S06E03: Anna Melissa Nava, Co-founder & CEO of 1Export, The Philippines

It started with that where it was like I asked people to pay me something like $300 and I will do anything export-related that you need me to do. So basically I am at your beck and call, but you have to pay me [to settle your compliance problems]. 

Anna Melissa Nava

Today’s episode is with a Filipina entrepreneur, Anna Melissa Nava.

Anna or better known as Mel is the co-founder and CEO of 1Export whose tagline is “helping businesses go global”. 

She was a fun and energetic person to talk to and didn’t shy away from recounting the early days of her business when she took on a ghostwriting job to produce the Philippine export guidebook so that she could make some money and keep her business running. 

anna melissa nava 1export philippines
“Accept the detours in life, because it’ll lead you to where you are meant to be,” says Anna Melissa Nava.

Today she has a team of 55 people located in 2 countries, the Phillippines and Indonesia and it is a far cry from the days when she used to scout for free co-working spaces to work in! 

I was in a corporate job selling noodles and biscuits and it was relatively easy for me because it was a popular Philippine company. When I left [the company], there were people like small businesses asking for help, and I realized how hard it was for a small or medium business to export because they don’t have the brand name.

This enterprising Filipina said she made the mistake of focusing on tech when she started as she thought that was the way she could help her customers.

Bootstrapped and bold, she approached her customers only to be told that they didn’t need the tech – they needed a solution and one that could help them solve their biggest exporting problems such as compliance.

Since then, Mel has tweaked and fine-tuned her business to meet her customers’ needs. Now 1Export offers end-to-end services to small and medium businesses across Southeast Asia to export their products to other markets.

By streamlining and making the process of exporting easier and less frustrating, Mel and her team offer Filipino (and now Indonesian) businesses access to other markets in countries around the world.  

Her business currently works with some 450 companies and exports to 58 markets.

​​When I showed the tech to my customers, they were like, yeah, you know, it’s a nice tech platform. It’s a nice concept but you are not solving my problem and therefore I’m not gonna pay you.
So I had a customer say that and it got me thinking.

She said that she wanted “to help small businesses cross borders and do cross border trade. However, you know, it was very difficult. Of course, in Southeast Asia you would see that there’s a lot of bureaucracy.” 

She started by helping find buyers for the small businesses who were her customers through a compliance standpoint and soon this grew into logistics. 

“A lot of these small businesses don’t really have the opportunity to go across the border because they don’t know how or where to start, and they have a lot of questions that you normally just don’t find online,” Mel remarked. 

In this episode, Mel demystifies the idea of exporting products. She debunks 3 myths – that exporting is difficult, that exporting is expensive and exporting is terribly boring!

She started with technology but her customers said it wasn’t what they needed. Eventually, she and her team came around to build their technology when they reached 50 customers because they were doing things manually on Excel. The technology that she has now improves the entire process and helps customers order and process documents all the way to informing them where their shipments are at any given point in time. 

She said that the pandemic sped up her business because businesses were looking for alternative markets and globally, people wanted authentic products from home. This rang true for Asians who are living in Western countries and were craving their favourite native products. 

When she’s not jetting between Indonesia and The Philippines, she enjoys reading books, citing her favourite reads, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell and The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. She relaxes by listening to music by Elton John, Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus. 

Mel’s most proud that she has been able to sustain running a startup all these years, “This is an achievement in itself, but also being able to expand 1Export in different markets like the US and Indonesia.”

Connect with her: 

If you have enjoyed today’s episode, please rate, review and subscribe to the podcast on your favourite podcast app. Or share this episode with a friend.

Today’s episode is sponsored by Redbox Studio.

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