Go-to-Market Strategies: The Ultimate Playbook for Startup Expansion to International Markets

Want to expand into a new market and start making more sales and revenue for your company, but having concerns about how to go about it? Here's a playbook our team has written to show you how to bring your startup to global markets on the basis of our experience of helping 150+ startups to scale. We bring you step-by-step, from building and validating early market assumptions to outsourcing business development and even creating a team to reach your end customers.

In the midst of the playbook, we bring in case study examples from once startup companies like Airbnb, Dropbox, IKEA, Spotify, Uber, and more to study their global expansion strategies. You'll also be able to learn and overcome some mistakes some companies have made in the past to avoid a painful expansion journey.

As per the nature of startups, not all these strategies will be suited for your business and for you to evaluate which applies. Here at Greenhouse, we have helped 100+ businesses expand into the Asia Pacific Region. Therefore, if you are planning to expand your business into this part of the world, what we aim to do for you is to help you analyze and ask the right questions to draft your own Go-to-Market strategy playbook.

Complexities in these markets exist, but we're here to help make that journey much easier for you so that you can hit the ground running! With that, let's dive into the Go-to-Market strategies for expansion into international markets!

Table of Contents

About Greenhouse

I stumbled upon the very issue we're addressing here at Greenhouse in a completely organic way. We originally launched this company in 2018 as a coworking space based in Singapore, with our first operational location in Jakarta Indonesia.

It turned out that setting up an international entity in Indonesia without proper guidance was a miserable experience. The process to incorporate was confusing and set up took months. Months! Who has months when you're a startup?

In retrospect, it's clear that we overspent, received poor advice on how to structure the business, and spent far too much time validating and getting second opinions. We ultimately launched local operations 4 months late. As you might imagine, this was brutal for our timeline and cash flow.

Two key factors contributed to the situation: First, rapid growth markets are opaque; government sites are incredibly vague and regulations change frequently, so information gathering is a taxing process. Second, the players in this space are digitally nascent; most of the service providers upon whom we rely to help us research and launch our businesses are incredibly traditional. They move slowly, keep a lot of fine print, and have all the leverage in the relationship.

Our experience wasn’t unique, either. Just about anyone who's set up a business across these markets will tell you that it's a time-consuming, tedious, and risky process.

But, it doesn't have to be.

This is where we come in. We're here for our customers because we are one. We’ve experienced this first-hand, and while every startup and business is different, we all share one massive pain point in common: we just can't seem to move fast enough.

You and I, we’ve got big problems to solve, like building products our customers love, capitalizing our businesses, growing commercials, building teams, executing our go-to-market plans, and little time to do it all. We’re consistently under-resourced and chasing deadlines. No one has time for cold calls, cold emails, sourcing multiple quotes, qualifying service providers, negotiating rates, and managing these projects from start to finish.

If we can order groceries, tailored suits, and laundry services online, we should be able to source and manage the same for professional services as well.

Enter Greenhouse, Asia's market entry and growth services platform. We go to market, gather intelligence, qualify service providers, and build a technology platform so that you can get the job done within minutes instead of weeks or even months like we did. Our technology allows us to match our customers with the most qualified and relevant service providers, based on the unique requirements of each project, within minutes. So fast, you can get the job done in a cab ride.

We’re helping growing businesses expand across strategic markets more quickly and efficiently, directly contributing to the economic growth of the markets we so deeply care about.

This e-book is a reflection of lessons learned from helping 100+ startups to successfully expand to the Asia Pacific region.

Upward and onward, my friends.

Drew Calin, Co-Founder and CEO of Greenhouse

Drew Calin, Co-Founder and CEO of Greenhouse
Drew Calin, Co-Founder and CEO of Greenhouse

Before you expand

Once you start preparing to expand to Asia, you should work towards developing a playbook your team can follow and iterate on.

Each business model requires a different playbook; some companies like Uber have business models requiring city-by-city expansion, whereas many SaaS solutions look holistically at new markets on a country-level.

In both cases, you must prepare a playbook that serves as the single source of truth, covering the latest learnings on how your company can expand effectively into new markets.

Here you go some benefits of developing such a playbook:

  • It helps you avoid repeating mistakes
  • It breaks down who is responsible for what
  • It empowers distant teams to make quick decisions
  • It allows you to launch multiple markets at the same time
  • It's a living document consolidating all new learnings and iterations

Unfortunately, it isn't easy to develop a playbook that would work for every business and market. Some models require heavy investment in the workforce on the ground; others can have a remote strategy.

