Through an exclusive interview with Martell Hardenberg, CEO of Lazada Singapore, we explore the start-up culture in South East Asia, challenges to meeting employee expectations on job, EVPs and the need to retain key talent in an increasingly competitive job market. Read on…
- Take us through the start-up culture at the moment in South East Asia. What are the challenges to operations, set-up, and recruiting the perfect talent for the right job?
The start-up culture is definitely gaining momentum in Southeast Asia and it’s heartening that start-ups are increasingly gaining recognition as an alternative to corporate jobs. The start-up culture is one that is extremely dynamic and vibrant and each day presents new challenges.
When we first started as a five-man team in May 2014, we had to wear many different hats and be able to solve problems as they arise. The strong sense of ownership of the company meant that everyone was willing to put in the extra hours and effort to make this business work. That’s the spirit of the start-up culture.
Today, we are over 100 people strong, and I’m proud to say that the vibrancy and problem-solving mind sets are the core attitudes that my team possesses – even when we have grown in size, the backbone of our culture remains.
In terms of recruitment, it is important to understand the market and the industry and ensure the people we hire are inspired and motivated to work in a fast-paced and thriving environment.
While we do employ a number of young entrepreneurs, our team in Singapore is mixed with senior, well-experienced, functional experts. Our team in Singapore also consists of 50% women.
Having kicked off in Singapore as an ecommerce start-up, we are aware that many brick-and-mortar SMEs are interested to go online but are faced with high entries of barriers including the high investment costs and necessary logistics (IT, payment, marketing, fulfilment, delivery etc.) are often daunting.
Our online marketplace aims to help local sellers benefit from the secure payment and delivery services that Lazada Singapore offers. We also aim to increase exposure for them through our growing customer base and marketing channels.
- How are start-ups gearing up to meet the increasing employee expectations in terms of continuous feedback, appropriate recognition, rewards and benefits offered to retain talent?
Lazada Singapore has grown from five people in May 2014 to over 100 people in October 2015 and with each new member added to the team, we try our best to ensure that they are growing in ways that are personally important to them.
At Lazada, we promote a talent mobility programme, where employees are able to work across markets in South East Asia. We have also recently started sessions called ‘Kopi with the CEO’ to ensure everyone’s thoughts are listened to and acted upon.
Our employees are given high levels of responsibility and take ownership for what they do. They are humble, yet confident and challenge the norm. I strongly believe people are the backbone to any business. If you have a well-motivated and driven team, setting them up for success is a natural next step.
- How do start-ups identify if they are attracting and retaining the right talent for organization’s growth in a competitive job market?
The ecommerce industry is one that has risen within the last decade. While much of the talent we have recruited do not hold ecommerce specific degrees, we do ensure that they become experts in the fields, they manage.
We hire builders and entrepreneurs with the vision and passion to work in the fastest growing industry and build the best shopping and selling destination for brands. We want our people to be driven and possess can-do mentality along with relevant experience. We ensure to give our talent the opportunity to learn and grow within their market and the region.
We have also recently introduced the Employee Committee Club (ECC), a planning committee that works towards ensuring that all employees are involved in activities conducted throughout the year to include sports meets, CSR activities, and cultural celebrations and learning sessions, during their tenure with Lazada.
Our first ECC recreational activity is annual Christmas Dinner and Drinks, held as a medieval feast this year. This included a pre-Secret Santa surprise wherein staff will toast to the year-end with champagne, popcorn and candyfloss.
- With a young population and burgeoning middle class, the retail sector globally is poised for rapid growth. How is Lazada evolving to cope up with challenging times in terms of increased consumer demands, preferences, and the booming economy in Singapore?
We are ahead of the curve when it comes to the relevant innovations. With a strong focus on M-commerce, close to 50% of our transactions happen via mobile. We offer solutions to customers such as cash-on-delivery, in order to build and retain trust.
As the economy grows and demands change, our team is adaptive enough to ensure we change with times and often dictate the direction of the ecommerce and M-commerce markets.
- Share us more details on the current retail industry HR trends in APAC markets.
We see a trend in mobility, one that allows employees to wear different hats and define their roles. There is also a trend as regards increase in the diversity in terms of scope and how employees focus on developing the customer, seller and brand experience.
