It’s All About Real Estate

When you shop in a mall, everything retail is marked up and a huge percentage of cost for any of the retailers goes to rent.

Real estate earns the money.

When you shop online, you buy through your laptop or mobile phone, but the product ships from a warehouse sitting somewhere in the country or internationally. Warehouses takes physical space and it comes down to rent again or if you are lucky, you own the land.

Real estate earns the money.

Another hidden aspect of e-commerce, or shopping online, is the cost of having data centres to serve the website and all the backend infrastructure. Data centres, you guessed it, sits on physical space and its almost always rented.

Real estate earns the money

So, in almost all business, the owner of real estate take the largest pie.

Virtual Banking

DBS slogan “Live more, Bank less”, though might sound strange (IMO), does capture the essence of what a bank really should be.

Banks can be invisible, they can be infrastructure and services that empowers but not be overtly present. They are the foundation of the economy and businesses, yet they should not be the hurdles for conducting businesses.

At the most basic level, they facilitate the movement of money, i.e. payments. It’s such an important process of every business, yet it still seems so cumbersome making money transfers online. Complicated banking interfaces and IMO expensive transactional fee. Especially so when it’s cross boundary and includes foreign exchange.

Beyond the fundamentals, the banks provide loans for businesses, facilitate mergers and acquisitions, etc and a whole myriad of services.

Loans are also a critical revenue driver for banks. While it’s important to make business sense, banks can also help catapult a society in a certain directions by investing in certain sectors and providing loans for startups, of course, for those that makes business sense.

Would all services eventually be virtual?


I don’t like to go to the bank, so I am looking forward to the day it will.

Tracing Back to the Source

We used to be able to buy many things which were local or from neighbouring cities/countries. We were able to know who the farmers, producers, makers of the stuff we buy, not in a literal sense but in a way that we knew where things came from.

With the advancement in technology, it seemed that we should be able to have even greater access to the source, but it turned out otherwise.

Now, we have marketplaces of products sold by a myriad of distributors, who take from sources unknown. Perhaps it all came from the same source, the same farm, the same OEM factory? The Products then will all be the same and it only boils down to who does a better job at marketing.

We also have technology that allows us to abstract each layer of the supply chain. A buyer platform which commoditise the product or produce, a supply chain platform that levels the cost for shipping globally, a seller marketplace that equalises the value of products down to comparable features.

The true value of the product is lost.

The story behind the product, if exist, is buried.

The human behind the product is masked.

So, why then with technology are we not doing the reverse, …

To bring the consumers back to the source.

To unmask the human behind the production.

To uncover the story behind the product.

To discover the value of products.

I recently made a purchase from Source.

Source is a producer of organic cotton designer tees, which are sold via e-commerce at affordable prices.

Source does a great job of explaining their supply chain, their product source, the factory that produces their tees and the cost of producing.

Consumers are empowered with the information and can make a conscious Hoi even when they purchase something as simple as a t-shirt.

Are we able to rediscover the source of the products we use?

Back To Grandpa’s Lifestyle

Isn’t ironic that as we progress in society, technology and economically, we sacrifice real living for convenience and “comforts”.

In the bustle of a city, people are paying a premium for silence and peace.

In a supermarket, with an abundance of choices, we struggle to find real food, and pay a premium again for those.

In an modern urban landscape, we find it so hard to find nature, to feel the grass on your feet, to let the wind breeze through your hair, or to see birds in their natural habitat. Yet, another premium to pay for going back to nature.

Many nutritionist, health coaches and medical practitioners are going further to advocate for us to go back to “cavemen” diets and ancestral fitness patterns.

So, we know our grandparents generation were healthier, but what changed?

The industrial revolution.

The period of rapid growth that fuel consumerism and convenience.

We value packaged food over whole food because it’s convenient.

We value television, phones and multi media over real communication because it’s numbing.

We value processed products over raw products because it’s pretty.

What gives?

Our health gets compromised.

Our relationships gets compromised.

