Episode Forty-Six: Data-Driven Sourcing During A Pandemic

Creating A Fair And Level Playing Field For Suppliers

[Data] is critical and ultimately reduces the time required for a buyer to vet a supplier if they know that the information can be trusted. Post-COVID, reliable data is the name of the game..

Joining us for this episode on The Power of Data Podcast are the co-founders of our D&B Accelerate partner BuyHive, Minesh Pore CEO and Brent Barnes, COO. Minesh and Brent discuss sourcing supplies amidst a global pandemic, using data to ensure trusted, high quality manufacturing and their vision for making sourcing as easy as possible for buyers.

(Please note that this podcast was recorded remotely.)

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The Power of Data Podcast

Episode 46: Data-Driven Sourcing During A Pandemic

Guest: Minesh Pore, CEO and Co-founder and Brent Barnes, COO and Co-founder of BuyHive
Interviewer: Sam Tidswell-Norrish, International CMO, Dun & Bradstreet

Sam 00:00
Hi there. Welcome back to The Power of Data Podcast. Today I'm delighted to be joined by two guests who I've only got to know recently, in fact. I'm welcoming Minesh Pore and Brent Barnes from The BuyHive, welcome, guys.

Minesh 00:11
Thank you, thank you, Sam.

Brent 00:12
Hey, Sam, thanks for having us.

Sam 00:14
My absolute pleasure. And there's a few reasons why I've been excited about today, you guys are based in Hong Kong SAR and you have been recently our launch partner for the launch in Hong Kong SAR of Dun and Bradstreet Accelerate, which is our global partner program, where we bring together the best of our assets with the best assets from the technology industry, to create joint propositions ultimately servicing our clients together better. And the first time we ever met you in Hong Kong SAR, with our colleague, Michelle, we got really excited really fast. And it's for a few reasons. It was about timing. It was about the product. It was about the market. But if you've ever read Scott Cooper from Andreessen Horowitz’s book Secrets of Sand Hill Road, he always starts with the tee and that's why I was so excited when I met you guys. You've had over 20 years of experience leading multinational organizations through corporate transformation with business development angle, as well as managing buyer supplier relationships. And Brent, you've spent 20 years in very senior leadership roles at Global Source. Can you tell us a little bit about your career journeys, prior to the co-founding of BuyHive?

Minesh 01:23
Sure Sam, once again, thank you for having us. It's really a pleasure and it's amazing to be one of the first partners of your launch and congratulations on the launch of the Accelerate program. This is an amazing program and I think you're going to go places with this. And a lot of startups like ours will also benefit a lot because of what D&B brings to the table. So like you said, I have had 20 years’ experience though I don't look that old, I do have 20 years of experience in this market. We are three founders Brad, myself and Michael. So total we have about 60 years of sourcing industry experience and we have worked in multiple markets and understood the sourcing industry. For myself, after finishing my first MBA, I joined Tata Group's Yellow Pages in India as a young man, and that's when my first exposure to industrial databases came from. But my actual passion for the sourcing industry, and the understanding of the global sourcing world happened when I was at Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona, United States. And that's when I truly realized how flat the world is in terms of the sourcing industry. And it also opened doors for me to come to the Taiwan Region right after graduating to join a trading house where I was involved in the sourcing of textiles and producing and selling textiles to large retailers. So that's where the entire journey of sourcing started prior to BuyHive, my last job was at Global Sources and at Global Sources I was responsible for all the international sales of operations and business development programs of the company. And apart from Global Sources my all other careers whether it was a Tata, Pico or Intertek have been involved around the same industry. And I've worked and had responsibilities in East Asia, South Asia, North America, Latin America, and Europe. So it's been an interesting career, I hope, all the knowledge, all the understanding I’ve got of the sourcing industry is going to help BuyHive to grow much faster and to build partnerships, like what we have with you guys come to fruition.

Sam 03:34
Thanks Minesh, and Brent, let's hear a little bit about your background. Because I know before you founded the company together, your last role was a very big role at a company that kind of does the old school version of this.

