So today’s show we are at episode 167 and I sold Claire for the day to go to a factory visit. And I am in a taxi – on the move talking to attendees and sponsors for this year’s Cross Border Summit. Thank you listeners for your support. It is a real community forming and I can’t wait to meet you crossbordersummit.com – April 21 and 22 – the crazy thing is I’m already brainstorming 2018s.
We are gonna start doing webinars – always mean to do them, but some speakers can’t make the event and want to get involved and give back – so I have 4 webinars in the pipeline and you can see all 4 choices and pick the one that you like the most – we have logistics, cross-border ecommerce, chinese staff management, hk taxes and more being added – check it out at globalfromasia.com/webinar for the full list.
And now for this week’s show – Baopals – this startup has been growing like crazy and the founders are on the show to talk about the story and the growth – it’s a platform to help you buy from Chinese e-commerce sites via their system using English – had a lot of fun – and as always the show notes and pictures can be found on globalfromasia.com/baopals/
They are an e-commerce tech startup based in Shanghai, China. They help foreigners in China (for now) buy on Chinese e-commerce marketplaces through their technology system. Baopals is the first platform to give foreigners in China an easy and enjoyable way to shop on Taobao and Tmall. All 800 million plus products are available, with up-to-date pricing and product info, in English, and reorganized to make shopping on Baopals as easy as pie.
Topics Covered in this Episode
Could you tell our audience a little bit about yourself and Baopals?
Coming to China
What made you guys decide to come to China?
How did you guys meet? And what made you decided to start the Baopals business together?
What are the difficulties that you faced when you started Baopals?
I noticed that Baopals posted some really useful posts on the website/ lots of shopping website they usually create relevant content using other platform to convert the traffic to the website to buy. Could you explain to us why you decide to add a blog section on the Baopals’ webpage?
Customer Service Training
I heard a lot of good reviews about Baopals especially in terms of the excellent customer service experience. Could you tell us more on how you do the customer service training? And do you recruit local people or expats in China?
Easy shopping experience
You guys adopted WeChat and I can shop via WeChat too! As a platform that helps to ease the shopping process for English speaking expats in China, what was the reason why Baopals adopt Wechat? Is it because that some expats might not be able to access Facebook in China or it is because WeChat is where the customers are? Do you have Chinese consumers who like to purchase using your site as well?
If you could only give one tip for our listeners on doing business in China, what would it be you guys’ top tip?
Tell our audience how to reach you
People / Companies / Resources Mentioned in this Episode
Episode Length 34:49
Bao Pals – I do like the name, keep up the good work guys and let’s get them back on the show. A lot of people said they liked the follow up show with Chris Davey – one year later after selling on Amazon FBA – so I will try to do that more.
And as always – check out the show notes at globalfromasia.com/baopals/
Back to the grind for preparing for our epic Cross Border Summit – April 21 – 22 guys – I am not shy to proudly promote this conference guys – such amazing speakers and topics, I really hope to meet you there.
Enjoy the rest of your week, and keep taking action in your businesses.
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Where are Baopals physical shops?
Before we go straight to the transcription of episode 167, we would like to answer a question sent in by one of our readers:
“Hi I have ordered some stuff from Baopals but i can’t buy it on we chat as my bank is not recognised as i don’t live in China. But my husband is in Shanghai right now and i wanted them to deliver it to him but there is no concept of cash on delivery. How can i know where these shops are that are on Baopal so that he can visit them? Thanks!”
It is best to know the purpose for which Baopals was established. Baopals was set-up intentionally as an online shopping platform based in Shanghai, China. It allows users in China to shop in english, from two of the world’s online shopping sites, Taobao and Taobao Mall (Tmall) – both operated by the Alibaba group. It bridges shoppers to the sellers from Taobao and Tmall. So, how would you know the sellers from whom you will be buying?
In searching for products to purchase in Baopals, you also have the option to search from all sellers or from Tmall sellers. You can further filter it by the seller’s location in China, by province or city. At the top of the results of your product search, a location field is provided for you to choose from the drop down menu your desired location. This narrows down the search to sellers near you. At the bottom of each image in the results page, a location tag is displayed. When you click on an image, oftentimes the product description includes information on the seller’s location and the name of the seller as well.
For search results under Tmall sellers, when you move your cursor over the product image, you can see a view seller option that you can click. This will lead you to the flagship store of the seller where you can view other products that they sell.
The main purpose of providing you the sellers’ data is for you to approximate delivery time.
Then you can pay for your products through the available payment options: WeChat Wallet, China UnionPay, and Alipay.
While online shoppers number to hundreds of millions, there is also a good number of those who are still more comfortable shopping or transacting payment in physical stores rather than online as what Baopals offers. Offline shopping therefore is outside the Baopals platform.
Most Tmall products or partner brands can be found in malls or other shopping establishments, so that will not be too difficult to find. There are also certain times and events when several Tmall partners set up their pop-up smart stores. These stores infuse an online feel while being “offline” or physically present in the store giving them a fresh and technologically advanced take on retail shopping.
Tmall also collaborates with partner brands to build flagship stores or megastores in different locations in China and in neighboring countries like Malaysia and Singapore.
Mike: We are in the backseat of a taxi. I just don’t like email, I prefer to do it on the move rather than sitting in my studio. So, we are at Global from Asia episode 167 and I sold Claire for the day, she’s out at a factory visit for our client. And I am in the taxi, I am on the move talking to attendees and sponsors for this year’s Cross Border summit. It’s been great, so you listeners finally been reaching out to me, listening for years, it’s great to hear from you and hear that you could actually make it out to the conference. So, it’s amazing crossportersummit.com, it’s going to be on April 21st and 22nd. And the crazy thing is, I already brainstorming 2018 Cross Border summit, can you believe that? Just thinking already some feedback and making it bigger and better. Now for this week’s show, we have Baopals. This is the startup that’s been going like crazy. And the founders are both on the show today, talking about the story and the growth. It’s a Shanghai-based platform to help you buy online from Chinese e-commerce sites via their system using the English Language. We had a lot of fun, they are really fun to interview. As always the show notes and photos can be found at globalfromasia.com/episode167. Alright, let’s listen in.
Okay, thank you everybody for tuning into another Global from Asia podcast, we have some Cross-border ecommerce stuff going on today. We have with us Charles and Jay, the founders of Baopals.com. Thanks for being here, guys.
Baopals: Happy to be here. Thanks for having us.
Mike: Sure, I’ve been following your case for awhile. Can you give us the elevator pitch about your business quickly for our listeners.
Jay: Sure, I’ll give it a go. It’s pretty simple actually. You have listeners around the world, maybe they don’t know Taobao and Tmall are. But first to understand our business, you have to know the Taobao and Tmall are the world’s largest online marketplace. And if you haven’t heard of it, it’s because they’re used almost exclusively by Chinese people. But you can buy everything on Taobao and Tmall at the best prices in the world most of the time. And so what we wanted to do was create a way to make it easy for non-Chinese people to shop online, from Taobao and Tmall. And so that’s what the Baopals’ platform is, it connects all of our shoppers with Taobao and Tmall letting the shop the same way they would back home, from Amazon or from any ecommerce site that is familiar. So, basically it just an easy and great shopping experience buying from Chinese stores or Chinese sellers and getting anything you want from China.
Charles: And before we created Baopals, there really wasn’t a way for expats living in China to purchase anything from Taobao or Tmall easily. There wasn’t main ecommerce platform for expats here. So, we definitely felt we could solve it.
Mike: Yes, I know. I heard that you guys for quite a few years, when did you guys launch?
Charles: Just a couple of days ago, it’s been our one year anniversary since our launch.
Mike: Wow, it feels longer. How did you get to China? What’s your China high level story of how you guys get over here?
Charles: Everybody has a unique story. For me, I just graduated university and I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with my life. But I didn’t want to start working at some corporate jobs, and sort of climbing the corporate ladder right away. And so I figured, I want to travel around and my mom is actually Chinese, so I felt like I have, sort of, this compulsion to go to China and to know a little bit about my heritage and also the language for my mother. And so I decided, you know what I just want to go out to Shanghai and see what happens. Stayed for a year, having this illusions of grandeur that because I am used of the language a little bit and I wanted to go to China that I would just find some type of business opportunity here in the beginning. But I quickly realized it’s much more difficult than I imagined when I arrived.
Jay: This is back in 2007, for me. I also graduated in university. I already had a taste of Asia because I did an internship in Hongkong, I travelled to Japan and around Thailand. And so I knew that Asia is an exciting place, very fun place to be. And I figured I would head over to Shanghai for a year and see what happens. But I found a lot of opportunity here. And so 1 year turned into 2 years which eventually turn into 8 years. And I kept staying because I always wanted to be my own boss. I’m a bit of a control freak. I found that this was a great city to do that. And then, with the Baopals I had the perfect opportunity to really pursue a business.
Mike: Your 2007 is like me, I came to China 2007 as well.
Jay: Also for 1 year?
Mike: Well, I left in 2010 for a little bit to the Philippines and then end up coming back.
Jay: That’s funny, I did the same thing. I left in 2010, and I went to Hongkong for a year. I thought I am done with Shanghai and then after a year in Hongkong, I was like you know what Shanghai wasn’t all that bad, I think I’m going to go back.
Mike: The one’s like us who come back, I think we can’t complain because we know what we’ve gotten ourselves into. So, how did you guys hook up? Do you guys know each other for awhile?
Charles: Well, we met here in Shanghai. We’ve known each other for about 4 years, I think. And I was fresh off the boat. So, I’ve been here for 4 ½ years or so. So just a couple of months in, and we have a mutual friend and invited us to a house party. I showed up I think around 9 o’clock or so. And my friend introduced me to Jay, and Jay was basically passed out on the couch there. He kinda grunted at me, and I think that’s a cool guy.
Jay: I think the gin and tonics were a little bit too strong.
Mike: We are getting the real story here, this is great.
Jay: We got along instantly and after time, I was freelancing and Charley was also kind of finding work here and there. So we have plenty of time to hangout and get to know each other. It involved a lot of zombie killing on playstation. And we found we have a lot in common even though we come from really different backgrounds. I mean, I grew up in the Suburbs. Charley grew up in the country.
Charles: I think it was actually playing video games, just hanging out with each other. We just sort of clicked and then spending a lot time with each other, we start talking about all sort of things, including business ideas. Because Jay was doing a English consulting company and I was helping him out of that. We actually did podcast for awhile, just for fun,
Jay: Yeah, we did a lot of things back then. Mostly around the corporate training business. And our third co-founder Teejay, he also helped out a bit on that. So, as friends we would know what each of us is working and we tried ways to come up with ideas together. We already had a foundation for that.
Charles: And I think especially in Shanghai, there’s sort of an entrepreneurial spirit. Everybody’s got an idea and it’s always fun and exciting to talk about this ideas.
Mike: Okay, very cool. I like to highlight for our listeners, you guys know each other for 4 years, you are hustling for projects, trying to do different things, right. I think that’s what it’s all about. You can’t really predict the future. That’s a cool story here. I just want to dig in, you guys have done a great job aggregating all the massive data from these, you know as you said, largest ecommerce sites in the world, I kind of want to dig in under the hood, you know about some of the structure or how you guys manage to translate get all this data? It’s really amazing.
Charles: Well first and foremost, fortunately we have a great tech team headed by our 3rd co-founder, TJ or Tyler as he is known to alot of people. In the early days, it was a really tough to figure out if the tech was really possible or how we are going to do it. And then, what kind of business model we would have around that. But once we were able to get the core tech in place, we performed a search on our website and it instantly searched all the Taobao and Tmall and brings you back the result. So once we have that in a very basic function, we were all ready to kind of quit our jobs and we were like “This is going to work”. And so then, we spent lots and lots of hours and weeks building a platform around that, setting up our own departments. Because even if you go on Taobao or Tmall, if you want you can translate it piece by piece yourself using a translator. But you are still going to end up with a very messy, confusing platform that isn’t catered to foreigners to a type of experience we like shopping, and a type of products and categories we like. So, we really had to look at the entire shopping experience from finding products to knowing whether or not a product or seller is reliable and good to setting up the right kind of payments and having a really good customer service that a foreigner are used to.
