•  | May 23, 2016 12:53 PM

    Delivering innovative tech solutions

    Network Courier's focus on proprietary technology as far back as 2011 has helped the local startup weather storms.

    SAUNTER past Network Courier's office and you might just do a double take at a shiny-black Yamaha bike behind a glass display. But much more than an exhibit, this motorbike harkens back to a time when managing director VS Kumar first started out as a dispatch rider.

    From a small startup that began with just 10 employees in 1990, Network Courier today stands as one of Singapore's leading courier service providers with 178 staff members. These days, the company makes about 15,000 deliveries each day to clients ranging from multinationals such as Philips Electronics to homegrown giants such as NTUC Income, and even global logistics company UPS.

    Growing up in a big family, Mr Kumar learnt about the value of money early on in life. The eldest of six children, Mr Kumar recalls a time when he was envious of schoolmates who had the luxury of using fancy stationery, which quite frankly, was every child's dream back then.

    Unable to afford these items, his astute mother sat him down and showed him his father's payslip, inculcating the idea of needs versus wants, and how he should instead learn to look after his siblings.

    But the crave for greater things never subsided, and being able to afford what he wanted was a challenge he set for himself since that day.

    Fast forward a couple of decades and this same desire to succeed resurfaced when a series of unfortunate events occurred. Around the same time he got into a dreadful motorbike accident, both his sister and mother suffered injuries, leaving his father as the sole breadwinner. Not wanting his father to shoulder the family's financial burden alone, he pledged to work hard as soon as he recovered.

    And this gumption made all the difference.

    Initially rejected for a job as a dispatch rider since he was unfamiliar with the roads, Mr Kumar told his interviewer that "nobody is born with experience". He begged for an opportunity to show that he could one day be an asset to the company and was told to report for work the next day. The rest as they say, is history.

    Working his way through the ranks from delivery boy to supervisor then operations manager, it dawned upon him that he could do much more as an entrepreneur.

    "I thought, on my own I can do 100 deliveries, so why don't I open my own company where I can do 1,000?"

    And so he did – at the tender age of 23. When his joint venture with other partners did not work out, Mr Kumar decided to set up his own company with his wife, whom he says inspires him to advance in his career. "I was always satisfied, but she would always encourage me to think about the next step forward," he says.

    Proprietary software

    As an early adopter of innovative technology, Network Courier grew rapidly. To keep pace with evolving technologies, the company developed its own electronic delivery software called the Virtual Client System (VCS). Launched in 2011, the VCS allows customers to process transactions online, and for the company to monitor all deliveries from start to finish. Features include e-booking, e-tracking and e-invoicing, all of which enhances the user experience.

    When asked about what makes Network Courier stand out among other startups, business development manager, Joel Bala says that the company's key positioning is to "provide consistently reliable deliveries through innovative solutions".

    Besides serving as an eco-friendly alternative, the VCS reduces the need for Network Courier to inform riders of new deliveries via phone calls, improving their safety. As Mr Bala highlights, the whole approach of having this technology developed was multi-faceted.

    Thanks to data analytics, business at Network Courier has also not been greatly affected by a slowing economy. Through observing the history of their job orders, Mr Kumar is able to detect certain trends in the market. Accordingly, resources are reallocated to burgeoning sectors, diversifying their business.

    Undoubtedly, the courier service industry is a labour-intensive one, and Network Courier says that employees are the foundation of its success.

    Mr Kumar explains that his business philosophy is best encapsulated in the brand's motto: "Driven by Passion, Trust and Relationship."Andwith 65 per cent of its staff having been with Network Courier for more than five years, it is apparent that a strong family culture resides within the company.

    Not having ever retrenched a single worker over the past 26 years, Network Courier believes in revisiting its key strategies and processes during an economic downturn.

    As Mr Bala puts it: "You can't repair a car when it's running. So when there's a slower pace of operation, we can see if realignment is needed to increase efficiency."

    Though results-driven, Mr Kumar makes the effort to understand his employees, and his fervour for the business cascades through the organisation. To support a dedicated workforce, there is much emphasis on work-life balance. Flexible work arrangements such as shift work and telecommuting are made available, while perks such as "no work after 6.30pm" were implemented for their office staff.

    Word-of-mouth marketing

    "You make every staff trust you by trusting them first," says Mr Kumar.

    Interestingly, the company doesn't have a sales team and marketing is done mostly via word of mouth.

    "It's because of the relationship we have with customers and employees," adds Mr Kumar.

    The next big thing for Network Courier is franchising and the exporting of its technology. And Mr Bala is quick to add that "last-mile fulfilment" is in the pieline. Now the company is looking at businesses with warehousing facilities, but are unable to dispatch inventory to their end-consumers – which is where Network Courier comes in.

    Besides managing the business, Mr Kumar's portfolio includes being vice-president of international relations at the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME). There, he works with government bodies to promote the Singapore brand, allowing SMEs to internationalise.

    According to both Mr Kumar and Mr Bala, a key challenge facing Singapore SMEs is higher operating costs.

    To overcome this, SMEs have to be "innovative and look into automation or robotics" that will create sustainable business models, they say. And this emphasis on tech dovetails with priorities of the recent Budget announcement, where the government encouraged SMEs to adopt deeper innovation, in order to ramp up productivity and automation via the S$4.5 billion Industry Transformation Programme.

    While Mr Kumar declined to reveal the company's turnover, Mr Bala hints that Network Courier has seen a growth of 15-20 per cent since the company's digital transformation. And this success has not gone unnoticed, attracting the attention of big boys in the market, some of whom are interested to invest or even acquire the business.

    By: RACHEL MUI
    The Business Times
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