What does it take to build a global business and how to secure a piece of business halfway across the world. A tough challenge, but something Ken Low, a former Paypal employee and currently the Chief Commercial Officer of Arcadier has a lot of experience with. He shared his thoughts with Pritish Sanyal and Wai Hoi Tsang of Growth Kung Fu

Transcript Of the interview

Ken, Arcadier is not your first company. You used to work at Paypal, far and wide known, with a range of well known alumni coming out of Paypal, you've got Peter Thiel, you have Elon Musk. What is it with Paypal and their alumni. What is it with the culture that all of you guys become entrepreneurs yourself?

Everyone who joins Paypal, before you even join, you hear all these famous names, you named two, but obviously there's also Reid Hoffman, Steve Chen from YouTube fame. There is a type of person that Paypal attracts. They have intense culture-type interviews. They don't only look for people with a certain skill set, but through your 11 to 15 interviews, by meeting everyone in the region, you get a sense of what they're looking for and the kind of personality they're looking for.

It's always about challenging the status quo. There's always this common quote in the office: "Do it first and ask for forgiveness later". The sense of entrepreneurship is driving the entire culture. We're all very proud of our legacy, lineage and the Paypal mafia that came before us.

It's always an intention for most people to at some stage to be like them.

If I want to fill my startup with Paypal personality, what does that mean? What makes a Paypal personality?

I would say very thoughtful, for lack of a better word, a very intelligent bunch of people. They're always thinking about challenging the status quo. That's very much ingrained in us. Because that's how we work.

Paypal as a payment type and wallet, especially in Asia and Europe, for a number of years as it was expanding from the States, a lot of central banks didn't understand Paypal and they were concerned about Paypal in various ways. Because you don't actually have your bank regulations, understanding of the customer; the only thing you need is an email address.

A lot of times, Paypal and the team found itself up against central banks. I found myself in strategy, working very closely with the management team and compliance, speaking to various central banks to help them understand that Paypal was safe. That we had processes to identify people.

But that didn't stop some central banks from wanting to shut you down over time. So we had a couple of countries in Asia, I won't name them, where we were almost shut down, one even on Christmas Eve. We had to scramble to find ways to get the product across the line.

So there's a lot of exciting experiences, where, just trying to get Paypal accepted, even while it's an established brand, it drives the ability for people to think outside the box. That kind of experience that you get really is the same skill set and thought process that any entrepreneur needs.

Thinking outside of the box, finding ways to grow your business, growth hacking, the easiest way to reach more people with your solution and product as well as challenging the status quo. Very important, especially if you are trying to launch a disruptive technology.

Paypal, payments obviously, today you are working in SaaS in the e-commerce and marketplace space; how do these two experiences translate into one another?

Actually very much the same. In terms of Arcadier, we power marketplaces. When I was in Paypal a couple of years ago, before eBay and Paypal went separate ways, Paypal was very much with eBay. We were co-located and our businesses were very much intertwined.

There was great understanding of how marketplaces and how online payments work. I guess, when we started Arcadier out of Paypal, we actually translated a lot of those experiences into building Arcadier.

Strong understanding of marketplaces from my experiences at eBay and strong understanding of how to make marketplaces through payments and transactions. These things are required in any market place or any e-commerce business.

Those two underlying sets of background knowledge really helped us to develop Arcadier to what it is today.

What is the mission of your company in the region?

We really want to be building communities and marketplaces in the region. We want to be the leading marketplace creator, not only in Asia, but globally. Some people say we won't be the next Uber, but we hope to be the people behind the next one.

We saw the rise in marketplaces and the sharing economy over the last couple of years. First, in the US, and then in various parts of the world. Now very much in Asia itself.

We do also believe there are a lot of creative ideas out there. Entrepreneurs want to start an 'Uber for X', Uber for Gyms, Ubers for rental of dresses or P2P, there are a lot of creative ideas coming up. One of the things we also noticed when we were starting Arcadier was that not everyone had the deep pockets of Uber or eBay or the technology skill sets that came with it.

They have a very strong idea, they probably have industrial expertise in where they are trying to create their market places, but they need to be given the chance to actually even get there. That's how Arcadier was created. We want to help people translate their ideas into reality so that they at least have the chance to potentially be the next Uber.

One of our partners were actually very intrigued. They said: "So you are a marketplace in a box?" He said, "Let me put it this way. In a gold rush, you are the guys who sell the [pickles] and the shovels. You may not win big like a unicorn, but you won't go home empty handed either. In a gold rush, probably 99 percent of people would go home empty handed. But you wouldn't." Or another analogy, on a rainy days, you guys would sell the umbrellas.

It's an interesting model. It's a very interesting space to be. You are riding the current wave of the sharing economy. And we're helping a lot of startups turn their ideas into reality. We are happy to do that. We also believe that when they grow to a certain size, they will leave our platform, because they will want their own. We hope to see a few of those graduate to those mega-sizes.

It's like what Eric Schmidt from Google said to Sheryl Sandberg when she just joined: "if you have a space on a rocket ship, it doesn't matter when you are in the back or the front".

Tell us, how did you manage to clinch a major business deal halfway across the world, being a company based out of Asia?

