- Zalli Foundation
Steven Huang, Leading in a Cross-Border e-Commerce
Updated: Jan 31
He is a serial entrepreneur and senior executive in the Internet and e-commerce industries with over 10 years of experience in product management, marketing, growth hacking, strategy planning, and supply chain management. He is eager to help early-stage digital startups scale up their businesses and expand their market globally.
He has taken on multiple senior leadership roles in many well-known companies, including JD.com, Alibaba Group, Amazon, Google, GlowRoad (acquired by Amazon), and Xingyun Group (Unicorn startup backed by Alibaba founder Jack Ma).
He has ever founded two startup ventures during his career path which have raised millions of USD in funding led by a group of prestigious investors including Y Combinator, Plug and Play Ventures, SIG Asia Investments Fund, M&S Partners, Monad Ventures, Albatross Venture. He ended up selling his startup to GlowRoad, one of the largest social commerce platforms in India (now it is an Amazon company).
Now he is serving as an Advisory Board Member for multiple innovative digital startups in emerging markets, including QuickBus (the largest intercity online bus ticketing platform in Africa), Sellers Latam (the fastest-growing social commerce startup in Argentina), and JuziBot (the largest social media CRM SaaS company in China).
He has been featured by Forbes as 30 Under 30 Asia List and one of the Forbes Asia Pioneer Entrepreneurs Using Tech to Change Lives. He was also selected to be a 35 Under 35 Young Global Leader of the RCEP Initiative, APEC Change Maker, United Nations Environment Program Asia Pacific Sustainability and Circular Economy Leadership Program Fellow, and a U.S. National Science Foundation Innovation Corps Fellow.
He graduated from the University of Hong Kong, and he also received a first-class scholarship to study entrepreneurship and innovation modules at UC Berkeley, Stanford GSB, Tsinghua University, and IMD Business School.
Good day, Steven! It is a privilege to have you with us today! I'm very excited to start this interview with you. One of the topics we are going to focus on today is the cross-border e-commerce sector, on which you are well known. I am very interested to know on how you started your "journey"?
I started my career path in the cross-border e-commerce sector through my internship when I was working for the China International E-Commerce Center and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation E-commerce Business Alliance as an associate project manager. This internship experience gave me an opportunity to be exposed to the e-commerce industry. The moment when I decided to create a cross-border e-commerce startup company was during my job at Amazon, where I was responsible for seller management and engagement. At that point, Amazon had just launched their global selling program in China, and I was one of the early hires for this new business initiative. I had seen a huge market opportunity by selling Chinese products to overseas consumer market. And that truly inspired me to create my own cross-border e-commerce marketplace to help Chinese brands sell globally
Steven, "Forbes" has recognized you as a 30 Under 30 Asia honoree in the retail e-commerce sector and featured you as one of the pioneer entrepreneurs in Asia. What are your key takeaways from your entrepreneurial journey?
Firstly, it is truly a marathon for running a startup and it is nowhere a sprint. Therefore, you would need to insist on long-termism from day one and believe in your vision. It could take years of hard work to prove your idea and its product-market fit. Secondly, execution really matters. No matter how great the idea or how talented the team is - The key to success is in relentless pursuit of excellence in the execution to get the work done and drive your business growth. Thirdly, hiring the right people is very important. Recruiting a company's early team members should be a top priority for every founder. They bring you the expertise you need for your business' growth and become an advocate for your startup.
How would you sum up your experience as a manager of several companies with global operations? Is it difficult to obtain such a position because of the workload and commitment, possibly sacrificing your free time? During the past few years, I had the opportunity to be part of those super-star companies in the e-commerce industry, including JD.com, Alibaba Group, and GlowRoad (acquired by Amazon). And I had taken multiple leadership and management roles across different functionality with a key focus on Global User Growth as well as Product Operation & Management. To serve as a manager or a team leader, I would have to take charge of the following efforts:
- Develop the strategy, execution roadmap, and action plan to achieve the target.
- Create the standard operating procedure and optimize the key process to increase operational efficiency.
- Build, grow, and manage the team to get things done in a collective manner.
- Manage the financial budget and spending to ensure the maximum return on investment.
- Collaborate with all the stakeholders within the organization and the outside ecosystem.
It is a huge learning curve to work in a senior management role at giant companies and fast-growing Unicorn startups for their global operations activities. You would also face a lot of pressures, challenges and even feel struggling when you underachieve the target. When working at a large multinational companies, the most challenging part I felt is the cross-function collaboration and coordination. You would always need to spend a lot of efforts on convincing different departments to follow your thoughts and give you the resources or support needed. It is all about your communication and presentation skills and the credibility and impacts you have created through your achievements. E-commerce is really a fast-paced industry. No matter which company you work for, you will have to work very hard and sometimes sacrifice your free time to drive things forward.
In three words, how would you describe yourself? In your life, what does a typical day look like?
Self-motivated, optimistic, and compassionate. During the workday, I would usually spend around 10 hours at work with an additional 1-2 hours reading the latest industry news or articles to keep myself updated on a daily basis. I would also take another 2 hours for social networking, mostly through WeChat online messaging. Before I go to sleep, I would like to watch 1 hour TV show for fun in order to release my mental pressure so that I could have a nice sleep.
As the head of the Alibaba Group, you have achieved one of your professional goals. Would you highlight anything special from this one-of-a-kind experience?
Working at Alibaba Group was a great experience for me and accelerated my career advancement in the e-commerce industry. Alibaba is a platform where you would have a chance to collaborate with a lot of top creative talents, through which you could learn a lot from your peers. One of the most impressive principles for Alibaba employees is that the best performance today is the lowest standard for tomorrow. It always motivates you to think deeper, go further from where you are, and become a better you.
What qualities, in your opinion, distinguish a true leader, based on your experience and education?
As a leader, you would need to be a fast-learner, deep thinking, forward looking, compassionate, insightful, creative problem-solving and most importantly you shall lead by example.
Finally, we'd like to send a motivational message to all young people who want to have a successful career in this field.
Success is when preparation meets opportunity. Insist on long-termism and work hard to prepare yourself for the upcoming opportunities before they come knocking. If opportunities do not knock, then build a door like an entrepreneur. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being with us today, Steven!