Syatirah Safran’s early career had revolved around digital content. However, she leapt into the male-dominated logistics industry when Wilson Chan (the CEO of Buyandship) was looking for a candidate to head the company’s Singapore and Malaysia operations.
She first met Chan when she attended a year-long MBA program at Globis University in Japan in 2013. At the time, Chan had just founded Buyandship with his group of friends. Syatirah joined Buyandship in October 2017 after a stint as chief of content WiseMe, the Shanghai-based startup that owns video streaming platform Wiseme.
Under Syatirah’s guidance, Buyandship in Malaysia and Singapore continues to place a strong focus on online content for customers to encourage trials and sales. One of the main campaigns that was put in place for this was the Country Focus series, where Buyandship highlighted the best deals from each country where it has a warehouse, namely the US, UK, Australia, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Italy, Taiwan, and Thailand. The campaign highlighted exclusive promotions, positioning them as desirable items which users could get their hands on by using Buyandship.
In addition, Buyandship has to date raised USD 4.5 million from investors such as Infinity Ventures, SQ Capital Group, and M&S Partners. Currently, the company has close to 500,000 sign ups globally and is planning to expand to more locations in Asia.
KrASIA recently interviewed Syatirah to better understand how her experience in digital is transforming the more traditional logistics sector, her views on the challenges faced by women working in tech, and how Buyandship morphed from a company founded by four men to one that is more gender diverse today.
KrASIA (Kr): Please share with us your background and what drew you to join the logistics industry.
Syatirah Safran (SS): I was in the pioneering team of a lifestyle channel called LITV (which is now defunct) that supported Astro’s initial effort of S/TVOD (Subscription-based TV on demand/Transactional-based TV on demand)—basically what Netflix is now—with an initial 600 hours offering. I was also part of the team in Viki that pioneered the Southeast and South Asian content for the international streaming service, introducing new content to the Americas and Europe.
I was attracted to Buyandship as it was able to help shoppers access items that were previously not available locally, especially since I was once an international student living in Australia and Japan. This was after having personally experienced wanting something that I used to have easy access to, but couldn’t get hold of anymore simply because it was not available in Malaysia or Singapore.
Kr: Please tell us about your role at Buyandship. What does your day-to-day work look like?
SS: No two days are the same at Buyandship and that keeps me fired up. As the country head of Buyandship for Malaysia and Singapore, I am always on the lookout for the most popular products that customers are purchasing online by strategically analyzing what users have purchased on our database, and offline—through word-of-mouth and culling trends based on what I have observed.
On a day-to-day basis, I lead my team by identifying the best go-to-market strategies and taking charge of the customer service platform. This is to better understand consumer demands and address the various pain points faced when shopping on our platform. I believe that having a high-touch team for consumer engagement can get us direct feedback from the ground through our customers.
To me, it is of extreme importance to keep an open mind and keep an ear out for customer concerns and constantly think of ways to innovate, add value to our offerings, and improve our services for the masses.
Kr: How diverse is Buyandship as an organization?
SS: Buyandship is definitely developing into a more diverse company, compared to when it first started—the initial team that founded Buyandship were four males. We have progressed with women owning key roles such as country heads and leading the finance team in the company.
To date, we have three women in five countries taking on key management roles. In fact, female employees make up 80% of our Malaysia and Singapore team.
Kr: What have you done to create a workplace that is more diverse and what future plans will you put in place to continue making Buyandship a more diverse workplace?
SS: As as leader at Buyandship, I am conscious about creating an empowered culture. Irrespective of gender, employees are given equal responsibilities, equal faith, and trust in each of their abilities to take ownership and run the show. I believe that all employees bring to the table their unique set of skills and what matters is playing to each other’s strengths and working well as a team. In a male-dominated industry, as part of making Buyandship a more diverse and employee-centric workplace, we have inclusive and flexible policies to encourage women to rejoin the workforce.
For example, we have two mothers in the team who have recently reentered the workforce and we allow them to work from home or bring their kids to work as long as it does not disrupt their work and other employees. With such exceptions, we are able to encourage and help them regain their confidence at work and at home. To keep our team diversified, we have also accepted non-binary individuals into our internship programs.
Kr: What challenges have you encountered in the logistics sector? And how did you overcome them?
SS: Both Malaysia and Singapore, although very similar, are completely different markets. The challenge in Singapore was to start with a small budget, as compared to other competitors that are presently in the market. However, with Malaysia, forwarding logistics services are still pretty unheard of, as services like “personal shoppers” are more prevalent. Thus, building trust in this region is very important.
Kr: What do you think are the challenges for women in the tech industry, and how can we address them?
SS: As we all know, tech is traditionally a male-dominated environment. There is a tendency to dismiss women in technology and being taken seriously as a female in the industry remains one of the biggest challenges, due to gender perceptions.
However, with the rise of women entering the tech sphere and taking on key roles, the tech industry has increasingly changed its attitude towards female workers, with more acceptance and opportunities to help progress in the tech industry. The disparity between genders is getting smaller and it does seem like IT is no longer a man’s game. Even in e-sports, we are witnessing teams made up of female gamers. I do believe that with increased exposure, we are able to encourage the younger generation so that they do not limit themselves to gender-normative occupations but to always follow their passion.
I believe it is also important for women tech experts to step up and speak more in the public eye—especially at tech events which are normally male-dominated—and at the same time share their expertise and knowledge. By women encouraging and creating groups like Rails Girls, Girls in Tech, and events like Startup Weekend Women, these help to create a safe environment for women in tech as well as encourage more women to join the technology sector.
Kr: As a leader, what do you think is the biggest challenge when managing multiple teams? What is your leadership approach?
SS: The biggest challenge is to keep morale high and my employees motivated. Moving beyond a traditional logistics company, we rely heavily on tech to automate our warehouse operations. Apart from that, elements like data and content are integral to running the business as we push out content that is relevant to entice users. Just like how our business runs successfully with effective collaborations, I would instill this culture of togetherness in my people and encourage more cross-departmental collaborations. It is not about working in silos as we are always better together.
While logistics has always been a dependable industry, it is not a scintillating topic, much less a sexy industry. As a leader, I believe that logistics remains one of the key elements that contributes to and increases customer satisfaction. While pushing products online is one thing, the more important responsibility is to ensure products reach customers on time.
Therefore, I lead my team to work in a more organized manner by ensuring we cross-function within our roles, work and learn together as much as we can—with the same end goal of building and nurturing a long-lasting relationship with our customers.
This article is part of “Women in Tech,” a series by KrASIA that highlights the achievements of women who are a driving force behind South and Southeast Asia’s tech startups.