Jungle Ventures has invested in some of the region’s most exciting founders. Founders in whom we recognized not just drive, tenacity & creativity but also humility & the ability to learn from their mistakes. David Jou is a perfect example.
Since David founded the business seven years ago, Pomelo has grown to become Southeast Asia’s largest omnichannel fashion retailer. However, the journey towards this point has not been flawless. He recognizes that along the way he made mistakes in how he approached everything from recruitment to fundraising but that he learned invaluable lessons each time. Lessons that have given him the confidence to take the brave decisions necessary to thrive in the fast-moving world of fashion.
I had the pleasure of interviewing David, hearing from him directly about the biggest mistakes he had made & asking what advice he would give to current & future Jungle Founders. Watch the full video here:
So what did we learn?
When you are running a high-growth business you are constantly making decisions that cause you to doubt yourself. There is a natural desire to surround yourself with credentialled people. People whose CVs list a prestigious education & time spent in the sorts of tech companies all founders admire.
But gravitating to these people often leads you to overlook the people who will really drive your business forward. You need to find those individuals who not only demonstrate the right skill set but who also reflect your corporate values. In the end, it is these values that should dictate who you hire, who you promote & who you grant more responsibility to.
Especially in the world of D2C, consumers are unforgiving. Customers associate your brand with the experiences they have. Compromising on any element of the brand experience — from your marketing to the after-sales service — risks upsetting loyal & new customers who are then very difficult to win back.
This means that you need to reign in your natural desire to move fast. Slow down. Invest your time not just just your money in getting every touchpoint right, every time & for every customer. David gave the example of when Pomelo rushed into their first round of verticalization & immediately hit quality problems. The complaints & comments from customers & employees hit home, really highlighting the fragility of Pomelo’s brand’s reputation.
The untold recipe for scalability and speed is to keep the business simple. A large addressable market & a solution that is elegant, simple, and easy to scale business model. If the business has too many moving parts, expensive inefficiencies will hinder expansion & the business’ ability to get ahead of customer desires will be compromised.
Market expansion should be the aspiration of technology companies in Southeast Asia but it demands founders find a new skill. The ability to let go. Pomelo was incredibly successful in its home market because the founders knew the category, knew the market & were incredibly hands-on. The temptation for David when they looked to expand into markets like Indonesia was to try & run the overseas markets by remote control. As a result, the first steps towards their regional expansion were tentative, awkward & ultimately unsuccessful.
Expansion into other Southeast Asian markets only began to gain traction when the regional team decided to let the local GMs really own the journey to growth. Empowering them to action their insight into the category, consumer & culture made the difference. Centrally one can provide the tech, HR structure, tools, and processes, but the talent had to be there on the ground and the business needed to be owned by the team locally.
David noted that perhaps the most valuable advice he has ever received was that, as a CEO, your priority has to be having enough money in the bank to pay your people at the end of the month. Getting money to invest in the business is critical but you have a greater responsibility to your people.
So he advises that you take your time to raise the right capital. Raising smart money doesn’t happen overnight. Even in their easiest round, it took over 6 months for a fundraise! Over the course of the past 7 years, it has become clearer & clearer to David that if you want to attract the best investors you have to take your time. Seek out investors who share your corporate values, get to know them, sell them on your vision, negotiate patiently & let everyone do their due diligence. Importantly this means being ready to start the next round of conversations with new investors only 6 months after closing your last round.
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By recognising his mistakes, analysing them & being deliberate in learning from them, David has constantly been improving as a CEO. His final word of advice: