Clicking on to e-commerce
Candice Liu is president for business at ePRO E-Commerce, where she is responsible for strategic direction, operational management, investor relations and marketing.
The company has more than 1,000 employees, based mainly in Shenzhen and Shanghai, and owns several e-commerce websites such as DealExtreme.com, a business-to-consumer site that sells Chinese-made gadgets of all kinds, and MadeInChina.com, a retail and wholesale B2B site linking Chinese manufacturers of consumer products with overseas buyers.
Liu is a true e-commerce veteran, having worked in internet businesses for 13 years. After graduating from the University of Southern California (USC) with a business administration degree followed by an executive master’s degree from Beijing’s Tsinghua University, Liu started her career selling software to firms in the US, South Korea and other countries.
She then worked as business manager and network marketing manager at pAsia Inc, setting up their real-time bidding site, CoolBid. She left to co-found eDynamics, where she ran the company’s e-commerce subsidiary, which later became a popular women’s shopping site on mainland China under the name “Taiwan Shop”, before joining ePRO in early 2011.
E-commerce websites have yet to take off in Hong Kong in the same way that they have in many other countries, a fact that Liu attributes to Hong Kong’s small size and the easy availability of products from around the world. She believes there is huge scope for the online retail business in countries such as Brazil and Russia, her fastest-growing markets. “The reason why we are doing this business is because e-commerce is a trend of the future retail market, and it brings people together around the world, so it’s easy for overseas people to get online,” she says. “Whether the website is in the US or is in China, there is no difference to them – it’s just a click.”
Liu saw the potential of the internet early on. “I have been doing e-commerce since 1998, when nobody knew what e-commerce [was],” she says. “The first day when I went to USC, my professor taught me that this is about making money. So if you don’t want to do business, go and do something else. I chose e-commerce because... I saw the real money there.”
But finding how to make money online was not easy. Liu’s first venture – an online dating site – failed to make a profit. Inspired by the success of Amazon in the US, Liu moved into e-commerce, visiting wholesalers and retailers and asking them to give her items to sell online.
“They didn’t understand this model,” she recalls, so she just asked for a price. Once she had sold it online, she went back to her suppliers and paid the agreed price for the item.
This was an exciting time – before the internet bubble burst, Liu notes. Nowadays, she keeps motivated by setting targets and regularly assessing her progress in meeting them. It’s a strategy that she also uses when recruiting new employees. These, like her customers, tend to be tech-savvy Generation Y candidates.
“Every time I talk to a new employee, the first question I will ask them is, ‘if you can imagine yourself, what [will you be in] five or three years’ time? Who are you going to be?’ I want to know what their dream or their goal is, and then I will think if my company can [help] them to reach the target. I will also tell them about what to do to reach [their goal],” Liu says.
Her leadership style is to delegate as much as she can, set targets for her employees, and monitor their progress in the same way she does for herself. That allows her to spend less time in the office, she says, and more time relaxing over a meal – one of her favourite activities – or enjoying nature.
“Before, I used to work 14 hours a day, but not any more,” she says.
With two children aged nine and seven, who live with her in Beijing, Liu has also become a master of delegation at home.
She employs a tutor, nanny and driver to take care of the housework and homework, leaving her time to spend time playing games and doing other activities with her children. She teaches them morals and manners, which she believes is a parent’s responsibility, as well as regularly discussing their plans for the future.
“I always talk to them about their future life. I also teach them how to make money,” she adds with a smile.