Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Orchestrating his move toward unicorn status


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WITH his floppy hair, easygoing demeanor and corporate-casual attire, you would probably mistake Josh Supan for an upwardly mobile young executive in a big multinational firm. In reality, the home-schooled pastor’s son from Davao who describes his family as “middle class” is the chief executive officer (CEO) of a startup that is well on its way to becoming the first Philippine unicorn.

That startup, Xpanse, is in the e-commerce sphere, where he helps businesses build their presence online and takes care of the logistics of their orders. Josh accomplishes this through his platform, which offers a service called Noah, which, in cognizance of the Biblical figure it is named after, aggregates the business’ shipping needs.

Josh has always known that he will be a CEO someday, and when he entered college he knew that he would be going into the tech sphere to penetrate the retail and e-commerce industry. His fascination with how Amazon works led him to that idea.

Xpanse Chief Executive Officer Josh Supan. PHOTO FROM JOSH SUPAN’S FACEBOOK ACCOUNT

“In my observations, whatever [is trending] in the US [now]will hit our shores about 10 years later. This [is especially true] with e-commerce. Today, Americans don’t call it online shopping anymore, just shopping, and Filipinos are getting more comfortable with ordering things online.”

To prepare for his mission, Josh took up such subjects as economics and, oddly enough, music theory. When asked about his choice to dive into how music is made, he relates it to what Steve Jobs once said, where he compared himself to an orchestra conductor.


“It makes sense. With an orchestra, you have to study and plan everything according to timing, and you are not working with just one or two musicians, but a full band. You have to make sure everything comes together. In business, as a CEO, it is the same thing,” he said.

After college, Josh went to work for SM to see how retail works. This was also where he realized the challenges of brick-and-mortar stores, where they find it hard to penetrate markets in other areas.

“You spend so much to locate your brand in a mall, but there are customers that the mall cannot reach. With an archipelago of [more than] 7,000 islands … it would be too expensive to keep building more brick-and-mortar stores,” he said.

That was the premise on which Josh launched Xpanse with Noah in 2018, which makes it more convenient for brands to ship out to their customers. They accept orders on the platform and connect them to the courier companies they work with.

“The seller does not have to deal with taking down orders manually and packing them, filling out a waybill, etc. They can focus on marketing their products, diversifying, and finding new suppliers,” he said.

They are also given a special rate by the couriers because of the bulk of the business they bring and they, in turn, pass it down to sellers.

While XPanse works with big retail brands, Josh said it was proud to partner with microsellers and mom-and-pop stores.

“They get to reach markets outside of their scope, and growth has been reported at 300 percent since they partnered with us,” he reported.

With its ongoing fund seeding rounds, Xpanse is projected to generate more than $1 billion from the various commitments of international and local investors. He has been approached by investors, but advises them to take a chance on startups that have good ideas, but still need funding, which he described as “kids who just have a deck and a dream.”

And for those kids who are dreaming, Josh said their startup success was based on their being “10-percent kinda smart and 90-percent lucky.”

“I always say the reason we got to this point is that we are honest with our customers. I think being a good company is important in being able to partner with a client. Have the right processes and be the good guys. That is not an assurance, but it is a good stepping point,” he added.

Looking ahead, Josh is set to go on an Asian expansion and hopes to be a major e-commerce enabler in the continent. Things are already in play in order for that to happen, as they are into the first round of investments.



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