I remember, some time in 2006, suddenly a bunch of my friends joined an ‘exciting American ecommerce company” called JCPenney, in Singapore.

Yes, the very retailer that just filed for bankruptcy in the US.

Not much about their venture in Singapore more than a decade ago was left online, here is one about the launch in 2007.

When they told me about their new jobs, I shrugged my shoulders. I had never heard of this company, nor did I know much about ecommerce. I was, as part of my first job, flying around Asia on the very exciting topic of technology-enabled government transformation.

Cheap jeans

Soon this group of friends became the centre of attention – because they were always touting branded jeans and other apparel at really good rates. “We have our internal rates, and I can buy for you at these rates.”

What is peculiar is that aside from ‘e-commerce’ and ‘American” – they did not really share much about what they were doing. Well, they must have signed NDA – nobody really bothered asking.

Until, not long later, one of them came into the friends group and told everyone there was a clearance sale as JC Penney was exiting the market. “But you have just launched,” asked another friend, a frequent buyer of cheap branded jeans.

“Our bosses said the market is not good, not worth it,” here went the response.

Failed attempt

In fact, one later told me that nobody in the team was ever sure about what the game plan was, if there was one. They were also not sure how much they should really invest in the market – bear in mind that e-commerce was far from understood in this region. Lazada’s founding was 6 years later.

So this was an episode defined by lack of planning, lack of commitment and lack of proper organisational structure to support a new market.

Now when we examine all these big Chinese tech companies venturing overseas, does the episode above sound familiar?


Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at hello@mworks.asia.


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Jianggan Li is the Founder & CEO of Momentum Works. Prior to founding Momentum Works, he co-founded Easy Taxi in Asia, and served as Managing Director of Foodpanda. The two years running Rocket Internet companies has given him a lifetime experience on supersonic implementation, and good camaraderie with entrepreneurs across the developing world. He holds a MBA from INSEAD (GMAT 770) and a degree in Computer Engineering from Nanyang Technological University. Unfortunately he never wrote a single line of code professionally - but in his first job he was in media, travelling extensively across Asia & Europe, speaking with Ministers & (occasionally) Prime Ministers. Apart from English and his native Mandarin, he is also fluent in French and conversational in Cantonese & Spanish. He tried to learn Latin (for three years) and Sanskrit (for six months) as well. In his (scarce) free time, he reads, travels, hikes and dives. Pyongyang, Tehran & Chisinau are among the interesting cities he has been to.