Lai Chang Wen

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Lai Chang Wen
Ninja Van CEO Chang Wen Lai.jpg
Born1987
EducationDegree in Finance
Alma materRaffles Institution, Raffles Junior College, Singapore Management University (SMU)
Known forCEO of Ninja Van, Co-founder of Marcella

Lai Chang Wen is the co-founder and CEO of Ninja Van, an express last-mile courier service offering door-to-door deliveries to consumers. Alongside Shaun Chong and Tan Boxian, Chang Wen set up Ninja Van as a reliable courier delivery service for consumers in Singapore. Ninja Van has since expanded regionally. Chang Wen is dubbed a “serial entrepreneur” for launching a string of start-ups despite the high risks involved. He founded Dapaola.sg, Get Fitted (an online shirt fitting tool), Marcella Holdings (a bespoke men’s clothing brand) and Ninja Van (a digital express courier company).[1]

Background[edit | edit source]

Lai Chang Wen exhibited an entrepreneurial streak since his secondary school and junior college days, where he studied at Raffles Institution and Raffles Junior College respectively. He would buy used mobile phones and sell them at a marked-up price. He also bought bicycle parts to reassemble and sold the finished product at a profit.[2]

Education & early career[edit | edit source]

Chang Wen pursued a bachelor’s degree in finance at Singapore Management University (SMU). Upon graduation, he joined Barclays Bank as a derivatives trader.[3] He left Barclays Bank to work on his start-ups, remarking in an interview that he “don’t [sic] care about the money or prestige anymore”[4] as he did not “want to be doing [what his boss was doing] in 20 years time.”[5]


Chang Wen’s parents were initially worried about his choice to work on his start-ups and thought that his decision was “quite mad” at the time.[6] When Chang Wen left his job as a derivatives trader to run Marcella Custom Menswear, his mother (Mdm Tan Poh Siang) said in an interview that it was “a real shock” as he was leaving a five-digit salary for a high-risk venture in fashion.[7] At the start of Ninja Van, Chang Wen himself had to make the deliveries. His parents thought that he had quit his high-paying job to become a delivery driver.

Ninja Van (2014 - Present)[edit | edit source]

The founders of Ninja Van (from left to right) Tan Bo Xian, Lai Chang Wen and Shaun Chong. Photo from Channel News Asia.

Chang Wen, Tan Bo Xian and Shaun Chong set up Ninja Van in 2014. Although they had no experience in logistics, the three founders developed algorithms to plan the most efficient delivery routes.[8][9]

Beginnings[edit | edit source]

The idea for Ninja Van came about when Chang Wen encountered problems delivering orders from Marcella (his previous start-up) to his customers. Chang Wen shared that he felt helpless when Marcella could not answer its customers’ delivery enquiries as they had no information on the delivery status.[10] Parcels were also often delayed or lost.[11]


Chang Wen and his co-founders invested “hundreds of thousands of dollars” from their savings to get Ninja Van started.[12] They worked 22-hour days[13] to get the company started and took 90 per cent pay cuts in their early days.[14] Chang Wen shared that he turned down $50 to $100-a-head dinners as it was a month’s worth of chicken rice. In a 2016 interview, Chang Wen shared that he regretted not working an additional year as a derivatives trader as he did not have enough savings to the point where “[his] bank account did not have enough to top up [his] EZ-link card”.[15]


The founders started with no staff and had to do “anything and everything” by themselves from sorting parcels and making deliveries to meeting clients.[16] Chang Wen shared that he also had to “clean the (office) toilet”.[17] Each co-founder reportedly made 10 deliveries a day in a van that was prone to constant breakdowns.[18]

Developing Ninja Van[edit | edit source]

Ninja Van's self-collection points across the island. Screengrab taken in November 2019.

