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.
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.
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?