AJ Mak’s first business was a self-funded concern that used virtual 3D modelling to help resolve issues in the automotive industry. But technology needed time to catch up, so Mak spent a decade working in the fashion industry before setting up Chain of Demand, an AI analytics company that focuses on improving profitability and sustainability in retail.
“I saw first-hand the many pain points businesses face throughout the supply and demand chains, but had no solution to,” says Mak, who was born and raised in Hong Kong with the exception of a few years in Toronto during primary school.
The “retail apocalypse”, with tens of thousands of stores around the world forced to close due to the changing retail landscape, was coming. It brought with it mountains of excess inventory that were potentially hugely damaging to the environment, as well as mark-downs that devastated profits. But Mak felt that technology could help find solutions.
“I’ve always been fascinated by technology and the enormous impact of its applications in business and the world at large,” says the 35-year-old, who holds a BSc in decision science from Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania. “In recent years, advances in AI have led to an even greater range of possibilities, and as it becomes democratised more people are able to leverage technology to solve the many pressing problems we face today.”
With industry expertise and passion for technology, the Hong Kong businessman identified an opportunity and leapt at it. “Before I knew it, this goal to disrupt and transform the industry had become my ikigai,” he says, referring to the Japanese concept that roughly translates as the reason to get up every morning. “I truly believed that by leveraging my experience, interests and strengths, while integrating them with technology, I could do something valuable and impactful.”
Chain of Demand seeks to create a link between sustainability and profitability in the fashion industry through data and technology, which is of particular help to small and medium-sized enterprises, as it helps them to adapt and transform in an increasingly digital world. These are also the businesses that have been most at risk or have fallen victim to the retail apocalypse.
Mak’s ambition doesn’t end with fashion. He hopes that his technology can be applied to other retail sectors such as fast-moving consumer goods and electronics, and also wants to expand into other industries, such as manufacturing, energy, transportation and agriculture, within the next five years. Moreover, within a decade he envisages helping SMEs to improve cash flow and minimise the risks of doing business by implementing data- driven financing and insurance solutions.
Dreaming big is easy, but the reality isn’t always so straightforward. “The start-up journey is full of ups and downs – mostly downs actually,” says Mak. “But with every milestone we reach, the satisfaction of getting closer to building something meaningful and great is what gets me out of bed every morning.”
Outfit: Mak’s own