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Redefining logistics: Q&A with Janio’s Nathaniel Yim and Senthil Kumar

Written by Taro Ishida Published on   7 mins read

The startup is linking up logistics providers across Southeast Asia.

Founded in 2018 by four entrepreneurs, Singapore-based Janio develops logistics solutions for enterprises and individual customers. The firm is developing a delivery network that merges the services of many smaller, local providers to create door-to-door delivery routes typically offered by multinational companies such as FedEx and UPS.

KrASIA spoke with Senthil Kumar, Janio’s group head of commercial, as well as co-founder Nathaniel Yim to find out more about the startup’s plan to reinvigorate the logistics sector—first in Southeast Asia, then around the world.

The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

KrASIA (Kr): Can you tell us what Janio does?

Senthil Kumar (SK): We provide logistics solutions to companies and customers. Our business model is predicated on piecing together and stitching together, in a modular fashion, what is, as I mentioned before, still essentially a disaggregated supply chain. There are multiple players operating in silos, which means there are players in the customs brokerage, freight forwarding, and other first-mile and last-mile areas. They operate without interacting with each other—without a technology platform connecting their processes.

Janio’s platform makes those connections. Our platform pieces together an effective solution, which competes with the likes of DHL and FedEx but is cheaper and more in line with e-commerce clients’ expectations.

Kr: What is Janio’s current scale?

SK: We have grown by leaps and bounds over the past two to three years. We have the capability to deliver within ASEAN, intra-ASEAN, and outbound from ASEAN. And we connect ASEAN through major arteries with China, the US, and Australia. We have a physical presence in most of these countries.

Our expansion over the next couple of years will be to increase our footprint from a “boots on the ground” approach, as well as to add more trade themes to make our product more globally competitive.

Kr: Many logistics apps and platforms have popped up across Southeast Asia over the last few years. Why do you think that’s the case?

SK: Problems attract solutions. Logistics is an unresolved segment within e-commerce. Traditionally, logistics companies have evolved in tune with retail and B2B operational and commercial requirements. But logistics companies have not kept up with the business opportunities in e-commerce, so many startups see the chance to add value while generating sustainable revenue.

There are gaps in the transportation sector, fulfillment warehouse market, and the last-mile delivery market. No single player spans all these areas. Janio wants to be the tech layer that connects all the players, enabling customers to choose which services they want to use.

Kr: How does Janio fill those gaps? What is the uniqueness of Janio’s tech?

SK: Our tech isn’t groundbreaking, but what we do is combine our tech with sound operational processes.

Here is a very simplistic example: If you want to ship a package from Singapore to Malaysia, that’s easy to do—you pick it up at point A and bring it to point B. There are multiple players that can do this. What Janio does is transmit the information from point A to point B effectively and deal with any problems if they happen.

When you deal with multiple parties, they each have their own requirements and formats for data. A customs broker will have different requirements compared with a freight forwarder, and they will need different information too. If the data they receive doesn’t match their formats, then their internal processes will break down. Janio knows what is required. We also implement processes to ensure that if there are problems with the process, we are able to get that information back to point A.

Kr: Are there specific problems that Janio is great at solving?

SK: Returns management in ASEAN countries is a significant pain point for most e-commerce providers, especially when it comes to making it as close to an offline shopping experience as possible. For example, if you’re working with a logistics partner who does not operate in Vietnam or Hong Kong, they wouldn’t have a return solution in these markets. We conduct research to identify problems like this one and create a solution. Janio makes an end-to-end product work better by using simple tech, common sense, and operational know-how.

Nathaniel Yim (NY): We operate as a network that offers the combined reach of all partners. That means if one partner is down, then there are still others who can fulfill their roles. We work with a broad range of service providers, so the smaller ones gain access to our full network and business volume that they may not have been able to tap into before.

Kr: How big is Janio’s network?

SK: We have 150 to 200 network partner integrations across ASEAN countries, so there are multiple product types and complexities from the different customs regulations across geographies.

Kr: What are the challenges in operating across so many markets?

SK: There are many challenges. Customs regulations differ by country. For example, in Thailand, you can’t ship cosmetics without a specific license. In this case, that means our system needs to be able to reject it at the point of origin if the shipper doesn’t meet that requirement.

