It took over a decade for the iStore iSend duo to realise their start-up dream
STARTING a business with close friends is never an easy task as it involves two or more people aligning and sharing their vision and passion.
For childhood friends Joe Khoo and Tommy Yong, it is a blessing as the time they spent together only made them understand each other better. After all, according to them, two heads are better than one.
Just like how they grew up, they are now seeing their company iStore iSend growing to become one of the key players in the e-commerce industry.
With knowledge of the latest technology, Khoo (who is also the chief executive officer) is naturally the main driver behind the company’s technology and innovation.
Yong, who is chief new initiative officer, on the other hand, has always been keen to reach out to businesses about online e-commerce adoption.
Together, they are the pillars of iStore iSend, an e-commerce fulfilment provider that helps companies handle their e-commerce process. In fact, they are one of the pioneers in the e-fulfilment market.
HOW IT STARTED
“We started at a time when e-commerce was still new,” said Yong.
With very limited capital because they were self-funded, they started iStore iSend in a small 18.6-square-metre rented room on the second floor of a factory lot in Jalan Klang Lama, Kuala Lumpur, about 10 years ago.
“For the first three to four years, from 2009 until 2013, we had to pivot to do ‘last-mile deliveries’ (same-day, cash on delivery, etc.) as the demand for fulfilment was not there. At one point, we had a 10- to 15-man strong rider fleet with steady business volume,” said Yong.
He said the company had risked 90 per cent of its revenue from the last-mile delivery jobs and decided to invest 100 per cent of iStore iSend resources in the fulfilment business, which contributed only 10 per cent of the business volume.
E-fulfilment was a foreign concept back then. When Khoo and Yong set up iStore iSend, they took it upon themselves to create awareness of what it was all about and its role in e-commerce growth.
“Luckily we were able to capitalise on the growth of the group buying trend, and we started to land corporate accounts from these platforms that quickly help us grow our fulfilment revenue,” said Khoo, adding that the company had a proprietary system called ODiN to automate customers’ e-commerce operations.
“The system mainly comprises an order management system, a warehouse management system, and a transportation management system.
“We also provide online merchants with consultation services, which include the setting up of official stores on e-marketplaces, store set-up and design, report consolidation, campaign planning, business analysis and demand planning,” explained Khoo.
Another challenge they faced is the Covid-19 pandemic, which has definitely transformed the retail ecosystem.
Many business owners are forced to digitalise their operations to survive in a restrictive environment.
“Thankfully for us, we were able to increase our sales as most businesses were shifting online despite many challenges, such as logistics and manpower allocation,” said Yong.
iStore iSend began as a warehousing business in 2009, modelled after the leading multinational e-commerce company Amazon. It developed a full-featured end-to-end solution system for smooth omni-channel experience.
It also has an integrated e-commerce site construction and operation, and warehousing and delivery operation, providing comprehensive management through an IT system to fulfil the vision of providing all-round reliable logistics services, including warehouse management, pick-and-pack services, and delivery and order tracking for easy management of inventories.
“Since our inception, we have provided e-commerce-enabling services to foreign company FMCG and fulfilment services to local direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands, primarily in Malaysia and Singapore. We now deal with approximately 300 local and 30 international brands,” said Khoo.
Currently, iStore iSend processes over five million items each year from a combined 34,839sqm of warehouse space, spread across Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and China.
The business has also grown beyond logistics management to e-commerce management.
“Not only do we provide back-end assistance, but we also provide support when online merchants are short of manpower.
“We have become an e-enabler service provider or gateway for retailers, where we work on online store setup, onboarding brands to online e-marketplaces, official online store management, growth and marketing campaign management, listing and even customer service,” said Khoo.
“We are planning regional expansions to Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines, and need talent to accommodate the different management systems and culture.
“We are looking to hire talent to train our current staff as well, as a form of up-skilling. So our future plans will mainly be focusing on acquiring more talent and our regional expansion is in the pipeline,” said Yong.