GENERAL COUNSEL, REDMART
General counsel for tech wunderkind RedMart, Christopher Chan discusses leaving the comfort of Washington DC to join a startup in Singapore – establishing its legal department and guiding its acquisition by Alibaba-owned e-commerce giant, Lazada.
GC: Transitioning from a law firm in Washington DC to a startup in Singapore is quite a change, how did you find it?
Christopher Chan: It’s great to shake up your life every now and then to get new perspectives and experiences. There is nothing like leaving behind a cushy, well-paid job in the United States to go someplace where you’re not sure if the company is going to exist three months from now – it pushes you beyond boundaries of personal risk tolerance and out of your comfort zone! However, it is an exhilarating experience, and I can honestly say I love what I do.
GC: What impact did working for a startup have on the way you operate?
CC: Joining RedMart as its first lawyer certainly changed my outlook. It became more a matter of truly learning the industry, looking for commercial solutions, seeking opportunity for new growth, and knowing that not everything is going to have a clear-cut answer. However, balancing that risk within the context of the absolute lines you cannot cross, one learns to really prove himself as both a lawyer and a business partner.
The manner in which you operate with your colleagues can also be quite different. Coming from a large law firm, the senior people tend to be much older, and much more experienced. I joined an organisation where many employees are recent graduates and have never worked with a lawyer before. You also suddenly turn into that 'senior' person, which changes the way you act, your behaviour, and the way you advise.
GC: After joining RedMart, the company was acquired by Lazada. What was your role in that process?
CC: I led the M&A process and due diligence on behalf of RedMart. It was quite overwhelming in the sense that Lazada came at us with four different law firms, a huge legal budget, and a lot of pressure. On our side, I was the only in-house lawyer with an extremely limited legal budget. However, all the business teams really pulled together to get us through it, and Ben Witherall and Mae Chong of Jones Day did a great job representing us. It was a really intense period, and we were working non-stop. It was not pretty, but we got the deal over the line. Now, RedMart and its 1,200+ employees continue to grow with full funding.
GC: Were there any factors which made the deal with Lazada particularly complex?
CC: There were definitely several factors that added to the complexity:
- The speed with which the deal happened. For our acquisition, after a very lengthy due diligence, we progressed from a term sheet to a Share Purchase Agreement in a little over a week;
- We had to work with a stretched cash flow situation to keep RedMart growing and selling throughout the process; and
- Coordinating with over 80 unique investors that included friends, family and industry folk – herding cats is a job in itself!
GC: Did the acquisition by Lazada have an impact on your role at RedMart?
CC: Yes, the role changed for me when RedMart was acquired. I'm still the general counsel, but can refocus my energy on growth and market creation, instead of fundraising. We are also working together with Lazada and Alibaba on some strategic initiatives around the region. You should check out the loyalty programme we rolled out in conjunction with Netflix and Uber called www.liveup.sg. It’s been great collaborating with some of the other tech lawyers in Singapore on these deals.
GC: How does the competitive landscape look for RedMart in Singapore?
CC: With the anticipated entry of Amazon to Singapore this year, there are new challenges looming on the horizon. That said, it is one we welcome and my team is busy preparing for our next phase.
Amazon will be a formidable player in the global market amongst a number of strong local competitors. This competition pushes us to continually improve our offerings and to remain on our toes. As a whole, online grocery shopping remains a very small piece of the customer pie – however, there is plenty of room for growth.
GC: Outside of leading the legal side of the acquisition by Lazada, are there any achievements at RedMart that you’re particularly proud of?
CC: In additional to legal, I'm also the data protection and head of government affairs. One area where we were able to shape the direction of our company is around data protection. The trust required to convince customers to purchase groceries online in Asia is challenging. Further, the industry as a whole is not as mature as in the United States. We necessarily had to get creative with our outreach and, together with the Singapore Personal Data Protection Commission, even produced a TV episode featuring RedMart's best practices around managing sensitive customer information with local actors to educate the wider population! This all resulted in RedMart being touted as safe and a model e-commerce company, which is something we continue to uphold and build upon.