Brent 03:45
Oh, that's true. Let me say thanks again, for having us on the podcast this is super cool. So I have spent the majority of my career also in the global sourcing industry. And after sort of a short stint in the training business in Mexico, right after university, I went back to the states and got my master's at Thunderbird where Minesh went and decided at that point that Latin America was not the place to be but Asia was instead. And I got to Hong Kong SAR as fast as I could and went to work for the founder and CEO of Global Sources, which at the time was their process of listing on NASDAQ so it was kind of an auspicious time to join. And after a couple of years working with him, I spent more or less 10 years sort of cycling through all the different buyer facing operations of the business. And then I sort of finished out as the COO of Global Sources for the seven years leading up to the sale of the company to Blackstone. And during my time there, I was heavily involved in two projects, one of which was related to supplier verification, which was through the online platform, and at the time, nobody was really doing that. And of course, you know, fraud was rampant and there was no trust etc. And so we were sort of first movers in that space. The second one was when I was managing the relationships with top 250 global retailers. We basically took data from them, they give us their product sort of plans, and then their supplier specs and say find us some good suppliers. And so then we would basically match them with suppliers in our community, and then set up meetings for them. So both of these two experiences really prepared me for this BuyHive journey. And it was basically all about this question of how do you get reliable data to make the supplier selection process or the sourcing process more solid?

Sam 05:24
Awesome. We're going to talk about a lot of that, including supply verification, particularly in a moment, but did you guys meet at Global Sources? Or did you meet at Thunderbird?

Minesh 05:34
We met at Global Sources, we were both at Thunderbird at different times.

Sam 05:37
Got it.

Brent 05:37
Yeah. Minesh is a lot older.

Sam 05:40
It's weird, he doesn't look a lot older. So prior to BuyHive you guys, were both at Global Sources. You're obviously both very creative individuals and you probably saw ways in which you could combine forces to do things differently, to do things better, perhaps, could you maybe tuck in a little bit into what BuyHive does and how it differs from the journey that you had at a Global Sources?

Minesh 06:05
Frankly, we both started thinking of doing something to solve problems right after being sold to Blackstone, and both of us had the passion to solve the problems of the sourcing industry. One of the main reasons for partnering up with brands from my side was that I wanted to start something with people that I could trust and I could respect. Because the iPhone, like if you really, really want to build something, the first step is the people and the people that you build it with, because you can have great ideas, great thoughts, but if you don't have the right people, you can never build the right products. We were discussing with Michael and Brent only from that perspective, especially with Brent because I had met him at Global Sources that we had worked in the same company and they're not in the same teams. I had seen the complementary aspects of us as individuals. I am a business development guy says guy, Brent is an operations guy. I am more blue-sky ideas while Brent is more execution and detail. Those are complimentary and we wanted to work together we had that respect for each other, which would make it easy for working together. So that was why we came together to solve this problem. And we will actually ideating for new ideas going through a process which was what are the problems and which problems can be solved using the newer technologies that are available. And that's how we could understand that we are all on the same page in solving the problems also. We knew the buyers problems, we need the supplies problem, and we didn't know about Coronavirus at that point of time, we were only thinking from a perspective of people not being able to travel. Also saying oh if people cannot travel for sourcing one because the retail industry is changing and more and more people are moving towards online platforms. Those guys who sell on online platforms don't necessarily know sourcing, and they don't necessarily have the skills to do sourcing. While at the same time as the large brick and mortar stores are closing down, there's more and more people in sourcing industry that are losing jobs who have good experience, but their expertise is not used by these people who need the sourcing industry. So we started thinking of how do we match these together, right. And that was our first product, which was basically trying to match up the skill sets that were available, the sourcing skillsets that were available, and then translating it into providing it as a service to people or buyers who need those services. Now, because we have the turnkey sourcing solution added to it, where we are doing end to end so helping buyers source the products, not just identifying the suppliers, but qualifying the suppliers, identifying the shipping partners, identifying the QC QA partners, getting it all end to end done for them is what we are doing. We are also doing the data sourcing behind the virtual sourcing that we really started with that is where we're providing them expertise and here we were using the gig economy principles are we trying to use freedom of labor or freedom of expertise that is available and these guys will be paid by the day and they do the services for buyers. That was the second model. And with you guys, we are launching also the e-commerce platform and the e-commerce platform is where we are going to provide all those services that we are providing in the turnkey sourcing just provided digitally and provide an end to end solution. The difference here is that we will be identifying the suppliers, we will be selecting the suppliers and unlike all the other advertising models like our previous companies, or the other models available in the market, we are going for a selection model where suppliers are invited to join the platform because they are high quality and they've been selected by the freelancers of experts. So those are basically the broad spectrum of products that we have to offer so that we can make sourcing easy for the buyers in the future.

