The New Aim headquarters shares the understated humility of its CEO in many ways, despite being home to Australia’s top-ranked single focused retail e-commerce business. Entry offers very little from which to discern the business’ status as the e-commerce powerhouse that it is, though there are nonetheless subtle signs both of the success and the ambition of New Aim to be found. Two of the company’s newest hires, perhaps, lead the examples. There is Laura Daquino, the business’ Corporate Communications Manager having signed on in January of this year, making the transition from years of success in journalism. The other hire, the new and first Head of Brand for New Aim, is e-commerce industry veteran John Barkle. Poached from online marketplace MyDeal and commencing with New Aim in May, Barkle has signed on in part to assist the growth of New Aim’s latest drop-shipping venture, Dropshipzone.
And ultimately, the initially quiet and unassuming atmosphere in the company’s HQ might well be boiled down to New Aim’s preparing for yet another impending move, as it continues to adapt on the fly to its identity as the country’s largest and fastest-growing private e-commerce company.
The ambition and focus it has taken New Aim and its co-founder Fung Lam to reach where they have is much more obvious than the wealth and success outwardly appear. With New Aim already one of IBISWorld’s Top 500 Private Companies in Australia, and Fung Lam one of Australia’s 250 richest people, there is little sign of any plans to slow down. In fact, quite the opposite.
It quickly becomes clear that Fung Lam and his brainchild in New Aim have, despite already achieving significant success, really only begun to scratch the surface of their ambitions.
Sitting down to discuss his life and the story of his successful business, Fung Lam sits with fellow co-founder and New Aim’s Chief Strategy Officer Cecilia Chiu beside him, the two sharing a clear bond even beyond their professional lives. At times, Chiu steps in to assist Fung Lam in responding to questions, as Fung Lam’s strong Chinese accent can often present a challenge to communicating his points concisely. The assistance also often serves to focus Lam, the dynamic between him and Chiu seeming to encourage him to open up somewhat further.
New Aim Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer Cecilia Chiu presents to Retail Fest in April 2022
Chiu also offers unique insights into the role Lam played in the earliest days of New Aim, starting with its technology and digital presence.
“When we started the business in 2005, Fung was the first IT man in the whole company for the first 5-6 years. So at that time you can see that if New Aim had only ten staff in the whole company, Fung was able to use technology to save two full time employees,” says Chiu, “This means a lot, you’re talking about a 20 percent uplift of the performance.”
In a display of his humility, Fung Lam focuses more on how the minds behind New Aim’s technology has improved in the years since the company’s founding, rather than taking too long a moment to reflect on his own role in building its foundations in this regard.
“I began lending my experience in IT, as you noted I have a Bachelor’s Degree in IT,” says Lam, “Then I brought in a CIO who had a Masters Degree in Computer Science [and] the CIO we have now has a doctor’s degree.”
Chiu steps in to elaborate further.
“After Fung we had David [Huang], the next generation CIO and he held a Masters Degree in Computer Science. He used to work with HSBC in the middle management level and he actually brought up our technology to the next level. For example, during that time we [introduced] the AI in the customer service to help us to ultimately reply to 30 percent of emails,” Chiu explains, “And now our CIO, Alex Ji – I should say Doctor Alex Ji – he was the head of data science at NAB [and] holds a PhD in Data Science. So he’s going to uplift New Aim’s technology to the next level. We have about 60 employees in data, IT and digital product delivery now [and] have already been building a big data warehouse. New Aim is connecting different channels, different courier services, so our data warehouse is very powerful. The data team that works in New Aim now is a tier one, a tier one in Australia, I can say.”
The role of technology in both the ongoing function and the history of success for New Aim is particularly clear, a role compelling Fung Lam to smile warmly as he adds, “[Technology plays] a key role, every department has good technology to support them.”
But for all that technology has allowed New Aim to achieve, Chiu interjects again to clarify the true extent of Lam’s influence at the core of how the company has evolved to function.
“Fung is very proud of the operation that he built, like say in terms of the warehouse if you could see the racking, Fung personally designed all the rackings – not any racking company in Australia,” Chiu says, “He tried to design the racking customised for e-commerce and customised for New Aim.”
The kind of hard work, dedication and ingenuity that Chiu describes is something Fung Lam later acknowledges when asked what it takes for an entrepreneur to achieve the kinds of success that he has seen. Laughing, he says, “You need to become a superman and do everything.”
Describing this kind of generalist approach and its role in entrepreneurial success sees Fung Lam open up and become more animated, appearing enthused to discuss this approach and share from his own experiences.