Mike: Yes, it’s true. It’s a amazing. Not only on technical you can tell, you’ve also done good in internet marketing. You have a pretty regularly updated English language blog, I see from just browsing it. Almost every couple of days you have some good content. Maybe share some of your strategies for marketing or growing your user raise?
Charles: It really comes down to creating good content and not selling out is also a big thing. Especially in the beginning, when you are first starting out with marketing, there’s sort of a mad-russia just for acquisition of users. But one thing that I think we are good about is just staying true on specializing what we do, which is ecommerce. And we just make sure that we just do a good job in writing good content that is just about Baopals instead of just trying to just get people to clicked on the site.
Jay: That was what we did, that we are a committed very early on was making sure that all of our content was relevant to the users. And wechat, if we are talking about content in marketing in China, we got to talked about Wechat because it is such essential for our business. Not only do we have Wechat followers as a channel for getting our content out there, but through our official Wechat account, people can access their shopping cart, then can browse or deals basically they can use our entire platform through our Wechat and then pay with one click. Or just a finger print scan and then they can also message us in Wechat on that same account in order to talk to our customer service agents. So, Wechat is a huge piece of what we do and that’s where we get most of our content out the users.
Charles: Right, and it is very easy to share Wechat content as well. I mean, everybody in China knows Wechat is just the ultimate app. Businesses just involve Wechat in China.
Mike: It’s true, the whole world is in Wechat.
Charles: It’s a powerful ecosystem. I think it’s the toughest thing when I go back to the States and no one’s got Wechat. How do you guys live!
Jay: And we also want to give a shoutout to our awesome content writer, Ginger who does most of our content. She is kind of the voice of Baopals. In the early days, Charley and I did most of the contents and we never imagined we could find someone who could write the way we write, of course, there are a lot of great writers out there, there are hard to find in China obviously, not a lot of foreigners stay here long term. And also to find someone with a similar style that we have, with the similar sense of humor, and to where we kinda lack out.
Charles: Yeah, I think our content is really unique in China, I think it also encapsulates our company culture. We are professional but we also are lighthearted as well.
Jay: Yeah, we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
Mike: That’s great. Shoutout to Ginger, the content is hard to keep going and I think consistency is key right? I mean having it regularly updated for both the effectiveness of search and audience building. So it’s great! You guys are using a strategy and keeping that up. Well, we started talking about Wechat, it’s on my list. Maybe we could get into that now. You guys done a great job, as you said you can use Wechat to shop, so do you want to give some ideas of how you are operating? Of course you have ecommerce shop on your website, you got Wechat, Facebook channel. What is more famous or popular for your foreign or English speaking customers?
Charles: Well actually, we run everything of our official Wechat account which is global responsive version of our website. We don’t actually have our own Wechat shop. It’s kind of funny because many people don’t even know that we have a website. It’s kinda goes to show how big Wechat is in China that a lot of people are hearing about Baopals and oh yeah we have a Wechat app. That’s what our content writer, Ginger, we actually coach her from another company that wrote about us and called us one of the Kickass Wechat apps. And we were like, we are not just only a Wechat app, we are a website that is global responsive and so it feels just like a Wechat app.
Jay: So what we did is we started with the website. And then of course we want the website to be globally responsive because half the shopping people nowadays is global. For Chinese shoppers, it is even more so. But our shoppers are foreigners and it is about 50-50 about global shopping and web shopping. And through Wechat, basically what you can do is you set up an official account if you are an enterprise and then through that service account, you can customize the Wechat menu. So when people go to your Wechat, they have an experience almost like an app within Wechat. And so from there, we are able to let people shop on the platform, talk to customer service, and view all of our content as well right through our Wechat account. So, it’s extremely useful.
Charles: And we are pretty much split about 50-50 from global Wechat users to website on desktop pc. So, without Wechat, we wouldn’t have half of our customers.
Mike: Very cool. I see ICP license on the footer there so you guys have gone through the proper channels to make it all.
Jay: Yeah, if you want to make an online company, you better do it the right way. Do as much as you can to make sure you are protected. One of the good things of starting your business in China is you can kind of get going and hit the ground running and you know there is always a bit of flexibility but when the time comes, you can get yourself set up the right way and make sure you have all the legal structure in place.
