My Story on Lazada and E-Commerce in Indonesia

2014 11 23 indoecomm

My newest story focuses on a rapidly expanding startup, Lazada Indonsesia, that’s aiming to be the country’s Amazon.com. The piece also looks at the promise of e-commerce in the populous country.

It begins:

JAKARTA—Executives at Lazada Indonesia, a fast-growing e-commerce startup aiming to be the Amazon.com of Southeast Asia, faced a couple of unexpected challenges when they opened a cavernous new warehouse outside Jakarta last year.

The executives, who hail from Europe, were forced to build a special, refrigerated room after realizing that some perfumes they stocked were evaporating in Indonesia’s tropical heat.

Then there was something even more surprising: Staffers were forced to hold a special ceremony to rid the warehouse of what the staff feared was a ghostly presence lurking in the facility.

Challenges are par for the course at Lazada Indonesia, founded in Jakarta in 2012 and partly funded by Rocket Internet AG , a Berlin-based tech incubator that went public last month. Indonesia’s e-commerce market is still small, and Lazada had to build a lot of what it needed from scratch. But the company is plowing ahead so it can get a head start in the country over international giants like Amazon.com Inc., Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and eBay Inc.

Meanwhile, I wrote an accompanying post for our Digits blog about some of the local competitors Lazada is battling in Indonesia:

E-commerce startup Lazada is moving quickly in its quest to become Southeast Asia’s Amazon.com.

But as the company expands its operations in populous Indonesia — which analysts say is on track to be the region’s most lucrative market — it’s battling not just big multinational players like the Seattle-based behemoth. It’s also competing with some popular homegrown sites, too.

Lazada Indonesia, a business-to-consumer site founded in 2012 that offers everything from Xiaomi smartphones to bedding and badminton rackets, sees more visitors than the likes of Amazon, Alibaba and eBay in Indonesia, according to data from research firm SimilarWeb.

But several local shopping sites, little known outside Indonesia, are also hugely popular in the country of more than 240 million people.

At the top of this post: An image I snapped inside Lazada’s warehouse outside Jakarta.

Zalora Opens ‘Offline’ Shop in Singapore, and Bhutan Gets Google’s Street View Treatment

Those are the subjects of a couple of stories I wrote last week.

The first:

Amazon may be planning to open a brick and mortar shop in New York City, but Southeast Asia fashion e-commerce startup Zalora has beaten them to the punch in Singapore.

Zalora, which launched in 2012 and says it has served more than 2 million customers throughout the region, late last week unveiled its first physical store, a 4,000-square-foot shop in an upscale Singapore shopping mall.

It’s the first such physical store for an online retailer in the region, according to Zalora’s regional managing director, Tito Costa, who cited clothier Bonobos and subscription beauty-products service Birchbox as having used brick and mortar stores to good effect in the U.S. In China, meanwhile, Internet giant Alibaba has invested in a local department store operator.

And the second:

You can now take in dramatic vistas from the tiny, isolated Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan — via Google.

The tech giant Thursday unveiled Street View images — the Google Maps feature providing 360-degree panoramic images — for some 1,900 miles of roads in the remote country, which sits between India and China and is home to about 700,000 people.

That includes images of the Punakha Dzong administrative headquarters, which is one of Bhutan’s most beautiful buildings. There are also images from the capital, Thimpu, and the towns of Paro and Trongsa, as well as panoramas from a highway and photos of the country’s National Museum.

Google says the effort, which was undertaken with the cooperation of Bhutan’s Ministry of Information and Communications, required snapping more than 200,000 panoramic shots with one of its camera-equipped cars.

FireChat App Takes Off Amid Hong Kong Protests

That’s the subject of a brief story I wrote yesterday:

A new mobile messaging app that enables users to communicate in the absence of cellular or Internet connections is seeing a surge in downloads among Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters.

The free FireChat app, which launched in March, was downloaded 100,000 times in Hong Kong between Sunday morning and Monday morning, said Micha Benoliel, co-founder and chief executive of San Francisco-based Open Garden, which developed the app.

It is unclear how many protesters are using it to communicate regularly during the protests, which mark Hong Kong’s most serious confrontation with Beijing in more than a decade. Students and other protesters have flooded the city’s streets in the weeks since Beijing’s decision on Aug. 31 to impose limits on how Hong Kong elects its leader. The protests escalated Sunday, with police using pepper spray and tear gas to disperse demonstrators.

Click through for more.

2 Stories from Last Week: BlackBerry Passport Exclusive and Evernote CEO Interview

Just briefly, two stories I wanted to point out from last week.

If you don’t follow me on Twitter, you might have missed ‘em.

First, in a Wall Street Journal exclusive, I broke the news Monday that BlackBerry’s new square-shaped smartphone, the Passport, will cost $599:

BlackBerry Ltd. plans to sell its new square-screen smartphone at a lower price than rival products, as the company attempts to regain some of the ground it has lost in the global market.

BlackBerry Chief Executive John Chen said in an interview Monday that its Passport smartphone, which will go on sale starting Wednesday, will cost $599 in the U.S. without subsidies. The phone will be priced differently in some other countries based on taxes and tariffs, he noted.

Mr. Chen said that compared with similar smartphones produced by competitors, the Passport should cost in the $700 range. “But I figure that to try to get the market interested, we’re going to start a little lower than that.”

Second, on Wednesday, a colleague and I interviewed Evernote Chief Executive Phil Libin, who talked about a possible IPO and Evernote as an acquisition target:

Note-taking app Evernote Corp. has been approached in the past about a potential acquisition but prefers not to sell itself, and is considering an initial public offering in the next few years, its chief executive said.

“We’ve been approached by lots of companies as an acquisition target and I would never rule anything out, ” Phil Libin told The Wall Street Journal in an interview Wednesday.

He declined to specify the companies but called them “the usual suspects.” “The last thing we’re looking at is to have an exit,” he said. In February, Mr. Libin said a post on the anonymous messaging service Secret alleging that Evernote was about to be purchased was baseless.

Redwood City, Calif.-based Evernote has received several rounds of funding worth more than $250 million from the likes of venture-capital firms Sequoia Capital and Morgenthaler Ventures. Launched in 2008, the company allows users to store and sync text and other content across devices. It recently passed the 100 million-user mark, Mr. Libin said.

Our Exclusive Today: Twitter’s Opening an Indonesia Office

Twitter’s global head of revenue, Adam Bain, told me in an interview that the company will be opening an office in Jakarta in the next three to six months.

Our story today is online here.

As I wrote in the piece, the move underscores the importance of fast-growing, emerging markets for Twitter.

About 75% of the company’s 271 million monthly active users are outside the U.S. But Twitter derives a much smaller proportion of its revenue internationally.

Tapping markets like Indonesia — which has 240 million people, many of whom are under the age of 30 — will be crucial for Twitter’s future growth in users and advertising revenue.

Having an office in Jakarta will help Twitter work more closely with advertisers and marketers, Bain said.

Update: Embedded above and online here is video of a chat I had with WSJ Live’s Ramy Inocencio.

Samsung’s Plan to Hook Consumers in Southeast Asia

2014 08 13 samsung

Can free Frappuccinos, deals on hotel rooms, and apps offering localized content keep users hooked on Samsung’s smartphones as the company loses market share here in Southeast Asia?

The South Korean electronics giant is betting that the answer is yes.

That’s the focus of a story I wrote that ran on the front page of the WSJ Asia and in the U.S. paper yesterday.

You can find it online here.

In addition, embedded above and online here is a WSJ Live video in which I talk a bit more about the issue.

And here’s a separate post on our Digits blog about some companies that are gaining ground at Samsung’s expense: local smartphone makers little known outside the region, like Advan Digital, Smartfren, Ninetology and Cherry Mobile.

My story on BlackBerry’s turn-around push in Indonesia

A chance encounter in Jakarta with legendary Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar was merely an exhilarating byproduct of my recent Indonesia trip.

I traveled there to cover the debut of BlackBerry’s new low-cost, Foxconn-made smartphone, which it released in Indonesia as part of a high-stakes turnaround plan.

The story includes snippets from my interview with Chief Executive John Chen, and begins:

BlackBerry Ltd.’s latest stab at keeping its storied brand alive is starting here, at a launch event for its $191 smartphone, in the capital city of Indonesia.

The phone maker based in Waterloo, Ontario, unveiled its latest handset, dubbed the Z3, before several hundred people in a packed five-star hotel ballroom on Tuesday. An Indonesian hip-hop trio warmed up the crowd before BlackBerry’s new chief executive, John Chen, took the stage to introduce the phone.

The Z3 represents a number of firsts for BlackBerry, which recently replaced its chief executive and revamped its corporate strategy, after failing to find a buyer for its struggling business.

I also wrote a post with more color from the launch event.