Jonathan Ng, RELX Technology's Indonesia General Manager and Global Head of External Affairs, is a former government scholar who has spent almost half of his career as a civil servant in the Singapore government. How did he end up working in the tobacco industry in Indonesia, and now in a vape company? To find out, read this exclusive interview that Jonathan did with the Vapemagz magazine in Indonesia.
Source: VapeMagz Indonesia
Can you tell us a little bit about your background before joining RELX?
Many people may find my story odd. I am Singaporean, and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from the London School of Economics and Political Science in London, United Kingdom. I then continued studying at Princeton University in the US where I obtained a Master in Finance degree. As an officer of the Administrative Service of the Singapore Government, I was part of the Indonesia Desk of the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and later Senior Assistant Director of the Public Service Division at the Singapore Prime Minister’s Office. I then looked for new challenges by trying to work in private companies. I tried applying to various companies, but I never expected to be recruited by Philip Morris International (PMI), especially since I am not a smoker. But I took up the challenge. In fact, during my time at PMI, I learned a lot about Reduced Risk Products, from innovation strategies, commercialization to regulatory matters. As a non-smoker, I was drawn to the opportunity to be able to help smokers who could not or did not want to quit, by offering them a better alternative. That also attracted me when I was offered to serve as Head of Regulatory Affairs and International Trade at PT HM Sampoerna, a PMI affiliate based in Indonesia in 2018. I thought that with the knowledge I had gained about harm reduction, I could help smokers in Indonesia, which is one of the countries with the highest smoking incidence in the world. Moreover, I am also quite familiar with Indonesia thanks to my experience at the Indonesia Desk at the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During my time at HM Sampoerna, I learned quite a lot about alternative tobacco products in Indonesia which at that time were in the process of legalization, with excise tax rates having just been announced. As part of my job, I had to understand the competition well. Who are some of the competing brands out there? What are some of the innovative new products that smokers might prefer? It was then I learnt more about the e-cigarette, a product that is a better alternative for smokers, and some of the innovative technology companies manufacturing and selling this product. One of them is of course RELX Technology, and I have been with RELX since October 2019. Quite confusing, right? Ha ha ha.
What made you want to join RELX?
First, I need to begin with the founding story of RELX, which I think is very inspiring. The name of the company has significant meaning. RELX is undergirded by the principles of Responsibility, Empathy, Leadership and (e)Xperience. Our brand name always reminds us to stay true to what we stand for. We aim to develop industry-leading e-cigarette technologies that provide an experience beyond expectation. At the same time, the company markets its products in a responsible manner; we only target existing adult smokers and vapers. Our values and goal to produce industry-leading products led us to become Asia’s leading e-cigarette brand in less than two years.
Why did RELX choose Indonesia as one of its main markets?
There are currently an estimated 67 million people who choose to smoke cigarettes in Indonesia; this is among the highest smoking incidences in the world. At the same time, Indonesia is developing into one of the most dynamic and diverse markets in Asia, and showing tremendous signs of progress. The Indonesian population is increasingly educated, and savvy with emerging trends. Similarly, technology is advancing quickly and provides us with better options in life. One of these innovative inventions is the e-cigarette. As part of our commitment to Indonesia, RELX intends to give our smokers the chance to switch to a better alternative as well. In this regard, we are constantly innovating to develop new local flavours that are catered to the taste preferences of Indonesian consumers. We also plan to expand our distribution network in Indonesia to make our products more widely available to Indonesian adult smokers and vapers. RELX users can also purchase our products at our official website, www.relxnow.co.id. Government policies will play an important part in how this industry will evolve in the future. The Indonesian government has already implemented a tax rate and fiscal structure for e-cigarettes, which provides more business certainty for industry players. Similarly, we hope that e-cigarette-related regulations will continue to be risk-proportionate and grounded in science and evidence. We understand that BSN are looking to implement standards on e-cigarettes in 2021. We certainly welcome this - appropriate regulations, especially on product standards, protect the interests of consumers. All adult vapers in Indonesia deserve to have reliable products that go through stringent research and development and quality control processes. We look forward to the opportunity to work with the Indonesian government on the development and implementation of product standards, and contributing actively in this process.
What makes RELX different from other products?
