Cecilia Chiu, co-founder and chief strategy officer of Australia’s largest and fastest-growing ecommerce company, New Aim and creator of Australia’s first B2B retail platform, Dropshipzone, is challenging perceptions around how to start and scale a viable ecommerce business.
In 2009, Chiu introduced the dropship model to Australia, which has since become a launch pad for some of Australia’s largest online retailers and a range of small businesses. She created Dropshipzone with the goal of building out the Australian ecommerce ecosystem. It’s her mission to empower more businesses to start and scale through ecommerce.
Leading by example, Chiu shares five ways to build trust in a new business model and break the bias.
- Keep things lean
In the beginning, when I started New Aim 17 years ago, I was a Jill of all Trades. I took on the role of the generalist. Fung (Lam) is our technical co-founder, focused on the backend, handling all things IT, warehousing and logistics. He’s a tech genius so I focused on the front-end. I was picking, packing, taking photos, maintaining product listings, handling all things customer service. We kept things very lean. This was first-generation ecommerce in Australia, and the most exciting of times. It was this experience that set me up for my own career break as chief strategy officer. It really helped me see the forest from the trees.
2. Be the generalist
When exploring a new industry, or bringing an entirely new business model to market, you must get comfortable knowing a little about a lot. It sounds counterintuitive, but you can’t possibly be the expert in everything. Break the bias of specialisation. While depth of expertise is great, breadth of interest might be equally if not more important. I feel this is particularly true for non-technical co-founders. If I wasn’t across the details of New Aim in the beginning, I wouldn’t have noticed the intersection of opportunity – and that’s where Dropshipzone was born.
3. Trust your vision
My greatest strength is probably my vision. I remember, back in the day, all the price wars happening between sellers on eBay, the only retail marketplace in Australia at the time. It was tough. I had a vision that resellers on eBay could become retailers, small businesses, and ecommerce entrepreneurs in their own right. They just needed the right support and a business model that empowered them. This was early 2009, an entire year before Instagram launched. Amazon Australia didn’t arrive until nearly a decade later. People still thought Jeff Bezos was just selling books.
4. Operate with transparency
We spent $4,000 on a trade show booth at Furnitex in 2009, a lot of money at the time. We were surrounded by beautiful brands with big signs and exciting marketing material. We had nothing. Just a great product at a great price and we sat on the same Artiss barstools that we were selling. But we met so many people that day, including Michael (Rosenbaum), the co-founder of DealsDirect. He loved our transparency, and most of all, loved our products. He later came to our warehouse and office in West Melbourne, and he loved it even more, as he could see we were good operators with low overheads. This was the birth of the dropship model in Australia. I remind myself of that day as proof that you can scale your business on a shoestring (while sitting on a barstool).
5. Just start
I like to walk the path that people haven’t explored, but I can recognise that it’s challenging to go where no one has gone before. It sounds simplistic, but the best way to overcome that challenge is to just start. Overwhelmingly, according to research from Salesforce and Marie Claire, the main reason that women start businesses in Australia is to gain more flexibility. But according to the Australian Government’s Boosting Female Founders Initiative, it’s lack of funding and investment that’s holding women back the most from starting a business. It makes me proud to see so many women starting and scaling their own ecommerce businesses through Dropshipzone, breaking the bias around how to build a viable business. You don’t need a lot of capital. You don’t need to hold your own inventory. You just need to start with a vision. And you can do it all from a barstool.