Execution is a very important variable in the formula for success, meaning you have to get your hands dirty by getting in the field, he says
In May of last year, Pawel Netreba, Co-founder of foodpanda (Russia and CIS), and former VP (Global Business Development) at Rocket Internet, came to Malaysia to work on the integration of foodpanda and RoomService after the former acquired the latter. He was also tasked to find a new country manager for foodpanda.
During his stay, he got an opportunity to closely watch the startup ecosystem in Malaysia. Amazed by the growing entrepreneurial activities, he decided to rekindle the entrepreneur in him, and thus Bfab was born.
Bfab is an online beauty and wellness marketplace. The startup recently received an undisclosed amount in pre-launch investment, led by Singapore-based VC firm KK Fund. 500 Startups and Southeast Asia-focussed multi-stage investor Captii Ventures also joined the round.
In a freewheeling chat with e27, Netreba narrates his journey from Rocket Internet to Bfab.
Here are edited excerpts:
You worked at foodpanda for almost two years before starting Bfab. While foodpanda is into foodtech, Bfab is entirely different. Why this transition and how smooth was it?
Well, I always wanted to build a startup on my own, to be involved in every step of the process — from choosing the area and industry, to finding a team and investors, to starting and scaling.
Food is very hot topic at the moment, but in my opinion the beauty industry is at least the same or even more attractive: it is big, it has much higher margins and there is also a great need to disrupt the industry from offline to online.
The reason why I chose the beauty industry was also the fact there were already some bigger companies in the US and Europe, such as StyleSeat and Wahanda who proved the model will work. I assumed that if people in Europe and the US see significant benefits of having a one-stop platform where they can easily and conveniently book their beauty service without any additional charges, then why not in Southeast Asia (SEA)?
So we sat together with the team, analysed, did some field research and came to the conclusion that many customers loved the idea and were waiting for someone to facilitate and make it more convenient to book a beauty appointment.
foodpanda is going through a tough patch, of late. In India, it is facing numerous issues, including corporate mis-governance and customer complaints. Was this also a reason that led to your leaving the firm?
Not at all. I’m not commenting if foodpanda is going through a tough time or not.
I left foodpanda in the end of May. I came to Malaysia in part for SWAT (a special business development team focussed on improving all offices around the globe, headed by Rocket Internet Co-founder Marc Samwer) to head the office temporarily. My two goals were to start the post-merger integration process after we acquired RoomService, and find a permanent country manager. It took me longer than expected to find the right person.
I decided to start my own startup during my Malaysia stay. However, only after finding the new country manager, handing over and the transitioning period the timing right to set to new adventures
How the experience at foodpanda help you to set up Bfab?
The experience at Rocket Internet and foodpanda helped a lot to start Bfab – no doubt.
The key experiences I acquired at Rocket Internet/foodpanda which helped me a lot are:
1- Obtain an in-depth view of all functions and processes of an e-commerce startup. This gives you a perfect high-level overview and at the same time a comfort with detail — understanding how each function works, what are the drivers, what are the best practices and how to organise these functions.
2- Understand and learn how to manage people. Managing people will become a daily task which you have to deal with whether you like it or not.
As in all industries, people are key and your business starts or falls with your people. You have the chance to lead bigger teams, learn how to best monitor performance and lead teams to great heights.
You can also learn how poor HR strategy/attention can lead to disastrous issues. All these are extremely valuable lessons which you have to go through yourself – and Rocket Internet offers it.
3- Provide a strategic perspective on how to make a business successful. As part of the management team, you’ll learn which aspects are more important to investors, which aspects they are more sensitive, where to focus in the beginning, how best to scale, etc.
You sit together with bright minds, you learn from each other, and you get an input/feedback from one of the best investors/startup builders such as Rocket Internet Co-founder Oliver Samwer and Alexander Kudlich (a top executive at Rocket). You can get a glimpse of how they think and how to look more than two steps ahead. This is fantastic.
3 – You learn how to execute, execute, execute: At Rocket it’s all about execution.
You can plan and strategise but that is all useless if you do not execute. Execution is a very important variable in the success formula. It means you have to get your hands dirty, getting on the field, etc.
Fast execution is important to get ahead of your competition and gaining the advantage. You think quickly what you need to do, set the objective and you start running. On the way, you can adjust the direction but you need to start running, as only then you don’t waste time, get your advantage and can change the direction to improve.
4 – Work ethic, attitude and discipline. You will learn that besides being smart, working hard is a variable you can control and you should use it to your advantage.
Without hard work, the chances of success is practically zero. So, at Rocket you learn these things as you get into a culture where these aspects are reinforced.
