the initial pivot from live streaming to direct-to-consumer(DTC) met with skepticism from investors and his team. However, Roy’s strong conviction and adaptability were key to navigating this transition. He highlighted the loneliness and mental strain of being a founder, emphasizing the importance of support systems, including family and a network of fellow entrepreneurs. He stressed the significance of maintaining a work-life balance, time-blocking for family, and seeking positive energy from the community.

Jeremy and Roy also touched on the contrasting experiences of working in startup ecosystems vs. large tech companies, the personal challenges and rewards of entrepreneurship, and maintaining a balanced family life.

Supported by Evo Commerce!

Evo Commerce sells premium affordable supplements and personal care electronics, operating in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. Stryv brand sells salon-grade quality products for home use and using direct-to-consumer channels through its online retail channels and physical shops. bback is the leader in hangover remedies in over 2,000 retail outlets across the region. Learn more at bback.co and stryv.co

(01:47) Jeremy Au:

Hey, Roy, really excited to have you on the show.

(01:49) Roy Ang:

Hey Jeremy, how's it going?

(01:50) Jeremy Au:

Good. You're definitely the direct-to-consumer king in Southeast Asia from my perspective.

(01:55) Roy Ang:

No, I wouldn't, I wouldn't call it that, but thanks for the compliment.

(01:57) Jeremy Au:

So yeah, I wanted to take the opportunity to hear and share your journey as well. So could you share a little bit by yourself?

(02:02) Roy Ang:

Sure. No, first of all, Jeremy, I really thank you for the opportunity to share our stories. My name is Roy, Cofounder and CEO of Evo Commerce. We are essentially a supplements and personal care brand. So we sell high quality, premium affordable products for younger consumers in the markets that we're in. Been doing this for about three years and I think it's been nothing but adventures throughout the years. And I think we're currently about three markets right now, Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong. And have been penetrating different channels as well.

Started with online, moving on to retail and so so forth. And our hero products are a couple. So we doubled down on like really personal care, hair products. So started with a hair dryer before moving to curlers, straighteners, and shavers and we're launching other categories in oral care.

(02:46) Jeremy Au:

Awesome. Fantastic. So how did you get started in the tech space? I know that you share some overlap with Mohan Belani, right? The E27 founder. Can you share more about that?

(02:54) Roy Ang:

Yeah, absolutely. This started about a decade ago. I was working in a bank and basically I think after a year, I knew that banking was not for me. You just have to A/B test and see, where your career lies. And this is where I came across tech media like E27 and Tech in Asia, et cetera. And I just so happened that I linked in Mohan through a cold call. I was like, hey dude really love what you're doing. Can you give me a job? And he managed to meet up with me. And the scary part is that he actually brought one of the board of directors, Nick Lim, over. And so it was intense. And somehow or other I managed to get a job. And and super fortunate because I think platforms like BRAVE or E27, are platforms for young aspiring entrepreneurs to learn and get plugged into the network and really get started. So I was doing that for about three and a half years, really building tech conferences in Singapore, Thailand, Japan, and it was probably one of the best days of my life, just for a zero to one, to start off the career.

I think post that I had an opportunity to join Grab. Back then Grab was one of our big sponsors and, I think it was then 2016 and 2016 that they wanted to start a financial services division. So, I think the key piece is like, hey, we want to be a WeChat Pay for Southeast Asia. And I got brought in because back then, 90%, 95 percent of Southeast Asia's transactions are still cash. And it poses a big problem because, I think there's fraud, there's errors and there's taxation Implications and whatnot. And we thought that, if there's one person that can replicate the success of the Chinese giants, it will be Grab, right? Jump on the bandwagon, started off with five people. And within four years, we grew to like the 2000 people, launch a whole bunch of product lines. And we built payments and rewards programs for millions of customers across the region and I think that in itself is an extremely fulfilling journey.