Sam 10:01
That's perfect. And you guys are a relatively young company founded last year in 2019, launched at the start of this year. And just listening to that, it sounds that actually Coronavirus might have been a great thing for you because people can't travel, and they needed a digital platform to facilitate this stuff. But I imagine it's actually been quite challenging. You think about what's happened to supply chains and access to quality goods, countries shutting borders, factories shutting down. How tough has it been? And how have you guys adapted your business to meet demands?

Brent 10:32
Well, we prepared to launch the tradeshow sourcing solution, which was the original solution back in January, and we had more than 500 freelancers already recruited and ready to go into trade shows on behalf of buyers. When it became really obvious that COVID-19 was starting to slow everything down. It completely disrupted our plans and the trade shows were all canceled and went on indefinite hiatus. So it was basically pivot time. And at that time, it was obvious that everyone was looking for PPE and through our own professional networks, we started to get a lot of requests for help, not just in finding suppliers, but in actually finding suppliers and then getting the products made. And by unfortunate coincidence, I ended up having to go back to Texas to visit my mom who was in the hospital for a while, and I was talking to a lot of doctors and nurses and staff at the hospital where she was, and you know, the whole PPE quality crisis became sort of forefront in our minds. So these forces converged and we basically just said, okay, this is what we're going to do. And I'm happy to report that as of last month, we've processed more than $200 million worth of product inquiries for PPE that's gone to hospitals and schools and governments all over the place. It's been a pretty wild ride the last four months, and certainly not according to their original plan, but it's actually been kind of a boon for us because a pandemic opened our eyes to the possibility of doing kind of turnkey solution that Minesh was talking about, you know, in the end, and also the commerce platform, which will both complement the original tradeshow sourcing model.

Sam 12:06
And while you're on the topic of the original model, you guys saw Global Sources to Blackstone, which must have been a pretty exciting moment in itself and a wonderful career milestone. How big is the size of the prize? What's the target addressable market globally for you guys? What's the art of the possible BuyHive?

Brent 12:25
Good question. Honestly, if we are relatively conservative, any trade show in the world where there is sourcing activity, meaning buyers going into byproduct for resale is a target for us. I think the question is basically how big is kind of that exhibition market and notwithstanding the current crazy interruptions, it's a multibillion dollar market and there's nothing preventing us from getting freelancers into trade shows and any market where there's, you know, sourcing activities taking place. I think the only real limitation for us would be if they're in remote locations where it's harder for sourcing people to kind of congregate or where they're, you know, not conveniently nearby. But essentially all of the sourcing hubs where there are big trade shows are perfect targets for us.

Minesh 13:10
And to add to that, when you add the e-commerce platform model to the multiply that by 100 times is how big that market is. For example, if you look at the number of Amazon sellers growing, the number of Shopify, eBay, and all those platform sellers growing, it's incredible this year, right in the first six months, the growth on the online platforms in terms of revenues, has been about a year on year average hundred percent over last year, and that was during Coronavirus times. And all that growth has come from online platforms. And this market is only going to grow because there's far more people who know how to do SEO, SEM and that can be smaller companies or people five people, 10 people companies who can build amazing websites use tools like WooCommerce and Shopify etc. to build these online businesses and that market is, I don't even know, frankly speaking, how many billions of dollars that market will become.

Sam 14:09
I think one of the big trends we'll also end up seeing inevitably is the diversification of the supply chain as well. And I have no doubt that you guys are going to be right at the center of that diversification and facilitation of people finding much, much broader spectrums of suppliers. So back to where we were before, and I really want to get into the topic of trust, because it's something that Dun and Bradstreet really stands for and has been a facilitator of for many, many years. But it's also a really core component of what you guys are doing. And if we think about the time that we live in now, where sourcing products from trusted manufacturers is more important than ever before. And I think Chinese Mainland confiscated nearly 90 million poor quality face masks is quite something and it's really a matter of public safety, which can't be underestimated. How do you BuyHive vet manufacturers to make sure that that trusted, reputable, that high quality, and how do you let the data help you do this?

