Story time! In 2011, ecommerce or online retail in Thailand was a landscape with very few players, many of whom were not local, like Ensogo or Groupon. Compared to China, where the likes of Alibaba, Tencent, and JD were taking off, it was clearly some years behind.
Incidentally, Qing Gui Huang, a Chinese entrepreneur, who had spent part of his childhood in Thailand, returned to the country searching for a new business opportunity.
He looked through electronics (being a gamer) and fashion (where he had experience in China), but neither space held the first mover advantage or margins he was looking for. That year, in 2011, he zeroed in on Thailand’s well-established yet largely offline beauty industry and launched a website Konvy.com (short for convenient).
Where will you bet your life savings?
Beauty is, and has been for several decades, a thriving industry in Thailand. Thai consumers of all ages would spend a lot of money on beauty products, but there weren’t any dedicated beauty product ecommerce platforms in Thailand at the time.
He packed his bags with his brother and flew to Bangkok. They did not have money in the beginning, only renting one room in his friend’s condominium for 5000 baht. To validate their hypothesis about Thailand’s beauty market, they went out into the streets, observing people and where they were buying.
Gui built a website first along with the support of Chinese engineers, paid out of a 100,000 baht budget he had put together from his savings to start the business.
Over the next ten years, Gui took that initial online marketplace and grew it into the country’s leading online retail platform for beauty brands. And at the heart of it was evolving with the needs of brands and consumers and ensuring their capabilities are always ahead of the game.
Following the pain points of beauty brands and consumers
Initially, the market pain points revolved around consumer access. Consumers liked to find new products and imported brands, and Konvy was the place to find all those things, especially if one couldn’t afford to go shopping offline.
From the brand end, the key challenge was going online in Thailand. Compared to setting up an online business unit in China, the barriers to entry are higher because the market is smaller vis-a-vis the costs of investments. On the other hand, Konvy already existed as an online platform for these brands to get the online exposure they needed at lower cost.
Over the next ten years, the pain points for brands and consumers also evolved. Gui calls this next stage the “content problem.” It’s not just about finding items, but having enough information and being in the right channels (from TikTok Shop to offline locations) for brands to win over customers and for consumers to make decisions. When it comes to beauty products, it can take time for consumers to decide.
Konvy has had to evolve its team as well from documenting products in stores to leveraging big data to better understand consumer behavior and help brands launch and grow in the right channels (including their own).
The next chapter for Thailand’s leading beauty ecommerce platform
This strategy has not only been beneficial to Konvy as a company, but Thai beauty as a market, with their platform enabling the competitive landscape to mature faster and new standards on consumer expectations to be set.
In 2022, Gui looked to bring this approach beyond Thailand, and for the first time, sought institutional funding to fuel these regional aspirations.
This is where we came in. Follow us for the next part of Konvy’s story and more on our investment in the company!
Also check out his in-depth interview with The Briefcase Thailand (has English subs!)
Paulo Joquiño is a writer and content producer for tech companies, and co-author of the book Navigating ASEANnovation. He is currently Editor of Insignia Business Review, the official publication of Insignia Ventures Partners, and senior content strategist for the venture capital firm, where he started right after graduation. As a university student, he took up multiple work opportunities in content and marketing for startups in Asia. These included interning as an associate at G3 Partners, a Seoul-based marketing agency for tech startups, running tech community engagements at coworking space and business community, ASPACE Philippines, and interning at workspace marketplace FlySpaces. He graduated with a BS Management Engineering at Ateneo de Manila University in 2019.