“There is no doubt that if you are a company in Western Europe and you can show that there is demand in AsiaPac, then you can demonstrate that there is opportunity on a global basis”
Arnout Mostert completed his MBA at Insead in 2003, spending part of his time on the course at their Singapore campus. He had visited before whilst working for Shell and soon set down roots. In Singapore for 15 years, he has married, had two children and set up AccelerAsia, a business development firm that drives the expansion of fast-growing tech companies into Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.
“I worked for Interbrand, undertaking brand valuations across Asia before joining Fallon, an advertising agency, as a Regional Account Director”, says Arnout. “Both companies were quite regional and this gave me the idea to set up a business in 2006. At the same time, I got married and my wife had our first baby; so it was good timing!”
“That business was an internet marketplace focused on the conference industry, bringing organisers and delegates together and enabling delegates to make bids for seats. We struggled. The industry was too fragmented, plus the financial crisis took the bottom out of the market. We folded that business in 2009 and set up AccelerAsia; basically talking to companies in the Netherlands
(my home country) not yet doing business in Asia and asking how we could help them.”
“I could post-rationalise our success, but in reality the growth was very organic. My partners and I all needed to generate income, but were not at all sure that there would be a long-term market for our services”. There is indeed a strong market for commercial acceleration in the region, but Arnout puts his success down to three key factors:
- Never using the ‘consulting’ word: “We are all about no nonsense growth – rolling up our sleeves, selling stuff and impacting the top line”
- Recruiting the best: “We have surrounded ourselves with good people, and good results have followed”.
- Prioritising connections and relationships: “We have built a very strong network of technology decision-makers in multinational corporations across the region”.
AccelerAsia has focused on enterprise technology companies that are ready and able to scale in the region – and Arnout feels that the business is really only scratching the surface of what’s possible.
He also says that success in AsiaPac is a sign of global resilience: “There is no doubt that if you are a company in Western Europe and you can show that there is demand in AsiaPac, then you can demonstrate that there is opportunity on a global basis”, he says. “If a company can crack SE Asia then it is a good sign that they are really offering enormous value.”
Perhaps most usefully, his team has treated each client engagement as a learning opportunity in its own right:
- Blue Jeans: “A great early customer for us, with excellent technology that combined multiple communications platforms like Skype, Webex and Hangouts. We learned a lot from them in 18 months, as they were so focused and aggressive.”
- Media Monks: “A Dutch business that has acquired digital production houses all over the world. They sit between ad agencies and production agencies and coordinate resources to bring costs down tremendously.”
- Tigertext: “A messaging platform for the healthcare industry, allowing confidential patient information to be sent to a private email or phone and then be automatically wiped.” We’ve worked with companies for whom we have built a team around a founder, whereas with others we have taken responsibility for all business development in the region.
Key lessons, just do it!
“The best way to get started in Asia is to dive in. People will look at lots of different data points, analyse markets and rank and prioritise. We simply recommend starting with customers. We make some calls, reach out to our contacts and set up a week of meetings for a new customer (which they pay for) and we meet with 15-20 customers in the week. At the end of the week, we will analyse those conversations and make some recommendations.”
Don’t over analyse, just get on with it.
Asia is not a market. “We are always open to the fact that we might not know the market and its opportunities as well as we thought. We’ve become ever more humble over the years and learned more about the profound differences that exist across the regions, countries and cities. Our philosophy is simple. Asia is not a homogenous market; it’s extremely diverse and also very interesting.” Let’s learn and find out.
Get your house in order.
“When considering new customers to do business with, we always take the time to understand their strength in their home market. If a company does not have a smooth running domestic business with strong leadership, then expansion into Asia will always fail. We really grill them: how ready are they? Do they have the right to expand to Asia?”
Are you really ready to take this on?
Arnout’s requirement for strength at home is well justified, as there are some uphill struggles ahead for businesses seeking to establish a foothold in some Asian territories. China comes with particular caveats: “I can fly to Bangkok tomorrow and see all the biggest companies and do business really quickly”, he says. “In China, that’s just not possible. In many ways they are ahead of the West – it is so competitive. But it is incredibly protracted and bureaucratic to do business there. There are also huge concerns around IP and competition.”
India, similarly can be frustratingly difficult – but Arnout sees opportunity there. It is, of course, a huge market, but whilst growth in China in many sectors and macroeconomically is slowing, in India growth continues to be high.
Asia Technology Trends Today
Large multinationals, banks and consumer companies around the region are now well aligned with cloud and SaaS technologies, so there is a good opportunity for enterprise technology providers today. “There are a few companies right at the cutting edge of technology”, says Arnout. “But in general, many multinationals are behind the curve; for example in terms of marketing and consumer insight. The majority of local companies are still operating 1990s marketing techniques. But now there is a big focus on engaging effectively with the massive flood of consumers, so marketing teams are increasingly at the forefront of technology adoption. Leading brands, banks and telcos are looking closely at this. Fintech is also hot.”
“There is a big focus on employee engagement: the onboarding of employees and engaging with them. And finally, of course the consumer adoption of mobile technology and mobile payments is driving significant innovation into that business.”
- Don’t over-think the market: talk to customers and learn.
- Respect market differences: they are what makes working here so rewarding!
- Learn fast and keep learning