No one needs to leave home to buy things these days. The future that the 1990s kid saw on television growing up is actually already here, aside from the flying car.
From the comfort of your computer – nay – your phone, you can order your trash bag, charging cable, a new watch, and cat food all from one app. Looking for used items? There’s an app specifically for that. Even when we don’t plan on buying anything, we scroll through TikTok and suddenly find ourselves ordering one of those cool rocket-shaped water sprinklers that actually take off!
With all that in the palm of our hands, why would anyone care about the kedai runcit in their taman?
Well Lennise Ng does, and she is seriously committed about it.
With two partners, Ng launched Dropee in 2017 and has since grown into a business catering to over 120,000 businesses with over 200,000 products in inventory. The reason that you might not be familiar with them is that Dropee operates business-to-business with a mission to empower small and large businesses to operate more efficiently by connecting buyers to wholesale sellers in a quicker and more transparent way.
Saying that there are a lot of inefficiencies with the operation of mom-and-pop stores, Ng said that the platform makes it easier for these small businesses to get better quality goods and services at better prices.
“All in all, we’re trying to create a platform that provides a win-win situation for both sellers and retailers,” she said.
But why mom-and-pop stores? While online wins when it comes to options, Ng said that there are things that you need now, and can’t wait for the courier to come and that is the key value of these businesses, something she understood from an early age from her grandfather, who owns such a business.
“My grandfather started a mom-and-pop store ages ago that he tried to build in order to get my entire family out of poverty,” she said.
Despite all the hard work he put into the fledgling shop, Ng said that it was “pure luck” that brought her grandfather together with the right supplier and the right product which eventually made the venture successful.
Understanding that not every other small business got the same luck as her family did, she wanted Dropee to be that much-needed luck that would put these businesses on better footing against the onslaught of competition from what is available online.
Initially aiming to be a modern-day version of the Yellow Pages of old, she quickly realised that many of her customers struggle with more than just getting quality merchandise to see and decided to give them a boost. “Even something that we think is simple, like Microsoft Excel, is something new to them, so we have to encourage them to actually use it,” said Ng.
“These are the upscaling programs that we actually do.”
Realising the value in educating their customers, Dropee started having what they call “open coffee hours” where people can drop by their office to inquire on how they can grow their business.
This includes a free consultation on what they are really looking to do so that Dropee can curate and cater a service as closely as possible to what they want, and connect them with the right partners and suppliers to work with.
For Lennise, the joy for her is when her clients, especially the seniors are able to not only overcome their fear of technology but also embrace it, such as QR code scanning. “Because of that they now embrace e-wallet, and that is so great,” she said.
All this is in line with her philosophy towards technology, which has always been on whether it can create more value and growth in the economy. “We are pushing new frontiers so that everybody can gain from it,” said Ng.
Having already nailed the luck part of the business, she said that one key thing about what makes human-to-human business great that she is trying to recreate with her platform is that invaluable sense of trust, between businesses.
“In the past, technology has always been trying to make sense of data on everything. But we are building this platform to try to figure out how can we measure trust,” she said.
“How can we measure trust? How can we make businesses find other parties, whether it’s suppliers or customers? If you don’t know each other, how can you immediately know that you can trust them?”
From these questions, Dropee has a built-in mechanism for customers to gauge the trust level of each other so that not only people can negotiate confidently, but also keeps everyone at their best, which ultimately makes the platform better for everyone.
The advent of AI is ultimately going to do good for the business as it will allow businesses to make smarter decisions from the data it collects, giving manufacturers a clearer understanding of what products to produce while helping distributors and wholesalers with storage and logistics.
“The goal is how can you help them to grow their business. A growing business means more sales. With more sales, the economy grows bigger and everybody wins,” she said.
Next time you visit that small grocery store in your neighbourhood—you know, the one where the shopkeeper knows your family—know that there is a chance that there is this amazing high-tech platform that is helping the aunties and uncles make smart business decisions which are also manned by determined men and women who pour their heart and strength into keeping these businesses thriving instead of just surviving.
All this while the world still thinks that technology will make these businesses irrelevant in the 21st century. “For those who are still hungry to stay relevant, we provide the tools and helping hand so that they are they can continue their business,” she said.
“If they’ve been around for 30, 40, or even 50 years, let’s make that 100 years.”