For a city as obsessed with a good sale as Hong Kong, OnTheList appeared like a gift from the shopping gods - otherwise known as Garage Society’s very first power couple, Delphine and Diego. Together, they co-founded the offline Flash Sale events company in January 2016, where members are treated to past-season items from premium and luxury brands at up to 90% discounts. Doesn’t get much more enticing than that, does it?
Since moving the company to Hong Kong from their native France two years ago, Delphine and Diego have wasted no time building OnTheList into the most prominent Flash Sale Platform the city has seen. While our wallets aren’t exactly thanking us, we couldn’t be more excited to have welcomed their team to Garage Collective, where they were among the first Garagers. Our intern Ru sat down with them to chat about how why they pursued this sector of the retail industry, challenges starting up in Hong Kong, and some of their favourite brands in the hopes some of their cool European ‘tude will rub off on us.
Ru: To start, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Diego: We arrived in Hong Kong two years ago. In the beginning, we were working for brands in Paris. We had the opportunity to work for them in order to develop the Asian markets, either opening flagship stores or finding distributors or partners. Delphine was managing four brands under a huge French company called Groupe Eram.
Ru: So you guys were working for different companies?
Diego: Yes, I was working for two companies, Maison Ullens and Kenzo shoes.
Ru: Have you always worked in the retail industry?
Diego: I started with cosmetics in Chanel, and then I worked for another French company called The Kooples. The Kooples has a small distribution in Hong Kong, but it’s very famous in France in Korea and US.
Delphine: We worked for other companies for a year and had the idea of starting our own business, so we quit and started to pursue our own venture.
Ru: Can you talk a bit about OnTheList? How do you initially see potential in the Flash Sale model?
Diego: This business model has already existed in other countries: Paris, New York, London, etc. We realised from working in the fashion industry in Hong Kong that there this model didn’t exist. There are few ways for brands to clear out past-season inventory in Asia. Most of the time, the brands sell a collection for six months, and then they try to do end-of-season sales in the stores. Sometimes they have factory outlets. But in France and the U.S., you have many ways to sell out-of-season products through Flash Sales. In Hong Kong, there is neither online nor offline ways to clear out the inventory. In Hong Kong, all the brands need to find a solution to sell what they have in the warehouse, which is wasting a lot of money. Most of them organise their own Friends & Family and Staff sales or have to send the inventory to Europe, where they have ways to clear out these products, It’s a challenging situation, but we saw this as a huge opportunity.
Ru: Why did you choose Hong Kong to start your business?
Delphine: The reason you decided to start a business here is because you were here already. Replace to: in fact, we were already in Hong Kong and we had this idea while living there.
Diego: We saw the opportunity, and we love this city. Everything was a perfect match.
Ru: How have you found your experience operating OnTheList from Hong Kong thus far?
Delphine: The paperwork was quite easy. Most of them were finished in a week. And we found Hong Kong is really a networking-friendly city compared to Paris. In Hong Kong, it’s easier to connect and meet other people in general, especially in startup community.
Diego: Real estate agents, landlord, lawyers, architects...you reach these people with a simple WhatsApp message. Back in Paris, only people with whom you have good relationship will help you. People in Hong Kong are friendlier, more open-minded, and available.
Ru: How have you found your co-working experience at Garage Society? What about your experience starting up in Hong Kong’s startup ecosystem?
Diego: It’s great. We used to partner up with Sassy Hong Kong (QRC Garager!). All the girls there are really nice, and we really loved the atmosphere [at QRC]. We were working very hard during that time, so we didn’t get to participate in the Friday socials. The office is great in terms of design, service, and the Garage Team is pretty helpful as well.
Ru: What do you see for the future of OnTheList?
Diego: It’s hard to believe that it’s only been a year. In the beginning of 2016, we planned to have a flash sale every month, but we ended up having 23 events by the end of the year. The idea for the coming year is to have an event per week, so now we are looking for permanent venue for organizing all the events.
Delphine: In the beginning, we have to switch venues every week, which was quite time-consuming. This year, we hope to have first one permanent venue in Hong Kong Island and next year one other in Kowloon because we have a lot of customers who live there and the New Territories. Our long-term goal is to expand our operation in East Asia, starting from China.
Ru: On a more personal note, has living in Hong Kong been an easy or difficult adjustment for you?
Delphine: It was quite difficult to navigate around the city at first because everything is in Chinese, even Google Maps.
Diego: So she ends up being late a lot of time since her phone can’t recognise the address.
Delphine: But with the help of the huge French community here, we settled in well really quickly. It is also very interesting to explore the culture here. Since starting the company company, we’ve had so many opportunities to interact with locals.
Diego: And people speak good English here, so there we don’t have problems in terms of communication. Hong Kong is a very dynamic city. It’s cool that people are always developing something. But it is also easy to disconnect yourself on weekends by going to the beach or hike. Good work-life balance.
Ru: What are some of your favourite fashion brands?
Diego: Delphine likes Berayah, it’s a Hong Kong designer brand. I personally like a French brand Faguo. The name comes from the Mandarin pronunciation of France. Delphine used to work for them. Faguo also has an interesting philosophy in terms of selling shoes. Similar to Toms, they plant a tree whenever they sell a pair of shoes, which we really support.
Ru: Do you have a motto that you live by or can you name someone who has inspired you in life?
Delphine: Before coming to Hong Kong, I was working for the founders of Faguo. I acquired the entrepreneurial spirit from them.
Diego: There is a quote from Coco Chanel: “to be remembered, you have to be different”. I think it is very important in relation to entrepreneurialism
Ru: Can you share an aspiration of yours, professional or otherwise?
Diego: To make Delphine happy, which is challenging. [Winking Face]
Delphine: To make a happy family.