An ex-customer of B2B CRM platform Gimmie.io approached founders Liyana Sulaiman and David Ng, seeking their help liquidating excess inventory in its Singapore-based stores.
During that liquidation process, the duo realised the excess inventory problem was more extensive than they thought.
And that motivated them to launch Pollen in 2022.
Pollen is a private B2B liquidation marketplace incorporated in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. It connects manufacturers with companies looking to acquire slow-moving, obsolete and near-expiry products (SLOBs) at low cost. Its cloud-based inventory liquidation management system (LMS) connects multiple liquidation channels, including a B2B marketplace, a B2C marketplace, and donation partners.
The LMS enables brands to list inventory for liquidation and view and accept offers quickly. Lots for liquidation will appear on Pollen’s private marketplace. These lots will be visible to ‘Pollen Pass’ members, who can make offers for listings.
Focusing on brands with a global appeal
The startup focuses on manufacturers with local production of FMCG products (mainly hair care, dry food, makeup, and home). It doesn’t accept tobacco and tobacco-related items, alcohol, and medicine.
“We wanted to focus on categories and brands with a global appeal because to reduce the world’s business waste from this excess inventory going to landfills, we had to tackle the hardest challenge in liquidation, which is aligning with sellers on the fair market value of depreciating products with overseas buyers,” Ng explains.
Pollen caters to two types of buyers: 1) traditional businesses involved in import/export, distributors, wholesalers and offline retailers/discounters, and 2) tech-enabled B2B or B2C marketplaces or reseller networks, which usually consolidate many small orders into one.
Ng says Pollen has buyers from over 20 countries, and many of its orders are cross-border.
It works with several brands and manufacturers across Southeast Asia, including Unilever and Lorealand. The primary focus is Indonesia and Thailand.
It is expanding into India. The firm also works with some new sellers in Japan, Europe, and the US.
Lack actionable data
According to Ng, brands and manufacturers in Asia are stuck with unsold inventory and reluctant to liquidate because they lack actionable data. “In almost all emerging markets, goods price depreciation varies widely on many factors, such as domestic resale vs export and other variables on the products offered. However, the fair market price of a near-expiry product can widely vary as it gets closer to its expiry date.”
“Because traditional channels tend to be offline, transparent data is lacking to set the right expectation around fair market value. Therefore, when decisions to liquidate are made, they are largely reactive, and this lack of a proactive plan based on data leads to an increase in potential waste,” Ng shares.
Pollen’s global recovery rate data set, Pollen SLOB Index, solves this. “This will give transparency to our customers on how much of their cost they can get back for either domestic or global liquidation. We’ve seen this increase in conversion and sell-through of our customer’s items by 5x in the first year, and we have many more optimisations and new data sets to make it even better,” Ng claims.
Pollen works only with the principal brand owners, so the authenticity of the products is verified, he says. In addition, buyers get added security by having actual photos of the batches of products and real product photos showing their condition and can inspect the collection.
The company claims to have liquidated over 400,000kg of inventory in 2022 and has helped brands liquidate 200,000kg of goods in 2023 alone.
Eliminating the middle-men
According to Ng, the startup eliminates the middlemen/brokers, who could damage the brand reputation if they illegally resell SLOB to markets that are not allowed.
“Unlike brokers and intermediaries who hide the final destination of where products go, Pollen enables full transparency before and after each order, so sellers can ensure that goods are resold in the intended markets. If not, there is a digital audit trail. Because we track this distance from the origin to the destination and have all the product weight and volume information, we can also provide transparency on the sustainability impact when these goods get sold (or unsold and disposed of),” he elaborates.
So far, Pollen has raised two rounds of funding from undisclosed angel investors, syndicates, and family offices, mainly in SEA. It is now raising its first equity round with interest in the region and globally.
In Southeast Asia, B2C platforms like Humble are expanding into B2B in the Philippines. Then there is Zaapko in Indonesia, which is trying to use existing liquidation marketplace models of publically selling in a single market like those in the US, Liquidation.com, and B-Stock Solutions.
“Our goal is to live in a zero-waste world, ensuring sustainable liquidation becomes the de facto way brands and manufacturers globally deal with their unsold inventory.”