The three co-founders examined the life cycle of a parcel - from the moment it was picked up until it reaches the recipient. Whenever they received an item from a courier, they paid the courier to share more about their job. They even sent parcels to one another to create more chances to talk to delivery men.[19]


They did away with handwritten waybills, opting for computer-generated ones that have barcodes so that staff could scan the waybill and know instantly where a parcel is being delivered to and what to do with the parcel. They also accounted for package size and a driver’s ability into their software.[20] This allowed them to run deliveries that were fuel-efficient and to do more deliveries per hour.[21]


In 2019, Grab and Ninja Van entered a partnership that allowed Ninja Van to tap into Grab’s large user base. In exchange, Grab could host its mobile payment service, GrabPay, as one of the payment options on Ninja Van’s platform.[22]

Services (Ninja Collect, Ninja Box & Ninja Point)[edit | edit source]

Chang Wen and his team implemented a self-collecting service called Ninja Collect, that allowed shoppers to request for their items to be delivered to a Ninja Box, an automated parcel locker or a Ninja Point, a shop designated for collection of parcels. Such services made it easier for drivers to make more deliveries in less time. With Ninja Collect, Ninja Van shaved off delivery costs by about 40%.[23]


Ninja Van's services are available in several Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines.[24][25] Recognising that e-commerce may not be as developed in some countries, Ninja Van offers a cash on delivery option in these areas.

Marcella Holdings (2010 - 2014)[edit | edit source]

The storefront of a Marcella Menswear outlet. Photo from Inside Retail Singapore.

Beginnings[edit | edit source]

Chang Wen co-founded Marcella as an undergraduate at Singapore Management University with Alvin Teo, Daniel Chui and Firas Alsuwaigh.[26][27] The idea for Marcella was conceived after Chang Wen found it difficult to find men's clothing that fit him perfectly. The founders wanted to create made-to-measure men’s clothing in a time and cost-efficient way.[28]


Although Marcella did well initially, Chang Wen realised that fashion was not the right industry for him.[29] He shared that he was “not great at brand-building for fashion”.[30]


Chang Wen ran the company for four years before leaving it to his co-founders. In 2016, Marcella was acquired by “an international made-to-measure group” and closed all its physical stores in Singapore.[31][32] Chang Wen shared that he does not know if he made a profit in the venture and that even if he had made a profit, it would not have been much.[33]

Developing Marcella[edit | edit source]

Lai Chang Wen in 2014. Pictured in the background were the fabrics offered by Marcella. Photo from Lai Chang Wen's Facebook.

Marcella's co-founders realised that there was an opportunity to use technology to increase the production capacity of menswear in the industry.[34] They did this by automating the process of translating clients’ body measurements into paper patterns.[35] The measuring process took as little as 3 minutes and each tailored shirt was sold for as low as S$69.[36]


For a traditionally tailored shirt, a craftsperson called a drafter had to manually take a customer’s measurements before making a template. However, the heavy reliance on drafters and a shortage of skilled drafters have made it difficult for custom apparel companies to increase their output. Additionally, drafters are subject to human error, therefore, leading to the inconsistent production of goods. Each drafter also takes 20 to 30 minutes to create a pattern for a shirt.[37]


The co-founders created algorithms to turn measurements into patterns. Clothing companies could scale up their production by using computers to input the measurements. Moreover, Marcella used laser cutters to cut out the pattern pieces, reducing production costs and time.[38]

Expansion[edit | edit source]

Marcella received an average of 16,000 hits per month, with e-commerce making up 12 per cent of total sales. As reported in 2015, Marcella produced 100,000 shirts since it opened its first store in 2010 and had seen a 15 fold turnover from 2011. Marcella acquired its first factory in May 2011.[39] Chang Wen took six months off from university to build the factory.[40]


Chang Wen worked on Marcella throughout his university days and even after he left Barclays Bank.[41] Alongside the other co-founders, he set up five retail stores islandwide at The Cathay, Marina Square and Tampines One.[42][43] Marcella offered 120 patterned fabrics for customers to choose from, including floral and plaid patterns.[44]


The brand also had a store in New York, USA that had been set up with the help of International Enterprise Singapore with additional pop-up stores in London, Sydney and Melbourne.[45]

Awards & accolades[edit | edit source]

In 2017, Chang Wen was featured on The Peak Magazine’s Power List 2017.[46] He was honoured on the inaugural Forbes 30 under 30 list in 2016 for Ninja Van,[47] alongside Quek Siu Rui and Lucas Ngoo from Carousell, Ryan Tan and Sylvia Chan from Night Owl Cinematics and Rachel Lim from Love, Bonito.