Minesh 15:06
Sam, you're absolutely right. And this is what kept us awake and it keeps everybody in the healthcare industry awake. It's a huge problem. The problem here is that is lots and lots of information about suppliers are so called suppliers, then there is so many fake middlemen, the free products are a byproduct of having fake middlemen and fake suppliers in between. So what happens today or in today's world, which is what has given us or enlightened us to solve this problem was that when we started getting these inquiries, and when we started looking on platforms to look at good suppliers and also using our connections to find new suppliers, we were hit with so much crap in the market to use a bad word, but it is just lots and lots and lots of that everybody it no matter which platform you use, and what we realize, because of that all these platforms are all advertising platform. So whoever pays more gets ranked higher and that's what is shown to people. And when you buy from people like that, let's say we are all used to the new world, where we all Google and research etc. So when we go on, we will go on the first page, and you'll find the product on the first page. And that's when you normally enter a search - that's what happens on these platforms. So you go on and you search for something, and you get the top 10. Now you don't realize that all these top 10’s, these top 10 ratings are not because they're not good quality, but because they pay high. That all leads to the problems of how these situations happen. In our case, when we were identifying suppliers, we knew about these problems, and we started looking at it in a different way where we would do document checks. We of course used some of the tools like D&B and we looked at other databases, FBA and other places once again. Document check was over and we qualified them with the document checks, then we would send our own staff to go to the factories and qualify the factories or cross verify the documentation and the facts. If they pass both of these stages, it's then that we start negotiating prices and starting production and stuff. And when we started doing production, again, we would monitor the production with our people actually sleeping at the factories at some point time and using third party inspectors, auditors were needed. If we couldn't get that we had to go through that entire cycle. And actually, that's what made us also think of Dun and Bradstreet, wherein we thought, hey, if we are to do this online, and then we start providing this solution online, we have to have tools easily available that will improve trust and transparency. And that's exactly what you were saying that it's very important for you guys. But it's important for us to provide tools like what D&B provides, so that people make wise decisions. Decisions that are based on the fact of checking. Yes, they are not just advertising but they are rated higher because they've done a good service. They have a credit history their financials are sound, we have checked that why a button click with the DRS you know, we identify the certificates and put the certificates and other information on the platform. And we then handhold them to provide all the other information related to the factory as well as the product so that it becomes a very solid solution. And actually if coronavirus did not happen, we wouldn't have come across the solution.

Sam 18:36
That's probably the key part, I think, of this podcast, the crux of really why we're doing this podcast ultimately, the explanation of how we’re working together and to break it down, D&B Accelerate is a new global partner program. So for our listeners, D&B isn't going to go out there and build a global online sourcing platform. But what we can do and what through Michelle and James and the Hong Kong SAR team have done brasserie have done a meeting you It's fine. Some of the best qualified people to go and do that. So you guys are they're hyper qualified to go and build this with all of your experience, your energy, your passion and your knowledge. You're building a global online sourcing platform, how can Dun and Bradstreet play. D&B's data and analytics is going to fuel BuyHive, we're going to help validate your buyers and sellers business information. And we're going to help facilitate safe trading globally. And you mentioned DRS, that's the DUNS registered seal. With D&B’s Trust seal and verified company profile on the platform. We're going to support all of your buyers and sellers to establish their trustworthiness and establish a network of quality buyers and suppliers to BuyHive, it’s super exciting.

Minesh 19:44
You stole the words from me frankly, the reason for us to tie up with D&B, I sum it up in three words which is enhancement in transparency, trust and decision making is what D&B brings, for BuyHive and the buyers on BuyHive.

Sam 19:58
And this is why I get so excited about partnerships like this. You know, D&B has been around for 179 years building its history as heritage there is quite literally no other company on the planet as experienced and knowledgeable in the space that we operate in. But then when you think about some of the areas of software and technology that we're not experienced in, the places like you are coming together and creating these co-innovation, collaboration opportunities is just so exciting. And I really think there's going to be a huge amount of positive impact as well as growth that we can have together from this stuff, so I couldn't be more excited about our future together. And not to mention you’re two exceptional people, so we're going to have a lot of fun on the way I think as well.

Minesh 20:43
Thank you, we expect the same.

