Mention the names ‘Lazada’ and ‘Zalora’ in Southeast Asia, and you probably get better name recall than most other e-commerce or technology brands. With e-commerce and m-commerce becoming increasingly pervasive in the region, brands are looking to fast-track their presence on digital channels.
Today, with ‘on-demand’ everything, both startups and incumbents are scrambling to get ahead in connecting customers with what they want — be they end-users, other businesses, or even brick-and-mortar brands looking to bridge online and offline channels. Take for instance ServisHero, which provides on-demand blue collar work to end-users. Another example would be Qraved, a restaurant booking application.
These names have one thing in common, and that is the technology behind them, which is heavily built upon finding the best solutions for end-users: products, service providers, or even a place to dine in.
A better technology stack
More specifically, behind these brands is a Hong Kong-based startup called Imaginato, a technology provider that builds and customises technology stacks for businesses, in order to improve the way they operate, present their offerings to customers, and make business decisions.
The company has recently raised a seven-digit funding round led by the VC arm of a diversified conglomerate in South East Asia. The capital infusion is aimed at driving expansion of its technology development services in South East Asia and the USA.
Founder and CEO Sean Liao told e27 that the company is “always looking to advance its development capabilities,” noting that Imaginato also runs its development centre in mainland China. In line with this, the funding will be used to “expand the team to support more Southeast Asia and US clients.”
Liao said that the company’s extensive experience in e-commerce and online-to-offline offerings has given it adequate insight into the gaps that technology startups and even enterprises face. “All marketplaces struggle with similar issues related to maintaining quality of their merchant offerings,” he told e27.
Automation and machine learning
In this regard, the company’s additional resources will also go into building capabilities in automation and machine learning, in order to enable clients to further optimise their offerings.
“The e-commerce and O2O marketplace models have been our forte the past few years, and I’ve seen the demand for more automation and machine learning at each of these ventures. So we’ll be investing in these critical areas,” Liao said.
The focus here will be on quality. Liao has mentioned e-commerce and even the F&B business as examples. Here, Imaginato wants to improve the way businesses engage with customers through higher-quality curation and product delivery.
“The mechanisms in place today are highly dependent on manual feedback by customers via ratings and reviews,” he said. “Aside from the massive players like Amazon where they have their own proprietary algorithms, there’s nothing available to the thousands of marketplaces to learn about merchant performance and then automating the presentation of offerings to customers.”
With regard to e-commerce, he added that “it’s unfortunate that customers need to deal with poor service or out-stock products for example on these platforms, but it’s hard to avoid when there’s no underlying tech to police quality.”
No stranger to rapid iteration and growth hacking
Previously Managing Director at Rocket Internet China, Liao is no stranger to rapid product iteration. He told e27 of his team’s launching one product every two weeks. “We were pushing out Zalora countries two to three weeks at a time, with 30-day development times for custom platforms like Pinterest and Airbnb clones.”
This goes to show the capability and dedication of Liao’s team even under pressure of intense pace and intensity of product launches. “It was break-neck pace and incredible pressure. And because we were very focused on conversion funnel optimisation and other performance KPIs, it was non-stop growth hacking,” he added.
Imaginato is not limiting its offerings to upstarts, however, as it also counts enterprises among its clientele — which can, perhaps, help accelerate innovation and development even among the bigger incumbents.
“In the past three years, we’ve seen an explosion in the creation of technology-enabled startups, yet in emerging markets there are simply not enough experienced engineers to meet the surging demand. At the same time, sky-high salaries of engineers in the US have driven up the costs for technology startups, so companies have started to look overseas for more affordable talent to offset these costs,” Liao earlier wrote in a statement.
What, then, is Imaginato’s edge?
“Companies big and small all have the same issue of finding the right tech talent who can build, develop and run their technology stacks. We end up being the CTO and DevOps team for them,” Liao told e27. He added that, in contrast, “typical offshoring or outsourcing development shops are clueless about what to do to make technology actually help the business.”
An equaliser for businesses across scale and verticals
In conclusion, Liao said that Imaginato aims to build technology stacks that will be genuinely helpful to business users of all sizes, and of different use cases. “We want to find better ways to support them with better tools and best practices. Things that are typically proprietary to the big guys, I want to unlock and make available to everyone working with us.”
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