Published: 28 Jun 2016
Updated: 21 Apr 2022
Category: Case Study

Compass Chats with the Founder of honestbee


At Compass, we love supporting entrepreneurs.  That’s why we are starting a new feature called #CompassEntrepreneurs, where we ask entrepreneurs for their honest advice and insight on how to start a business in Asia.

This week, we chat with Joel Sng, the CEO Founder of honestbee, a grocery shopping website that aims to change the way you shop online. An on-demand service that caters to a new generation of shoppers, honestbee allows consumer to select from a number of partners to shop from, put items into your online shopping cart, then schedule a time for delivery. Trained runners or shoppers handpick the items requested and bring them straight to the door.

Like Uber, the service provides a convenience to the customer and also payment for the shopper who delivers groceries, filling a space not yet fully explored in Hong Kong’s on-demand delivery market. The company currently serves Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan and plans on launching in more countries soon.
Joel Sng, who started his career in investment banking, harboured a long running passion for businesses with transformative potential.  

The young entpreneur shared his thoughts on starting his own business. Below are the edited excerpts. 
How did you start your business?
“We wanted to provide the masses who cannot work fixed hours with sustainable income opportunities. We chose to focus on grocery shopping because one, the quality can be standardized and maintained. Two, the stores are distributed, which means workers do not have to travel very far to get to work. As such, grocery shopping will generate a higher sustainable demand for labor.
Tell us more about your background and what got you here?
“I graduated from Harvard University studying Economics. I thrive on innovative ideas and love
building businesses! Honestbee was founded as a social enterprise, providing both, on demand convenience to customers and flexible income opportunities.”
What does a typical workday look like for you? Are you a morning or night person? When do you
do your best work?
“The first half of my day is spent meeting teams and getting updates from them. The second half of the day is spent fixing any problems that might arise based on feedback from teams in the meetings. In the evenings, I respond to emails and do business strategizing for the future. Based on my schedule, you can pretty much say I’m a whole-day person!”
What are the challenges of starting a business in Hong Kong compared to other markets? 
“Hong Kong is a unique international hub for business, where it embraces different culture, ideas and stable legal system. By providing an open environment to start a business, Hong Kong attracts multinational talents,
and business from all over the world. Honestbee now operates in Singapore, Hong Kong and Taipei. We also had a seasonal store in Niseko from December last year to February this year.”
“When it comes to doing business, there are local nuances and formalities we have to be mindful of. For example, marketing campaigns that might work in Singapore might not work in Hong Kong. Teams then have to localize the content to make sure it sits well with the people in that particular city while achieving the same objective.”
What are your goals for the next five years?
“Continue to improve our customer’s ability to enjoy fresh groceries when they need it, delivered to their doorstep. Continue to offer go-to flexible income opportunities for people who need to work but cannot commit fulltime”.
What’s your advice on how to get funding / interest from VCs?
“Build a scalable business; Make sure that the target market is big enough for your business.”
If you could do it all over again, would you have done anything differently?
“No, I would still start and build up honestbee the way I did, it [has been] an adventure!”
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