Martin Toft Sørensen aims to build the biggest fashion platform in Thailand through WearYouWant.com, which currently offers over 900 fashion brands to the Thai market.
Some 15 years ago, when Martin Toft Sørensen was still a young boy, his father owned a clothing shop in the hometown of Odense. Every once in a while Martin would travel to Italy with his father to look at new products. Today, far away from Odense, Martin runs one of Thailand’s biggest online fashion platforms and is bringing good taste to the Thais.
Danish Martin Toft Sørensen has become a major influence on what the average Thai decides to wear, as he is currently building one of the biggest fashion platforms in the country. WearYouWant.com offers more than 900 different brands, while plans of bringing the site regional are already in the works.
“What makes us unique is that we sign individual shops, which often don’t have an online presence. That way, shops don’t have to hire anyone to create a site, maintain or promote it. We connect our traffic with their products.” Martin explains.
The future looks bright for WearYouWant as the platform recently came in at number 11 on Tech in Asia’s “24 startups in Asia that caught our eye” list. Furthermore, WearYouWant.com has teamed up with a number of major Thai banks, and tele-companies to increase the brand awareness and more aggressively try to conquer market shares.
Inspired by a Danish platform
While Martin was bottled on good taste back in Denmark, he explains that it was not a specific wish to target fashion, but a combined interest in fashion and inspiration from the growing Danish platform called Miinto that set him off. That inspiration and a virtually untapped market in online fashion gave the Danish entrepreneur an idea.
He partnered up with Julien Chalté, a French programmer and entrepreneur, whom he met in Bangkok while working at Visit Beyond, a Danish travel agency. To Martin, the partnership with Julien is essential.
“I believe it’s important to team up with partners, who have some qualifications that you don’t possess yourself. It’s a perfect match with me and Julien – me in charge of sales and business development and Julien who in charge of all the technical aspects.”
Scoping young talents
Not only big brands that Martin and Julien are after, but the website also features small and upcoming designers which are a big part of the platform. However, Martin says that it can be a challenge in both scoping young trendsetters and convincing them, as well as their parents, to get on the WearYouWant-train.
“We have a lot of young designers, some under 18, but the family is often behind the business, so we actually have to sell the whole idea to the parents. It can be quite a challenge to explain the 50-year-old father who doesn’t know a thing about e-commerce, that his daughter should pay 15,000 baht upfront to have her brands on our site.”
However, Martin and Julien have managed to create a hype with young designers and buyers by using a large number of celebs, mainly from the popular Thai soap operas or what is called by locals ‘Lakhon’. The actors and actresses are used as models and are regularly brought to their photo-studio, where they are photographed and video recorded wearing new items.
As explained on the website that it offers “a unique possibility to have a look inside the celebs’ wardrobes”, the Thai visitors can see what is trending with their favorite stars by visiting the celeb bar or “Dara” on the site. For instance, actress and TV-host Apple Sisangien was recently interviewed about her favourite colours, latest buys and her idea of the best dressed man.
In the near future, Martin says, the company will launch the design of their new blog. This will bring a new dimension to the way they present and cooperate with the Thai celebs.
The Road to Thailand
The road to Thailand and his own Bangkok business was a winding one for Martin. He had been back and forth in Thailand on several occasions, first as a backpacker, then as a student at the University of Ramkhamhaeng, and finally as an employee at Visit Beyond, a Danish travel company. During his studies at Ramkhamhaeng he met a girl named Jureerat.
When he came back to Thailand to work at Visit Beyond, the two started dating, and in March 2011 Martin and Jureerat married. With a marriage and an expanding business to take care of, Martin feels at home in Thailand, and the support from family has made it easy to adjust.
“There has been a big support from family and friends back home. They often come to visit me, so I am fortunate that I have a whiff of Denmark flown in every now and then,” he says and explains that Bangkok has all he needs.
“You can have everything you want in Bangkok. You can live in the middle of everything surrounded by open and friendly Thais. And just a few hours away you can kick back in Hua Hin or go chilling in Koh Samet.”
Working with the Thais
Although things are promising at the moment, starting WearYouWant was not without complications. Things run differently in Thailand and takes a bit longer, Martin explains. Especially the recruitment was a challenge.
“Getting a Thai to work at a startup sometimes takes a great deal of persuasion. When potential candidates said they were interested, they sometimes didn’t show up to the job-interview. When new employees were hired, they sometimes didn’t show up on the first working day, and sometimes they would be here for a week and then quit without leaving a message. Recruiting can really be a challenge. Most likely one of the biggest we have faced so far.”
Even maintaining the workforce can be difficult, and having a Thai onboard is the key to success, Martin says.
“Having a Thai in charge of human resources is a good idea. Especially at first, it can be hard for a Thai to tell his foreign boss if there is a problem. They are more honest with each other and they have more restraints to us, at least at first.”
With startup issues being out of the way, and 20 trusted employees on the payroll, Martin is optimistic when it comes to brainchild WearYouWant, and the plans are big. There is a large untapped market with almost 70 million Thais, and it is expected that online sales will make up for five percent of all shopping by 2015 compared to the current 1 percent. Thais are gaining trust in online shopping and the market is promising. WearYouWant is not yet profitable but is expected to break even early 2014.
WearYouWant goes regional
In order to reach its goals, WearYouWant has allied itself with DMP and AVG, two VC’s operating in SEA, yet Martin and Julien still call the shots.
”Our investors care mostly about growth in orders and exploring our different marketing channels. To them it is important that the model has regional potential and that we understand how to operate it.”
Despite the success in Thailand, Martin, Julien and WearYouWant are headed abroad to secure growth.
“It is essential that we expand to other markets such as Malaysia or the Philippines, depending on which countries suit our business model the best, and where we have other business connections. Potentially during the first quarter of 2014, we will make our move to other countries.”
With a marriage and a successful business to take care of, Martin seems rooted in Thailand, but still hesitates to calling it a definitive goodbye to Denmark.
”When you settle down and start your own business, it becomes less likely that you return home. This is not a final farewell to Denmark, but it means that I am here on a long term. The business takes a lot of time and energy, and I expect to spend at least three to four years on WearYouWant. It’s hard to say where I end up after that, but I’m sure there will be plenty of new adventures to explore.”
WearYouWant offers to display the products of a brand on their website in exchange for 15,000 baht upfront and 20-30 percent of the online sales. When a purchase is made on the site, the shop is informed and then sends the product directly to the consumer. This allows WearYouWant to have an enormous range of products without actually having anything in stock.