Our lives gets compromised.

We know it’s better to eat unprocessed food, limit screen time, have real conversations, walk in the parks, yet why do we struggle so much? Or, why do we ignore it?

It’s convenient for you now, but it won’t be for your children’s.

It’s easy for you now, but it won’t be for your children’s.

The Mrs and I struggle everyday between getting work done and getting wholesome meals prepared and the home cleaned.

It’s not easy, but we do our best, and then, we leave it all in His hands.

Expanding to Multiple Product Range

There are many ways to scale a business.

One of which is to grow the market share of a product range, and drive more revenue.

The other is to expand product ranges (develop more products, license more products) and drive multiple revenue streams from multiple products.

Which is better?

I don’t have an answer.

Advise I’ve gotten from business people so far is to expand product ranges and increase revenue through multiple streams.

Any thoughts?

What If We Could Have Better Matched Workforce?

How many of you had the poor experience of a dark faced staff serving your perk me up coffee?

How many have experienced an ill tempered staff serving children needs?

What about the operations manager that screwed up your permit the 3rd time?

Most staff think they have no choice, and hence, relinquish themselves to work in a job they hate.

Most businesses, too, think it’s impossible to hire the right staff, so they allow for complacency and the wrong king of staff.

What if there could be greater efficiency in matching personality type of staff to the appropriate jobs?

Staff would be happier doing a job they are skilled and feel happy doing.

Companies will have increased productivity with the right staff.

Win win.

Waiting To Be Disrupted

I recently signed up my kids for swimming lessons in Singapore. Having peruse countless websites of swim schools that offer children classes, I came to the conclusion that most of the schools were the same. They had the same happy kids, the same sunshine teachers, the same testimonials, roughly the same price and the same inflexible terms and conditions.

No make up classes whatsoever.

No make up classes in the event of bad weather and the class is cancelled.

No make up classes if the class falls on a public holiday.

No make up classes if the child is ill and without a valid medical certificate issued by a certified physician.

On the other hand, I like to point out that when I was looking for an Art class for kids, I pleasantly discovered this one school that was really flexible in terms of scheduling and was really a great help to parents.

Lessons can be rescheduled anytime within 30 days of class.

Lessons ideally be rescheduled within the same week to ensure completion of artwork.

If unable to reschedule within the same week, the school will prepare a smaller art work that can be completed in 1 session (most of the artwork was longer pieces that spans 2 weeks)

As a parent, I will lean towards flexibility as you never know with kids.

As a consumer, I will lean towards flexibility too, as s**t always happens.

Given a choice, I would not have chosen the swim school I had.

So, the swim education industry is just begging for a disruptive new comer.

Is your business waiting to be disrupted too?

Discount Magic

I’m amazed at the amount of discount given during Singapore’s National Day, on 9 Aug. Before and after the holiday, retailers were discounting heavily to get sales. There was 54-everything. Singapore is 54 this year of 2019.

And, who doesn’t love a good discount?

Hmm, businesses.

Well, most small businesses who operate on small margins or have small scale.

But, we all know a good discount attracts customers to buy, yet business must be careful to not overuse discount as an incentive mechanism. This causes customers to be de-sensitised to discounts and expect discount as a norm.

Yet, in a real business, not an inflated one, discounts eat into margins and the long term feasibility of a business is impacted.

Even for large, well funded technology companies, i.e. Grab, etc, it is not feasible to be giving unlimited discount coupons as it impacts their business profitability.

This becomes even more apparent for small and medium businesses who have not reached significant scale. Discounting buys you market share, but always at a cost.

What if the discount stops? Will the customer still make a purchase?

What if a competitor gives an even larger discount? Will your business be able to afford an even larger price cut?

At the end of the day, your product or service should provide a value that customers are willing to pay for. You will have to determine what that value is and what the appropriate price point is. Then you need to hold your ground and tell your story.

If that doesn’t work, maybe your product or service doesn’t have that said value.

