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Startup & Entrepreneur Insights in China: Duola, Interview with Qian - Concrete Delivery APP for Construction

7 min read

Qian Gou is the founder and CEO of Duola. He has been engaged with the traditional construction industry for many years. In order to change the unsatisfactory status quo, he and his team are committed to introduce internet-based technologies into the concrete-production industry by creating an online integrated platform that connects concrete mixers, mixer drivers, and construction sites.

Qian knows that change is never easy, especially when promoting new concepts in a traditional industry. However one thing is for sure - their efforts will make the world a better place.

Q: How did Duola start?

Before founding Duola, I was employed by a state-owned enterprise, Sinoma International Engineering. I worked in Nanjing for 5 years before I came to Shanghai to start my own business in 2015. My inspiration for Duola was partially from an emerging model - Uber and its sharing economy model.

In 2014, when Uber had just entered the Chinese market, I was deeply fascinated with the startup. One day I had a long conversation with an Uber driver and this gave me very interesting ideas. I realized that the Internet could be a good platform to improve the traditional construction industry, from equal sharing to resource matching on logistics.

Why not adopt Didi or Uber's model to our concrete logistics and build a more efficient platform? It will make a difference.

Q: “We strive for innovation to make world more beautiful.” – is this Duola's vision?

Actually before this vision, our slogan was “Make the Sky Blue Again”. Yet many people told me that as an entrepreneur it was important to set an attainable goal in the beginning as opposed to being too idealistic. So we changed the slogan to what it is now. Of course, we are hoping to bring more benefits to the concrete industry.

“As an entrepreneur it was important to set an attainable goal in the beginning as opposed to being too idealistic.”

Q: By adding Internet technologies to the traditional concrete industry, what special chemical reactions would occur?

Because the relevant technology is not yet developed, the lack of professionals in this field has led to China’s concrete industry staying relatively backward compared to the rest of the world. However insiders are sincerely hoping that an innovator can bring Internet technology to this field. Before we established Duola, we conducted an in-depth investigation into the industry.

Many owners of mixers and mixing stations expressed the need of an app that can organize concrete orders into a single transaction. The concrete transaction would then work the same way as a take-away order. The concrete order details such as type, quantity, and shipping address could all be put directly into the app.

Information provided through the app could give mixing stations with real-time information on orders and the delivery status. So in this process the constructor is similar to a take-away customer, whilst the mixing station is the kitchen and the mixer truck is the delivery guy. This is our chemical formula: constructor + mixing station + mixer = a more efficient operation in the concrete industry.

Q: As this idea is only for the concrete industry, will the market reach be too small?

As our company only deals with concrete industry, limitations do exist. But in any industry there needs to be a starting point for innovation, and Duola’s starting point is the mixing station. In Duola’s Internet platform, the mixing station is no longer a single dot on the map, but it becomes part of a larger network of mixing stations.

In the construction industry supply chain, upstream from the concrete industry lies concrete factories, equipment manufacturers and so on, whilst downstream there are construction sites, construction teams, real estate developers, and government departments. By using an Internet platform, the mixing station becomes the centre of all relevant parties and could even affect other industries.

On the other hand, concrete industry is a big market itself. We compared it to food delivery, but it is much bigger regarding each sales volume. Everyone can ask for a food delivery less than 100RMB, but concrete order is usually above thousands or even tens of thousands RMB. We would rather focus on this billion RMB market before trying more things.

”Concrete trading can be somewhat similar to food ordering. The constructor orders with concrete model, type, quantity, and shipping address, mixing stations takes the order and give to mixer, and then deliver to the constructor, all on the app."

Q: At present Duola is the only Internet platform for the concrete industry, is Duola’s market share optimistic?

We will always remain a third-party service provider because our business model rides on the back of mixing stations. We work to digitalize the mixing station. The mixing stations get more profits through our services and thus we got paid with our service fees.

As a bridge, we could potentially expand to mixer renting, materials like cement and additives, other relevant equipment and commodities.

Q: What difficulties do you face marketing your business in a very traditional industry?

In the beginning our targeting group was mixer drivers, but after a while we found they were very hard to convince, and almost beyond impossible. This group of audience has a low smart phone usage rate. So no matter how hard we tried, it was ineffective.

Then we shifted our target to mixing station owners. They needed a platform like ours to get more business and to manage their mixer truck system easily. We introduced Duola to them and they were much more willing to work with us. Because we target to the right group, we are able to grow the mixer numbers on Duola at an exponential rate.

After we marketed our business towards mixing station owners, we enjoyed a natural growth. The mixing stations play as a core part on our platform, and it has given us upstream and downstream coverage. Once we have a market hold of the core part of the construction supply chain, the rest of the industry will naturally follow and start to use our platform.

“Once we have a market hold of the core part of the construction supply chain, the rest of the industry will naturally follow and start to use our platform.”

Q: Did you come across any difficulties when trying to imbed Internet technology into the concrete industry?

Our biggest difficulty was data. We found it hard to update our real-time data because we are not a large-scale logistics company, and we need time for data reaction.

We are also working on collecting big data, but this cannot be done overnight. It takes time to accumulate. In the future we hope to create a large data centre for the concrete industry.

Q: How can Duola innovate the construction site itself?

The traditional construction site is more complex. Mixers and other vehicles often have to wait in a long queue to offload their materials, so construction sites need a good project manager to coordinate all this. Duola can support the manger in avoiding chaos on-site.

Our platform can help the project manager and speed up the delivery process by sending a message to the manager when the mixer truck is 100 metre away. The project manager can then anticipate the mixer truck and direct the driver effectively to the exact construction site.

In future we hope to develop more functions in the Duola app/platform, combining it with advanced hardware technology to create an automated construction assistance system.

Q: What positioning system is currently used by Duola?

We tried using GPS but then realized that rapidly developing smart phones can fully meet our needs in navigation and positioning. In the absence of better hardware, our positioning system will still base on the smart phone itself.

Q: What’s your opinion on innovation plagiarism and copycats? How will the team at Duola counter this and what is the advantage you have over possible competitors?

Innovation never belongs to a single person or company, the central idea of the Internet is to share. We are not worried that some people will copy the business model of Duola, we are just worried that nobody will be willing to work with us to achieve innovation and make the world more beautiful.

At the moment, Internet-based innovation is pretty open and cooperation can make innovation reach further heights.

"Innovation never belongs to a single person or company, the central idea of the Internet is to share."

Q: How is the founding team of Duola?

Duola’s app is quite a niche product, which is different from the mainstream ones. Duola is heavily imbedded in the concrete industry so every member of our team has to visit construction sites and get a general understanding of the industry. Concrete and the construction industry are complex and most people fail to understand it.

This means our start-up team must have passion for the industry. It doesn’t mean they need to know everything about the industry, but a desire to make it better is indeed required. Of course every team member needs to feel proud being a startup. We have to have courage enduring bitterness and loneliness.

Q: What’s next for Duola?

Duola is still a young team but we will continue to grow steadily and will build a stronger team in 2017. At the same time we will continue to cooperate openly with our clients and work more closely with other entrepreneurs to learn and innovate together.

Q: Having worked in XNode space for a year, how do you feel about XNode?

I like the entrepreneurial atmosphere here. We received a lot of support here and also get to work alongside with many great entrepreneurs. We hope that XNode would become the best in its industry, linking more entrepreneurs and startups so the road to innovation is broader.

To find out more about Duola visit their website: www.duola.la

by Graham & Clinton

contact@thexnode.com

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