There's an interesting story there. The long and short is that we were having conversations with various partners through our contacts. One of our partners and eventual investor was actually based out of Panama.

When he was talking to a couple of people, he actually knew the who's who in Panama, he told them about Arcadier and what we did. Only then did he realize that some of the richest families in Panama, who own some of the biggest logistics and supply chain companies, were actually thinking of coming together to actually build a market place, similar to eBay and Amazon for Latin America.

They felt that there was an opportunity there. The giants weren't really omni-present in that area. There was an opportunity for them to grow. Through a dinner conversation they found us. We actually started the project with them, flew across to Panama, 48 hours on an economy flight. It was a really long journey *laughs*.

It was a really interesting engagement. Why they found us half way around the world was that there aren't many of us in the market, that actually focus on this area. One or two in the Valley, one or two in Europe and us in Asia.

It was an interesting relationship that we had. First of all, none of us really spoke Spanish and the site had to be in Spanish. it was a very challenging project, but also a very interesting one for us to understand the process and find ways to augment the system.

One of the founders owns a major logistics system in Panama and Latin America, so they wanted us to build the application for the delivery part. So literally, we did end to end, up to printing airway bills and everything. It's almost an Amazon off the shelf, that we built for them.

It was a very challenging project because the demands were high and timezones weren't as helpful either but it was interesting for us.

So you have that personal connection. But a lot of people of personal connections somewhere, via via, second tier and third tier connections, how do you build on that to turn that lead into actual business for you guys?

Arcadier's business really relies on B2B right now. Other than the standard social media and speaking to media like e27, Tech in Asia and the other outlets that allow people to understand what we do. The only other avenue is to go through government bodies, have them be your spokesman as well as personal contacts.

With every personal contact that we have that speaks about us, we keep our message to them simple so that it's easy for them to speak to other people and make them understand what we do. Regardless of the timezones, we do pick up the calls.

We have three offices, but they are all in similar time zones, Sydney, Singapore and the Philippines. Only recently a US office. We haven't really put people there yet. We try to cover as many of the timezones as possible to keep it happening.

By and large, as a framework for marketplaces, whether you're here or half way around the world, the majority of the experience that you need for marketplaces is very similar.

Managing the process and understanding what people need is actually quite sufficient, even with our experience being based in Asia.

What you mean is that everyone is looking for an Amazon or eBay experience?

Not necessarily, these days, market places can also be defined as Airbnb, Dogvacay, Etsy, Upwork, anything that has multiple buyers and sellers are actually market places. In fact, because of the sharing economy. It goes beyond just goods and services. By and large, even if you go down the different verticals, the experiences of what people expect to see are very similar.

With products, you need to see the products first, you need to see the price and quantity and then you check out. For space, like Airbnb, you need experience to set up the dates and schedule up front with the location for instance. For services, it's always fairly standard.

People they want to see the categories of items and choose the experts they want, before you actually look at the schedule that they are available. And these experiences are actually very similar in each of the different verticals.

What is your business model? And how did you decide on this present business model?

For us, when we started looking at the market. I'll be honest with you. When we first started as Arcadier, we came from Paypal. The first thing you want to build in those days was Fintech. It was all the buzz back then.

It still is, but a little less than the early days, when every single organization, especially the financial institutions wanted their own wallet. We started with a hypothesis that we could do an O2O (online to offline) kind of experience and to work with financial institutions to look at building their own mobile wallets white label.

We always intended to be a platform. We never intended to be a consumer-facing brand. We never actually intended to explore that area of consumer-facing e-commerce. So when we started, we already intended to make it a multi-merchant platform. We knew that a lot of financial institutions were acquiring merchants regardless of whether they were online or offline.

The experience itself had to be multi-merchant. We needed a multi-merchant shopping cart and we built a wallet where the cart could be taken away when you leave a transaction site. So that the cart stays with the individual. A true universal cart, for which we also filed some patents.

That was the intent. So when we started that process, we spoke to people, institutions and everything. It was a slow burn because you are working with giants. Everybody was interested and asking to share it with their teams and asking us to go around the region and speak to people. But what transpired was that after having spoken to a number of  people over a period of 6 to 7 months, people started to understand that we actually had an aggregation model where we could aggregate buyers and sellers.

That was in tandem with the rise of the sharing economy and in those days, the buzz word was Uber -- it's not as big as now, but it was starting to get a lot of interest. So our customers helped us pivot, I would say.

It wasn't a technology pivot, it was a model pivot. Considering that we had this ability to aggregate merchants, we started to get requests for building marketplaces for this or industrial goods or deliveries for food and all that.

We started to do a lot of these projects over the course of 2014 and 2015, when our platform was in a much better shape. So we started to realize there was a much bigger story there than mobile wallets. That was how we actually moved into marketplaces.

The word sharing economy or collaborative economy wasn't even widely used in those days, but we started to realize there was a serious gap in the market where a lot of these entrepreneurs had great ideas but they weren't unicorns. They just wanted a chance to be one.

That's how we found our business model. Our business model of always being the intel and insight, stayed, multi-merchant stayed, but the focus towards helping people build their marketplaces and the sharing economy ideas transpired from there.