Hong Kong-based Shopline is a mobile marketplace that seeks to position itself as a platform for non tech-savvy merchants wanting to establish a shopfront in the e-commerce space.

Co-founded by CEO Raymond Yip, CMO Fiona Lau and CTO Tony Wong, the startup at first set out to build a mobile marketplace where people could quickly trade their personal items on smartphones. However, Yip and his team quickly realised that the path to massive growth would be a long and arduous journey. Monetisation was a challenge, since it didn’t want to charge its users a transaction fee.

After reviewing its business model, Shopline shifted its focus to building mobile tools for merchants. After assessing its competitors, the team concluded that while there were many players around the world providing similar services, none provided a localised experience that suited the local conditions of subscribers.

Similarly, the price point and technical expertise that merchants needed when using competing platforms was comparatively high. Shopline then went with the idea of positioning itself as the simplest service to use, especially when configuring an online shop. Its strategy became one of enabling users to configure a shop using its service without charge and from any device the user wished.

From there, it decided to position itself as the equivalent of Tumblr; what Tumblr was for microblogging, it intended to become for mobile marketplaces. The ultimate vision became one of building a complete e-commerce ecosystem, where merchants could create shops quickly and easily across multiple platforms, with a broad exposure to the consumer community.

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Shopline’s launch
Shopline launched the beta version of their service in Q4 2013, but didn’t market the product until March 2014 due to the needs of testing the system, validating its features and collecting user feedback, along with other QA operations. Once it was confident of its stability, it escalated its marketing and saw a 70 per cent month-on-month increase from new signups in April, further validating its features. Over 30 per cent of its traffic came from Taiwan, a clear indication that there were other markets in Asia, beyond its home base of Hong Kong where Shopline was a compelling platform for both merchants and consumers. It was then invited for the Echelon Satellite event in Hong Kong and confirmed as part of the Top 50 startups.

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Future plans
Echelon 2014 attracted Shopline, due to its reputation as a platform for attracting reputable speakers, along with a positive feedback from past Echelon participants. The team thought it would be an excellent showcase for the product and also an opportunity to network with other entrepreneurs within the e-commerce space. Also that it would be an ideal forum for attracting future investors.

Currently in discussion with potential investors, it intends to close its first round of funding within the year and plans to expand its team as it gains traction. With a strong growth potential indicated by the result its core team achieved over the span of a few months, the long term prospects of Shopline look good, with the ability to bring real value to its customers and viable returns for its investors.

Considering “people building” the most important activity in a startup, Yip commented, “Your idea might change, your approach might change, or your entire product might even change to something totally different, but as long as you have a great team around it, you will always be able to overcome and figure things out.”

He emphasised on the importance of listening to and learning from customers as critical to business success. He said that as an entrepreneur, you need to develop the skill of overcoming personal biases, preconceptions and second-hand information, and to really listen to customers’ needs. Lastly, he stressed that what works in one country most certainly won’t work just across the border.

Also Read: Asian entrepreneurs should go beyond their home markets: Preetam Rai

Echelon 2014 is a two-day Startup, Technology and Business event where Asia’s most innovative startups, early-stage investors and tech industry leaders as well as tech media, gather to celebrate and build Asia’s growing tech industry, as well as make valuable relationships.

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