RELX has been greatly focused on providing the ultimate user experience while also being extremely responsible with our marketing and branding initiatives from the very beginning. We often communicate with our users and use their feedback to improve our products and technologies. We’re always thinking about problems from their point of view, to better and more comprehensively understand the different demands they might have. I believe that is why we have had so much success in such a short amount of time. If you do not pay attention to what your user really wants, you will never succeed with any kind of product. When it comes to our responsible marketing and sales efforts, it has been our commitment to prevent and discourage the use of e-cigarettes by minors and people who are not smokers. It is the basic obligation of every responsible vaping company to keep its products out of the hands of minors. That is why RELX developed our “Guardian Program”, an initiative that demonstrates our commitment to preventing minors from picking up vaping. The Guardian Program guides our operations from product development to marketing and sales. We are guided by a set of internal Marketing Guidelines, which we adhere to strictly to ensure compliance. For example, from the very first product packaging, RELX has printed bold and prominent reminders on the packaging of our products and product manuals with the words, “Not for Minors,” “Keep clear of Children” and “This product contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical.” This is even in markets where such warnings are not required by law. We also do not engage models who are under the age of 25 in our marketing material. We believe that all companies need to be responsible players in order for the industry to continue to grow. This means protecting minors, marketing products responsibly, and developing high-quality, reliable products.
Can you give us a little bit of information about RELX’s newest product, Infinity?
We are extremely excited to bring the Infinity to Indonesia; I am really glad to be able to bring adult smokers and vapers our next-generation e-cigarette product. I believe the development of the Infinity greatly reflects the forward-looking mindset of Indonesians. We wanted to provide the most pleasurable vaping experience possible, and so when developing the Infinity, we looked for new opportunities for the category as we explored the pain points that e-cigarette users face. There is actually a tremendous amount of science behind the Infinity - we took a multi-dimensional approach to our design and went through a ton of user data as we aimed to create a truly unique product that is a game-changer for the category. Scientists at the RELX lab spent countless hours to define a smooth mouthfeel with five key indicators. This precisely engineered mouthfeel is RELX Super Smooth. We think our new Super Smooth technology provides the perfect, smooth puff from start to finish. That is why we have initiated the #SwitchtoSmooth campaign. The technology provides the perfect experience that will convince adult smokers to switch to Infinity while also converting current vapers to our product.
What functionalities make Infinity better than other products?
The two major highlights are the advanced technologies that make Super Smooth possible: the Active Steam Pro and Air Boost design. With Active Steam Pro and Air Boost design we are able to evenly distribute and control the vapor amount and its temperature as well as the e-liquid amount used per puff. In addition, the Infinity features 11 structural layers, designed in-house, that prevent our pods from leaking. Another major achievement with the Infinity is the innovative dual charging system that not only has an "easy access" type-C charging interface, we also developed a portable charging device so that our users never have to worry about running out of power. Behind its unassuming, minimalist appearance, we went through a number of simulations of transportation environments that tested the device’s anti-leak performance. And finally, we have also worked to even improve on other product characteristics that made our other products such a hit among our adult consumers, including the taste of our pods.
Do you want to say anything to other industry players and vapers in Indonesia?
The industry has seen an increase in the sale of counterfeit and compatible pods, and counterfeit devices. Most of these products are produced in sub-standard factories and have serious battery safety issues. The e-liquids we have tested in some of these products contain harmful substances like toluene at levels that greatly exceed normal standards; and the nicotine content does not match what is labelled on the packaging. I want to take this time to warn vapers not to purchase or use these kinds of products. For our RELXers out there, I’d like to take the opportunity to remind you that you can use QR code scanners on your phone to verify the authenticity of RELX products.
In addition, we are constantly seeking to expand our retail network in Indonesia and grow together with committed, long-term retail partners in Indonesia. This is similar to our principles and practices in many other markets around the world, where we have been able to build very successful and sustainable relationships with retail partners. So if there are any retail businesses that might be interested to explore potential partnership opportunities with us, please reach out to us either via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through our official Instagram account, @relxidn.
Finally, as we continue to see the acceptance and use of vape products increase globally, I would encourage businesses and vapers to continue to be responsible players. This is a revolutionary product that has the ability to change peoples’ lives. For vaping to gain further acceptance by governments and the general public, businesses need to market their products in a responsible way without attracting or selling to minors. Vapers also need to play their part and should not purchase vape products for minors or help them obtain them in any way. With such a great product, I am confident that the industry can continue to flourish if we can all act responsibly.