As part of our research of our latest Notion Insights report ‘The Journey East‘, we interviewed 20+ experts in various aspects of doing business in Asia, including strategy, go-to-market, hiring, funding, legal and more. Each of our contributors shared their stories, advice, learnings and war stories, which we have consolidated into a 10 step guide to begin your journey eastwards.
This week we share steps 1-5:
1: Asia is not a market
It’s vital that any company considering Asia as a target market dispels any consideration of addressing it as a single market. Each country is distinctly different, so narrow your focus to a couple of priority countries, perhaps even one to two cities in the first instance. Prove your product-market fit and go deep, building on your success in one territory to forge ahead in others.
“Our biggest mistake? We treated Asia as one big market. We started selling into Indonesia and the Philippines and reacting to inbound leads. If I had my time again, after ANZ, I would just focus on making Singapore a success for two years and ignore everything else.” – Jimmy Fitzgerald, ServiceNow
“People who don’t understand it refer to it as an amorphous blob: “I’ve got a strategy for Asia”… but it’s a vast region of very large and very different countries.”– Tim Andrews, Localz
“To start with, let’s be clear, there is no monolithic market known as “Asia”. As a geographical region, Asia is made of nearly 50 states and there is little in the way of economic or political cohesion that is pan-Asian. For example, there is no currency union or cooperation like the Euro zone and parts of Asia are also politically volatile.” – Gilbert Leong, Dentons Singapore
“Many make the mistake of thinking of Asia as a monolithic market. It’s not. It’s a multi-local market with different nuances, cultures, business norms and needs.” – John Eng, NewVoiceMedia
Think global, but act local. There will be different requirements and needs across the region and you must align your business and proposition accordingly
2: Understand the differences
Take time to understand the differences: cultural, economic, political, social, and technological.
“There are many ways to narrow your focus in any market; language is a good place to start for many. I think about Asia as four distinct regions that must be considered differently:
• English speaking – Australia, NZ, HK, Singapore.
• ASEAN – Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
• North Asia – South Korea, Taiwan.
• Japan and China.
And even within these regions there are many more details you need to consider.” – Mike Laven, Currency Cloud.
“Understand the macro as well as the micro factors. Country-wide or regional initiatives can have a big impact, particularly in China, Singapore or India; and the more you understand what really matters at the highest levels, particularly in China, the more success you are likely to have. In each country there are major government initiatives. For example, Digital India, is a major initiative; as is Smart Nation in Singapore. These initiatives are in place all over the region and in China it is critical that you understand the government agenda at a country, regional and city level. The reality is that all the governing bodies in Asia have some kind of drive towards using tech.” – Susie Hughes, Allison & Partners
3: Secure your first customers
“Importantly you need to learn and adapt; and you must be seen to be consistent. You can’t just fly in and out. You need someone on the ground who can not only sell, but also educate prospects. Build the relationships and be seen to go the extra mile. Asians expect you to travel to meet them and establish a personal connection.” – Richard Goddard, Selecture
Secure your first customers from your home market whilst building your network before committing too much resource, if possible before any staff are on the ground. Start by winning those first customers. Win some logos in Europe that have divisions or departments in Asia and then cross sell from there. Then, get a great Business Development talent who understands the technology and who has a good network, and focus them in some very tight markets and opportunities.
4: Identify your 1-2 target addressable markets and focus, focus, focus
“In some ways, the easiest way to enter Asia is when and where you have some existing customers that you can leverage. So, look for beachheads. Like any business, it’s good to go after some low hanging fruit first.” – Richard Goddard, Selecture
“Pick one, maximum two markets – if I had my time over I’d focus only on ANZ and Singapore – for one or two years each. Define success before you enter each market: what are the key verticals, and across your chosen markets which are the 10 ‘must-win’ logos? This will help you identify what success looks like across 18-24 months.” – Jimmy Fitzgerald, ServiceNow
Stay uncomfortably narrow, understand the customers and markets and ignore the temptation to spread yourself too thin
5: Make sure you have a product market fit
“ANZ is an early adopter market. Many tech companies test their V1 products in ANZ as they have a strong propensity to adopt early and buy SaaS. That would be my first bet as a TAM. Japan, on the other hand is a super-high-quality and late-adopting market, so go there with a mature V3 product.” – John Eng, NewVoiceMedia
“Even at the highest levels, user experience expectations in China are very different to what we are used to in the West, and that’s before we consider actual product features. The Chinese like to see a lot of content on the page, for example, while Europeans want the page very clean. So be prepared for a big difference.” – Peter Crosby, formerly Triptease
Consider cultural differences carefully when it comes to early stage adoption, as there are plenty of different attitudes to SaaS across the region