Come mid of 2020, it was just right at the start of COVID and me and my current Evo co-founder Minghao, we did a bit of a career suicide, right? I think we thought that this might be the best time to start a company, cause if you look at traditionally, a lot of recessions and downturns are where new company got started. We look at Airbnb. We look at Stripe, and we thought that, hey, why don't we do this? So we came up, we started a live streaming software for a lot of celebrities and influencers, because the problem statement is that a lot of them during that period of time they lost their jobs. And this, literally nothing to do. So they started going on Facebook and they started doing live and just to sell and make a living, but everything's on pen and paper. So if today I, I sell 10 products, I'm going to write it all down. And there's no software that integrates to the streaming platform. So we thought, Hey, why not? What would be quite interesting to build a Shopify hotline streamer. So, built it within two to six months, launched it, and GMV grew relatively fast. So within a year, we hit like a 10 mil GMV. So everything's all well, you know, promising. Biggest problem is that, I think there's twofold one is the adjustable market is just too small. If you look at the China data, 2% of total GMV are live streaming and usually it's non recurring so you need a lot of products and it's like a media company, right? You generally need new stuff to get people excited.

Then the second thing is that we're worried that a lot of these streaming platforms will have their own checkout flow. So we had to pivot. We left six months of runway after a year things are like, I think the revenue can't really cover all the costs that we have. Hence, I think this was where DTC was born. We decided to do a big pivot and I think 90% of the people that we know and also even our own team thought that we went nuts because hey, you guys are payment professionals. Why do you suddenly try to sell like pills and drugs, right? And I think the first product is bounce back, which is the hangover supplement. And I think that is where we thought that it's a good thesis because within a year of training all this or supporting all this live streamer we actually learned the back end. The supply chain, how to get licenses how to talk to different manufacturers and so forth.

And we knew that if we can crack the demand side, we'll have a business of its own. I think that was probably the toughest time of the three years that we started the company because almost all investors that came in for live streaming wanted their money back and it's hey, please give me your money back, like it's hard-earned money, and these are all French and like I think this is a very tough conversation. All the engineers and basically the team wanted to leave and I think it's been a year and we are withdrawing like two, three thousand a month and reality hits, right? But I think having a very strong conviction is quite important. So we thought that, hey, this is really our last push. We want to try it out. And we felt comfortable with that, that big pivot. And yeah, we managed to do the 180 shift sold the live streaming software for cheap, basically move on from there. I think this is from there until now, like nothing changed, but it's been an interesting progress so far.

(07:23) Jeremy Au:

I think what's interesting is that, you worked at two kind of like name brand, early tech ecosystem players, right? That was E27 which was, like the tech news and network and obviously Grab as well that everybody knows, could you compare and contrast those two experiences, even though they're both name brand tech companies? But what was the experience like?

(07:38) Roy Ang:

Oh, it's so different. For E27, I think you can't ask for a better zero to one. When we first started, it's just like less than 10 people. And then, it's zero to one and maybe one to a thousand is also quite different in terms of the experiences.

For zero to one, generally you need to do everything, get hands dirty. It's a lot of sync up with Mohan to see what's the direction forward. I think every decision take up a lot of resourcing. So I think we just need to plan it better. We make tons of mistakes, but we also learn from there, but generally speaking, it's just a smaller setup. So like the team itself, like the 10 people they work with, has to be extremely important, right? Everybody has to execute and basically, the key thing is just to find replicable models that you can build a business on. And the focus and the people are just a bit different. When I joined Grab, I think it's really a well-established organization. It's really a few hundred people. This is where being you need to know your exact role and how you fits into that the entire machine itself that has been built up and, being crystal clear on what are the objectives given to you and how do you execute it. And of course, I think Grab evolves extremely fast for the older boys as well. I remember I have different roles every three months and just to fit it in, but I think, clarity of what you can deliver and being part of it and being a team player, those are like important skillsets.

I would say it's really different. The magnitude is different as well because on one hand, it's like you're trying to figure out what to do, on the other hand, it's more of a capital allocation, which are like places that we will put in more people and structure it and building processes on it. So yeah, I think that's a key crux of it.

(09:09) Jeremy Au:

Yeah. And what's interesting is that in both of these organizations, you got promoted multiple times, right? So I think that's a very interesting piece. So obviously at E27, you were a BD manager, then became a head of BD, then became a general manager. And then in Grab you started out as a manager in BizDev, then you became a senior manager, then you became a regional lead, and then eventually a regional head. So could you share a little bit more because, for a lot of people, obviously, when they join tech companies, they always want to get promoted, right? So what was your secret, I guess, to getting promoted?

