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Young entrepreneurs reap rewards after moving businesses online

By He Wei in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2020-01-14 09:19

A salesperson introduces Alibaba's AliExpress platform to a customer at a wig shop in South Africa. [Photo by Niu Jing/For China Daily]

Much has changed for Alibaba Group since the Chinese juggernaut debuted its shares in New York in 2014: market cap, business scope and geographical outreach.

So when it listed its shares in Hong Kong last November, the internet giant invited 10 business partners from eight nations to its bell-ringing ceremony, in a gesture of globalization and diversification.

Each representing a different area from cloud computing and financial services to the internet of things, the group was a snapshot of the variety of businesses in which Alibaba is now engaged.

Among them was Kevine Kagirimpundu, a shoe-lover from Rwanda who has long dreamed of having a brand of her own.

But for the 27-year-old, being the first person to launch a footwear shop online in her home country, was beyond her wildest imagination. After all, the dot-com wave is still a novelty in a country where cash largely dominates transactions.

Her brand Uzuri K&Y has had a solid offline presence since 2013. Last year, as a successful startup business owner, she was recruited onto an Alibaba-led empowerment program dedicated to young African entrepreneurs.

A trip to Alibaba's Hangzhou headquarters became a true eyeopener. She learned that some Chinese farmers had made fortunes simply by opening a warehouse, setting up an online shop and selling their produce across China.

"Inspired by some of the best practices in rural areas in China, I decided to move my business online," she said. "If we can make full use of e-commerce, our businesses can operate in a sustainably long-lasting fashion."

This innovative approach helped to significantly reduce operating costs for Kagirimpundu, who started to make a profit just six months after the online store was launched.

While Kagirimpundu's digital shop was built from scratch, Halil Erdogmus leveraged Alibaba's platform and experience to give his existing online store a substantial leg-up in its global expansion.

His store Ebebek, a shopping platform for mother-and-baby products, was a top online venue in Turkey, but its international performance had been lukewarm. The problem, according to Erdogmus, was a lack of penetration into foreign markets through proper channels.

That's where AliExpress came in, as a business-to-customer platform of Alibaba selling to overseas users only. By early 2019, the platform covered more than 200 countries and regions around the world, served over 150 million consumers, and helped merchants to sell goods to global markets.

"The experience-sharing of Chinese sellers, one-on-one online customer service chat room, and step-by-step training provided by third-party operators were useful in helping me explore other markets," he said.

Alibaba has long upheld the value of making it easy to do business anywhere, with a vision to be a good company that can last over 100 years. It has pledged to serve 2 billion consumers globally, create 100 million jobs, and provide the necessary infrastructure to help 10 million small businesses become profitable on its suite of platforms.

Also reaping unexpected gains from digital sales is Yee Poh Soon, co-founder of Malaysian durian producer DKing. He never thought he would sell 300,000 yuan ($42,300) worth of durian products in 10 minutes until the dream turned into reality with the aid of Chinese internet celebrities.

"They (key opinion leaders) are professional and … have such trustworthy appearances that you are willing to allow them to promote products on your behalf," said Yee, who exports A-level Musang King durians to China. "Such staggering speed is possible only in China."

Yee, who was invited to the center stage at Alibaba's Hong Kong listing, is amazed at the innovative business models the internet has to offer and the holistic solutions from logistics to marketing to smooth cross-border e-commerce.

In May, China decided to allow imports of whole Malaysian durians. Ever since, fruit traders in China and Malaysia have been blazing a trail in the multibillion-yuan durian market.

Yee has jumped on the durian export bandwagon in earnest. He picks up only premium-quality fruits for export to China. Every durian is tied to the tree with a cord so it does not fall and split open prematurely.

But, for the owner of a relatively small business like Yee, rivaling Thailand's dominance in the durian export market is no mean feat. He teamed up with Alibaba, which has pledged to facilitate cross-border trade for small-and medium-sized enterprises through a variety of digital vehicles.

"Obviously, Tmall and Hema Fresh (both Alibaba e-commerce platforms) provide good platforms for us to reach the most remote parts of China," said Yee. He has inked a deal to supply one container-load of whole durians to Hema Fresh every week during peak seasons. "This is one of the fastest, most secure and stable ways to be in this massive market."

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