Entrepreneur Middle East's Achieving Women 2023: Rita Huang, Founder And CEO, iMile Over six years since founding iMile, Huang continues to place creating a sense of purpose and human impact as central to her vision for her business.
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In my experience doing email interviews as a journalist, while there are often plenty of great answers to peruse, seldom does one come across replies that seem to almost jump out at you when reading them. But the latter is what happened when I was reading the responses that Rita Huang, founder and CEO of Dubai-based e-commerce logistics and last-mile delivery company, iMile Delivery Services (iMile), gave to my questionnaire. In fact, Huang's enthusiasm for the work that she does is so palpable in her words, that it almost doesn't surprise me when she says that the one mantra she swears by as a leader is to "lead by example."
"It's not just words; it's my whole playbook," Huang says. "Picture this: I set the bar sky-high, showing up with dedication, integrity, and a work ethic that screams, 'Let's get things done.' And guess what? It's not just me on this journey. My team catches the vibe, and together, we're turning heads. So, when it comes to running the iMile ship, it's not about bossing around; it's about team vibes. We're all about results; no beating around the bush here. We keep it flat- no complicated hierarchies, we're only passionate about getting things done. We're not just talking the talk; we're walking it too."
Huang founded iMile in 2017, but her journey in the world of tech goes back much further. Prior to kickstarting her entrepreneurial venture, Huang had worked in key roles with renowned China-based tech firms Alibaba and Huawei. "Leading in business, whether it's at tech giants like Huawei and Alibaba, or when steering the ship at iMile, taught me a universal truth: adaptability is key," Huang says. "My stint in global tech hotspots broadened my horizons, showing me that staying ahead in business means embracing change, and putting customers first. Now, at iMile, our journey began with a realization- e-commerce had its challenges. Cash-on-delivery and last-mile delivery were like puzzle pieces waiting to be solved. So, we dove in, leveraging tech and innovation to create a logistics solution that clicks with the e-commerce world."
To Huang's credit, iMile certainly seems to have made an impression in the industry it operates in. Perhaps the two biggest metrics of that success have been the UAE-born company's operational expansion into Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Turkey, as well as a US$30 million Series B funding round led by China-based venture capital firm Qiming Venture Partners in August 2022. "From its humble beginnings, we've diligently scaled iMile to the prominent position it occupies today," Huang says. "Starting small, we've grown into a big player, not just in business, but in our community too. From first-mile pickup to valueadded services, our end-to-end approach ensures that we're not just delivering goods, but that we are also delivering on the unique needs of online businesses. And hey, it's not just about the business; it's about navigating new challenges, like perfecting the art of localization in each country we touch. After all, to make a global mark, you've got to speak the local language, right? We've also brought in over 20,000 jobs and counting, which is a huge source of joy for me."
Rita Huang, founder and CEO, IMile. Source: iMile
Unsurprisingly, Huang notes iMile's inception and growth as her one of the most profound successes in her career trajectory so far. But what becomes evident as she elaborates on her company's milestones is that creating a sense of purpose and human impact are central to Huang's vision. "I wear many hats as the founder of iMile Delivery Services," Huang explains. "My main gig? Taking us global, and making shipping a breeze for customers through strategic partnerships. But amid the e-commerce frenzy, I also saw a chance to boost small sellers. The iMile Channel Service Partner (CSP) Program was born to ramp up local merchants and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the UAE and KSA region specifically, adding further a more real sense of purpose to our business. The lesson? Finding a mission that hits home is gold. It flipped the script, turning me into a business leader with a mission as big as the world."
The iMile CSP Program that Huang refers to is an initiative that enables entrepreneurs and established businesses in the region's express delivery industry to join the platform's global network. As a CSP, smaller retailers and merchants stand a chance to benefit from iMile's customer-centric solutions, extensive operating experience, and innovative technology. With that, what the program effectively aims to do is offer an opportunity for individuals to start their own businesses within the iMile network. "We've got a soft spot for being good humans- giving back, caring for the planet, and making a real impact," Huang says. "It's not just about delivering goods; it's about delivering promises, and making the world a better place, one delivery at a time. So, what I find really cool is our commitment to doing more. We're not just about our own world of business; we're ramping up the CSP Program across countries for the overall benefit of the SME ecosystem. Joining us isn't just a partnership; it's a ticket to a ride filled with crazy growth and success in the express pickup and delivery industry!"
As someone who self-admittedly has a varying range of responsibilities on her shoulders, Huang reveals that one of the three main prongs of her leadership skillset lies in leveraging the power of team synergy. "Talent training is our secret sauce, turning our team into logistics wizards," she says. "At iMile, we're not just hiring; we're growing- investing in our crew, giving them the tools to shine, and building a team that's not just skilled, but also shares our vibe of innovation, empathy, and transparency. I'm all about focus, goals that stick around, and building a crew that's not just good, but iMile-good."
The other two pieces that complete Huang's leadership is "being focused and goal-oriented," she says. But even the most determined and laser-focused among us can sometimes have days that go against us. How, then, does Huang manage to keep the fire in her belly alive? "Dealing with self-inhibiting challenges requires a combination of self-awareness and confidence," Huang replies. "Acknowledging your achievements, and seeking mentorship and guidance is the key. I would advise facing these adversities by focusing on personal growth, setting clear, achievable goals, and consistently seeking opportunities for improvement. For me, diving into success stories of entrepreneurs through reading is my go-to move. It fuels me up, and keeps the learning part going strong. The stories of successful entrepreneurs motivate me and keep me going. As they say, 'keep learning, keep growing.'"
Notably, this approach appears to intertwine with Huang's tips for female entrepreneurs who may find themselves in a situation where they face discrimination based on their gender. "Throughout my journey, I've been fortunate not to encounter any significant genderrelated challenges in the Middle East," Huang says. "The region has made remarkable progress in eliminating gender bias. Having said that, I believe it's essential to discard any self-imposed limitations, and work diligently to achieve your aspirations. By adopting this perspective, you can ensurWe that gender bias will never obstruct your path to success. In this way, we can collectively contribute to a more inclusive and equal work environment for everyone."
Female entrepreneurs would do well to pay heed to Huang's words- she is, after all, a woman who has managed to break the glass ceiling in an industry that's still largely male-dominated. But a large part of that success must be credited to Huang's work ethics, and as she now looks forward to a successful 2024 for iMile, those foundations, she says, will remain unshakeable. "My leadership mantra will continue to be all about showing, not just telling," Huang declares. "It's about transparency, empathy, and a big, fat commitment to innovation and diversity. And speaking of our iMile global squad, they're not just co-workers; they're family, hailing from over 40 countries and different nationalities. We're not just delivering packages; we're delivering a vibe that says, 'Let's make things happen together.'"