If that doesn’t work, maybe the pricing is too high for the perceivedvalue. Remember the keyword here is perceived value, or how the customer thinks about the value they are getting.

If that doesn’t work, maybe you don’t have a product market fit. Or, maybe it’s not the right timing.

Figure out your value and you shouldn’t have to be discounting all the time.

How Valuable is Retail Presence?

Customers often ask us where they can find us in retail, and my first reaction would be why on earth would you want to be shopping in retail?

Then … flashback and I realise Singapore is still stuck in a limbo of old and new. The old model of business, brick and mortar, retail malls, with all the malls in the city and the heartlands, retail is never too far away. As such, the convenience of everything has made e-commerce a topping on the cake, rather than the cake.

In China, where I lived for 10 years, retail was not as accessible and hence, when e-commerce cape along, it was embraced with open arms. Imagine also millions of disillusioned white collar workers stuck in a job they hate, pushing paper and now window shopping online. E-commerce was came at the perfect timing and place.

Now, back to my online business in Singapore.

So, many customers have asked about retail presence and we went about hunting for that.

We found retail to be expensive, like super expensive! Brands would be paying on average 30-50% of the product price just to be on the shelves. On top of that there would be additional logistic cost, joint marketing cost, etc.

The brands returns are minimal.

The retail outlet outlets are average.

The landlords of the malls benefit the most.

What’s the point of retail then, when brands can sell direct to customer and transfer that savings to them as discounts or free shipping?

You might argue that the 30-50% listing fee can be treated as marketing cost, as you get brand exposure. Well, that percentage is too high and inefficient. Malls and retail are passive modes of marketing, whereby you wait for customers to come to you, rather than you going out to find the right audience. So, if the retail outlet is unable to bring in traffic through their own efforts then retail is, IMO, a waste of time.

However, retail works in some instances. It works when brands need customer to experience the product or the brand. Learning to cook, teaching how to use a product.

For example, my wife and I recently bought a Thermomix, and the process to buy one was through a cooking class. You wouldn’t be able to buy one if you did not participate in a cooking experience. We were brought through the process of cooking a range of dishes from soup, buns, vegetables, dessert and drink. All within a span of 2 hours. Hence, we experience the power of cooking with a Thermomix, and the speed and convenience it brought into our life.

So, if it’s just the regular product you have been using over and over again, do you really need to scrutinise it again in person, in retail?

What’s a Convenience Fee?

Singapore is ploughing towards a digital economy, but it seems it’s organisation and citizens are highly averse to it.

Now, going digital has many implications and to think of digits as only mobile payment is highly inaccurate.

In fact, digitalization is leveraging technology to improve quality and efficiency.

I lived in China for 10+ years and had been fortunate to have experienced the hyper growth of technology adoption in China over the last 5 years.

So, when I moved back to Singapore at the end of 2018, I was fairly disappointed with the state of affairs, considering that Singapore had its digital Master Plan for 4 good years since 2014.

So, today I was booking a couple of movie tickets via an App and I was charged a “convenience fee”.

Hmm … yes, it’s definitely convenient for me to book tickets directly from an App, but to actually call it a Convenience fee and charge $1.50 for it, in my opinion, feels a little outrageous.

I personally think this fee should have been charged to the movie theatre, rather to the consumer. Isn’t it more convenient for the theatres now to get ready access to customers now without even having them come down in person? This additional data even helps to plan for schedules as it shows future bookings too.

Besides charging the theatre, the App could develop interesting products around the movies. Could they organise events and sell tickets for revenue? Meet and greet? Meet ups?

How about movie swag?

Pre-sales to get tickets on opening night?

Charging the customer for a basic service of merely buying a ticket is too lazy. Buying a ticket should be hygiene factor of any movie app or theatre app.

For businesses to really embrace technology, I believe they need to rethink parts of their business model and decide where their value really is and charge for that.

If it’s merely a matter of taking something that previously only was offline and now making it available online, that’s like basic. Please go a few steps further and improve the customer experience of enhance the value provided.