With a few e-commerce players in the region competing at the top, Lazada CEO Alessandro Piscini has successfully taken Lazada Thailand to greater heights in Southeast Asia. Now, he has been appointed to helm Indonesia’s Lazada, an exciting and dynamic place that drives him to face new challenges while propelling growth at the same time. We sat down with him to get to know him on a more personal level and unearth his views on Lazada’s growth in recent years.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
My name is Alessandro Piscini, I’m Italian, and 34 years old, even though I look a bit older [laughs]. I have been living in Southeast Asia for six years. I arrived in early 2013—before that, I was working in a totally different industry. I studied at Universita Bocconi and the University of Wisconsin as an exchange student.
What industry was it?
I was an investment banker. I worked in London and spent my time in Barclays and Credit Suisse.
Have you always planned a global career?
I always liked the idea of making my career in at least three continents: Europe, the US, and Asia.
So I worked in the UK, and then I thought of spending time in the US for two years, maybe, and then another two in Asia. Now, those two years have become six [laugh].
Why did you decide to dive into e-commerce?
At that time, I saw that e-commerce was a big trend. It started much earlier in the US, Europe, and then China. Alibaba and Jack Ma had always been our inspiration since the beginning, because I used to watch documentaries and feel inspired by them tremendously—especially the early part where they were just 18-20 people starting a dream in this small apartment. So I thought: why not try something new? And I was actually one of the early people who found a job through social media [laughs].
Tell us more!
A friend of a friend posted a job on Facebook, saying that they were looking for motivated individuals with consulting or banking backgrounds, so I went ahead and applied. After a couple of interviews, they told me that I had gotten the job, but they wanted me to start in two weeks, so I had to pack everything in two weeks and move from London.
That’s very brave of you.
The funny thing was that I used to live in Notting Hill, a cute neighborhood in West London, and from there I moved to the red-light district of Bangkok—from one of our windows, you could see the Nana Plaza strip joints. At that time, we were a very small venture that was struggling to survive.
Which position did you get accepted for in the beginning?
I started as a regional merchandiser, in which I had to assist the regional group and head of commercial. Since I was based in Thailand, I did so many roles for Lazada Thailand, and I really felt like we built Thailand from zero to hero.
What did you notice in the beginning when you started your career in Southeast Asia?
One of the most interesting things is that in the very short span of six years, I saw the Internet evolve in Southeast Asia. We moved from a time when people were asking us why we were doing e-commerce in Southeast Asia to the development of 3G and 4G. It went from something that was only for the few to something for everyone. Now, Southeast Asia has become of the most engaged in terms of social media and e-commerce—faster than any other market.
How has Lazada coped with that?
Throughout this journey, Lazada has to change its image many times. We started from being an electronic website doing retail only to being a marketplace of sellers. From desktop only, we started developing our mobile app, which was really a game-changer too as 90 per cent of our orders now are placed through our mobile app.
How did Alibaba come into the picture?
Alibaba became very interested in our business, so it started to invest in us. One crazy story happened to me last weekend. I don’t know if you have ever watched any of Jack Ma’s documentaries, but there is this apartment in which it all started. Last weekend, I actually had the chance to visit that apartment, which is now used to nurture people who are interested in entrepreneurship. So they will be inside the apartment for six months. There is this amazing sentence from Jack Ma hanging on the wall that says: “The first principle to be a successful company is growth.”
You seemed very inspired by Alibaba. Who is your role model there aside from Jack Ma?
It is exciting to be someone who looks at these people from the outside to be working directly with one of the managers. One of the 18 people in the early days of Alibaba was a woman named Lucy Peng, who is our group CEO now, and it has been very exciting to be able to work with her.
Do you think that Lazada’s entry into e-commerce came at the right time?
I think there are always two parts: there’s always a combination of luck and skills. So I believe there is always luck involved. I moved from a stable profession in the banking industry and now I am in Lazada, which is the first e-commerce player in many areas. Today, we are one of the few platforms that has a presence in Southeast Asia.
What are some of the new features that Lazada has or is developing right now?
Our marriage with Alibaba has also resulted in significant shifts, mainly in our customer experience and the technology that we have developed together with Alibaba. We moved from a platform that was only focusing on transactions and operations to having a 360-degree workbench in which sellers can develop their own marketing campaigns and promotions.
We recently released a new feature as well, where you can see a news feed in our app. We have also tested live streaming in which brands can use KOL to livestream on our app. We always try to drive plenty of innovation here.
What are some future initiatives for Lazada?
Lazmall is something very new that we recently launched, so it will be a priority for us in the next few months. We always strive to improve our selection, and one of the big initiatives for Indonesia right now is in developing a better logistics system. Now that we have eight fulfillment centres and a delivery system in place, we want to develop same-day delivery soon—not only in Jakarta, but also outside.
What kind of problem are you trying to solve with Lazmall?
First is the assortment gap. We want to provide opportunity for people to shop for as many products as possible and, at the same time, let them have a peace of mind as we provide a regional warranty for all of the products.
What are the most noticeable cultural differences between Thailand and Indonesia?
I think Thailand is pretty much one big culture, whereas Indonesia is more diverse when it comes to people and religions. So it’s very interesting but also challenging at the same time. Different behaviours and consumers definitely present a different set of challenges for me.
What is your favourite book at the moment?
I like The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Other books I like are about modern history, post World War 2. The reason I love modern history is because at school, we were mostly given the chance to study the first two world wars, but what has happened in the past 50-60 years is also interesting and can teach us a lot about politics.
Last but not least, what do you think about working abroad and can you give us some tips for people who are interested in working abroad?
I think that living abroad really opens your mind. I believe that no matter where you go, you have to be patient and to think about being different. You also have to be ready to do things that you don’t like from time to time. Lastly, you have to be ready to eat food that you may not like as well [laughs].