(09:36) Roy Ang:

I think, first of all I think luck plays a very important part. I think just really the right place, right time, and the right opportunity. So I'm super grateful for that. The second thing is that the mentality where a problem is given to you, how do you solve it to the best of your ability, at the fastest time, i. e., can you be the arms and legs of your bosses? I think it's crucial because I think the moment you help them to solve problems and basically, things move in and they get a recognition, this is where the stars are aligned. I think, first of all, for me, every time I go into a role itself, I always ask what are the objectives of my manager as well, also the organization and how I fit in.

I think in Grab's context which is very interesting, like I mentioned earlier on, I had different roles every three months. I think we are part of the team that really goes into all different problems and spend three to six months really just to solve it. And basically pass it to someone better than us, then you moved on. I think because of that flexibility and the adaptation of the role itself, you just get a lot of exposures. "Roy did this and that," and I guess that really helps to speed up careers just because you have visibility, you have quantifiable projects that you can shout out on, get credibility. I think those generally helps a lot.

(10:46) Jeremy Au:

Yeah. And, what's interesting is that, you also were part of two big pieces, ecosystem developments. The first part of it was the tech news and the network. And the second, of course, was the payments network and B2B merchants, solutions as well. What's your view, at least on those two trends over those six years?

(11:02) Roy Ang:

I think tech has evolved tremendously over the past decade. I remember when we first started E27 back in '11, '12, there wasn't any unicorns. There isn't any VCs as well. It was just really at the start of it. No one knows what's happening. No one knows what the trend could be, but everyone is excited. We see a lot of builders, people with dreams, with passions, and building it up. The vertical has evolved to a point where I think the web 2.0 has been quite mature right now. You have infrastructures with the logistics, with payments. Most of the applications are there to solve problems. To try to find a big problem to solve is tough at this point in time. But then again, you have verticals that has popped up over the years. AI is a big thing, crypto is a big thing. And I think you'll definitely see more trends coming up.

But I would say that the tech evolution has got to a point where, if you're just gonna do the same thing like 10 years ago, you're probably not gonna make it. You just have to constantly evolve and learn from that. We do see the same trend as well with fintech and payment. So '16 is where I think financial inclusion is a really big thing. You know, how do you get like bank accounts and payments for a lot of people within Southeast Asia or South Singapore? That is not exposed to this or you know. It just can't get a credit card or a bank account just because they don't have a passport or an IC. I think those are different problem segments we're trying to solve. But I think with the recent tech winter, as well as the trends itself, I just got back from Japan and I talked to a lot of these payments ex investors of ours. And, they all say that I think the trends have moved on.

No one really deploying it like fintech right now at this part of time just because like latest stage fundraising is tough. So yeah, I guess really trend comes and goes, but I think it's really more about learning how it evolves and hopefully we can jump on to the next one like a DTC whether it's early.

(12:42) Jeremy Au:

Yeah. And what's interesting is that, you made that transition in two ways, right? So one was you became a founder instead of a tech executive. And then the second part of course, is that you went to discover product market fit, which is live streaming, eventually direct-to-consumer yourself. I guess the first one is, how did you decide that you said, I want to be a founder, because I've done my six, seven years in tech companies. When did you say I want to do this on my own?

(13:04) Roy Ang:

Wow, this is that's a super deep question. Honestly speaking, I remember when, I mean it's sounds very cheesy, but I remember really when I was eight or nine and my primary school teacher was asking me, Hey, what do you want to do when you grow up? And the first thing I said was actually, I want to start my own company. So those early days, I'm not sure where it comes from, probably from my father. My dad is a wreck and bone man, so he collect trash for a living from Malaysia. I think life was not so smooth as well when I grew up, but it was fun because I see my dad building his own business and I think even though it's collecting trash and reselling it and recycle, but there is a business of its own and I think growing up with him give me a lot of inspiration that, hey, this is something. This is a path that is interesting and I wanted to dabble in.

So ever since I was young, I was trading a PlayStation. I bought it from a local forum, like a hardware zone and I resell it on eBay just because these are all expats and you just earn some money from there. And that gives you a lot of initial validation that, Hey, this could work and selection of that lifestyle. And I think after four years of working in Grab and four years of working in E27, generally we felt that the experiences is extremely crucial to try out something. And we felt that we were ready back then.

(14:12) Jeremy Au:

Amazing. You decided to be a founder and what's interesting is that you chose to be a founder in live-streaming first. And then eventually DTC. So could you share more about that product market fit discovery? Like, why did you choose live streaming first?

(14:23) Roy Ang:

So I think we chose live streaming really because it's an easier transition. We were payment executives and by building a backend platform, payment is a crucial part of it. We actually earn money from the payment service itself. When people checked out, then we process it on the backend. I think we return money to the merchants. So it was quite a natural transition to live streaming, but the challenge that we also face is that this is the first time we were managing engineers and managing tech. I think back in Grab or E27, we are more on the commercial side of things, less on managing engineers, but when you start to manage technology or places that you are not so familiar with. This is where for me personally, I actually believe in founder problem fit or founder solution fit. And I think when I talk to all the engineers, I have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about. And this is one thing that Thaddeus from E27 gave me early on in my career. What you're good at, what you love doing, and what you aspire to do, is totally different things and you just have to figure it out. For me, I figured it out in the hard way and we burn like a million dollars just to figure it out, but when we moved it to direct-to-consumer where we learned all the supply chain and backend from the live humans, I think it's tough, but it's not as tough as learning coding and tech all over.

And the demand front is something that we are comfortable. We are used to managing high transaction volume businesses payments in graph and we are head to heart still media train. My co-founder actually started Tech in Asia and I was running E27 and, I think we love content. And I think for brands itself, content, branding, and really just working with influencers, I think these are things that we are extremely used to and we feel really comfortable and we enjoy doing as well. It was a stumble into brand building and direct-to-consumer brands, but if you look at it backwards, in hindsight, it was actually a natural fit. We have the capability to run it. We enjoy doing it. I think it's just a good founder problem fit.

(16:10) Jeremy Au:

And what's interesting is that you then also figured out that founder problem market fit. What was a signal to you that live streaming was not it for you and direct-to-consumer was more it for you.

(16:21) Roy Ang:

I think the real truth is if you wake up every morning and feel extremely miserable because you're not sure where you're going, you're working on things that you're not good at and you struggle. And I think it got to a point where, the livestreaming side, we don't enjoy coming to work every day just because we were not sure what's going on and we felt hopeless. We don't know how to actually move it forward. And basically, if you kind of pivot to a place where we are for the last two to three years that when we're doing DTC, every day is just exciting. It's all about building new products, going to new channels and tie threes, going to new markets itself. And I feel that the one indication with a right founder-problem-fit is really, do you get excited? And do you feel comfortable waking up every day? And do you look forward to going to work? It sounds a bit more non-quantifiable, but I think I actually think that it's a really good education.

(17:10) Jeremy Au:

And what's interesting is that, you never did direct-to-consumer before. I guess you were selling some small stuff, like you said, when you're younger but that was the first time kind of selling direct-to-consumer. So what was some learnings that you made back then, mistakes or things that you'd learned.

(17:21) Roy Ang:

I would break it into two phases. When we first started, we knew that no matter how good a product is, no matter how much backend and regulations, you need to crack the demand first. Demand is extremely important. If they have no demand, You can spend millions on R&D, you wouldn't get anywhere. We made a conscious decision. The first two person that's the most important part of our DTC journey, one is the Prism+ founder, his name is Jonathan Tan. He essentially grew the brand from 0 to over 90 figures brand itself. And most of it are mostly bootstrapped by the three founders.

He is the real, extremely instrumental to help us go from zero to one. I remember I met him for the first time a couple of years back and we really sit down for five, six hours and I think he just wanted to learn a little bit more about fundraising and corporate structuring and whatnot, which I've some experience back in the days. And for him, he really taught us zero to one, how do you engage your influencers, which channels to work on, the buying intent and the buying journey, all from top, middle, bottom funnel. I think he's the one that really gave us a light that number one, this is really doable as a business because I've already done it. And you can use me as a reference. And number two, whenever you have questions on how to do media buying and how to create content, he's always there. And he would just do an FAQ with you. So he has been extremely instrumental.