- Focusing on the Employee Value Proposition (EVPs) in South East Asia and specifically at Lazada, do you think employees are adequately compensated? If not, suggest your views on means to bridge the gap?
We ensure that our employees are adequately compensated according to the market rates. It is important for companies to invest in their HR teams to better understand the industry wages and various benefits and training schemes.
- What is the benefits design practices implemented at Lazada?
Lazada Singapore ensures that employees are well taken care of throughout the year and especially during our peak retail periods like the Online Revolution, our biggest sale of the year from 11 November to 12 December.
For example, leading up to 11 November, many teams had to put in extra hours through the night to ensure the system is well-placed for the surge in online purchases on our platform during the sale, and we cater for dinner, supper and breakfast on the following day to ensure everyone is taken care of.
During the start of the Online Revolution, all employees were also given an Online Revolution t-shirt, headbands and wrist bands to wear, and it was a great bonding effort for the team.
We also ensure our employees have quarterly team outings, whether a simple dinner, trip to the cinema or even a full-fledged barbecue hosted by one of the teams, to ensure team bonding in a leisure environment.
Our office also comes with a fully functional and well-stocked pantry as well as a foosball table and dart board for a quick break. Employees are also eligible for Lazada employee vouchers during key sales and on their birthdays.
- What are your thoughts on the future of HR in retail in APAC in 2020 and beyond?
Retail is a fast-paced, fast-growing industry at the moment, especially in Asia Pacific. The shift from offline to online is expected rise to 8-10% in 2020 and we can expect to see a number of job opportunities being created in terms of data, mobile social commerce, logistics and brand management.
- What are the future business expansion plans of the company in e-commerce and retail space?
With an internet penetration of 81% and ranked highest globally for Smartphone penetration, online and mobile commerce will become the mainstay for Singapore consumers with continued growth.
Growth in online and mobile commerce: Lazada Singapore has recorded a 133% per cent increase in its annual Gross Merchandise Volume (GMV) from 2014 to 2015, and more than 50% per cent of the orders come from mobile.
In 2015, Lazada Singapore also noted various interesting trends such as increase in busy, young parents shopping via mobile, specifically for items that have a long shelf life such as diapers, milk formula and milk bottles.
While 2014 was a year of Electronics and Fashion, 2015 was a year of convenient and bulk purchases. Also customers are now looking to expand what they buy online. Their comfort levels have increased to include items such as long-lasting household products that can be stored and even perishables.
Shoppers on Lazada Singapore bought twice as much from the newly introduced grocery section than from any other category. The shift in consumers’ mentality towards purchasing big ticket items, and perishables signal the sustained and vested interest in online shopping.
The initial inertia that Singapore faced with regards to being online and on mobile has faded. Lazada Singapore has seen silver surfers (shoppers above 45) make up for 11% of its customer base – on par with Lazada Thailand and higher than all the other countries across the region.
Through 2016, we plan to adapt our business model based on the trends we see, with focus on enhancing customer and seller experiences and bringing in more brands that are relevant to our audiences. We will also see a heavy focus on mobile as more and more customers choose M-commerce as an option.
- Starting off as a pioneer website into e-commerce and retail, it might not have been an easy road to tread way back then, what has been the inspiration that led you to explore a career in retail?
E-commerce appealed to me when I first started my career and continues to excite me because of the pace and potential it offers. I always knew I wanted to have my own business and I saw enormous opportunity in the online fashion space in Germany.
Fashion is normally a common choice for first-time online purchases. With this in mind, I started my own business in 2007, before joining Lazada. My grandfather used to have his own business and I wanted to do the same.
About Martell Hardenberg, CEO of Lazada Singapore:
Having assumed the role in January 2014, Martell is the driving force for the Lazada brand across Singapore and is responsible for bringing products and brands to online shoppers in Singapore. Together with his Sales, Operations and Marketing team in place, he is responsible for developing comprehensive plans to ensure the success of Lazada in Singapore.
Martell began his career in Asia, namely Hong Kong, at a diversified trading house representing consumer brands across Asia. He identified the potential of E-commerce and started his own company, selling Fashion accessories, across Europe. Martell graduated with a degree in Economics and Entrepreneurship from Maastricht University (Netherlands) and Bocconi University (Italy).
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