At the start of June, Bangkok headquartered delivery firm Flash became Thailand’s first unicorn. After a fund-raising round that added US$150 million to its coffers, the four-year-old company said its value had passed the US$1 billion mark.
Flash, founded in 2017 by Komsan Lee, a young businessman born into a poor family of Chinese descent in a remote mountain village in northern Thailand, is the country’s top private courier firm, delivering up to 2 million packages daily.
Total investment in the company now stands at US$550 million. That puts it in the same league as Hong Kong’s Lalamove or Singapore’s Grab, and part of an Asia-wide growth in express delivery that recently has surged on the growth of online retail during the coronavirus pandemic.
At the forefront of this expansion are a string of Chinese companies, headed by Alibaba-owned Cainiao Smart Logistics Network, which is seeing faster revenue growth than any other part of Alibaba Group Holding’s vast empire.
Also growing hand over fist are JD Logistics, owned by Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com, which in May raised $3.2 billion in an initial public offering in Hong Kong, and SF Holding, the Shenzhen-based owner of China’s biggest courier firm, SF Express, and which earlier this year offered US$2.3 billion to buy control of Hong Kong’s Kerry Logistics Network to expand its reach into Southeast Asia.
Yet, as Flash shows, it’s not just Chinese companies that are expanding rapidly. Lee, now 29, entered the market in 2017 with a bang, slashing average delivery prices at Flash to as low as 25 baht (US$0.8), way below the 85 baht (US$2.7) then charged by its competitors.
The company now operates 7,000 drop-off and delivery points, with another 7,000 run by Flash Home, its franchise programme. It has 27,000 employees – 70% of them delivery workers – with plans to add another 10,000 by the end of 2022.
Helping this growth is the high rate of digital adoption in Asian societies. That in turn is driving advances in data analytics and other digitally driven innovations, especially for logistics and related delivery services. The operational efficiencies this bring both lower costs, allowing firms such as Flash to cut their prices, and reduce the environmental impact of their services, thus making them more sustainable.
Earlier this year, the company announced three additional services: zero return delivery fees, an increase of insurance on goods valued up to 2,000 baht (US$65) and guaranteed delivery services. It also hopes to begin delivering items weighing more than 200 kilograms.
Business users like Flash’s free technology suite, Flash Radar, which allows online merchants an analytical view of their sales, the ability to manage inventory and print labels with its Flash Printer or its portable Flash Toy.
The company is now looking beyond delivery to other online services, with plans to launch Flash Pay, a financial service for online lending and payments that will be located at PTT Oil and Retail gas stations.