Etuale Scanlan prefers to stay low key.
But there is nothing low key about what this 35-year-old Entrepreneur has achieved in his young life.
At a time when the Internet and technological advances dominate lives, Mr. Scanlan embodies the perfect example of new age and modern businessman.
He was fittingly rewarded the Best Online Business during the inaugural Samoa Business Network’s (S.B.N.) Business Innovation and Young Entrepreneur Awards for his new business enterprise, Samoa Market.
But let’s go back a bit further. Mr. Scanlan has been in business for the last 13 years, starting Cell City at just 22 years of age, fresh out of finishing his degree at Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand.
Returning to Samoa in 2004 with the expectation that he would find a suitable job, Mr. Scanlan was surprised to find that a degree did not necessarily guarantee a job in his desired field – or any field for that matter.
“I did a degree in Electronic commerce and information systems,” he said. “My thinking was after you get a degree, there should be an automatic job but then I came back, it was hard. So I was stuck between starting a business or continue to look for a job.”
Deciding to take his future into his own hands, the ambitious young entrepreneur fell back on his experience of growing up in a business orientated family.
He took like a fish to water to the world of business starting with the old faithful Samoan business model.
“We actually did some street vending when we first started Cell City,” he said.
“I was brought up being business-minded with people such as my dad, Leasi Tommy Scanlan, and my late mother, Carmelita Lam Scanlan, and a couple of uncles like Charlie Westerlund and Andrew Ah Liki.”
“So it was an automatic thing for me. They instilled in me this drive that it doesn’t matter how old you are and it doesn’t matter who you are.”
Starting off with buying second hand phones from Trademe Company in New Zealand, Mr. Scanlan and his wife, Angeline, began to build Cell City.
Mr. Scanlan saw a simple business model in e-commerce and online business with not needing to have suppliers.
“I didn’t have to fly to China so it just became easy; I was buying off Trade me when we first started. We were getting second hand phones from Trademe. We would bring them back and my wife and I would clean them.”
“Then we started getting a bit fancier so we went to eBay. And then we found some suppliers after that and that’s how it started.”
A sure sign of an entrepreneur is their aversion to staying stagnant and after four years of starting Cell City and becoming a dealer for Digicel by running one of their flagship stores.
Mr. Scanlan ‘hit a wall’ as they say in business and went to seek out his familial mentors for advice.
“I hit this point where I was not really sure what I was doing,” he said. “I started off really well and then went downhill after three to four years after we started. So I scaled things back and then I went to have a chat with my uncle Charlie at Ah Liki wholesale.”
“I went to him for some advice and Charlie being Charlie asked me all sorts of questions whether I liked them or not. Some of those questions were really blunt like how much money are you making in a week, month a year?”
“I’ve grown up accustomed to hearing things like that but it’s still pretty shocking when somebody asks you that.”
Taking a year off to work for his uncle eventuated out of that talk and it was just what Mr. Scanlan needed. It was during that year long sabbatical that the concept of Samoa Market was conceived.
“We got talking and he offered me a job and I worked for Charlie for a year,” he said. “At that time I discussed with him a concept that I wanted which was basically to build a website.”
“I told him that the website was going to be and I told him that it was to sell building materials online for Bluebird Lumber. He said ‘yeah that’s a good idea but why limit yourself to just one company, when you can have as many as you want?”
Having more than one company would make the virtual market look more attractive; was the business sense behind developing Samoa Market.
The concept took ten years to incubate and last year the online market place was launched - endorsed by business giants such as Ah Liki Wholesale, S.S.A.B. and Eveni.
“This was not an easy concept to sell to business people. I was thankful that we had people like Charlie Ah-Liki who were the first ones on board and they were the first ones to say yes.”
“The more companies we brought on board the easier it was for us to sell. Now we have about 28 companies on board which is really great for Samoa.”
Mr. Scanlan is a big fan of Jack Ma who started Alibaba and Aliexpress.
Samoa Market stems from the success of those virtual market places
“The concept that bringing businesses together where a customer could come and buy from one vendor and just providing that choice and selection for them so that’s where this came about,” he said.
“A lot of us still have that old school thinking of traditional businesses with bricks and mortar stores with the mentality of just working really hard.
“But this was opening up businesses to online shopping from overseas. We have all the Samoans from overseas buying for their families here in Samoa.”
While this dynamic entrepreneur has a natural go - getter attitude, he prefers to stay out of the spotlight and you’d be hard pressed to find his face anywhere, even when it comes to marketing his business
“It’s really hard to get away with it because when the spotlight is on your company, the spot light is really on you,” he said.
“I always try and find someone that can front for me. I’d rather just sit in the background and make sure that things are working the way they should be.
“I really prefer to not be at the front. So I have Junior who is really good at that, when we do draws or the fa’asamoa, junior does it and then we film it and post it online.”
Mr. Scanlan considers himself both a businessman and entrepreneur, pointing out that the difference is that anyone can sell something but an entrepreneur goes that extra mile to push their business.
“The more entrepreneurs that you talk to the more you’ll see that we don’t see any boundaries,” he said. “There are no boundaries. I truly believe that, which is kind of dangerous but as long as my wife pulls me in every now and again, everything will be all good,” he laughs
If business was easy, everyone would do it but Mr. Scanlan possesses that boundless belief in that anything. The Samoa Observer put the question to him about how can we foster that same attitude and spirit in young people.
“I think that everyone has the ability to do absolutely anything,” he said.
“In terms of fostering that entrepreneurial spirit in young people - going back to our culture and how we bring up our children. Slowly that mentality will change where we’re not saying things like ‘aua ke fia poko” or “ ke alu e fai ga mea e le mafai ga faiga” things like that so when that mentality changes slowly, it will give our young people confidence to explore opportunities and not feel like there’s this blanket on top of them all the time that they can’t get out of.
“That’s why in the beginning I shied away from being in the front, it invites a lot of criticism as well with people saying “who is this young kid who thinks that he can do these things? What’s he done? It’s not the main reason but it was a factor.”
With this busy father of three juggling two major businesses with one poised to take a giant leap in possibilities with the capabilities of the Tui Samoa cable, he admits that rest is not really an option – in fact asking him what he does in his down time invites a look of confusion,
“Getting some rest?” he laughs. “ I don’t like resting. The difficulty for me is, let me give you an example of what I mean, when we close – China is just opening.”
The budding business mogul intends to strengthen his businesses by building on Cell City’s great relationship with Digicel and others like S.S.A.B. and Island Rock.
Meanwhile working closer with Evenis and getting more companies on board is the target for the emerging Samoa Market.