Brent 20:45
Yeah thanks.

Sam 20:45
So let's talk a little bit more about the solution itself. The BuyHive solution, as we've just said, that enables freelance merchandisers. I call them bees in Hong Kong SAR to buy as globally well in any regional to lead to buyers globally, who aren't able to attend trade shows which is frequent at the moment. While the freelancers come with extensive business knowledge of their own domain, as well as local market knowledge, how important do you guys think is that data can provide them with the insights to help buyers in Hong Kong SAR and on an international scale, identifying those reputable suppliers?

Brent 21:21
Let me just say we're in the throes of recruiting freelancers right now for a trade show in Thailand, if you can believe it, so there are exceptions. And the one that we're working on right now is a big food industry trade show that's going to happen next month. So that may be the holy show we do this year, but we're kind of excited to try it out. But you're right. You know, our team is very qualified and we're doing our best to recruit freelancers who are also very qualified and have lots of experience in sourcing. And you know, we can provide good advice, but it's not good enough. And ultimately, we're not satisfied without being able to be more objective and that's where the data comes in, right. And so you guys at D&B with the DRS program, you can effectively give us that additional sort of veneer of credibility and objectivity when we're making recommendations of suppliers to the buyers who are hiring us. So it's critical, and it ultimately reduces the time required for a buyer to vet a supplier if they know from the outset that the information can be trusted, you know, at a level that's not the norm. And I think that posts COVID-19, sort of building on what Minesh said a couple minutes ago, reliable data is the name of the game. And it's more important than ever, in a scenario in which buyers are traveling less retail is increasingly dominated by those smaller sellers, you know, on platforms like Amazon and eBay and Shopify, who don't have deep sourcing experience, plus the global awareness of the ugly side of sourcing in the wake of the recent fake PPE scandals, right, that's something that you know, your grandmother knows about, right? All that together, makes buyers less trusting than they were before. So it's a super opportunity.

Sam 22:57
Awesome. So we've covered a bit of about the product. We've covered a lot of about the market. But let's talk about the vision, just for a moment. I love hearing from founders and entrepreneurs about their own personal journeys, but I also love hearing about the vision, the thing that drives you, what gets you out of bed every day. And I ask that, really because I'm intrigued, and I'm looking for a shot of inspiration here. But also because that sets our goal at D&B and with D&B Accelerate, it's our mission to help you achieve your vision. So what is that vision guys?

Minesh 23:28
You know, like our one punch line that we say sourcing made easy, and frankly, that's our goal too. Because we saw these problems, we knew these problems would happen. What COVID has done is accelerated the awareness for these problems to everybody. We want to be able to be in a position where we provide solutions wherein we are able to help buyers buy easier so they can sell and focus on selling because their business depends on how much they sell, sourcing is a job that they have to do so that they can sell something. If we are able to help improve transparency, if we are able to help improve efficiency, they will focus on sales and their sales will increase their sales increases automatically, they'll keep buying more. So our job is to make sourcing as easy as possible, identifying suppliers, qualifying suppliers, qualifying the products, making your transactions happen easily on our platform or to any of our solutions, making sure that we are able to do the logistics on the platform making sure that we are able to provide them trade finance where possible, making sure that we can provide them insurances where possible and so on, so forth. So we want to be able to provide the entire gamut of services so that the buyer only focuses on selling the product and everything else is taken off their plate.

Sam 24:53
Sourcing made easy is an awesome vision and one that we're looking forward to helping you facilitate but there's so much opportunity out there for you guys. I read about it every day, particularly in the world with that diversification of supply chains. Brent is the COO and someone with a lot of experience in that role previously a Global Sources, you must have this kind of foot on the gas foot the break moment where you're like, wow, we could grow so fast and so many regions. And then No, I'm a COO, I've got to be slower and methodical and we can't do everything all at once. But what are some of the regions you're most excited about exploring and scaling into?

Brent 25:27
Our home region is kind of where it's at, frankly. So although we're based in Hong Kong SAR and have lots of experience in and out of Chinese Mainland, we're very excited about Southeast Asia, right? I mean, there's tremendous shifts happening in sourcing that predated the COVID-19 situation, you know, where there's much more demand now for sourcing from places like Vietnam, Cambodia, Lao and the bigger markets, even like Thailand and Indonesia. Although they've had a lot of sourcing in the past, it's been relatively small, and that's very much accelerating now. So if we just focus on our own backyard we’ll be very busy for quite a long time, I think.

