Serving those whom you work with is just as important as leading them. After switching from a finance and investment background to logistic technology, Erik Cheong embraced storytelling and servant- leadership to grow his simple business idea into Park N Parcel, one of Singapore’s fastest growing logistics networks.
What’s your story?
I am Erik Cheong, the Co-Founder of Park N Parcel. Heading the company’s business developments such as partnership, marketing, and public relations. I got nominated as Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia in 2019 (Consumer Technology), awarded Quest Ventures – EDGE National Youth Entrepreneurship in 2018 and member of Founders Fellowship South East Asia by Alibaba Global Initiatives
Beyond my bachelor’s degree in Finance and Investment banking background, I have an entrepreneurial soul with a passion to leverage technology to enrich modern lives sharing expertise and experience with the community of entrepreneurs). Park N Parcel is a South East Asia based logistics startup funded by TRIVE (previously known as “TRi5 Ventures”) and supported by the National University of Singapore Enterprise.
We provide last-mile logistics solutions to enhance the current mailing ecosystem. Our main focus is to provide online shoppers with an innovative way to collect parcels in a hassle-free manner by directing their parcels to nearby neighbours or neighbourhood stores – known as Parkers. Since our launch in 2016, Park N Parcel has successfully built the largest network of collection points with over 1600 Parkers islandwide in Singapore and expanding into Southeast Asia.
We work with an array of local and international partners such as FedEx, Cainiao and Singapore Post as well as serving major E-commerce platforms like Alibaba, TaoBao and Lazada to prevent logistics companies from facing re-delivery and making their delivery much more efficient and cost-saving.
How did you get into your current line of work/ why did you decide to do it?
I’ve always wanted to start something of our own. I left my job in the banking and financial industry and took the plunge into the field of technology that seemed a lot more exciting for me because of the growth opportunities.
The business idea was conceived one day when I was having lunch far away from home during the weekend.
Little did I know that the delivery man would reach my home with my parcel in hand with nobody to receive it. He left me multiple missed calls and we could not find a resolution. I would have no choice but to head to the post office to collect my delivery directly causing great inconvenience and wasted time.
With the growing e-commerce landscape in South East Asia, my partner and I saw a huge opportunity to solve this problem that affected us individually and to turn it into a thriving business. We hope that what we build will become an integral part of every online shoppers’ lives.
In your opinion, what makes a great leader?
“Once you’re determined to be a leader, whether you like it or not, I have to tell you, your job is to help others be successful.” -Jack Ma
This is a quote that I live by when leading my team. I firmly believe that a leader’s job is to help others succeed. Period.
Largely, I believe that what most people misinterpret is what makes a good leader versus what makes a good manager. Leaders inspire, set common goals and drives change through core values. Whereas managers are more procedural, systems-driven and are effective executors.
Leaders develop a following, while managers tend to keep a unit of subordinates humming. There is an element here of choice.
We don’t necessarily choose our managers, but we definitely choose our leaders and who we want to follow.
What would you say was your greatest difficulty/sacrifice faced as a leader so far? How did you overcome it?
Specifically for startups, the biggest challenges are pretty common among similar businesses. One of the challenges that I still continue to face and that I feel is the most important to address as a leader is this:
Hiring and retaining talent
For a small startup company to succeed, we need to attract talents that are motivated to go the extra mile and who are personally invested in the success of the company (though they may not hold shares). We need people who will hustle and call the company their own though other employers may be more competitive.
I’ve found that the best way to begin thinking of a talent management strategy is to first have a clear picture of where you want the business to go and set small milestones that lead up to your eventual goals. This provides direction to yourself as a leader as well as your team.
For example, Park N Parcel wants to become the largest collection point network with 2000 ‘Parkers’ or collection points. All my team members know this and we celebrate every significant milestone on our way there.
At each point, I also ensure that staff are well aware of our grander plan for their careers, our runway for the business and that there is some certainty ahead.
It’s hard to get people behind you when you don’t even know where you’re going yourself.
Some ways I manage this:
- Ensure that every team member has a certain level of autonomy in their role and they feel that they belong to the wider nucleus.
- Forgive small mistakes and encourage learning and experimentation.
- Open communication and horizontal hierarchy – in a small firm, you need self-starters who dare to do and provide constructive feedback when you need it
- How important are storytelling skills to you as a leader? How have you applied it in your work?
I believe storytelling is one of the key strengths of a leader. It’s important to let your team, partners, customers believe and feel your passion and what you are doing can impact the industry, the region or the world.
Over the last 4 years, I have spoken at over 100 events across the region such as Move Asia 2020, Home Delivery Asia 2019, Post & Parcel 2019 APAC, URA Urban Lab: Delivering Together & Transforming Urban Logistics, Applying Supply Chain & Engaging New Technology by Supply Chain Management (SCM), Startup Go Global by Sharing Economy Association, OCBC Future Smart, Youth Entrepreneurship Symposium 2018, Techsauce Global Summit 2018 and more.
