Panda Courier is a new Shanghai-based courier company catering to expatriates that offers a most cost-effective way to ship parcels to over 250 international destinations through the world’s best carriers, including DHL, UPS, FedEX and EMS. Shanghaiist sat down with the founders of the company to find out how they came together and where they see themselves going next.
Hi guys, thanks for taking the time to do this interview with us. Can you first tell us a bit about yourself and when/how you came to be in Shanghai?
Jakub Tomasiczek: I was born and raised in Poland. I have always loved technology and gadgets, and started importing electronics to Poland when I was in middle school. Back then, it was more passion than business, but this soon became a successful business because everyone was so fascinated by all these gadgets. Since most of these products came from China, I always wanted to go to China and see where these products came from. So after middle school, I moved to Shanghai without the slightest idea what China was like, and now it’s my 7th year here.
I met Teddy 2 years ago when I was still a university student, and since then we have worked on several projects together and become very good friends along the way. We are both very excited about building something of our own in Shanghai, and we are really enjoy the great adventure here.
Teddy Chen: I was raised in Wenzhou, a very commercial city where I subconsciously learned about business by observing all the success businesspeople around me. But I was not really into business to start with. My artist father had a great influence on me as I leaned towards the visual arts. My early professional career started in CCTV, the state broadcaster in Beijing, and there I worked as journalist and video editor for 5 years. Then my eagerness to explore the world led me to France, and for the following 6 years, I studied in media and worked for a company in Paris.
The original plan was to work in media until I met Jakub coincidently at a computer shop in Shanghai 2 years ago, on the second day just after I arrived here. We started talking and within just a few weeks we decided to work together, and now we have Pandacourier.com.
Bartłomiej Sawczyn: I was born and raised in Poland where Jakub and I started our first business ideas together. We’ve know each other since childhood. In the beginning I often visited Jakub in Shanghai, and soon I decided to move to Asia.
Why Shanghai, of all places?
Jakub: This place is extremely unique and there’s a sense of freedom her like nowhere else. Shanghai is a place that can’t mean nothing for you. You either love it or hate it, and I guess everyone who has spent some time here knows what I’m talking about.
Teddy: I didn’t choose Shanghai on purpose. I was just sent back by the French company I worked for, and I didn’t even like Shanghai for the first year here. But progressively I discovered so many things were happening here, I built more and more connections and friendships. The dynamism and potential here makes Paris even look too quiet and slow to me now. The seemingly limitless possibilities fascinate me and attract me all the time even I know I’d prefer living in Europe. For me, Shanghai is a place not easy to live in but even harder to leave.
Bartek: I don’t really have a choice. I came to join these guys here, but I can only say that Shanghai turned out to be a really amazing experience.
What have you been doing in Shanghai all this while?
Jakub: I graduated from Donghua University in international trade and Chinese, but e-commerce was always my real specialty. Our experience and knowledge in E-commerce and media gave us the possibility to develop many different projects. Panda Courier was something we always wanted to do at the back of our minds, and it just suddenly became real when we met each other.
How did you come to start Panda Courier?
Teddy: It really was like starting any other project. We saw an opportunity and a need in the market, and we knew how to answer that need. We combined all the resources we had or needed to have that was required to launch the business.
So why the courier business?
Jakub: To be honest, this came naturally. Bartek and I were working with a multitude of online shops here, and through it all, we gained the knowledge and experience of how to deal with logistics for small and big packages. Teddy’s presence helped us develop Chinese connections to make it possible into a real business.
Then more and more people asked for help to ship packages, including complete strangers. That was the time we discovered we could help not only our friends but also just about everyone who needed help avoiding bad experiences with unreliable companies. So we created Pandacourier.com and people know now that their packages are in safe hands.
What sets you guys apart from all the other courier companies out there?
Teddy: Since the very beginning, we always wanted to help people and give them the best possible experience. In China you buy many things but the service is often not what you expected to have, you know what i mean… For many people, price is the most important factor, and people do whatever they can to get the cheapest possible price, but many a time the service quality leaves much to be desired.
Also, in China, logistics is considered a low-level profession, and many players in the field tend to be cheap or fast, without really paying attention to things like service and other details, which can cause a lot of problems.
We have the experience and capability of dealing with the “Chinese” part of this business here, but we also have the western way of thinking and standards. We know what expectations people have in terms of service quality, and we also know how to meet those expectations.
We are not going for the cheapest service, but instead we try to provide the best deal in terms of price/quality balance. We also help our customers to optimise their shipping costs, based on time pressure, type of goods, and destination, to find the most suitable and affordable way to ship. We try to make things as easy as possible for expats here — we offer full English and French support, door-to-door delivery, and an easy-to-use and secure online payment system.
We don’t really think about competing with anyone, we don’t even consider other logistic companies here as competitors. We set a high standard and just do what we think is right. Maybe this is what sets us apart from other players and keep customers coming back to us.
What are your future plans for Panda Courier?
Teddy: We are constantly working on improving our site and service, also other aspects like our warehouse system, and optimising workflow to better cope with the increasing number of orders.
We also plan to launch in other cities around China, because more and more customers outside Shanghai are getting in touch with us.
Also, international air shipping is still very expensive, and we want to make it become more affordable for everyone.
Jakub: Some of our customers can have very special requests for shipping certain type of products. For now, we have been able to manage most of these requests, but we want to provide a bigger range of services to meet the variation of requests from our customers.
Bartek: The Chinese market is a very dynamic one and our challenge is to be responsive to changes and to be continually ahead of our game. This is key to gaining the trust of customers.
What are some of the challenges you’ve had in setting up your own business in China?
Jakub: Lots of big international companies have come to China and failed here, because they didn’t really understand the Chinese mindset and adapt to the local environment. Even after 7 years here in China, lots of things surprise me everyday.
We are very fortunate in that we are both an international and Chinese team that understands each other very well. This has helped us to face and handle the challenge from the local environment.
Our business really started from helping individuals who had difficulties doing this and that in China, not just in sending packages but in other areas of life too. We think that human touch is important in business. You need the high standards, but you also need to stick to certain values, such as honesty, sense of responsibility and humanity.
Lots of companies here focus only on maximising profits, and it really isn’t an easy environment to balance standards with service, but we believe that a good company always puts customers on the top place instead of pursuing just a quick buck.
It does’t really matter where you are and what you do. If you try to help people around you, good things will come back to you.
What advice do you have for other would-be entrepreneurs in China?
Teddy: As a start-up, I don’t think we are in the position to give others advice. But we have learned a lot by creating and running Pandacourier.com in China. Personally I think its important to always have patience to do things rightly and slowly.
Set your standards high, pay attention to details, do the right things and to them well. Don’t think about making good money but aim to make a good company. It takes longer time but will bring long term benefits.
Speed is also of the essence because the market here changes very fast, so always try to be efficient and achieve your goals in time.
Bartek: What I learned during my stay in Asia is to note that each country and the people are different. Be highly adaptive to the conditions around you and ensure a good rapport with the clients you work with. You’ll also need a lot of patience and continuous motivation to succeed here.