Minesh 26:05

Sam 26:05
Perfect, it's not a bad place to be.

Minesh 26:07
To add to that, at Global Sources, I was responsible for all these countries. And one country that Brent did not mention is my home country, India, which is also the way to my heart, right? In all these countries. The difference between these countries and Chinese Mainland is that these countries have so many smaller suppliers and there is so much lack of data or information for you guys to there is a huge opportunity in countries like India and Indonesia. And for us to because there is so many suppliers that need to be scaled up, and buyers who are struggling to find trustable suppliers in those markets. So the opportunity that comes from these new markets opening up and people going away from Chinese Mainland. It's a huge, huge opportunity that we all have. And luckily for me, because I've spent about 10 years in these markets, I have very good connections and knowledge into it. I feel strongly about the move for certain categories that will happen is going to be very good for BuyHive.

Sam 27:08
Awesome. And guys, I mean, we could keep this conversation going all day, and the good news is we can technically but probably just not on the podcast. And I'm looking forward to really documenting your growth, not just through the podcast series, but through a partnership. The whole point of the partnership is to grow together and as the International Chief Marketing Officer, I'm going to have a lot of chance to spend a lot of time with you, which is really exciting. Before we come to the end, I always listen to other people's podcasts and I sit there going, I wish they'd asked a question, why didn't he ask that question? If you could have been the interviewer today, what is the one thing you would have asked, which I haven't?

Minesh 27:43
You know, because we started the company in COVID. One question I think that everybody would like an answer to would be what was our biggest lesson, starting in the midst of a big mess, right? And that, to me is something that we learned during this time. Something that kind of was a lightbulb moment for me, think of me or Brent at large companies like you early mentioning, if we were at Global Sources still or any other company, a large corporate dealing with the pandemic would have been a very different approach than what we have. Two good things for us: one, we were very lean and mean, so we could move in quick. Second thing, we didn't have to worry about failing, because it all if we fail, right now, we can blame it on the pandemic. But if we succeed, go all out. There is no worry at all of failing and that was amazing. I think in large organizations, you have to move an elephant you have to put a lot more energy into it, and then you have a lot of people that you need to take with you a lot of policies that you have to follow and a lot of other things that you have to think about which we didn't have for the first time in our careers. That was an amazing learning of how pivots could happen and how we could pivot, not one time, not two times, but almost four or five times because of the pandemic and it has all been very exciting.

Sam 29:03
Final question to end and anyone who's listened to my podcasts knows that I like things to have a call to action, particularly given the spirit of our partnership being very focused on growth. If people are listening and they have sourcing needs, what's the call to action? What should they do? How do they get in touch with you guys and how can you help?

Minesh 29:21
So of course we have the website, TheBuyHive.com, and they can find our e-commerce solution, they can find a turnkey sourcing solution, and we have the contact information, all of that is on there. And then they will be able to reach out to our sourcing teams, no matter where they're from.

Brent 29:44
And worst case, you can always look us up on LinkedIn, we're there too.

Sam 29:47
Excellent. Well guys, huge thanks not just for today, but for your trust in D&B and your trust in our data and solutions. As you know, through D&B accelerate, we're the start of a very exciting journey together.

Minesh 29:59
We're very excited about this partnership. Dun and Bradstreet is a key to the trust and the peace of mind that we'll bring to the people. I think that is very, very important and there is a lot of together growth that we can achieve in this. We are very excited about working with you. We love the team, your team here, Michelle, James, all of them, and of course we love working with you.

Sam 30:20
Awesome, and as Dun and Bradstreet goes on its own transformation journey and the new Dun and Bradstreet emerges, we're going to have a ton of capabilities that you guys are going to just love. So I really am extremely excited to be on this journey with you. Guys, the company you're building is truly inspirational. Keep doing it. Keep going fast. And I look forward to speaking to you guys soon.

Brent 30:40
Thanks a lot, Sam. This has been great. We look forward to seeing you on this side of the world.

Minesh 30:44
Thank you, Sam. It was amazing talking to you today and hope to continue these conversations, maybe face to face soon.