Interviewed with Squawk Box Asia by CNBC, Nikkei, Postal Technology International, Ashley Talks Podcast, The Logician, The CEO Library, Supply Chain & Logistics Podcast, The Straits Times, Lian He Zao Bao (联合早报), MoneyFM 89.3, FM 93.8 NOW, FM95.8 Capital, Tech In Asia, E27, Vulcan Post, Asia Tech Podcast, AsiaX, NUS Enterprise Block 71 and Profit Aside.
With these storytelling skills, it is much easier to strike partnership/collaboration with like-minded entrepreneurs and investors.
How are you approaching marketing for your business/getting clients so that they choose you over others?
If you want your business to be ahead and be known for excellence vis-a-vis competitors, it’s not going to be an easy journey. At our company, I’ve always made it a point to do the difficult things that don’t always scale.
For example, in our business, our strong collection point network is the bread-and-butter feature that keeps us competitive. When we first launched in 2016 – we had more than 10,000 applications to be part of our network, but we manually selected only a minute fraction of them.
It took us weeks to sort through the applications, but I’d say our customers and stakeholders are much happier because we did the hard thing which was to sift out only the quality partners. I hold that philosophy for everything else we do in the company – we cannot shy away from the hard stuff, because only by doing those well, can we win.
Aside from our team, we also need to manage an ecosystem of ‘Parkers’ by educating them and engaging them as they provide their services. If we receive multiple complaints, we make it a point to take swift action to rectify teething issues. We hold the same principles for our team – though we have open communication as a core value, we must never take it for granted or our dynamics will fall apart.
We’ve managed to acquire some of the largest players in postage and transportation in our local space as customers and partners like Singpost and FedEx over the last 4 years. This is no small part due to the fact we personalise our communications and work on getting the bits that don’t scale with technology right.
What would you say has been the greatest lesson so far as a leader in your work?
I’d say I have a few lessons that have stuck by me since our first ventures.
Build a great team and don’t settle
Prior to our current business, Bryan, Gan Hong and myself used to manage a hostel. That was a testing ground for our abilities as business people and also a litmus test for our team dynamics. I’ve heard horror stories of business partners turning years of toil upside down in an instant and as a result, I choose to only work closely with people I know that have complementary skills and the right attitude.
Anything less is a risk.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that though I have a useful set of skills, no man or woman is an island and we can always do better working together with other specialists.
You won’t get everything right, but that’s okay
Leaders need to acknowledge that they will make mistakes and learn from them. My partners and I come from industries that have nothing to do with the current line we are in – logistics and tech. Naturally, we underwent plenty of trial and error. There will be some things you can only learn by being on the ground and doing it – don’t let your assumptions govern your decisions or it could be your downfall.
Be proud and pitch often
I believe 100% in what we do and I do want everyone to know about it so they can partake in the value we’re creating. This means I don’t shy away from opportunities to speak to other business owners, partners, investors to pitch our vision and what we do.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advising leaders to show off. Quite the opposite. The more you talk about your business, the more feedback you’ll get on your pitch and you might garner insight you never thought you’d get.
My only advice here is to pitch your least favourite people first before speaking to high-stakes contacts like ideal investors. You’ll still want to sound polished when it counts!
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What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
It might sound cliche, but ‘Knowing Your Customers’ was the best piece of advice for me.
Because there are hundreds of industries, every customer is somehow different. Watching them, understanding them has become our greatest source of learning. You can discover the best solutions, the best ways to serve them and the best ways to market to them all through listening and speaking to them in person.
That said, in our years of business we’ve seen both happy customers and ones that sometimes detract from our vision and service. However, I believe that unhappy customers are not bad customers. The fact that they bother to complain means they still want you to be better and service their needs. I see these as service recovery opportunities and I implore leaders to explore this line of thought as well.
Again, ‘know your customers’ can apply to every single type of person you meet. If you truly know someone inside-out, their fears, desires and pains – there is little you can’t do to help them and convince them to see things your way.
If you had to offer a piece of advice to someone just starting out or who aspires to lead a team/organisation. What advice would you give?
I have a few key things I think would be useful for someone starting out:
1. Take action and take risks
As a leader, you should have the autonomy and the mandate to take risks and get things done. Your teams can function on their own, but they need direction. Even if you aren’t always sure about what’s next, you might have to find a way to be sure fast regardless because people are counting on you. Commit to an action plan and take some risks. You won’t always be right, but you won’t always be wrong either.
2. Be indispensable
Think about the companies that are around after centuries of being in business. Why are they still around? It’s because they’ve cemented a place in the minds and hearts of their customers and audiences. We need to do the same. We need to become an essential aid to our organisations, essential motivators for our team members and essential service providers for our customers.
Being indispensable or something people can’t go on without is the strategy that many have proven will stand the test of time.
This applies to products and ourselves. People will rush to the store for a painkiller, but you hardly see anyone do that for a vitamin supplement. Can you position you or your products as ‘Painkillers’ solving problems rather than ‘Vitamins’ appealing to emotions versus functional needs?
3. Learn from other leaders and places
Read books, expand your social circles and immerse yourself in the company of other leaders. Travel to other places outside of your country and see how people run companies and teams. I went to the US and China and it opened my eyes to how these people drive technological adoption and evolution in those geographies.
What have you started trying this year that has been working well for you as a leader?
You only have 24 hours in a day. As a leader, sometimes you’ll feel like you have less. Time-management is a skill I am honing and aiming to master this year. Every night before I head to bed, I sort out a to-do list of priorities and meetings for the next day. We also have a synced calendar within the company so everyone is aware of events or deadlines looming.
We do sync-up meetings in the morning at 10 am every day and each member has a minute to highlight key issues they’re facing and whether any additional support is needed.
Managing time along with being keyed into the progress of your team as a unit will do wonders for productivity and morale moving forward.
If I could add one more thing we enforce – we always reiterate our core values: Integrity, Teamwork, Trust, Collaboration, Take Action. These guide our decisions and ensure that even though we might go into our own little caves to finish our work – we are always aligned and moving in the same direction.
Share with us something you learned recently that changed how you intend to run your team/business.
At the time of writing, Singapore has been locked down for 2 whole months – disrupting close to 9 out of 10 businesses. This is not something we expected and many companies have been caught off guard.
That said, we cannot rest on the laurels of our previous successes and sit still while change is happening around us. We’ve taken measures to pivot our human collection points to introduce contactless deliveries that have since brought us some liquidity and new business opportunities.
Leaders have to be comfortable dealing with uncertainty”. Even if you’re not sure, you have to maintain a strong and decisive front for the teams that are counting on you.
At every step, you can choose to give up or respond and try other means to ride the wave into new opportunities.
As a leader, you’ll regularly face situations where you need to get buy-in against the odds. How would you overcome a hurdle like this?
My advice remains the same. You have to do the work and you have to know who you’re dealing with. You need to figure out what’s in it for them and what their hot buttons are to prepare for any curveballs they might throw in your conversation.
For example, before meeting someone new I usually:
- Do basic research on Linkedin.
- Visit their company websites to understand who they are, what they stand for and who their partners are
- Set the agenda of the meeting beforehand so we are aligned on the value add of working together
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. ” Sun Tzu, The Art of War
In the course of the research, you’ll typically get a much better understanding of the values of your counterpart and this makes negotiations easier too.
What is one book you would recommend that every new leader or storyteller be reading?
- My Startup Bible (Read more than 10 times) – The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
I will strongly recommend anyone who wants to run his or her own startup should get this book. The Lean Startup method teaches you how to drive a startup, how to steer, when to turn, and when to persevere and grow a business with maximum acceleration. I applied the Build-Measure-Learn model into my own startup Park N Parcel, the key is to validate all your assumptions and gather market feedback of your services/product via the minimum viable product (MVP). The first 8 months we spent on building our company through prototyping, testing, conducting market research, conceptualising design and fundraising. In January 2017, we started with 100 parkers as collection points who were mainly from roadshows, flyer distributions door-to-door surveys etc. We relied heavily on the surveys to attain feedback about our idea which we felt were important because ultimately, they would be the ones utilizing our platform. We also have a presence on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram and, also leveraged on influence and bloggers which have helped us tremendously.
- Alibaba – The House that Jack Ma Built by Duncan Clark.
I am a big fan of Jack Ma, I have 4 different books talking about Jack. He is a top entrepreneur & visionaire, who started out as a modest English teacher and built Alibaba into one of the world’s largest companies, an e-commerce empire on which hundreds of millions of Chinese consumers depend on. I am impressed with how he overcame his humble origins and early failures to achieve massive success with Alibaba.
What are 3-4 tools (digital or offline) that you feel everyone should know about?
- Online – DingTalk (Similar to Zoom but with more features) – 100% free of charge & more work-friendly. Provide constant reminder & alert and Support huge File / Documents upload. It’s like all in one app for work-related stuff. My top recommendation – it’s widely adopted by Alibaba Staff
- Online -Google Calender – Super useful, especially when the team is growing. To keep everyone on the same page and notify everyone about where and what you are doing. Allow easier schedule planning for internal or external meetings.
- Offline – Maintain a Huge Whiteboard with our latest KPI number, to keep track week on week growth. To motivate the team ( to push harder the following week if we fail to hit targets) or celebrate small wins (if we exceed or hit target growth)