After six years as an investment banker for Goldman Sachs, Bjarke Mikkelsen faced a dilemma.
“I had a very comfortable life, but I didn’t feel like I had a purpose,” he told CNBC’s Make It.
“In banking, you’re always a consultant at the end. I knew I wanted to run a business… I wanted to do something in technology, but because I like building things, it’s also something with very practical aspects.”
Those wishes He brought the now 34-year-old to Pakistan, where he built an e-commerce marketplace called Daraz.
“The idea was always to build something inspired by Amazon and Alibaba, you have three elements. The e-commerce marketplace, logistics and payment infrastructure.”
In the year In 2018, three years after the business was launched, Daraz was acquired by Alibaba in an undisclosed deal – part of the Chinese e-commerce company’s efforts to expand in South Asia.
Daraz currently serves 40 million active customers in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Myanmar, the company said.
“One of the things I love most about e-commerce is that it’s fair, it’s fantastic equality,” Mickelson said.
“It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman, or if you live in a big city or a rural area … Everyone has the same opportunity to start a business as a seller. As a customer, you can get the same quality service.”
This is especially true in South Asia, says Mickelson, where not everyone has “the same access to offline retail infrastructure.”
“The situation of inequality really motivated me and I wanted to try and do something about it.”
How did this 41-year-old make it to one of South Asia’s leading e-commerce players? Mickelson shared his top tips with CNBC Make It.
1. Do your due diligence
Mickelson in 2011. He left investment banking in 2015, when there was “a lot of buzz around tech startups.”
“It was very easy to get funding to start something.”
But he says it’s important to do your due diligence in evaluating opportunities and finding target consumers.
“I spent a lot of time just studying the markets and understanding where the potential was,” Mickelson said.
“I started looking at South Asia and realized that it was a major part of the world and there was no e-commerce at that time. There are half a billion people – this is a huge opportunity that is often overlooked.”
Mickelson also went to Pakistan and lived there for three years, spending most of his time traveling around the countryside to understand the people, their culture and their needs.
“If I go in and try to do an e-commerce business like Amazon looks like in Denmark, it won’t work,” he added.
“Ultimately, we need to add value to build a profitable business.”
2. 100% retention
To Mickelson, being able to take your business “from 90% to 100%” is where the magic happens.
“You underestimate how much effort goes into launching a great product and building a great service… 90% is really nothing, it never flies, but you have to get to 100%.”
This is what Daraz learned in his early days as he had no experience building an e-commerce website.
“I didn’t know what I was doing… just doing a few things 100% correctly was very, very challenging.”
Slowing down is key to achieving excellence, according to Mickelson.
“E-commerce is very fast-paced and people are always under pressure to get to the next project or the next target or the next campaign,” he added.
But what I really practice is slowing things down, pausing and knowing that everything is as good as it can be. [even] When everyone thought we were done.”
3. The work never works
Although Daraz is “on the road to profitability,” Mickelson is not done.
“Once upon a time, I thought we’d reach a billion-dollar business … we’d have stable processes and everything. But now I realize that even for Alibaba, it’s always a way to improve,” he said.
“Our business model is never done. We must continue to adapt and change to external conditions in markets and new trends.”
Mickelson’s next focus? Ensuring Daraz is rated efficiently.
“This year, we’ll probably do about a billion dollars in gross merchandise volume…we’re slowing down a little bit to bring the right customers on board and focus on building customer value for each one. [business] Categories.”
For now, however, Mickelson is satisfied with the sense of purpose he has achieved, which he says is “no shortage.”
“We have over 40 million monthly active customers on the app and over 100,000 sellers on our platforms. We are truly creating opportunities and improving lives,” he added.
4. Sink or swim
Mickelson’s final piece of advice for entrepreneurs is to approach their journey with a “sink or swim” mindset.
“I really just encourage people to try and not be afraid of failure. Sometimes you fail and that’s okay,” he said.
“Usually you learn how to swim on the road and the development process is very fast, if you do it this way.”
While the transition from banking to tech entrepreneur was “very, very scary,” Mickelson has no regrets.
“It was the best thing I ever did for myself.”
Don’t miss it. Two of his starters failed. Now, this 30-year-old has bagged $32 million for the company.
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