There are other complexities, like profits and losses. Sometimes, we have to make decisions regarding trade lanes that don’t have much volume. We want to build those up so we can pass on savings to our clients, but it’s a chicken and egg problem—without low rates, you may not be able to build that volume.

We have also encountered commercial challenges. A year and a half ago, when there were still many pandemic-related restrictions, demand for e-commerce was increasing, while the cost of freight was also shooting through the roof. We had to figure out how to ship products at a rate that wasn’t prohibitive for our clients.

We buy air freight space from airlines and set up agreements with partners, so it is a constant challenge to juggle all of that and piece it together in ways that make sense. I think this flexible model will gain traction over the next few years.

Kr: What changes in supply chain activity has Janio observed over the past year?

SK: The trade lane between Singapore and Malaysia is a perfect example. It’s one of the busiest in the world in terms of flight numbers, but it ground to a halt because there were no passenger flights. Many people then relied on trucking, or they used sea freight to ship into Malaysia.

The Philippines is another example. If you wanted to ship something into Manila, then you had to use freighter aircraft. Last year, many passenger airlines converted their aircraft into freighter planes. The upper decks were lowered to make space for pallets and the aircraft bellies were retrofitted to hold cargo. They would fly once every three or four days.

This is where a flexible supply chain model comes in handy. Recently, many people in the supply chain sector have realized that a static and fixed model doesn’t work anymore.

Kr: When do you think automated delivery will become more common in logistics in Southeast Asia?

SK: We are very far from that. The US is mostly a landlocked country, and a lot of optimizations can be done in that context. You can apply those same optimizations in Singapore or Peninsular Malaysia, but when you add thousands of islands, like what Indonesia or the Philippines have, then it becomes difficult to automate processes.

Also, the price point must make sense. Warehouse automation still has a price that is prohibitive for many clients. The cost of manual labor in many ASEAN countries is still relatively cheap.

Automation may make sense in silos—in Singapore and Bangkok, for example—but it doesn’t work across the board.

Kr: Does Janio actively address the problem of waste generated from e-commerce sales?

SK: Logistics is not a leader in the arena of reducing waste, and we have a lot of catching up to do. I think there are significant ways in which we can make contributions in the next couple of years.

Let’s look at an example: a wrong delivery generates paper waste and carbon waste. Most of these cases are created because of a lack of information or inaccurate information provided by the source. Either the e-commerce platform didn’t capture the right information, or it was translated incorrectly. Janio tries to eliminate this by setting rules at the data origin to translate data into readable information.

There’s also the matter of labels becoming paper waste. As much as possible, we employ a label-less solution. Our customs declarations are all done electronically. All delivery information is condensed into one or two barcodes. This reduces our carbon footprint.

Kr: What are the challenges that Janio has had to overcome because of its rapid growth across various markets?

SK: It’s constantly a challenge to hire the right people.

Secondly, setting up a network means there are unique problems for each partner, each country, and each operation. An example would be sortation logic—what works for one partner may not work for another, even if they are in the same market.

I sometimes envy people who work in pure tech contexts. Someone creating a SaaS product faces problems that are defined within a database framework, and that is solvable. Our problems go beyond that because they are physical and within systems.

NY: When we started, we only had three departments—marketing, operations, and tech. Now, we have more than ten, and there are several countries where we have multiple sales teams, and each team has a different way of doing things. A team that didn’t exist a year ago might be an integral part of the company now. The challenge is to work with all these teams and figure out how we evolve. There are many moving parts that must be constantly tweaked.

Kr: What are Janio’s plans for the coming year?

SK: We just started our physical operations in Thailand, although we have been operating there for several years. We intend to set up offices in the Philippines next year, hopefully.

Right now, our platform is ASEAN-focused, but we’re looking at expanding our delivery footprint with further integrations with multiple partners in Europe and the United States.

We see strong opportunities in Korea, Japan, Australia, and European countries. While we have a robust working model, we need to build upon it. It has been a challenge over the past two years because we were unable to travel. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to accelerate our plans over the next year.


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