How do you compare the Malaysia startup ecosystem with that of CIS and Russia?
It’s a big topic. But in short, Russia — contrary to many beliefs or assumptions – is very advanced in this area. You have an experienced and expert workforce around it with many talents (not only in tech) and you have the consumers who are open to try new things. Of course, this is more true for bigger cities but still.
How did you meet the other two Bfab co-founders?
I met the other co-founders while I was refining the idea and validating it. Through a common friend, I met Sergey Gaydar who supported me in developing further the idea. As for Raeesa Sya, we also met through a common friend.
When we met, we had lunch for six hours. We exchanged ideas, we understood we had the same vision and we wanted to create something which will disrupt the entire region. As she was doing something similar, we decided that she should join us and focus on Bfab 100 per cent.
How is the startup ecosystem in Malaysia evolving vis-a-vis rest of SEA?
It is hard to tell, as I’m not familiar with the SEA market, so I can’t compare.
But I think Malaysia is a perfect market to test a startup idea and do the proof of concept. You have a nice market size of around eight-nine million people in Klang Valley, you have relatively good spending power, early adopters to test your product, good pool of talents, not too expensive salary levels, and a good network of startups with whom you can exchange ideas.
How did you come across 500 Startups, Captii and KK Fund? Why didn’t you approach Rocket Internet for funding?
Rocket not invest in startups like mine. If they have an idea and are convinced, they start the Rocket model by finding investors who co-invest, finding the team, etc. So it was not an option.
I met Koichi Saito and SaiKit at Techfest in Vietnam in May when I was still with foodpanda. Bobby Liu invited me there as a guest speaker/panel participant. I got to know them there, talked to them, discussed my initial raw idea and that’s how it started.
It was a very cool place to get to know investors and other people to bounce back ideas and network — strongly recommend.
Then the real presentation and real discussion happened at e27’s Echelon in Singapore. Mike from 1337 introduced me to Khailee Ng (500 Startups) and from there, we started to discuss the possibility to work together.
What is Bfab’s ultimate goal? Are you planning to expand to other parts of the world?
I would be lying if I say we want to stay in Malaysia only. We have big plans for Bfab. But we also understand that we need to make it right in Malaysia first. So we will focus first on Malaysia, refine our business model, processes and understanding how to build a marketplace in the beauty area.
It’s one thing you know theoretically what has to be done and how. It’s another if it hits reality and you need to adopt and re-adjust.
Following are the key to success – the ability to adopt, understand how to build a successful marketplace for beauty services, what customers really want, what merchant’s real pain points are, how to work with them efficiently to help them to be more successful, and how to adopt to different countries.
Given your experience at Rocket Internet, do you plan to launch a separate startup incubator in Malaysia?
(Laughing). It’s definitely too early to say. But I like the idea. I think there’s a need for incubators á la Rocket. The critical part is to find the right balance. But let me focus on Bfab first.
What are some lessons you learned while setting up Bfab?
These are the lessons I learned:
1. Execution is key. Nothing will happen if you don’t make it happen. No relaxing time, pushing & pushing on all ends. No mercy!
2. Work culture/ethics/ discipline: As a founder you need to be on top of everything. Know all the areas, work hard, be a role model, be the first in office, the last who leaves. Don’t be too fancy to get your hands dirty, being on the field, helping everywhere you can. This will impress your employees and they will respect you. Then they will follow you and give 200 per cent for you and your company!
3. Be very flexible and be able to adjust every second! You can’t afford to make plans and stick to them like a corporate does. In startups environment & focus can change every minute and you need to be able to switch very quickly to make sure your heading the right direction to achieve your goals such as traction or other priorities.
4. Building a passionate team is not easy and takes a long time. Choose carefully and don’t make a mistake to hire a person out of time necessity. In the beginning, make sure you get the right people, who believe in you, your idea and the startup itself. Offer them less money they make to separate true believers from just workers.
5. You can’t force everyone to work the way you like it, you need to adjust to the environment you work with. Sometimes you need to give in a bit and go with the flow as you can not change the whole mentality. Nevertheless, never stop pushing and working your ass off, it’s just you need to understand where you have to back off a bit to get to your desired results.
6. Make sure you watch your costs carefully. Do not spend a cent on anything if it doesn’t have to be. Even if you receive a good funding. Don’t even try to start spending on non-essentials. You as a founder need to approve every spending! This is the only way to survive!!!
The post What foodpanda taught me is ‘execute, execute, execute’: Pawel Netreba of Bfab appeared first on e27.
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