Parenting “theAsianparent”

Speaker: Roshni Mahtani Cheung, Founder and Group CEO,  theAsianparent

Roshni Mahtani Cheung – Can you guys hear me loud and clear? Fabulous. So, yes. So I run the Parent Inc. I’m the CEO, I’m the founder. The Parent Inc is often known as theAsianparent here in Singapore but we have different publications in different markets under different brands. So the holding company is the Parent Inc.

But let me tell you a little bit about myself. And today what I’ve put together is my five Ps for how to grow a company. So I know some of you guys might be running your own businesses, some of you are working with larger organizations, and you might be internal entrepreneurs and of course, some of you would be marketers, and product managers.

I think whatever I’m gonna share, I hope some of these things you all will already know, but I hope some of them will also be new that I can share through my experience of building my company in the last 10 years with you.

The slides I hear. So a little bit about myself. So I’m a CEO, I’m the founder, but I’m also a mama to a six year old daughter. I’m also a wife. I’m also a daughter. I’m also a sister. So I’m juggling many different hats and I would say that both of them is very important to me – business as well as my family.

But I’m also a community builder, so I work with a lot of female founders specifically to help them figure out how to run a tech business, how to run a scalable business. So if any of you guys, especially the women in the audience, if any of you all are thinking about running a business, or are currently running a business, do hook me up at the end.

You’ve got my LinkedIn. Write to me. I love to figure out how I can support you in your journey as well and share with you some of my experiences in building the business for the last ten years.

1:56 – theAsiaparent and Mama’s Choice

Roshni Mahtani Cheung – So when we talk about the business, we really have two arms to our business. We have theAsianparent which is the largest content community platform for parents in Southeast Asia.

So we’re talking about 35 million unique visitors every single month. So to put that into perspective, eight out of 10 pregnancies that happen in Southeast Asia use theAsianparent. Okay? So it’s a lot of data that we’ve collected over the years, a lot of insights, and we’ve really grown with all of these families. But we also have our direct to consumer, um, which not many people know about.

And that’s called Mama’s Choice where we manufacture and produce our own baby products. So we have about 70 different baby products that we retail across Southeast Asia. These range from maternity toothpaste, all the way to breast bumps, to diaper rash creams, etc. So between the Asian parent and Mama’s Choice, I feel like I live in the world of moms and living in the world of moms means that I’m going to need to have a lot of many different partners like MoEngage to help us support this journey of motherhood.

We also are a Series D company and I wanna congratulate the MoEngage team for your phenomenal fundraise yesterday. That was amazing because especially in this kind of economic climate for what they’ve managed to pull out is very impressive. So we closed our series D in the earlier part of this year.

We raised about 22 million USD from a bunch of different investors. Some of our lead investors is Central Retail group, which is the retail giant of Thailand and Vietnam. We’ve got East Ventures, which is a growth stage VC vehicle that focuses on a lot of the tech unicorns across Southeast Asia, specifically Indonesia, and of course Line –  the messaging app that’s very well known in Korea, Japan, as well as Thailand.

3:48 – Building The Mission Of The Company 

Roshni Mahtani Cheung – So we work with all of our various different investors, strategic partners to really build the mission of the company which is to help a hundred million families in emerging markets raise healthy pregnancies and raise happy, healthy, confident children and families. So that’s what drives us as a company.

And the mission is really important, and I’m gonna talk about it in my next few slides. In the last 10 years of building this business, I’ve boiled it down the success of any business into five parameters. And the first parameter is really about the product. You need to make sure you have a good product, and when you have product market fit, you’ll know because people start using the product and you’re gonna start seeing these hockey stick growth. So a lot of people ask me things like “how do you know your park market fit?” And I said, There’s no specific indicator, but you know when you have it. 

4:48 – Product Building in Singapore and Southeast Asia

Roshni Mahtani Cheung – The second thing is that a lot of companies that build out of Singapore, one of the big problems we have is we are Southeast Asia Light. So what does that mean? It means that the experiences you have here in Singapore and whatever you build here in Singapore may not necessarily work for the rest of Southeast Asia, specifically Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam.

There, the markets are very different from us, and oftentimes in Singapore we build based on what we’re seeing in the Western developed markets. So we build what we’re seeing in the US, what we’re seeing in Europe, but when you translate that down to the rest of Southeast Asia, it might not work with all of these other 600 and 65 million people that comprise the rest of Southeast Asia once you remove Singapore.

So one of the first learnings I had was that building based on Western markets does not translate into building products for Southeast Asia. If you want inspiration, it’s really important to take inspiration from China and India. Okay? So these markets are much more similar to the Southeast Asia product, development process than the US. Uh, examples, right?

WhatsApp versus WeChat. Or WhatsApp versus Line, you’ll see how the interface looks so different from each other. Shoppy versus Amazon. And for us at theAsianparent, you know, so you see these three squiggly lines on the left hand side. Most of us here sitting in this room will know that this is the Hamburger menu.

But if you go into a tier two or tier three city in Indonesia or Vietnam or Thailand, they don’t know what that is because these are mobile first generations. When the first time they use a product, they’ve never actually seen a menu bar. They are not desktop users and so for them, navigation happens in the middle which is very similar to how the GrabApp works or Gojek or Shoppy or anyone else. So navigation not through many of them are. So these are small little nuances that you learn when you start speaking to the rest of Southeast.

6:55 – Southeast Asia Play – Going Hyper Target and Hyper Localised

Roshni Mahtani Cheung – The second thing is that, you know, we often pitch ourselves and we talk about ourselves as a Southeast Asia play, especially here in Singapore because most of us are part of regional teams and we run regional markets.

But the fact of the matter is that every market in Southeast Asia is so different from each other and tier one Southeast Asia is so different from tier two or tier three, Southeast Asia. So for example, someone in Jakarta and someone in Bangkok have a lot more in common with each other than someone from Balikpapan and someone from Jakarta, or someone from Bali and Jakarta, etc.

So it’s really important for us to think about the fact that Southeast Asia is not one, it’s, it’s made up of multiple countries, so 10 countries, but it’s made up of multiple different cities as well. So when you build for Southeast Asia, it’s not just saying, I’m building for Indonesia. You have to go hyper target, hyper localised.

So when you build communities, when you build products, you’re building it not just for Indonesia, you’re building it for Jakarta, you’re building it for Medan, you’re building it, Fritz Bay, etc. And that’s what we do at theAsianparent. We have lots and lots of different communities and chat groups, et cetera, based on localities, towns, cities, municipalities.

So it’s not just about building for Indonesia, it’s about building for Jakarta. It’s about building for BSD Tangerang in Jakarta and so forth. So the need for hyper localization. 

8:13 – Building a Holistic Product 

Roshni Mahtani Cheung – The third thing is that when we think about a product, we need to think about the product holistically. The product is the whole experience. It’s not just your website or your app. It’s really about the experience around it. It’s on your platform. It’s off your platform. It’s including things like your CRM platforms that you’re using, your marketing tech platforms that you’re using, WhatsApp groups, telegram groups, TikTok channels, Instagram channels, Facebook.

All of that becomes part of the product experience but the product is not just about digital, it’s also about offline, because the market that we’re in is still a pretty analog market. So it’s about interacting digitally and analog as well. So if you look at theAsianparent rate, we have our website, we have our apps, we have all of our various different social groups on TikTok, Instagram, etc. but we also have a lot of offline events and fairs.

We also, when we manufacture our products, we sell it online, we sell it to our community, we sell it on our website, we sell it on marketplaces, JD, Lazada, Shoppy, etc, but we also sell it in the offline stores. So it’s about having that full ecosystem and thinking about the product holistically. So that’s my experience in terms of building products in Southeast Asia.

9:26 – Finding Good Talent In Southeast Asia

Roshni Mahtani Cheung – The second thing is about your people. So when you’re building in Southeast Asia, right, one of the biggest challenges that we often hear about is that it’s hard to find good people. It’s hard to find good talent.

There’s a talent haemorrhage happening, right? People are constantly poaching our people. There’s not enough people with digital experience. Where do you find these people? So my general advice is that the first thing is that we are now part of the digital landscape and ecosystem. You don’t need people sitting in the same room as you, but we don’t even need people sitting in the same region as us.

There’s no reason why we are not building talent hubs where hubs exist. So for example, for us, we have about 450 employees, but if you look at our employees, they’re all around the world. So we have built hubs based on where we think the best talent lies. Design, for example, lies for us in Indonesia. They’re one of the most creative UI/UX design countries.

When we look at customer service, we build it in the Philippines. When we look at Technology and Product, we built it in India. So it’s really about figuring out where your talent hub lies and building according to it. It’s also about going into markets that people are not thinking about. So for example, Ukraine. Because of what’s happening there right now is a great opportunity for hiring. So a lot of people are looking for jobs, especially Product Managers, Engineers, Data Scientists, etc. And the Eastern Europeans are one of the best when it comes to anything to do with technology. So open up your horizons and really think about building people, not just where you are sitting, but opening it up to the rest of the world.

11:25 – Know Yourself And The Kind Of Leader You Are

Roshni Mahtani Cheung – The second lesson that I learned about people was that it’s really important to know yourself and what kind of leader you are and the experience I had was that when I first started off the business 10 years ago, I went on my first vacation after one year. It was Christmas, I took a trip to Vietnam and I was so excited.

I had a team of five people and I told my team, I said, Okay, you guys make sure the boat doesn’t sink. I’m going on my vacation. I’m gonna be off the chart and off the grid. You won’t be able to contact me. I came back to Singapore and I started messaging people and nobody was responding to me. So this was the Christmas New Year period, and I was going, Okay, maybe everyone’s just out celebrating for Christmas and New Year.

I come back into the office on January 3rd and there’s not a single person in my office. I looked at my table and a stack of resignation letters and it was the most heart-wrenching experience for me. Uh, and I went through the seven stages of grief, right? Denial, guilt, etc, asking myself, Did my whole team just quit on me?

What the hell’s going on here? And, and that’s when I realised, okay, what was the reason for it? I started talking to people to figure out why were you not happy working here? Why did you leave? And they said, You work us through the bones. You work seven days a week. You’re unreasonable. You have crazy expectations. We don’t wanna be part of this mission. We don’t, we don’t believe we, we wanna break and I said, Okay and, and I sat down and I introspected and I said, What went wrong here? 

I realised one of the things here was that I didn’t communicate. I didn’t communicate why I was working so hard, what was driving me, why I felt this impetus to constantly be prioritising what we are doing in the company and, then the second thing was that just because I believed in the mission or I was motivated by the mission, I shouldn’t be expecting everyone in the company to be motivated by the same mission as well. Different people have their different languages of love. Different people join organisations for different reasons.

Some are missionaries, some are mercenaries. And it’s really important to know yourself, but also to know your team. So after going through this introspection, I realised. There’s some things you can change about yourself, and there’s some things you can’t change about yourself. Your full development of your brain happens until the age of 25.

Most of your personality is determined by the time you’re 25. You can’t change yourself that much, maybe a little bit, but who you are is who you are. So I realised I need to hire people who can work with me. So let’s be authentic. Let me tell people what I really am, and if they wanna work with me, if they wanna join me on this journey, they will.

And if they don’t, it’s okay. There’s gonna be another leader. There’s gonna be another company that resonates with them even better. So know yourself when it comes to people, but know your team. So understand their language of love. What’s motivating people to come join you? And how do they take feedback? How do they feel appreciated? How do they feel loved? And once you understand your team and you don’t try to go and put your own biases onto your team, you’ll realise that you have a much more harmonious working relationship and then you can stem all these problems like attrition, etc. So that was my second experience with people.

14:43 – The Process of Building a Business 

Roshni Mahtani Cheung – Let’s move on to experience P number three which is process. So I also, one of the things is I’ve been running this business for 10 years and when I look at a lot of the tech unicorns that have come out of Southeast Asia. On an average, it takes somewhere between 10 to 15 years before you can list yourself or become a unicorn.

It’s a really long journey, and when we talk about processes, we often talk, think about, you know, how you can automate things but we don’t think about the process of resting ourself. So that’s really important. If you are in a very stressful environment, if you are in a tech product company, and I’m guessing most of you guys are, that’s why you’re working with MoEngage.

You need to make sure that you give yourself rest because it’s a marathon. And in this marathon you’re gonna have experiences sprinting, but you can’t be sprinting every single day for 365 days, 10 years. So it’s really important to make sure you have a process for scheduling rest. For myself, every quarter, I take three or four days to go on a vacation because I know I can’t take a two week vacation or three week vacation at the end of the year.

So I break it up into every quarter, I go to Benton, I go to Bali, I go, I go to Dadan, and I enjoy myself for those three or four days, and then I’m rested and I can come back and I can fight another day as well. 

16:03 – Collecting and Using Data To Make Better Decisions

Roshni Mahtani Cheung – The second thing is that it’s about collection of data. So if you’re gonna be running companies for 15 years, 20 years, or even longer, it’s so important that you’re collecting the right type of data. So for us, we create, we collect a crazy amount of data because we have all the user information about the mom, but we also have a lot of user information about the baby. 

So, for example, we have information like, you know, the birth date, hospital they gave birth in, and, the weight of the baby, the head circumference of the baby. We have the blood type of the baby. So why do you collect all this information? What do you do with all of this data? So for us, we create very segmented customer journeys, and this is where our partnership with MoEngage is so important to us because it allows us to create these very, very, very nuanced customer journeys.

It’s not just about sending an email or a CRM push notification to a pregnant woman. It’s about sending a push notification or CRM to a pregnant woman who is Chinese, living in Singapore, age 35 and blood type group A because we realise that in blood type group A, you have higher stress and cortisol levels.

So all the Chinese women here, if you are blood type group A, you have a higher propensity for being stressed because you have cortisol in your blood. Uh, whereas if you are a blood type zero or O, you don’t actually have a lot of stress cortisol hormones. So once we know this data about you, I can send you push notifications or email alerts about how to meditate, how to do yoga, how not to be stressed out.

17:35 – Hyper Targeted Customer Journeys

Roshni Mahtani Cheung – So being able to send very hyper targeted journeys is really important. But you can only do that once you start collecting crazy amounts of data and so go and think about what kind of data you wanna collect about your users and how can you get them to give you this data and not because you wanna monetize this data, but really how can you give them a personalised experience, something that’s gonna make them want to come back every single day and be more loyal to you as well as you being useful to them.

So, for us, having a good CRM system is really critical. We moved from another vendor to MoEngage and because we wanted to do crazy things with the data that we had and not many vendors were able to partner with us. So I’m really grateful to all of you guys, and that’s why I’m here today because I think this is one of the best relationships that we have and partnerships, but it’s not the only partnership that we have.

We believe that it’s important to partner up with multiple people in the ecosystem because there are so many tech partners that can unlock these kinds of magical things that it’s gonna be so difficult for us to build by ourselves. So for example, for HR our application tracking system is Jazz HR. We also use Engage Leave for OKR management.

So as a company we have about 15 to 20 different tech partners that we work with that can allow us to make use of all the data that we have, whether it’s sales data, customer data, user data, or even internal team data.

19:03 – Building a Socially Responsible Business With a Purpose

Roshni Mahtani Cheung – The fourth thing is it’s about building a business that is socially responsible and having a purpose. So a lot of us, we talk about building, you know, uh, companies and you know, are we hitting our revenue goals? Are we hitting our growth? But really, are you all doing something that is socially responsible? So it’s not just about what your mission statement is and what your vision statement is, but if you guys didn’t exist, would people be upset?

And if you do exist, are you making the world a better place? So we kept asking ourselves that as a company, so the Parent Inc. How can we make the world a better place? And we realised that one of the things that we could have a direct impact on was still birth rates. So still birth rates is one of the most devastating things that can happen to any family.

It is the death of a baby that is at full tub, and most so about 2.6 million babies every year get born still. So the moms are coming into the delivery room and they’re expecting to go home and have a big celebration or a big baby shower, but they’re coming home to plan a funeral because their baby has died.

And a lot of these still births happen in the delivery room itself. About half of them, and most of these still buds are happening here in Southeast Asia and happening here in India as well. So it’s really about figuring out what’s your purpose, what kind of impact can you have? How can you make and solve things?

So for us, we realised that we could have an impact on this statistic. So we took it on as a company to have a mission to reduce this by 10% in the next three years because, you know, we couldn’t think of a greater purpose than actually helping save a baby from dying. So ask yourself, what’s your purpose?

And this is not just about being hokey pokey out there, right? Because EY has done studies after studies looking at the, some of the top, public listed companies and companies that have true purposes and not just for profit build much better shareholder return of value. They build better revenue, they build better cost structures, and ultimately they last longer as well.

So for all of you here, if you’re working for an organisation, go back, think about what’s the higher purpose of your organisation? How are you contributing to make this world a better place? 

21:31 – Focusing on Profit Along With Purpose 

Roshni Mahtani Cheung – And that brings me to my last point, which is very antithesis to this because I was debating whether to end off with purpose or to end off with profit. And I decided that looking at the economic climate at this moment, my last point and my last piece of advice would be to focus on profit. 

So this is a really funny interview that Jeff Bezos did 10 years ago with Tom Brooker, and he asked him, you know, Amazon was going through a period of just haemorrhaging lots and lots of losses and so Tom asked him.

Do you even know how to spell profit? And he immediately stepped back. Yes. “Prophet.” And, and so that’s hilarious. Right? And that may have worked 10 years ago, but the era that we’re in today is a very, very different era. It’s quite a scary macroeconomic climate that we are in right now. So I’m so glad that MoEngage closed their funding round, because there’s not gonna be a lot of funding rounds closing the rest of this year.

Okay. We’re entering into what they call winter. And so this the era of hyper growth at all costs. Just looking at top line metrics or vanity metrics or blitzscaling is no longer in fashion. So it’s really important to be building a good business with good business fundamentals, having discipline, having durable growth, having something that can last. The years that can last for the next 10 years, 20 years can be profitable, can bring back shareholder value, and that should be the aim for all of us. 

How do we not just have growth at all cost? How do we not just have vanity metrics, but how do we actually grow a sustainable business with good unit economics and ultimately driving shareholder value through profit and I know that’s not a very popular thing in tech,  conferences and growth conferences to start and end off with but I just wanted to end off my key notes saying, these are my five tips I’ve learned, growing a business in Southeast Asia. I hope some of it has been useful for you. Thank you for your time.

My name is Roshni and please connect with me on LinkedIn. If you have children, download the theAsianparent App. If you have a pregnant aunt, sister, cousin, etc, buy them Mama’s choice products. That’s my pitch because always be closing. Thank you.


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