The second part is we also chance upon the ex-CMO of Razer. He was there. He retired in 2013 when it went IPO and he has an agency and he really also help us for the first one year itself teaching us everything we need to do from zero to one. So as founders, I generally feel that number one, is the knowledge attainable? Can we actually pick that up? And do you have the capability? Number two is that, who are these guys that have done it before that we can learn from? The second phase, we actually just started about four shops in Singapore and Malaysia. The thesis is that we have spent so much money online that people know about the brand and we can go retail. Learning about retail is also a validation of its own. And I think over 6 months, we actually talked to about 10 to 15 founders just to really learn inside out on, is there a viable channel? What are things that we should look out for? What's a good 0 to 1? What's a good market strategy? And unit economics like do you make money and generally speaking like, talking to all these different founders itself that has really done it, give us comfort on the investments that we're going to put in as well as I think the success the chance of success to start off a retail chance chain is a lot higher as well. So I think back to your question, it's really about just getting people that have been there, done that, and really just working with them to get some of this information.

(19:49) Jeremy Au:

And what's interesting is that, you've made some decisions along the way for different product categories. How did you discover your first product? And then obviously I remember you did your first product and then you had to go choose the second product. And I was like, what is the difference? What's the link between the first product, second product. So I guess, it's DTC is a big category, but you could have made kombucha, you could have made pencils, so many things you could do DTC, right? So what was your thought process?

(20:10) Roy Ang:

I think the first product we wanted is something that is close to our heart. Like it solves our own problem statements and we have conviction on the potential because we are users ourselves. The first product that we did was a hangover supplement. I think back in the days, I managed a lot of the bank partners and my job requires me to entertain them regularly, three to four times a week. And one day, like one Japanese investor just gave me hangover drink from Japan. And I thought this works wonder, and I couldn't find it anywhere else in this part of the world. And we felt that it's a problem statement that we felt strongly that is a clear demand for it. It's just that people are not educated of the problem and the solution itself is so hard to come by. So we jump right in, right? I think the first product is called bback. And basically I think we had good tractions from there just because it was the right product market fit. And I think we, post hangover, we actually started a lot of different supplements. We dabbled into sleep. We dabbled into liver care. We dabbled into hydration, and different problem statements. The learning from there is that even there is synergy or there is a clear direction of one specific brand, by going to like sleep supplements and liver the thing is that each of these product and problem statement doesn't really correlate to the other.

So when we launch sleep itself it's really quite mature. There are a couple of players doing it. We didn't have that great traction as we had for Bounce Back. And this is where we go back to the drawing board and say, Hey,it went t back to a small TAM, small problem statement challenges that we had from the livestreaming where hangover in Singapore and Hong Kong is small. So this is where we need a second vertical, a second wind that really can scale because at the end of the day, we are still a VC-backed business. And it's just so happened that, and this is also quite coincidental. I chanced upon a 50-year-old factory introduced by a celebrity that wanted to build product lines. And when I go deeper dive they are actually the second largest salon brand in the world building things for professional hairstylists. And you know what? I was like, okay, why don't I just ship over some products and I'll try it out. And when they ship over like the hairdryer that's their hero product, it blew my mind because I mean, my wife is using a Dyson. Then I think we used to use like Panasonic, Philips, like there's nothing in between and we can see a clear product market fit for a premium affordable hair tools. And basically when I pitched to my investors and all that, they were like, what is this man?

You're selling supplements and why do you suddenly switch it to hair products and why hairdryer? It's like this, like easily a hundred brands out there doing the same thing. And we felt that as long as your thesis is sound we, I think it was at a point where it was after a year, we already know about digital marketing and our thesis is that if we use our digital marketing expertise to launch a new product statement that we believed in, it will take off. And truth be told, it took us about a year to hit a hundred thousand for bback but hairdryer took us a month. And we clearly know that we are onto something. But in hindsight, will we do two brands? I think we'll just focus on one brand and we'll continue to double down, right? But I think it just so happened that we have two brands right now. And the current thesis is that I think we wanted to build more on the Stryv personal care products. And, I think this is where we wanted to find more problem statements that have product-market-fit, but also it's aligned to the current thesis itself. So it's like personal care, electronics, and it's still synergized with the entire portfolio that he's within the brand itself.

