Managing Asia

Managing Asia

Lazada's Max Bittner says winning Alibaba backing means fewer errors

Lazada wants to be a household name

How does it feel to have Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba take a $1 billion shine to your company?

"I describe it a little bit like (being) a kid in a candy store," Maximilian Bittner, CEO of the Lazada Group, tells CNBC's "Managing Asia."

Alibaba poured the 10-digit sum to gain a controlling stake in the Singapore-based Lazada Group in April this year, placing a bet on the diverse Southeast Asian consumer market of 600 million people.

But Bittner said Alibaba doesn't write checks on a whim.

"Alibaba didn't just give us money without doing a significant amount of work," he said. "The process is not an easy process so (by) the actual time the deal was signed, I didn't think I had the strength to pop open a bottle of champagne. I just wanted to sleep."

Lazada CEO: Alibaba's support means a lot to us

However, the deep experience Alibaba has gained in China and working with founder and executive chairman Jack Ma and co-founder and vice chairman Joe Tsai has allowed Bittner to shorten his own learning curve.

"For me, the single biggest advantage is really that ability to leapfrog some of that painful trial and error," he adds.

With Alibaba onboard, Lazada proceeded to buy Singapore online grocery start-up Redmart for $50 million. "The primary objective (for the deal) has been very much about Redmart's management and logistics capabilities," Bittner says, "It's about building our logistics footprint."

This comes as competition in the e-commerce space intensifies in Singapore and the region.

U.S.-listed online retail giant Amazon for one plans to expand its online retail business, according to the online technology news platform TechCrunch, with a launch in Singapore in early 2017.

Alibaba invests in Southeast Asian retailer Lazada

Yet Bittner said the more players in the space, the merrier.

"Amazon is a fantastic company (and) we're excited for them to join the fray. We've had competitors come and go the last, close to, 5 years," he said.

"Frankly, the competitor is not the other e-commerce players fighting for what is still a small piece of the market. The competitors (are) offline retailers and … retail in general. We are in a market (where the middle class) is just growing, a market that is not used to consumption yet," Bittner says.

Bittner was recently honored at the CNBC' Asia Business Leaders Awards in Jakarta with the "Asia Disruptor of the Year Award" nod, something the former investment banker says is a nice milestone for work done, but he sees a long career ahead.

"I think these awards are nice reminders of past achievements. But the past is the past, and I need to look forward as much as I can. As you said, I'm only 37 (years old) so that gives me so (many) more opportunities and exciting things Lazada can achieve (in) the decades to come," Bittner said.

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