Introduce yourself and tell us about 5miles?
Dr. Lucas Lu is an entrepreneur and e-commerce veteran (formerly with Alibaba). In 2014 he created 5miles, a hyperlocal, peer-to-peer marketplace (think Craigslist-meets-Nextdoor) that lets 15+ million buyers and sellers list or find not only secondhand items but also local services, housing, jobs, yard sales, and more–all within their very own neighborhoods.
What led to your interest in starting 5miles?
Having been scammed on Craigslist—twice—I recognized a huge gap between the then-reality and the ideal of buy/sell marketplaces. The world is changing so fast. With the rise of smartphones, the timing was right to try to create a better, safer, more secure mobile marketplace. The purpose of the business therefore is to change this corner of the world, of e-commerce, so that it operates more efficiently, effectively.
What is your startups unique selling point?
What sets 5miles apart as an easier, safer alternative to Craigslist is an innovative approach to safety and security, including an in-app ‘Safe Exchange Area Locator’ as well as “fast auction” (5miles Dash) and online payment (5miles Wallet) features for quicker transactions. Moreover, as a virtual storefront for small businesses and service providers, 5miles is bridging the gap between Craigslist and sites like eBay and Etsy, which charge sellers high transaction fees.
What sacrifices have you made to become a successful entrepreneur?
Family life, for one, as this venture requires a lot of travel. Not having much time with them certainly is a sacrifice. Private hobbies also have taken a back seat.
How are you marketing 5miles?
Conventional methods: digital, outdoor, and some radio/TV advertising, in addition to sports and other strategic marketing partnerships (ex. the Dallas Mavericks jersey sponsorship). But word-of-mouth still may be the single most effective promotional method for 5miles, as whenever a buyer and/or seller tells someone else about our marketplace, and that person then download the app, we could be “live” in a given city or town instantly.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
A few things. First, have a plan. Having a well-defined (and refined) business idea that meets a real customer need in the market is something, obvious though it may seem, that some of us neglect. Without that, your chances of (long-term) success diminish. Second, know your market. Knowing yourself, your strengths and weaknesses; what you have to offer; and where there’s a real business need and opportunity in the market is key. And, if at first you don’t succeed, try again. Third, don’t be afraid to pivot. Being open and prepared to pivot can be a lifesaver. Failing or flailing, recognize if there may be an opportunity to take your business in a new (and potentially even more lucrative) direction. Just as Amazon started off selling only books online and has expanded enormously since, both vertically and horizontally, has taught Lucas that you never know the zig-zag of success.
What is your favorite business book? How has it helped in your business?
Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future Hardcover. It’s a good lesson (and reminder) that it takes time to plant a big tree, as the Chinese saying goes.
What do you like best about being an entrepreneur?
I always enjoy meeting and dealing with talent, always love revolving around new ideas.
What have been your most satisfying moments in business?
When our customers give us the feedback that 5miles has helped them—to start or grow a business, to improve their finances, etc.
Dr. Lucas Lu, email@example.com
Facebook (5miles): https://www.facebook.com/5milesapp
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