Personal life[edit | edit source]

Lai Chang Wen is described to have a “boyish smirk” and a “penchant for cussing”.[48] In an interview, he shared that getting married is a bad idea for those wanting to launch a start-up. In his words, having a mortgage to pay means that there would be more fear to take the necessary risks and quit an existing job.[49] Chang Wen is single and has a pet dog.

References / Citations[edit | edit source]

  1. “Lai Chang Wen”. LinkedIn. Accessed November 06, 2019.
  2. Jagdish, Bharati. “Chase the learning, not the beer nights: On the Record with Ninja Van CEO, Lai Chang Wen”. Channel NewsAsia. April 22, 2018. Accessed November 04, 2019.
  3. Zafirah Salim. “Ninja Van CEO "Worked Like A Dog" To Overcome His Lack Of Experience - Now Dominates SEA”. Vulcan Post. May 22, 2018. Accessed November 04, 2019.
  4. Ex-banking and finance professionals shake up Singapore’s start-up scene”. Channel NewsAsia. July 13, 2016. Accessed November 04, 2019.
  5. Ex-banking and finance professionals shake up Singapore’s start-up scene”. Channel NewsAsia. July 13, 2016. Accessed November 04, 2019.
  6. Ng, Desmond. “How Ninja Van's 'smart and ruthlessly aggressive' co-founder hooked a big investor”. Channel NewsAsia. March 26, 2017. Accessed October 22, 2019.
  7. Ng, Desmond. “How Ninja Van's 'smart and ruthlessly aggressive' co-founder hooked a big investor”. Channel NewsAsia. March 26, 2017. Accessed October 22, 2019.
  8. Hio, Lester. “Celebrating Singapore's entrepreneurial spirit: The Ninja way to efficient delivery.” The Straits Times. August 09, 2017. Accessed November 04, 2019.
  9. Ng, Joan. “Cover Story: Delivering results”. The Edge Singapore. July 11, 2016. Accessed November 04, 2019. Retrieved from Factiva.
  10. Ng, Joan. “Cover Story: Delivering results”. The Edge Singapore. July 11, 2016. Accessed November 04, 2019. Retrieved from Factiva.
  11. Zafirah Salim. “Ninja Van CEO "Worked Like A Dog" To Overcome His Lack Of Experience - Now Dominates SEA”. Vulcan Post. May 22, 2018. Accessed November 04, 2019.
  12. Hio, Lester. “Celebrating Singapore's entrepreneurial spirit: The Ninja way to efficient deliveryThe Straits Times. August 09, 2017. Accessed November 04, 2019.
  13. Ng, Joan. “Cover Story: Delivering results”. The Edge Singapore. July 11, 2016. Accessed November 04, 2019. Retrieved from Factiva.
  14. Hio, Lester. “Celebrating Singapore's entrepreneurial spirit: The Ninja way to efficient delivery.” The Straits Times. August 09, 2017. Accessed November 04, 2019.
  15. Ex-banking and finance professionals shake up Singapore’s start-up scene”. Channel NewsAsia. July 13, 2016. Accessed November 04, 2019.
  16. Sim, Darienne. “'I even cleaned the toilet'”. The New Paper. September 29, 2016. Accessed October 21, 2019.
  17. Sim, Darienne. “'I even cleaned the toilet'”. The New Paper. September 29, 2016. Accessed October 21, 2019.
  18. Sim, Darienne. “'I even cleaned the toilet'”. The New Paper. September 29, 2016. Accessed October 21, 2019.
  19. Ting, Lisabel. “Riding high on the e-commerce wave”. The Straits Times. September 02, 2015. Accessed October 21, 2019.
  20. Ting, Lisabel. “Riding high on the e-commerce wave”. The Straits Times. September 02, 2015. Accessed October 21, 2019.
  21. Ng, Desmond. “How Ninja Van's 'smart and ruthlessly aggressive' co-founder hooked a big investor”. Channel NewsAsia. March 26, 2017. Accessed October 22, 2019.
  22. Chong, Claudia. “Grab invests in Ninja Van, ramps up logistics network”. The Business Times. April 26, 2019. Accessed October 23, 2019.
  23. Ng, Joan. “Cover Story: Delivering results”. The Edge Singapore. July 11, 2016. Accessed November 04, 2019. Retrieved from Factiva.
  24. Russell, Jon. "Ninja Van raises $30M to build a regional logistics network in Southeast Asia". Tech Crunch. April 19, 2016. Accessed on 12 November 2019.
