Friday’s news about e-commerce site Multiply closing down is a shocker. No one could’ve predicted this. Just last December we met up with CEO Stefan Magdalinski and Indonesia country manager Daniel Tumiwa, and they were enthusiastically talking about the future. Everyone was geared towards 2013.
A lot of people in Indonesia’s startup scene are also in shock. They told me how they’ve just met with the Multiply’s higher-ups and discussed about the company’s plans and new features to be launched. It seems even the people inside Multiply are in shock as much as we are. Why on earth did this happen?
Multiply’s transitional setback might be one of the main reasons.
The chaotic transition
The e-commerce site officially rebranded last month, complete with a brand new logo. But the transition was not a smooth one. This comment made by one of the sellers explains how difficult it is to sell products under the new system:
- The site only shows some of her product listings since the transition. It is most probably an error.
- After a buyer orders lipstick, there is no information about which color she ordered.
- It is quite difficult for the seller to contact her buyer. The new site no longer has comments or a private message feature. She can only send an email to her buyer.
That comment was made on April 5th, around two weeks after the new site launched. There was also the issue of sellers not receiving their money from the sales made on Multiply. That case has apparently been solved by the company, but a few people have lost faith in Multiply as a lot of their phone calls and emails went unanswered even after the incident.
It also seems some sellers’ conversation history with their buyers went totally bust. This comment made by one of the sellers says that she has built her contacts for over three years, and now it is all gone. She also added that her whole product listings on Multiply, which were listed on Google’s first page, is now gone.
On a personal note, even Multiply’s terms and conditions page now looks very confusing. The page mixes both Indonesian and English, and it doesn’t make Multiply look like a company that has control of its operations.
Very high burn rate
Of course, in the end it will always be about money. Besides lots of money to fix the whole fiasco described above, Multiply would also need time to reclaim the long-built reputation and faith from its sellers and buyers alike. That’s a huge setback for sure.
According to an unnamed source, Multiply is the number one e-commerce site for one of Indonesia’s largest bank BCA. In fact, the revenue Multiply records is twice as much as the second placed BCA e-commerce partner. That means Multiply is recording very huge transactions over the past years, but because of Multiply’s business model it also means that the company is burning huge amount of money too.
Multiply doesn’t take any transaction fees from its sellers. This was originally done by previous CEO Peter Pezaris as Multiply’s promotional program for its brand new e-commerce service in 2011. But since then, it has been extended up until today. So Multiply hasn’t taken any transaction fees from its sellers in the last one and a half year.
That is more or less similar to what rival Tokopedia does, but Multiply offers something more. The latter site offers delivery fee subsidy of IDR 25,000 (US$2.5) for every IDR 100,000 ($10.3) minimum transaction on selected items. A lot of popular items get this offer, and that would mean that Multiply is burning a lot of money in subsidizing these delivery offers to a lot of its users. Thus the higher the transaction, the higher the cost for Multiply. Just like the free transaction fee, this subsidy offer has been in effect since 2011.
According to the explanation given by Stefan, Multiply shareholder MIH remains optimistic about the e-commerce industry in Indonesia and the Philippines, and has increased its funding to other portfolio companies TokoBagus and Sulit.com.ph. That “increased funding” could mean MIH’s strategy changed to focus its funds on more promising companies. Perhaps MIH has decided that backing up Multiply was no longer worth the effort.
The cost to propel Multiply into the kind of company it was before the shutdown was quite high. Rebuilding its reputation and spending more of that money may no longer be the logical option. Rather than patching up your weaknesses, you might be better off putting that effort into your strengths. For MIH in this case, its strengths are TokoBagus (ranked 14th in Indonesia) and Sulit (ranked 8th in the Philippines).
A lot of Multiply users are also quite shocked and sad about this. Just last month we saw more blood shed by Japan’s e-commerce company Rakuten in its joint venture project in Indonesia.
Besides those two companies, we’ve also recently seen two popular Indonesian startups Koprol and Saling Silang raising white flags too. Could these be just the start of natural selection setting its course here in Indonesia? What do you think?