See the original story in Japanese.
Have you ever heard of a Japanese startup called Commune, which had been helping fashion e-commerce companies expand into the Southeast Asian market? Some of our readers may recall the name because we invited the company’s founder Yoshio Narita to our lecture meeting for readers four years ago.
Subsequently he moved to Johor Bahru, the city adjacent to Singapore over the straits, to explore a new business opportunity. In April this year, he launched a mobile app called Envie, the peer-to-peer marketplace platform for handmade items. The app is currently available for iOS on the iTunes AppStore in Singapore only. Singapore is a small market with a population of only 5.5 million, which means it will not help them scale up their business as long as they target that market only.
In Arab Street, a popular neighborhood in Singapore bustling with Muslims before the end of Ramadan, I had a chance to hear from Narita about how he will expand the business from here.
In the handmade vertical, we have seen robust players like Etsy, Bonnanza and Handemade at Amazon in the US, Etsy and Dawanda in Europe, Minne and Creema in Japan, and Pinkoi in Taiwan. But there’s no dominant player in this space in Southeast Asia yet, thus we see a big business opportunity here.
We started here in Singapore to dominate the handmade marketplace needs in this country, then will steadily expand into Malaysia, then Southeast Asia and APAC later on.
- Japan’s handmade item marketplace Creema raises $10M to win fierce competition
- Japan’s Iichi, Taiwan’s Pinkoi join forces to make handmade marketplaces more vibrant
Envie connects sellers and buyers for handmade items, and also stands in-between the two sides to serve as an escrow. However, not many people have their credit cards or bank accounts in Southeast Asia, Envie will need to adjust its payment functionality in each country so that local people will be likely to use the platform. Likewise for the logistics functionality. Paradoxically speaking, such complexities may prevent leading handmade marketplaces from the Western countries from expanding to this region.
Envie now supports PayPal payments in Singapore, and obliges a seller to ship his or her item using SingPost’s Registered Mail service, etc. so that his or her buyer can track the delivery status of the item.
Envie was recently qualified to participate in the latest incubation batch by Malaysia Global Innovation and Creativity Center (MaGIC), one of the region’s largest startup accelerator operated by the Malaysian government. The four-month program, which is as fiercely competitive as one out of ten applicants becoming qualified, will invite 50 startup teams from across the region to the latest batch. For Narita, who has been exploring how to scale up the service in the region, this result tastes extra sweet after going through a tough time.
Although it serves only Singapore for now, Envie plans to expand its coverage into Malaysia later this month before participating in the MaGIC incubation program in Kuala Lumpur. People are likely to consider Southeast Asia all lumped together into one, but the fact is that every single country in the region has a completely different market circumstance. Leveraging the fine-tuning efforts targeting local markets, it will be interesting to see how far for the entire region’s handmade vertical Envie will take in.
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy