Go forth and Multiply
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE - Rod Nepomuceno () - March 26, 2012 - 12:00am

I have a good number of friends.  But among those friends, there is only a handful that I can converse with for hours and hours without getting really tired.  One of this handful of friends is my good buddy and former boss, Jack Madrid.

Jack is a very entertaining person, and conversations with him are always filled with stories, jokes and boisterous laughter.  One of the reasons he’s very entertaining is because of his very diverse background.  Jack has so much to share, and he shares it with so much passion and gusto. While he was still the head honcho of Yahoo! Philippines, Jack was offered the post of country manager of Multiply.com Philippines in January 2011. I was curious to ask him why he made the move, given that Facebook already dominated social networking. The story of Multiply’s transformation into e-commerce and how it started in the Philippines is the subject of my conversation with Jack.

PHILIPPINE STAR: How did you become country manager of Multiply?

JACK MADRID: I helped build Yahoo!’s operations in the Philippines in mid-2009 and successfully led its rise as the dominant Internet brand in the country. In late 2010, I got a call about opening Multiply’s Philippines office as country manager. At first, this did not seem too interesting. But out of curiosity and being the type that doesn’t leave any stone unturned, I agreed to meet them. I learned about the plans and new business model of Multiply, which was to be the largest e-commerce and online shopping destination in Southeast Asia, with its biggest number of members coming from the Philippines.  It is owned by Naspers, a major media conglomerate based in South Africa, and one of the top five or six media companies in the world. While Naspers is a traditional media company (TV, cable, newspapers, radio), it has been investing and managing Internet companies globally, through its subsidiary MIH.  MIH is focused on e-commerce and gaming companies in global emerging markets such as Latin America, India, Russia, China and Southeast Asia. In the Philippines, it owns Sulit.com.ph, the online classifieds leader and the most successful local website. After learning of their plans, I decided that this was a compelling and a rare opportunity to do what has never been done. 

What sealed the deal for you, Jack?  What made you go forth and Multiply?

(Laughing) That’s our mantra!  I joined Multiply for several compelling reasons. You know me, Rod, I love startups and building companies from the ground up. Multiply’s plans to transform itself felt very much like a startup. But this was not an ordinary startup. So the second reason is that Multiply is already a known brand and in the Philippines, in particular, one with strong brand equity. A startup with a strong brand is not common. Multiply just needed to reintroduce itself and make known its new business model as an e-commerce marketplace.

The third reason why I was interested was that it’s a startup, which is well-funded.  Like I said, it’s owned by MIH, which, in turn, is owned by Naspers.  So Multiply is well supported by a strong e-commerce powerhouse with an impressive track record in emerging markets.

The fourth reason is Multiply already had a community and it was the members of that community that influenced the new business model: that is, Multiply being an e-commerce site. 

And finally, the fifth reason that sealed the deal for me was that it’s an Internet e-commerce company whose biggest market and largest number of users are in the Philippines.  When all of this hit me, I realized that this was a compelling and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a catalyst of digital commerce in our country. After one year, I am still awed by the size of how big this can become.

So explain to me what Multiply is now.

We are an e-commerce platform that provides both retail brands and individual Filipinos a way to establish online storefronts with all the functionalities needed for commerce, including a payment gateway. One of our key objectives is to empower Filipino entrepreneurs to be merchants of goods and services.  Anybody can now own and operate a business without need of large capital as in a brick-and-mortar store. By opening an account in Multiply, anybody with goods to sell can have an online store within one or two hours. And with the community growing every day, Mutliply merchants’ customer base also grows.  We currently have 120,000 Filipino merchants and this is growing day by day.

How does Multiply make money? 

Our objectives in the first two years are mass adoption and market share. We are focused on growing the number of transactions, gross merchandise value and the number of shoppers and merchants in our community. Our present sources of revenue are advertising, sponsorships but our profitability will come from e-commerce revenues in the form of transaction fees.

What are you doing to promote Multiply, or maybe get people back to Multiply?

We’ve been pretty aggressive in our marketing.  After the launch shopping party we had in October last year, we’ve been pretty active on the social-media front.  We’ve been reaching out to bloggers who write about the different product categories that our merchants on Multiply offer: electronics, tech, fashion.  We’re active on Google, SEM and Facebook for specific campaigns. Driving traffic to Multiply merchants and our marketplace is key to our success.

Who is your most popular merchant?

We have many Multiply success stories and “Multiply-neurs.” One of our most famous ones is Kim Lato of Kimstore, who is an interesting story. She started her store several years ago when she was a college student in La Salle at the age of 16, when she started selling mobile phones. Now she is one of our top merchants selling all kinds of electronics and gadgets like cameras, phones, accessories. Kim made her first million before she turned 20, thanks to Multiply.

How does one transact via Multiply?

When Multiply was not yet a fully functional e-commerce site, it was used as an advertising platform.  The photo albums were used to promote the products being offered for sale. The traditional way to consummate a transaction was basically, if someone was interested in the product and the price was agreed on, the buyer and the seller would meet in a Jollibee or an MRT station and do the transaction there.  A lot of the transactions still happen that way. Our new platform makes the shopping experience more safe, secure and convenient. Since our launch last June, we’ve seen a steep growth trend in store sales every month. The number of transactions and shoppers is growing as a result of the convenient shopping experience: the ability to find what you’re shopping for, ease of payment and dedicated customer support for both shoppers and merchants.

You also do delivery?

Delivery options are the responsibility of our merchants and we are expanding on nationwide delivery options. At present, we have a partnership with an e-commerce logistics provider, a company called “Xend” with special rates on delivery services.

What is the biggest product category being sold in Multiply?

In terms of value, it is electronics.  In terms of number of transactions, it’s fashion apparel. Prices are attractive, but aside from that, no mall can match the selection of goods. You can find anything in Multiply’s marketplace!

Apart from the cheaper prices, why would I want to buy from Multiply?

One advantage in transacting or doing business in Multiply is that we are a community.  This whole “suki” mentality of Pinoys works well in Multiply.  There is strong culture of trust within our members. What Multiply has done is make it easier for the members to transact by providing multiple payment options: credit cards — Visa and MasterCard — Paypal, BDO and BPI over-the-counter bills payments.

You seem really upbeat about Multiply, Jack.

I am.  We were awarded “Best e-Commerce Site” in the Philippines by Digital Filipino, one of the most respected Internet associations in the Philippines.  It’s full speed ahead for us.  We’re focused on growing market share and adoption of the Multiply platform.  Filipinos have always taken the lead when it comes to new technology.  We were the first to adopt texting in a big way, and we’re one of the biggest countries when it comes to social network.  With our love of shopping, I have no doubt that we Filipinos will again take the lead when it comes to e-commerce.

If the people out there wish to be a merchant, or if they want to buy something from your merchants, how do they go about it?

They can visit our Marketplace on Multiply.com, or contact me at Jackmadrid.multiply.com. I’m also on Twitter: Jackmadrid. Retail brands and individuals are also welcome to join DCOM (Digital Commerce Philippines), the first e-commerce association in the country where all the major players are already members.

So what’s your message to all would-be merchants and online shoppers out there?

What else?  Go forth and Multiply!

* * *

Thanks for your letters, folks!  You may e-mail me at rodnepo@yahoo.com.


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