Published in: The Business Times on Friday 15th November 2019
Author: Benjamin Pavanetto, Head of APAC at Adludio
In a time of constant change and uncertainty, how do technology businesses manage a fast-scaling team without losing track of their core ethos? Adludio’s Benjamin Pavanetto investigates.
Starting a business across Southeast Asia often feels as easy as getting a new passport stamp these days — it seems that all you need is a salesperson and a WeWork hotdesk and you have yourself an office. Business set up, job done, time to call trade press and shareholders, and let the LinkedIn congratulations flow in.
In a region of explosive growth like Southeast Asia, it’s understandable why start-ups and global multinationals are so keen to tick each market off like it’s a travel bucket list. Singapore, in particular, boasts lower barriers to entry than many other markets, including lower corporate tax, no hassle to review your tech stack or get your servers localised, unlike some markets. Not only is it a milestone in their business journey, but each market carries its own wealth of opportunity and potential for incredible growth.
So tantalising is this prospect that all too often, business leaders cave into temptation and end up expanding too quickly without focus, purpose and understanding of the complexities multi-market management entails. But scaling fast does not necessarily mean failing fast, as long as the right foundation is there in the first place.
Ambition over aim
When agency leaders talk about their latest expansion, the term “organic” gets thrown around a lot — i.e they signed up a new customer in that market. While that motivation is understandable enough, it does perhaps explain some companies’ seemingly arbitrary growth spurts.
Going where there’s money is important of course, but opening a new base on the back of customer win is short-sighted, and risks growing too quickly and too thinly. If you win a big client in Malaysia, open up, hone in on the new territory, then months later do the same in the Philippines, you’re shifting focus before your feet are even under the table.
This is why any expansion should form part of a long-term strategy, one that is underpinned by vision, and not just on the back of every opportunity that presents itself. Following a plan, or more realistically, a set of guidelines that outline these aims is critical to this. Naturally, this isn’t always easy: businesses and market conditions are frequently beset by change and unexpected obstacles, so a rigid and detailed to-do list isn’t necessarily practical. But that does not mean you should jump in headfirst without some set of objectives.
Once established, how then do you grow your new base as a new limb of your core business and prevent it from becoming a disconnected outpost? Largely this happens when leaders see the new office’s sole purpose as simply another boost to profit margin.
This poses a danger to the company, since it values all the wrongs: opportunism, short-termism and following rather than leading.
Entering a new market means trusting a part of your business in the hands of someone else, and that person will determine success and growth in that country.
While the temptation may be to hire a seasoned veteran, someone with experience and a proven record, they may find it harder to adjust to the company’s values and philosophy. Although they are more likely to generate immediate business wins, betting on someone young and dynamic may pay off higher in the long-term.
However, the key to this is ensuring your vision and values are well-ingrained across a regional team, from the leadership down. And that cannot flourish if it was never built in the first place.
Southeast Asia is a market undergoing incredibly rapid change, and in these times it’s tempting to chase the trends and quick wins. But if it’s not aligned with the company’s long-term vision, then it’s a trap. If you’re trying to cultivate a sustainably-minded culture, don’t suddenly open a base in Jakarta because a palm oil company gave you a big cheque.
Instead, taking the time to research each market, and understand the opportunities that fit your vision, will ensure everyone is one the same path and understands the same objective. Once you have that, connecting them across countries and even continents will be easy and ultimately spark prosperity and success. And that carries far more value than just a few likes on LinkedIn.