As two of the leading tech giants in Southeast Asia (SEA), Grab and Gojek pursued radically different approaches to growth. While Grab is known for quickly breaking into new markets in SEA with its platform, Gojek is known for its strong focus on Indonesia before it started entering neighboring countries.
But if you were a startup founder looking to make it big in the region, which approach should you take? How do you decide which one is best for your business? In a panel discussion on day one of Echelon 2022 on October 27 at Resorts World Sentosa, four founders and CEOs shared their personal experiences.
According to Ram N Kumar, CEO and Founder of Nirog Street, the first thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong when choosing either approach. Instead, it is about determining the end goal.
“If you want speed and scalability, you have to go Grab. But if you want market leadership, you have to become Gojek,” he stressed.
Jennifer Zhang, co-founder and CEO of Wiz Holdings, said that founders should also consider the conditions of the market in which they operate: does it offer sufficient growth opportunities? Using the example of Finland and Singapore, she emphasized that international expansion is a sure way for companies in these markets.
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But for companies operating in markets with many growth opportunities, there is also an element of first-mover advantage in the Gojek approach.
As a Hong Kong company, Zeek also saw the need to expand into other markets early on, but they made a careful decision about the type of services they would introduce in a new market. Starting out as a platform for last-mile delivery services, CEO and co-founder Vincent Fan explained how they eventually saw this new opportunity in the market they served.
“We recognized that completing the last mile is not the only challenge facing our retailer,” he said. “We developed many of our solutions back then. When it comes to our delivery services, we need to learn about local nuances, labor laws, competitors, delivery charges, etc. This makes it easier to transfer our solutions business to all markets.”
“Right now we are at a point where we are intensely focusing on the markets that have already been part of our delivery business. On the other hand, this applies to our solutions business [we are working on] what other markets are rapidly emerging,” continued Fan. “For example, in Singapore we have all the major instant-on-demand delivery partners across the country. Are there partners who can support us in other markets that we might want to explore? I think that’s the direction we’re headed at the moment.”
The question of talent
Panel moderator Klaus Wehage, Co-Founder & CEO at 10x Innovation Lab, pointed out the importance of talent in a company’s international expansion and the different types of talent a company needs for this process.
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There are different criteria for the panellists to consider. Early stage companies tend to prefer a smaller representative, but in later stages it can be beneficial to have a larger team capable of making their own decisions.
Talent aside, companies with a strong local presence can tap into their clients’ international network to help them enter new markets – something Zeek has already done.
“[In] We found the right people with the right culture [experienced] lots of trial and error. Lots of failures to be honest. But I think we learn along the way. That’s where we find people who are easy to work with and who share a common goal of what you want to achieve,” said Fan.
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