“Everyone else is a specialist, like a professional in accounting or a professional in IT. As an entrepreneur in your industry, you may not be a professional in everything but you must know at least a small part of everything. I came in from IT but when I started I needed to do the bookkeeping, I needed to do the cleaning, I needed to be the forklift driver. I built a warehouse, I did the website, I was the photographer,” Lam says, “As an entrepreneur you need to be able to do every single task on your own. This is what makes a entrepreneur more successful and should be the basic for an entrepreneur when they’re starting.”
“The basic skill for an entrepreneur is to know many skills, not only one skill but many skills.”
Lam laughs again, finding humour in describing the earliest days of his company and his role in assisting it to develop, something his co-founder Chiu boils down as New Aim being “the fruit of Fung’s genes”.
New Aim co-founder and CEO Fung Lam, having taken a side hobby of selling products in bulk on eBay to overseeing Australia’s largest private, purely e-commerce focused business.
This isn’t to suggest Lam has any ideas that he is going it alone in the business, however. Reflecting on what it takes to make a good leader, Lam doesn’t hesitate.
“You need to trust your team. I know for some leaders you’re thinking that you are the best, you are the king and you can do everything, but you [need to] know you’re not number one. An entrepreneur needs many skills, I mentioned Superman, but the definition of Superman doesn’t mean you’re good for everything but that you need to know a bit of everything and in each particular areassomeone must know better than you,” Lam offers, “And you need to authorise that person to do that job [because] that person will know better than you. A good leader needs to create an environment where that person can use that skill to succeed.”
Chiu laughs, recalling an example of what Lam is describing.
“A few years ago Fung made an order that ‘I don’t want to see anything I wrote in the backend system in two years time’, because he admitted that the program he wrote at the beginning was not good enough for New Aim,” Chiu recalls.
“You talk about a leader,” Lam adds, “Now [New Aim] is a success not because of me, but the whole team.”
The humility at the heart of this approach to good leadership, it would seem, is as much a part of who Fung Lam is as a person as it is at the heart of his approach to being a leader. In turn, it seems, this may be one reason New Aim enjoys a reputation as Australian retail’s ‘best kept secret’.
“Fung is very low profile, he doesn’t feel comfortable talking too much in public. You will see the difference between [the founders of] Catch or Kogan and the founder of New Aim. Another point of difference for New Aim is that we don’t treat any other online retailer as competitors, we treat them as a business partner,” Chiu says, “We treat everyone that comes into the industry as a business partner to make the whole industry better, rather than focus on New Aim getting famous. The philosophy of New Aim is that we want to build up the whole industry, we want to build the infrastructure of the whole industry, we don’t want to get famous. We want to help [and] increase the performance of the whole industry.”
Lam concurs, saying, “The philosophy is built around win-win. The business wins, your business partner wins, we win together. We don’t want to fight someone to become a winner, we just want to help everyone because we share a goal.”
When addressing the financial success his stewardship of New Aim has granted him, too, Fung Lam sheds preconceptions about the mindset of someone worth an estimated amount of almost $1 billion. This owes in no small part again to Lam’s personality, as Chiu says, “His friends like to joke that making money is his skill, but saving money is his hobby.”
“And also now I need to keep the company running for many families to survive and succeed,” Lam adds, “I think this is more important than personal value. Sometimes I’m thinking I’m not the boss actually, I work for my employees.”
New Aim co-founder and CEO Fung Lam addressing New Aim staff flanked by CSO and co-founder Cecilia Chiu and David Huang as CIO Dr Alex Ji watches on.
The entrepreneurial success in business and e-commerce is somewhat far removed from Fung Lam’s original aspirations as a younger man, it’s fair to say, as Lam recalls himself in his late teen years aspiring not to be the leader of a meteoric e-commerce success story, but a policeman. That aspiration differs even greatly from the recent aspirations of his own child, with Lam’s humility appearing to have passed onto the next generation.
“A garbage truck driver,” Lam laughs, recounting what one of his children had told him they hoped to be as an adult, “For me, it was a policeman at 16-18. I just remember I wanted a job that was more exciting and would not be boring. I didn’t seriously think about what I wanted to be, I wanted to try many different things and before I created my business I’d tried more than ten different jobs before.”
This thirst for excitement makes sense when considering who Lam recalls as his hero in his younger years, pointing to Goku, star of popular anime television series Dragonball.
“He’s still watching now,” Chiu laughs.
The current inspiration and most exciting thing on Lam’s horizon now, however, might well be his and New Aim’s most ambitious goal yet.
“I use Amazon as an example,” Lam says, discussing not Amazon’s global monolithic presence in e-commerce but its even greater source of profits – web infrastructure provider Amazon Web Services, “What New Aim’s goal is – what I want – will be similar.”
Not immodest goals for a man who is otherwise more modest than one might expect, having achieved so much already in his relatively short life. But given that the innovation at the heart of Lam’s lofty new goal is the same that has already brought him and his company so far, it might be crazy to bet against him.
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