(23:26) Jeremy Au:

What's interesting is that you shared about it being VC-backed, right? And I would say that five years ago, 10 years ago as well, I think D2C, obviously there was Casper and some of the Harry's in the U. S., but it wasn't really a category that's being written. How do you think today, from your perspective, what do you think is the fit between VC capital, obviously the return profile, et cetera, and D2C brands?

(23:45) Roy Ang:

This is a good question. I think it's two things. One is we do see over the years, the mandate and the thesis of VCs have evolved as well, from SaaS to Web2, Web3 to crypto to AI and D2C being part of it. I guess this is, we are at a stage where D2C is part of that trend, I would say. If you look at D2C fundamentally, it's a good business. I think margins are generally a bit healthier, a north of 60% GP and because of the nature of the business itself, you generally can have different path and VC is just one part of it.

I think I've seen a lot of successful founders that boost revenue, use profit to grow. If your risk appetite is better, you basically can use that. And basically, I think VC is also another option. I generally feel that we are at the point where sometimes a lot of founders doesn't really need VCs to grow, and VCs sometimes don't really want to go into D2C as well because there's other vertical to go into. And basically, this is a very tough question because I think in this climate, because of a tech winter, you I think everybody's looking at profitability. The chances of a D2C to make money and actually still grow like 10x it's not low. It's actually quite high. When you pull back all your marketing, you are breakeven and you just need to find that another one or two of that funnel that can give you positive returns and you can just, and scalable and you can still hit that 10, 20, 30x return. At the same time you can do it profitably.

I generally feel that it's an interesting vertical to bet at this point in time, but of course, like market changes, interest rate goes down you can go back to more higher risk assets itself and whatnot. But I feel that, right time right now, I feel that DTC is actually not that bad an asset to back in this climate.

(25:23) Jeremy Au:

What are some myths or misconceptions about building D2C startup?

(25:27) Roy Ang:

I think the two biggest misconceptions, it's number one, cause we are constantly fundraising and a lot of VCs, when you look at us, it's Hey, why are you not profitable? And my answer to them is if you look at generally a lot of other brands out there, we know a 3 billion Indian Supplement brand itself and the CEO told me that hey, you know every new market, it took us 36 months just to break even. And because this because like you have to invest in the product statement the brand itself the awareness get people comfortable with the brand and building behavior if you're a second transaction third transaction. I think a lot of people say hey, you know because you're D2C, you need to make money from day one.

No, it's impossible. You generally for new product, new market, new problem, you still need to invest. And I think you still need to find that fit before you break even. For us, new markets generally take us less than 12 months to break even but there's still initial investment needed. I think this is a big misconception that a lot of people have. Straight away you, you launch something and you make money.

The second thing is misconception is that Hey, I know this channel, this retailer, and I can just put my product there and I can make a decent living. The biggest problem right now is that consumer D2Cs are a lot sharper and more sophisticated. You generally need to educate about a brand and a product for specific period of time before you go retail because, putting your product in Garden Watson, 7 Eleven or Manning's in Hong Kong wouldn't give you any sales if no one knows what you're trying to solve and what's your UVP. So I think these two are the biggest misconceptions.

(26:51) Jeremy Au:

On that note, could you share about a time that you personally have been brave?

(26:54) Roy Ang:

I think the biggest, I wouldn't say brave, I would say the biggest foolishness that I had when I was younger, and in hindsight, I'm not even sure if I would do it again, but I think it was that adrenaline rush that we want to build something to change the world. As with all founders, it's honestly when the time where I decided to quit Grab, and restart something. I feel that, that is a pivot, a biggest pivotal point in my life. The truth of the matter is that, like my parents are, like I mentioned, they came from break and bone, right? They collect trash for a living. And for a son that actually grew up within the environment and become a head of a department within a unicorn organization, I think there's a lot of baggage. I think they're proud of their son. They want you to succeed.

And suddenly tell me, Hey, I just quit my high paying job to start a business. And I feel that in this society, like it's just tough to leave the money on the table and just have nothing and take that risk, but I think it's personally for me the desire to build something, the desire to make an impact, the desire to solve problems, I think these are things that in hindsight, caused me to have that foolish first step to come up and honestly speaking, foolishness and being brave is sometimes interchangeably. But I think that is one of the biggest steps I've taken in my life.

(28:04) Jeremy Au:

What's so scary about becoming a founder from your perspective?

(28:06) Roy Ang:

I think having gone through that the honest truth is being a founder is sometimes very lonely. You really can't tell your investors that, Hey this is not working out and we're running out of cash. You can't tell your staff as well, every time, we have about 40 people right now. We always tell them that hey, look, this is good, man. Like everything, it's it's bullish and there's just so many potentials. And I think jumping into something that no one has tried out before you have absolutely no idea where you are going sometimes, it's a good analogy is you jump off a cliff, right? And you try to build an aeroplane and you just try to fly from there. I think it's really not too different, where every founder have a limited number of time to really validate whatever he or she wants to do. The direction is not clear, but the biggest scary part is that most of the time, you're just in your head. You're just trying to figure out, is there a potential? What is the purpose of doing this? Is there, is there value? Is there a why there? Is there money in the bank? And do you have the best people that can, that have the commitment to go with you to reach this uncharted territory?

And I think, somehow or other, it also dabble into a lot of the mental wellness topics that you've come across previously during the previous episodes. And I guess that loneliness is something that I feel that in hindsight, it's probably one of the scariest thing. And this is where, this is not like nothing unsolvable, right? You just need to have really good friends. We didn't, the entrepreneur cycle like yourself, Jeremy, like I remember we had a drink and we just talked about it and I really appreciate you being there, just being a listening ear and a lot of friends, just to give different advice outside of the company. I think family is very important. And I think the person that has the go to, the most is probably the entrepreneur's wife or husband because like the husband and wife, not there most of the time, both physically and mentally. And I think when they come back home, you just still have to support them. And I feel it's not easy. Now, the loneliness is probably number one on my chart.

(29:47) Jeremy Au:

And how do you recover or rest or kind of like, center yourself?

(29:54) Roy Ang:

I think three things: family is still very important for me. I have two very young kids one month old and three years old. Make a conscious effort to time block. And I got this from Vinod from Moneysmart, right? Like he always time block and basically. It's very important to spend time to keep a sanity and, something to look forward to. And I think everyone you hang around with is quite important. So positive energy, having different ideas and basically constantly learning from the ecosystem of VCs, entrepreneurs, or even like professionals within industry. And of course, I think the third thing is that you need to have things outside of work as well.

I read a lot recently. I just read this book it's called I think, The Last Fools. So it's like the eight immortals of the Lee Kuan Yew. Extremely interesting. It talks about the lieutenants below Lee Kuan Yew and how they built this specific part of Singapore, which I thought is interesting. But reading gives you different perspectives in life and, I think gives you different focus that you can focus on. I think these three things are, super important, at least for me.

(30:46) Jeremy Au:

Amazing. On that note, I'd love to summarize the three big takeaways I got from this conversation. First of all, thanks so much for sharing about you surfing the, honestly, the first two large waves, which is, E27, the tech ecosystem building, and also Grab in terms of entering unicorn and also in terms of the financial and fintech wave, so really fascinating to hear about how you reflected on what's it like to be zero to one, as the first 10 employees of a startup versus coming in a company that's about a hundred plus employees as well. So fascinating to hear about how you also got promoted at both of these companies and work your way up.

The second thing that was really interesting was about your perspective on live streaming and direct-to-consumer. So a lot of wisdom around searching for product market fit in terms of how to launch and pick new products, but also some of the luck and serendipity, and discovering the product categories, the launch, how you went about testing to see whether customers like it as well.

Lastly, thanks so much for sharing about your decision to become a founder. It was interesting to hear it from both ways, one was the professional aspect, which was obviously about why you chose to do it and opportunity you saw and how you figured out what kind of founder you want to be. It was also interesting to hear your personal side about it, which is, I think the fear like I said, the loneliness about it as well as the expectations that you had with yourself and with the family and how to manage that your spouse as well as your children and family time. On that note, thank you so much, Roy, for sharing your journey.

(32:07) Roy Ang:

Thanks, Jeremy. Really appreciate it.