Ngeth Sophat had the grand vision of transforming the country into a more digital community when ordering food when he launched eCO in 2021.
The 38-year-old entrepreneur quit his job as the general manager of an international online shopping company and consulting on e-commerce for many major institutions, including the Ministry of Commerce, in September 2021 to co-found eCO.
Standing for electric community, eCO is a business that provides a digital scanning menu.
“No need to provide a menu”
Sophat, who lives in Phnom Penh, said the eCO digital menu does not need to be downloaded. Instead, users can use it directly from their smartphone and a payment function will come later.
“Everyone who goes to restaurants needs a menu to order but with eCO, it replaces that, it digitalizes the platform. Anyone goes to the restaurant and there is no need to ask for a menu, and recommend delicious cuisine,” Sophat told Kiripost in a recent interview.
eCO is a social commerce for self-orders, self-pickup, checkout delivery, call for orders, and chat messenger for orders. Restaurant owners can also print an eCO QR code onto tables for consumers to scan when they enter the restaurant, meaning there is no need to provide a menu.
Sophat’s experience with e-commerce is extensive, having been an e-Commerce manager for more than four years at an online shopping company, working on a joint multi-million-dollar venture with an international company.
He said that from this experience, he understands about giant companies that do not usually help small businesses, which often struggle with the finance to embrace e-commerce.
So, Sophat decided to stop working at the international online shopping company and instead launch his own startup with only one supporter, his co-founder, who requested anonymity. “Since no one came to invest, I gathered all the problems I know and created eCo to solve all those problems,” Sophat said.
Sophat is optimistic about the future of his business, saying he also needs to learn from abroad about technology. He added he does not regard other delivery startups as his competitors but instead sees them as partners.
“Our goal is not to compete with other delivery startups; I want to assist them,” Sophat said.
He added that eCO seeks to use the same technology for the advantage of small suppliers in addition to partnerships with delivery services, stock management, and financial management. eCO can reach villages and districts as well, but those other companies have a smaller market.
“We need investors”
He said the biggest issue today is that businesses do not yet understand the benefits of eCO, and it is difficult to convey this to them.
“We understand the business problems, that's why we created it,” he said, claiming that more than 120 businesses have registered to use eCO’s services.
eCO earns 100 riels per transaction from a business when a customer places an order, 200 riels for pick-up orders, and 300 riels for delivery orders, Sophat said.
Sophat said the business is moving slowly and eCO is currently making little profit. He said eCO is also looking for investors.
“The business can survive on its own, but we are not moving fast. If we want our business to grow fast, we need investors to invest, but we shouldn't let them make business decisions since we fear losing our vision.”
He said that this year's target is to expand to scan eCO menu at all stores in provinces, such as Kampot, Siem Reap, and Phnom Penh, as a priority to influence small and large stores.
"I want our young to compete to win themselves before challenges with other countries," he said.
Sophat added that there is misunderstanding between developers and users, because developers do not understand users’ needs, and this is key before creating a platform.
The primary goal of the establishment of eCO was to address issues related to the physical menu, ordering, management, and financial budgets that were common, so he wanted to create a sustainable and digital community.
“eCO’s target this year is to advertise in stores and street vendors to use the scan eCO menu,” he said.
Sophat has nine siblings - all males - and he is the eighth child in the family. His father is an electrician, and the mother sells groceries at home. Sophat’s many siblings are also a burden to the family; however, it is not in a poor state.
His mother is the biggest supporter in his family. She sold jewelry for him to study at university. This enabled Sophat to graduate from the Royal University of Phnom Penh with a computer science degree in 2006.
Back then, there were only a few companies that required experts within the field of Information Technology (IT), and only a handful that needed to recruit IT positions for more than three candidates. At that time, he started forming a small team to provide service to individuals, such as plugging networks, printing errors, fixing windows,
In 2011, Sophat went to Thailand and noticed Cambodia and Thailand were far apart in terms of technology. He was inspired to develop the idea behind eCO when he saw a banner that had QR codes.