ADA CEO talks e-commerce amid rise of brands, channels

The emergence of new online selling platforms these past couple of years has given businesses more avenues to bring their products and services to consumers. However, e-commerce has now also become a vast ocean, with sellers fighting to hook people’s limited attention span.

One company aiming to drown out the noise is ADA, a Malaysia-based data and AI company, which designs and executes integrated digital, analytics, and marketing solutions.

Just recently, the company acquired SingPost’s e-commerce unit, SP eCommerce, with the aim of growing ADA’s e-commerce capability, client portfolio, talent, and integrated services.

Frontier Enterprise spoke with Srinivas Gattamneni, CEO of ADA, to dig deeper on the acquisition, and how it affects the Malaysian company’s vision for the e-commerce arena.

According to him, the focus has always been driving e-commerce penetration in Southeast Asia for their clients, noting that aside from electronics, the presence of most brands and sectors in the regional e-commerce space is quite low.

“This requires a lot of focus on building e-commerce, (and) better experiences for consumers to be able to use beyond just (the) transactional stuff that goes on in marketplaces. It is how you utilise all the way from the different consumer segments for brands to penetrate into, as well as leverage all the channels that are available to them — channels being marketplaces, their own websites, emerging channels like super apps, or even messaging channels like Viber, Line, and WhatsApp,” the chief executive said.

“(The undertaking) requires a deep integration of consumer insights and consumer data with platforms like Lazada, Shopee, etc., with the back-end marketing technology that clients have for CRM, measurement, analytics, as well as deep integration into the content and media execution. And it requires somebody to put all this together, both from a technology point of view, as well as from a marketing, advertising, and transaction enablement point of view,” he added.

Lessons from a start-up

Before Gattamneni headed ADA, he co-founded PayZazz in 2012. PayZazz was a start-up focused on SaaS and mobile payments.

“Starting something from scratch is an incredible experience. And that’s what was best for me — it was literally coming up with an idea. I remember (that time) in London Business School, and then bringing it all the way to fruition to a business launch. That’s a pretty incredible experience, because you are dealing with a huge amount of uncertainty,” the CEO recalled.

“With extremely limited resources, initially, the only resource you have is yourself, and the funding you have is your savings. So then, how do you deal with limited resources, limited funding? How do you then manage stakeholders and investors through the process, raise funding, build teams, build products, and get something into (the) market from scratch?,” he continued.

Gattamneni eventually carried these lessons over at ADA, particularly with a program called “Zero to One.”

“How do you take something, which is a completely new service line with zero revenues, and how do you convert it into minimum US$1 million revenue? Because that’s the hardest part. Once you get to one, it is then just about scaling it. And Zero to One is when you have to figure out a whole bunch of stuff, including your product, your product market fit, or your service market fit. You have to get those initial clients who are willing to pay for your service line. You have to innovate and disrupt. And you have to do it with very limited resources,” he explained.

“That ability to deal with uncertainty is probably my biggest takeaway (from the start-up days),” the CEO stressed.

Leveraging e-commerce capabilities

According to Gattamneni, the strength of SP eCommerce in driving brand website capabilities, as well as their technology enablement on various platforms like Salesforce Commerce Cloud and Adobe Commerce Cloud, is what convinced ADA of integrating the SingPost unit with their current assets.

Srinivas Gattamneni, Chief Executive Officer, ADA. Image courtesy of ADA.

“How do we marry what we are strong at, which is marketplaces, along with (which is where SP eCommerce excels at)? In our mind, we think of it all the way from experience to transaction. You’ve got to enable wonderful experiences for consumers on your brand dot coms, as well as your marketplaces, and you’ve got to enable all the transactions across your and marketplaces, and then towards how we bring those two technologies together,” he elaborated.

The process, Gattamneni said, goes back to the client’s marketing, as well as technology stack. Measurement and analytics also come into play, like how a consumer is converted along the full funnel as soon as they land on the client’s website.

“For example, when you land on a website, you want to see products that are far more relevant to you. You want to see the copy, as well as art (that is) extremely relevant, and speak to you in your language, and then how you perceive those product features — all (those) improve conversion rate on the website. How do we enable that using data analytics, media, and content?,” the CEO said.

One of the strategies to achieve this is to harmonise the following functions:

“One is the CIO/CTO from an information and technology point of view. Then (there’s) the CMO for media content. And (finally), there is the chief sales officer from a revenue point of view. We’ve got to bring all these forces together to unlock their potential,” Gattamneni recommended.

The future of e-commerce

Observing the current state of e-commerce, particularly in Southeast Asia, Gattamneni underscored two major trends:

“One, every brand is trying to push more and more sales via e-commerce, so the competitive intensity between brands in e-commerce is really increasing a lot. How good is their marketplace presence? How well are they leveraging the likes of Lazada and Shopee for beyond just transaction enablement, all the way to advertising on it, driving great promotions, and making sure that they stand out against other brands on these platforms? For that, they require a lot of energy and effort in terms of deeper consumer insights, advertising, and media content,” he said.

“Second, consumers largely affected by (the) pandemic and post-pandemic have moved into many new channels, where brands can also drive transactions. You have a lot of emerging channels where e-commerce is starting to pick up, which is content-driven e-commerce. Of course, it started off with Instagram, but now it’s extremely popular on TikTok. The amount of e-commerce growth on TikTok, I think it’s going to be humongous for a lot of brands,” the CEO added.

The key for brands, Gattamneni said, will be integrating TikTok into their full end-to-end e-commerce supply chain.

Likewise, the chief executive also highlighted the rise of OTT messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Line, and Viber in the e-commerce space.

“This is where there’s a lot of upsell, cross-sell opportunities that brands are seeing. (For instance) we provide WhatsApp business solutions to clients and then use WhatsApp to upsell and cross-sell. We do the same with Line in Thailand. And how do we basically leverage these new upcoming channels (to drive more e-commerce penetration)?,” he said.

To conclude, Gattamneni listed three areas which govern ADA’s technology roadmap for the next three to five years, the first one being big data and analytics.

“If you look at within analytics and big data, all the data that is being produced from all the digital footprint, every time you are on a digital channel, every time you do a transaction, every time you click on something, all of those, how do we harness those data insights to drive better and better customer segmentation, propensity models, intent models, and forecasting for our clients? There’s a lot of data analytics roadmap that we are always working on,” he said.

Secondly, the company is exploring consumer interfaces further, from social media channels like Instagram and TikTok, to VOD platforms.

“How do each of these interfaces become experience points for brands, as well as transaction points? We’re constantly innovating our technology to enable that,” Gattamneni pointed out.

Last but not the least is AI and automation, which are necessary to deliver a huge amount of digital disruption at scale.

“We have to leverage a lot of artificial intelligence or automation tools for content creation, media placement, forecasting, and e-commerce supply chain. A lot of our roadmap, I think, also focuses on AI as part of it,” the CEO said.