How a determined entrepreneur from China revolutionized express delivery in the Middle East

Acquaintances enamored with online shopping are likely well-versed in the realm of express delivery. Unveiling an express delivery package evokes a profound sense of delight akin to unearthing treasure, brimming with anticipation and contentment. China has maintained its position as the foremost global leader in express delivery volume for numerous years, boasting an exceedingly advanced express delivery infrastructure. Next-day delivery, expedited services, and five-day delivery to remote locales—all these velocities, deemed astonishing by foreign observers, have long been customary to us.

One might ponder the implications of transplanting this domestic expertise overseas to establish an international express delivery enterprise. Could it provoke a paradigm shift? Fret not, for someone has already ventured into this realm.

Enter Huang Zhen, formerly associated with Huawei and Alibaba. Venturing to Dubai, she founded iMile, a courier enterprise. Within a mere span of four years, her company ascended to preeminence in the Middle East, servicing notable entities such as Amazon, Carrefour, and AliExpress. Securing a substantial investment of US$10 million from ByteDance, parent company of Douyin, and raising an additional US$40 million in Series A financing, Huang Zhen carved out an unprecedented niche, crafting a singular marvel.

Knowledge, indeed, reshapes destinies.

Huang Zhen, hailing from Hainan, emerged from a modest fishing village on Hainan Island. Like myriad progenies of ordinary households, she remained within her provincial confines until adulthood.

In 2001, an 18-year-old Huang Zhen commenced her academic journey at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China in Chengdu, Sichuan. Therein lay her inaugural foray into the wider world. “Encountering numerous luminaries, including academicians and erudite professors across diverse scholarly domains, during my tenure at the university profoundly impacted me. Witnessing their unwavering dedication spanning a decade or more in their respective fields instilled in me a steadfast belief in the transformative power of innovation and ceaseless endeavor.” Adhering to the axiom of “knowledge catalyzing fate,” Huang Zhen diligently pursued her studies, consistently ranking among the foremost achievers.

Upon graduating, she embarked upon a tenure with Huawei, assuming the mantle of an overseas account manager. Assigned to Africa, she weathered formidable challenges with unyielding resolve, traversing myriad African nations over a six-year stint. Bestowed with the esteemed title of “Huawei Gold Medal Individual,” she garnered accolades for her pivotal contributions toward the company’s enduring commercial success.

In 2015, Alibaba’s foray into Dubai precipitated Huang Zhen’s recruitment by Alibaba, entrusted with the role of Chief Technology Officer (CTO).

AliExpress, an Alibaba subsidiary, acquainted Huang Zhen with the intricacies of China’s cross-border e-commerce. Observing the Middle East’s affluence in oil juxtaposed with its rudimentary manufacturing sector, she discerned a glaring incongruity—despite robust online purchasing trends, express delivery services languished. Often, weeks would elapse before online purchases reached consumers, a dire circumstance Huang Zhen perceived as a lucrative opportunity. Thus germinated the notion of resigning to pursue a career in courier services.

In May 2017, Huang Zhen parted ways with Alibaba, promptly founding iMile in Dubai just two months hence.

Initially met with skepticism, Huang Zhen’s audacity garnered acclaim as she swiftly validated her visionary foresight and astute business acumen.

Her epithet as the “Queen of Express Delivery” was well-earned.

Confronted with myriad indigenous courier services plagued by sluggish delivery and abysmal success rates, Huang Zhen discerned the crux of the issue.

In contrast to China’s extensive road network, the Middle East’s infrastructure was wanting, with ambiguous regional demarcations further complicating matters. When Middle Eastern patrons ordered online, vague descriptors like “near the mosque” or “adjacent to Carrefour supermarket” befuddled courier personnel, often leading to futile searches and acrimonious exchanges. Compounded by a predilection for cash on delivery, a nascent online payment landscape engendered logistical complications, thrusting express delivery firms into a quagmire of ancillary tasks.

Identifying these systemic deficiencies, Huang Zhen resolved to rectify the industry’s pain points, squarely targeting China’s cross-border e-commerce sector to streamline “last-mile” deliveries to Middle Eastern consumers.

Thoroughly scrutinizing domestic and international courier operations, Huang Zhen adopted a hybrid model, drawing inspiration from SF Express’s direct approach, ZTO’s regional segmentation strategy in China, and Amazon’s digital infrastructure and cash on delivery system. Customizing operational protocols tailored to iMile’s objectives, she orchestrated a seamless process wherein Middle Eastern consumers placed orders via Chinese cross-border e-commerce platforms, facilitating domestic collection, international transit via air freight, and localized distribution to final destinations.

Huang Zhen’s pièce de résistance lay in her meticulous address standardization initiative, a panacea for the Middle East’s disparate locales. Efficaciously leveraging big data, iMile’s couriers refined their delivery routes, gradually perfecting the address database to ensure precision and expediency in subsequent deliveries.

iMile’s address system epitomizes unrivaled accuracy throughout the Middle East.

Huang Zhen’s operational paradigm constituted a watershed moment for the indigenous express delivery landscape, markedly enhancing delivery efficiency and success rates while endowing consumers with superlative online shopping experiences. Within four years, iMile had captured over 40% of e-commerce market share across a myriad of Middle Eastern nations, including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait, dispatching up to 500,000 orders daily during peak seasons.

Amidst burgeoning cross-border e-commerce, iMile facilitated a symbiotic relationship, bolstering Middle Eastern consumers’ access to quality goods while augmenting Chinese vendors’ global outreach, thereby catalyzing iMile’s own exponential growth trajectory.

iMile’s ascendancy heralded an era of prosperity for China’s cross-border e-commerce.

Presently, iMile boasts a workforce exceeding 2,000 personnel, catering to leading cross-border e-commerce platforms such as SHEIN, AliExpress, and Jollychic, with even TikTok merchants availing themselves of its services. As iMile’s purview extends beyond the Middle East to encompass locales worldwide, Huang Zhen remains steadfast in her pursuit of global dominance. Committed to sustained innovation, iMile has marshaled dedicated research and development endeavors across Shenzhen, Hangzhou, and other locales in China, culminating in bespoke digital distribution systems, driver applications, and warehouse logistics frameworks.

Reflecting on her nascent entrepreneurial journey, Huang Zhen reminisces upon the arduous genesis of iMile, marked by a scant quartet of employees contending with sporadic orders, pervasive consumer skepticism, and internal dissent. Undeterred by adversity, she embraced multifarious roles spanning customer service, courier duties, sales, and procurement, persisting until all obstacles were surmounted.

Indeed, Huang Zhen’s tenacity and resilience, epitomizing her transformation from a humble fishing village denizen to a trailblazing entrepreneur, transcend social strata, propelling China’s cross-border e-commerce into the global spotlight.

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