This week, join us with Linus, CEO and Co-founder of District.
Founded in Singapore only last year (2019), District is a brick and mortar platform designed for the needs of digitally-native brands. By offering access to offline retail as a service, we empower online brands to get their products out in front of real-life customers while staying in control of their brand and receiving the same kind of data-driven insights that they get from their online store. - Synced by District
“Our vision is to power everything offline retail”
Tell us more about the idea and inspiration behind District!
Our team initially wanted to venture down the path of starting a direct-to-consumer (DTC) brand in the apparel niche. Before starting out, we took a deep dive into researching successful startups in this space mainly in the US to understand if we could formulate a playbook that we could use to replicate and scale. In the research process, we realised a lot of these DTC company scaling by going into physical retail and opening up store after store. Seemingly a rather contrarian approach due to the layman perspective towards retail, we decided to dig a little to understand the motives of these brands going into physical retail and in the process also found out that traditional retail models were archaic for modern brands. It then came as a realisation that instead of building another DTC brand, we could build an infrastructure company that supports the growth of DTC brands - in our case, to support them going into physical retail due to the high barriers to entry that the industry poised for them.
Given the current market where everyone is moving online, what makes you go the opposite direction?
Physical retail still plays a huge role in the buyer's journey and when you look at the data, physical retail still owns the bulwark of the industry at an 80%+ average. When you dig a little deeper into the market, you realise that physical retail is not dying. It is traditional retail that is fading into the shadow with the closures of high-profile brands that failed to adapt to more current retail strategies with changing consumer behaviours.
Will you be able to share some light on the differences between current retail strategies, which you are adopting, versus traditional strategies? I am assuming "current retail strategies" is also in line with your vision of building "an infrastructure company that supports the growth of DTC brands"?
And yes, to answer your question. Traditional retail was built mainly on the concept of serving as a distribution channel (from a time before e-commerce started to boom). Stores mainly acted as an access point to which consumers can get their product. When e-commerce took off, the intrinsic value of physical retail began to dwindle when one of its main value proposition was knocked off by the convenience of online shopping and delivery. When you look at building modern retail strategies now, you have to understand that the value of a physical store has shifted quite drastically and you need to then centre the purpose of the store to aspects that you cannot achieve with e-commerce. If you look at Apple, they're done a really good job there - a store for testing products, knowledgeable staff, product servicing, events & classes, etc.
So, you can understand the various benefits of physical retail and how it can fit nicely into the overall retail strategy of a consumer brand. Hence, digitally-first brands more often than not will have a brick and mortar strategy in their road map. Where we come in with our vision is by aligning this retail condition with what the market needs.
In view of the current Covid-19 situation, do you see opportunities in a market where other industries may be struggling?
The retail industry is definitely struggling and if anything, the current situation is expeditating the cracks of traditional retail, which is evident by the demise of top retail companies in the US for example and also a handful of prominent retailers closing down in Singapore. I guess when you combine a market that is archaic and crippling with one that still holds a great market share, you get one that is poised for disruption that has plenty of latent opportunities to ride on.
When and why did you decide to start this entrepreneurship journey of yours!
As typical as the story may be, I am one of those entrepreneurs that started relatively young by flipping trading cards and collectibles, and taking advantage of market asymmetry to profit through arbitrage. In layman terms, I buy and sell things in different markets and profit off of the price difference between the markets. With that, I grew up with an inkling of always wanting to do business, while initially balancing the traditional train of thought to do a university degree regardless. However, since graduating from high school, I came to learn a lot more about the startup world through the book "Zero to One" and I decided not to pursue a university degree and jump straight into building a company.
Tell us what drives and motivates you to work everyday!
Growth. In the startup and business world, failure is really inevitable and by statistics, the bleak reality is that most companies are leaning towards failure than success. I believe the whole idea is about making progress day by day and keeping in mind that everything you do gets you closer to success or makes you a little more powerful and knowledgable in one area. With that in mind, it's a game of persistence. Each day you get better at something that gets you closer to achieving your goals.
What are the difficulties that you face when starting out? (i.e Cashflow? Pressure from family? Inexperience?) and how did you overcome those difficulties? (You had support from family/friends? Or you just power on regardlessly)
I think the main difficulties when starting from scratch boils down to experience, and that is also something that holds a lot of people back because they start having a lot of doubts before they choose to take a plunge. As mentioned above, it's about understanding that with most things, it's about the process that gets you through to slowly clear the mental hurdles and to build confidence in yourself as you journey down this path. For myself, 4/5 years back when I started to explore the startup scene, I knew nothing about companies like Uber and Airbnb and it came with reading a lot of the space and industry that you build-up knowledge to give you a better footing when starting out.
What word of advice will you have to your peers who are looking to start out!
I guess to continue from the previous question, one advice is to simply just START. Stop talking and start doing. The only way you can make progress is by executing and the longer you hold yourself back, the longer you will always hold yourself back with new reasons each time. Stop thinking about 'what ifs' in failure and start thinking about 'what ifs' in possibilities instead.
Where do you see District landing 3 to 5 years from now, or even tomorrow?
We truly hope to build something that's loved by brands and consumers, and to be the central experience point where these two groups collide. At the same time, our vision is to also build a scalable yet sustainable business that we hope we can grow to be island-wide and then regional.
About Synced by District:
Synced by District is a new generation tech store building exciting experiences around a curation of alternative and innovative tech brands. Keep a lookout as we continue to bring you a world of unique and interesting innovations to elevate your everyday.