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What advice would you give to companies considering an Asia expansion?

What advice would you give to companies considering an Asia expansion?

Noah Pepper

APAC Business Lead, Stripe

Asia represents a massive growth opportunity. However, when most companies think about expanding to the region, they often mistakenly think about it as a singular "Asia" and underestimate how incredibly heterogeneous markets are. They try to take their products and operating models built in and for other regions and apply them here and quickly discover that doesn't work. Every country has unique regulatory landscapes, cultural nuances and business ecosystems and your business and product has to mesh with that reality.

Stripe is a very customer-focused company — and for us the most important thing is understanding what our customers really need and figuring out how we can help them. Singapore is an ideal central hub that lets us hire great talent from all over the region and is well connected for us to quickly travel and meet our customers (when travel is possible again).

Stripe has built (and continues to build!) products that are quite tailored to each market in the region. This has meant integrating local e-wallets in Singapore; building FPX, a bank-based payments system, right next door in Malaysia; and developing konbini, where ecommerce transactions are paid in cash at convenience stores in Japan.

Part of what helps us execute in the region is our decentralized operating model with empowered and autonomous local teams across engineering, product, risk, partnerships and more. We make most major decisions either from our regional hub in Singapore or in individual markets where we operate with our U.S./EU-based senior leadership delegating heavily. This model allows us to move quickly and truly operate within Asia.

Ashwini Gillen

Regional Vice President of Sales, Asia, Twilio

One hardly needs convincing that we've entered the age of Asia. The region's GDP has surpassed that of the rest of the world combined, and it continues to demonstrate business resilience even during the pandemic. Businesses would be remiss to pass up on this first-mover advantage, and must seize the chance to tap on opportunities in this nascent market.

What I'd say is to go forth with your eyes wide open. Abandon any misguided ideals that you can replicate past models of success, and be prepared for a whole new ball game. The most intriguing and challenging thing about Asia is its diversity, since each sub-region differs so widely from the others. It's impossible to implement a single strategy that works across the board.

You need to hire the right talent, and tap on the expertise of locals to lead and advise you on your journey. In that same vein, be strategic and deliberate in how you fund your expansion, to empower your team to make the right decisions and strike critical partnerships on the ground.

An important factor to any company's success in Asia is choosing an optimal location for your regional base of operations. Twilio chose Singapore as its regional hub because of its business-friendly climate, stable legal and political environment and pipeline of technology talent. Singapore's centralized location and connectivity with other markets in Asia have also made it an excellent base from which to coordinate and run our regional operations.

Hansel Cao

Regional Director, Americas, Singapore EDB

First of all, do it. Asia is one of the most dynamic regions in the world, especially Southeast Asia, which will become the fourth largest market globally in terms of GDP by 2030. With a growing middle class, and rapidly digitalizing regional conglomerates, now is the best time to expand.

Second, choose your markets wisely. Asia is a region of over four billion people, and no two countries are alike. A go-to-market plan for India may not work for Indonesia; hiring a regional MD with experience in Hong Kong may not translate into revenue growth in Thailand; and very little of the U.S. playbook will translate well to any of the markets. The most successful U.S. companies here are judicious about market entry – focusing, for example, on three countries in Southeast Asia before expanding.

Third, plan far ahead. Even if you're only setting up a small sales team within the next twelve months, it pays to lay the groundwork for a future regional headquarters, product team or other expansion. You don't want to be the company that pauses its growth plans for six months because you need to scramble to find an engineering site lead.

Finally, make lots of friends. Government agencies like ours are here to help, as are the region's many business leaders, associations and informal tech communities. Whether you're on the fence about expanding, or about to give the green light on a go-to-market plan, connecting with people on the ground makes a big difference.

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Pavitar Singh

Chief Technology Officer, Sprinklr

Asia is a growth driver for Sprinklr. With more than half of the world's population, Asia is home to billions of people that are connected online and on mobile and social apps. This creates a tremendous opportunity for businesses expanding into Asia to rethink all of their digital customer-facing strategies – especially as it relates to marketing, advertising, research, customer service and social media engagement.

Companies considering expanding in Asia can look to Singapore as a global hub for innovation. Sprinklr has partnered with the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) to fuel the nation's digital ambitions that have increased since the COVID-19 outbreak. This year, we opened a new R&D center in Singapore to meet the growing demand for advanced customer experience management from enterprise companies in the region.

We also work with many enterprise companies who want to expand in Asia and create a unified customer experience across regions. It's important for companies to collaborate internally while effectively localizing, targeting and scaling content and 1-1 customer interactions. It is also critical for companies to understand the nuances of customer preferences in each region. For example, the marketing content a company uses in India may not work well in Japan. Therefore, market prioritization is key, as well as a commitment to not scale Western playbooks unilaterally across the region.

Ricky Kapur

Head of APAC, Zoom

Even as new COVID-19 variants drag recovery efforts, it is clear that Asia remains on track to sustain its strong post-pandemic rebound. While the region is set to shape the hybrid future, companies looking to enter the Asian market will have to play by its rules.

The majority of Asia's workforce prefer to work remotely as economies reopen, and companies must address the growing desire for hybrid work arrangements to attract and retain talent. Beyond work, a recent survey we commissioned finds that the virtual element is also here to stay across multiple verticals like education, healthcare and even entertainment.

Put simply, video is becoming the new voice. This presents a timely opportunity for companies to leverage and build local presence in the market, particularly as governments in Asia drive the Smart Nation transformation — Zoom, for example, has partnered with governmental outfits across Asia to support their various digital initiatives. For that same reason, we are forging partnerships and growing our developer ecosystem at Zoom, where our local networks of developers, partners and resellers make use of our robust API and SDK platform to build applications on and with Zoom.

At the same time, we need to make sure that essential workers, who have proven themselves indispensable over the pandemic, are digitally included. Companies looking to Asia need to be prepared to support the digital training and upskilling of these workers, and work hand-in-hand with partners like Zoom to help them adapt seamlessly to the hybrid future ahead.

Reuben Lai

Senior Managing Director, Grab Financial Group

First, seek to identify and meet underserved needs, to unearth vast untapped market opportunities. In Southeast Asia, 6 in 10 adults are unbanked or underbanked. At Grab Financial Group (GFG), our mission is to serve the needs of the financially underserved across the region, and this includes micro, small and medium businesses. We accelerate their digitalization journey and empower them to grow their businesses with our platform and products. For example, many micro and small businesses lack credit scores and are unable to access credit from banks. By leveraging the data that we have of them based on their activity on the Grab superapp ecosystem, we can provide them with loans to meet their business needs.

Second, establish strategic partnerships with key stakeholders to scale your impact. Southeast Asian governments are progressive and forward-looking in terms of seeking ways to drive digitalization and uplift their people economically. We've found that they appreciate being able to partner with trusted companies to accomplish these goals more quickly. This is especially important in a post-COVID world, where so much needs to be rebuilt, and is a valuable opportunity for companies to show how they can contribute. At GFG, we cultivate deep relationships with local partners and governments, and find opportunities to collaborate.

Third, prioritize local talent development. In a region that is as diverse as Southeast Asia, a hyperlocal approach is vital for success. This requires local teams on the ground to meet the unique needs of each market. Developing local talent enables companies to leverage their insights and networks, which is a real competitive edge.