Mike: Exactly, so, about the ICP, you are an ecommerce company, is there a different levels or do you feel like sharing about that, I know everybody struggles with ICP. Do you want to share some of the process a little or experience?
Charles: It is not really an exciting part. (Laughs)
Mike: Yeah I know that. (Laughs)
Jay: Whenever you are looking into the business license or the ICP, my advice would be to talk to people who have gone through it before. You can talk to an agent, you’ll probably will need to, but one of the things we learned very early on was that, having a Chinese person on your team that really trust. And who is very thorough is absolutely essential. Because as a foreigner, not being fluent in Chinese, you will never going to fully understand all the documentation and the paperwork and legal step you need to go through to get your business on the ground. And so having someone on your team whom you can trust to find and give you the right information and make sure you are ticking all the boxes, is really key. Unfortunately , we got that early on.
Charles: My advice is don’t try to do it by yourself unless you are a native Chinese. You really need that really good Chinese friend-partner to get you help on that stuff.
Mike: And some patience, I think. (Laughs). Really great guys. So going on customer service, you guys have been really well known, you said it yourself, you took pride on your customer service. I don’t want to pick on Chinese customer service too much. But you guys, you kinda keep that Western customer service experience. You want to give us some of your magic hear or some of your process?
Charles: I think it’s just being genuine more than anything, and being real so people will know that you are talking to a real person. There are days, I handle pretty much all the customer service when we first started it. Like it’s your own baby, you don’t want anybody to have a bad impression and so we’re really really concerned, not just concern, but we really just cared that everybody have a great experience. And it was also a lot of fun for me, see people coming to our platform, asking questions wanting to find products. I was just too excited to help out and I think people felt that genuine, that this person really wants to help me. Because I actually did. Everybody that we hired so far is we make sure that they have the same feeling, that it’s not just working at any company, but you are part of the company. And all of our staffs care about our customer. So I think it is really the main thing.
Jay: And another thing that really helps us is that we are also customers of Baopals. We, first and foremost, built this platform because we are having problems that we wanted to solve. We wanted to shop online on China and we simply couldn’t do it. And so, as soon as we got our site working, we were the first test customers. And we are still customers to these days. We go through the customer experience. Now, we have a much larger service team, we used the customer service channels to get help with our own orders. So we are experiencing the platform as a customer and that makes sure that we find ways improving it, we could look at every little step that our service team take how our technology works, how they communicate with us, and so we are always trying to find ways to improve it, looking it from the customer’s perspective.
Mike: And would you say more of your customers are in China or outside of China.
Charles: They are all in China.
Mike: So you have to deliver to customers who are here.
Charles. Yeah, we are looking at starting a branch internationally, later this year. But seeing how all the idea was originally, we’ll start solving this expat problem then expand. The expat market is quite large and we’ve still just scratch the surface that we are just sort of improving the platform right now to the point that we are ready to start shipping overseas.
Jay: We do have lot of people contacting us especially on Facebook, they try to shop and then they realized that you can only enter a shipping address in China and so they asked us, hey when will you guys shipping to Australia or to the US, Hongkong or Singapore. And so it’s tempting to try to open up the platform to these locations. But we are really want to make sure that we continue improving it, get everything set up, the resources in place. Because going international is a whole other topic.
Mike: I couldn’t imagine. Sorry, I did not know that. It’s pretty interesting. I’d love to follow how that process goes. We could get you back on next year and see how it’s been developed.
Jay: Yeah, it’s been 1 year so far and we feel like we’ve come a long way but we definitely have much bigger plans for the platform in this 2nd year.
Mike: Cool. If you don’t mind disclosing, maybe where you at now, number or size-wise, maybe team or anything you are willing to give us idea of one-year’s progress?
Jay: Having start with just the 3 of us, and within 1 year we have an office 28 people now. And we’ve sold over 300,000 products in this first year. A lot of that coming in the 2nd half of the year. Because the early days, on the first official day of the platform, we sold about 22 items. It was very exciting. We had a handful of people making order on the site. And on our 1 year anniversary, we sold 100,000 items. The difference was really staggering and it’s been great to see that.