  25. Teng, Angela. "S’pore startup Ninja Van raises record sum for regional expansion". Today. January 24, 2018. Accessed on 12 November 2019.
  26. Jagdish, Bharati. “Chase the learning, not the beer nights: On the Record with Ninja Van CEO, Lai Chang Wen”. Channel NewsAsia. April 22, 2018. Accessed November 04, 2019.
  27. Lee, Michelle. “High-tech tailoring suits retailer to a T.” The Straits Times. March 11, 2015. Accessed November 06, 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  28. Zafirah Salim. “Ninja Van CEO "Worked Like A Dog" To Overcome His Lack Of Experience - Now Dominates SEA”. Vulcan Post. May 22, 2018. Accessed November 04, 2019.
  29. Ng, Joan. “Cover Story: Delivering results”. The Edge Singapore. July 11, 2016. Accessed November 04, 2019. Retrieved from Factiva.
  30. Jagdish, Bharati. “Chase the learning, not the beer nights: On the Record with Ninja Van CEO, Lai Chang Wen”. Channel NewsAsia. April 22, 2018. Accessed November 04, 2019.
  31. Ng, Joan. “Cover Story: Delivering results”. The Edge Singapore. July 11, 2016. Accessed November 04, 2019. Retrieved from Factiva.
  32. "Marcella menswear closes retail stores". Inside Retail Singapore. January 4, 2016. Accessed on 12 November 2019.
  33. Ng, Joan. “Cover Story: Delivering results”. The Edge Singapore. July 11, 2016. Accessed November 04, 2019. Retrieved from Factiva.
  34. Ng, Joan. “Cover Story: Delivering results”. The Edge Singapore. July 11, 2016. Accessed November 04, 2019. Retrieved from Factiva.
  35. Zafirah Salim. “Ninja Van CEO "Worked Like A Dog" To Overcome His Lack Of Experience - Now Dominates SEA”. Vulcan Post. May 22, 2018. Accessed 4 November 2019.
  36. Ng, Joan. “Cover Story: Delivering results”. The Edge Singapore. July 11, 2016. Accessed November 04, 2019. Retrieved from Factiva.
  37. Lee, Michelle. “High-tech tailoring suits retailer to a T.” The Straits Times. March 11, 2015. Accessed November 06, 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  38. Lee, Michelle. “High-tech tailoring suits retailer to a T.” The Straits Times. March 11, 2015. Accessed November 06, 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  39. Lee, Michelle. “High-tech tailoring suits retailer to a T.” The Straits Times. March 11, 2015. Accessed November 06, 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  40. Helmi Yusof. “Lai Chang Wen: Co-Founder and CEO of Ninja Van”. The Business Times. June 08, 2018. Accessed November 04, 2019.
  41. Sim, Darienne. “Ninja Van CEO reveals struggles when company started out”. The New Paper. September 29, 2016. Accessed November 04, 2019.
  42. Zafirah Salim. “Ninja Van CEO "Worked Like A Dog" To Overcome His Lack Of Experience - Now Dominates SEA”. Vulcan Post. May 22, 2018. Accessed November 04, 2019.
  43. Wee, Matthew. “Men in the net.” The Straits Times. July 20, 2012. Accessed November 06, 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  44. Wee, Matthew. “Men in the net.” The Straits Times. July 20, 2012. Accessed November 06, 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  45. Lee, Michelle. “High-tech tailoring suits retailer to a T.” The Straits Times. March 11, 2015. Accessed November 06, 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  46. 10 innovators, disrupters honoured”. The Straits Times. November 02, 2017. Accessed November 06, 2019.
  47. 30 Under 30 2016 Asia: Manufacturing & Energy - Lai Chang Wen.” Forbes. Accessed November 6, 2019.
  48. Helmi Yusof. “Lai Chang Wen: Co-Founder and CEO of Ninja Van”. Business Times. June 08, 2018. Accessed November 06, 2019.
  49. Palamariu, Radu, and Chang Wen Lai. “#09: Chang Wen Lai CEO at Ninja Van”. Alcott Global. October 23, 2019. Accessed November 06, 2019.