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An Interview With Toine Rodenburg, Global E-Commerce Entrepreneur

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Below is our recent interview with international e-commerce entrepreneur and innovator Toine Rodenburg:

Q: You were born in the Netherlands and currently run global e-commerce operations from Portugal. Tell us about that journey.

A: The second part of the question is pretty simple: I love this little corner of the Portuguese Riviera that I discovered, and today’s interconnected business world allows me to live here, work here, enjoy the wonderful sunsets and the wonderful people, the slower pace of life that complements the kinetic velocity of my workday.

The first part of your question is more involved. I spent my childhood and early college years in the Netherlands, studying first at the Moller Institute and the Katholieke Universiteit, both in Tilburg, and at the Universiteit van Amsterdam. I later enrolled at the Institut Catholique de Paris, which broadened my range of academic interests, which were already fairly eclectic. Over the course of my college career, I studied everything from French and History to Philosophy and Theology — everything but computers or e-commerce, ironically. Of course, e-commerce wasn’t a thing at the time, and the computers we had to share in computer labs were much different from the sleek, fast, pocket-size version we use today.

Eventually, with the emergence of the Internet, I became fascinated by this new field, especially the revolutionary aspect of computers and connectivity. I didn’t envisage every aspect of the immense changes that have come about over the past few decades, but I knew that the technology was transformative, and I wanted to be part of it.

Q: You’ve talked about the importance of trial and error in your early businesses. How did you learn from failure, and cope with it?

A: The best way to cope with failure is to remind yourself that it’s a necessary ingredient for success. Many of the greatest businessmen in history started as failures, and some were failures for most of their lives. The best examples for American readers are Walt Disney, who as a young man was forced into bankruptcy, and Harland Sanders, whom everyone knows today as Colonel Sanders. He failed at almost every venture he tried until he found worldwide success very late in life.

In Paris, I worked as a Logistics and Marketing Manager at France Media International. Soon I felt I had learned enough to start my own television production company. It was called Amsterdam Features International BV. But for a variety of reasons it was not a success. Its failure led to a difficult period in my life, where I worked a string of part-time, entry-level jobs. I was a doorman, a salesman, a farm worker and bartender. Those jobs inspired me to lift my sights, and dream big once again. That’s when I began to immerse myself in the promise of e-commerce and the exciting technologies of the Internet.

Q: You are today best known as the founder of MyMalls, the international online shipping company. What have been the keys to its success?

A: MyMalls is a reminder that even though a high-tech platform is essential for a modern company, it is not sufficient. You’ve also got to pay attention to many of the traditional keys to business success. First, identify a need. For online consumers, cross-border purchases can bring a host of complications. Our innovative approach to international shipping and e-commerce simplifies the process for the consumer by adding new efficiencies to the supply chain and distribution.

That’s one need that we have been able to successfully target. Plus, our greatest market penetration is in Latin America, the Caribbean and Canada. That’s where we saw a geographic need for a cross-border shopping facilitator. We have incredible market share in many of these countries, and it’s growing. Working hard to establish partnerships is another key to success. Early on, we partnered with DHL Express, Fedex and Sea Freight.

In this industry, you’ve got to pay attention to logistics. That goes without saying. As our business rapidly expanded, we opened two large warehouses in Florida. Finally, you need to add something unique to the service or product you offer. In the case of MyMalls, we are more than an international shipper. Our service also offers customers a large collection of lifestyle products in partnership with leading brands. Web stores and boutiques that sell through MyMalls include Mango, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, DKNY, Miss Selfridge, Forever 21, Stylebop, Steve Madden, Neiman Marcus, Forzieri, Sears and Macy’s.

As I’ve learned in my career — sometimes more than once — a dynamic business is one that keeps pushing ahead and pushing boundaries, powered by ideas that are compelling in the marketplace, and transformative in an industry.

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