Charles: The growth rate has been pretty consistent. We’ve been growing on a steady 20-30% every month since we’ve launched. We want to see that continue.
Jay: Yeah, and one thing too that we’ve learned is you got to anticipate the key seasons and the low seasons because it was hard for our first year, we really don’t know how much are we going to dip when people are going off on holidays and also how much we are going to peak when Christmas shopping season starts or when the 11/11 sales comes along. So, it’s been cool to see the roller coaster of shopping.
Mike: Cool, so awesome. So how about funding or bootstrapping or outside funding or friends or family?
Charles: The vast majority was bootstrap. In the beginning, we used our own funds which wasn’t much. And then after that, we began asking a few friends if they are willing to pitch in to give us a little get going. And we are accepting really small sums like 5,000 rmb.
Jay: One thing I liked about how we did it is, we are really just so excited to start building the product that we don’t really get so involved in the startup scene. We don’t go to pitch events, we didn’t go out and sell our idea, raising a big round of capital. Instead, we just got by on bare minimum and that put us is in the state of desperation that force us to to think, okay we need to get this product out there and we also need to make sure that our business model is one that’s going to be profitable. And we have to keep our cost low, we could not reward ourselves too early. And so that force us to be really smart about how we do things. And it is actually an asset to not have too much funding.
Charles: Yes, I agree. The idea was a solid idea but the execution I don’t think we could have come about if we received a large seed funding ground. I think that would be actually a bit of pitfall for a lot of startups. They focused too much on raising the money and then once they have the money, they think they’ve already won the game. Instead we were just focused on the only way that we can succeed is we build a really good product. And we have to be smart and we have to make sure we stay profitable or else we are not eating any food.
Mike: Yeah, I am on the same page as you guys. I think it is really the best way to build a business but I am sure you won’t have problem raising if you need it. But this is great story and I could try to dig in much longer but I know you guys are building your startup. And we are trying to get towards the end here, if there’s one tip for our listener trying to crack the China market doing business here. What would you guys give him?
Charles: I don’t think there is a magic or silver bullet, it comes down to, I think for every business, is you have to solve a real problem. And you can’t just be know how to make a great price, I am going to make a lot of money out of this, you have to be solving something that a real pain point that people experienced. And if you identify this, it doesn’t have to be something that everybody experience, but there are a lot of pain point that we experienced everyday. Focus on that pain point first, how you can make my life easier and make other people’s lives easier as well. If you can find something like that, and if you can solve that problem, then you’ve got the beginnings of a business.
Jay: I would agree to that fully. It’s all about the idea at the beginning and solving a real problem, that has a real need and you want to get involved and get feedback for people as well. Just be careful that those people aren’t just going to offer you support and encouragement and not questioned the idea. You want people to challenge you and make sure you are really onto something. And also, I think the people that you choose to work with and build it with because you can’t do it alone. And it is so important to have people you’ve worked with that you trust and you can communicate well with because you are going to be so close with your partner because you will be spending a lot of your time together, you are going to be through the ups and the downs. It is super important to have good communications that when you fight, and you will, you could eventually hugged it out and know that you are in the same page and that you are only fighting because of how much you care.
Mike: I have similar recent stories too. I think all of us do. That is great guys, thanks for being open with us and our listeners. How can everyone find you? Of course, Baopals is B-A-O-P-A-L-S.com to go crazy shopping, is there other channels?
Jay: You can basically find us on Wechat, Facebook, Instagram. Basically by searching Baopals and so the Wechat ID is baopals, on Facebook we are Baopals as well and in Instagram.
Mike: Awesome. Thanks guys so much. I think we should do a 1 year update, I’m interested. Some others will like it too if you are down. If not, we wish you guys well. Let’s hope for the best.
Baopals: We appreciate it.
Mike: All right, Baopals thanks guys. And I really like the company name and you guys got good branding and of course customer service is really important so keep up the good work. And we’ll try to get you back on in a year or so. A lot of people would like to follow up show talk like Chris Davey talking about year later after selling on Amazon FBA
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