We have developed this e-book as a point of departure for your global expansion. Our team is sharing learnings gained through helping hundreds of businesses to expand to the Asia Pacific region. Having said that, at times, our advice might be irrelevant to your business. Feel free to make whatever changes you see fit.

When is the right time to expand?

When is the right time to expand your startup company globally?
Photo by Andrea Natali on Unsplash

There are two schools of thought on this matter:

  1. Traditional expansion – launch your product, reach product-market-fit, scale the business in your home market, and only then start expanding.
  2. Test new markets early – with the rise of the internet, startups can reach international markets almost immediately.
APAC Expansion: When to expand your business to drive growth?
APAC Expansion: When to expand your business?

Reputation Defender case study

As Michael Fertik, founder of Reputation Defender told the Harvard Business Review:

“I think it’s critical for companies — including and especially young businesses — to go international earlier, rather than waiting five, seven or 10 years. That was a decision we made for our company, Reputation.com, and it was the right move. It opened some good revenue streams for us and, almost more importantly, helped surface rich cultural intel about our products and what offerings would appeal the most in which markets. As a result, we were able to intelligently redirect resources to capitalize on the countries with the most initial promise for us.”

Michael Fertik, founder of Reputation Defender
Unicorns International Expansion Strategy when you start early
Source: Webinar by Stripe

Moreover, at a recent webinar by Stripe, the chart above got introduced, arguing that 89% of unicorns have expanded to global markets by the time their valuation hits $1B. The days when tech companies are focused on one market are beginning to disappear.

Perhaps a third approach is Steven Carpenter’s rule of thumb, where he advises startups to expand when 25% or more of your business is coming from international markets.

In our experience, startups originating in APAC are in favor of the second approach and tend to test new markets almost immediately after launching a product.

While startups from more developed and distant markets like European countries, Australia, or North America would rather wait for five, seven, or ten years before expanding overseas.

Both approaches have merits, but it always depends on the unique circumstances of your business. After all, it might be suicidal to start expanding your product if you are struggling to fundraise and are running out of cash.

Having said that, technology startups have a considerable advantage when it comes to selling globally. The nature of tech products allows for quick adoption and scale.

SurveyMonkey case study

To illustrate this point, consider MonkeySurvey’s example as the company was international from the very beginning. In 2013, Dave Goldberg, CEO of SurveyMonkey, gave an interview to emphasize the benefits of global expansion.

Golberg said that once the company committed to its international business expansion strategy, SurveyMonkey’s organic growth accelerated dramatically.

“If you have a product business and you aren’t focused on international, you are missing out on two-thirds of your potential customers.”

Dave Goldberg, CEO of SurveyMonkey

If you are in doubt whether it makes sense to grow internationally or not, consider the following triggers:

  • Increase of your monthly recurring revenues (MRR) in a new geography
  • Increase of the number of sign-ups/leads in a new geography
  • Increase in the number of support tickets from non-English speaking markets
  • When 25% of your revenue comes from international markets
  • Your product does not require heavy localization, and you have reached product-market fit in your home market
  • Your business demonstrates geographical network effects, i.e., the more markets are added, the stronger the network effect
  • You acquire most of your clients via online channels
  • Your growth at home is decreasing
  • When a competitor is replicating your model abroad (think of how Airbnb took on Rocket Internet and became a global company to crush the competition)

A framework for international growth

Framework for international growth; go-to-market strategies
Framework for international growth
  1. Research and build market hypothesis - Define / Refine your market and target audience key hypothesis
  2. Validation - Test key assumptions by outsourcing business development efforts on the ground
  3. Double down - Assign remote growth team to support the efforts on the ground
  4. Market-product fit - Hire first people on the ground
  5. Compliance - Company formation and securing licenses
  6. Build a team - Focus on recruiting great talent and secure an office space
  7. Repeat - Add the learnings to your playbook and focus on the next market

Research and build market hypothesis

Research and build market hypothesis; go-to-market strategies

In this phase, you have to map what's possible, your key objectives, and thinking through the main challenges you may face. We recommend you to go through the following considerations, mapped by Rob Moffat, a partner at Balderton Capital.

  • Is the new market big enough to really matter? What is the TAM of the new geographic location? Is it worth the effort?
  • Are there synergies across markets? For example, a typical step for most foreign businesses coming into APAC is to start with Singapore or Hong Kong. That allows you to quickly set up a strategic location in a market with a great ease of doing business ranking. From there, you can test all nearby markets and gradually monetize. We wrote a comprehensive article listing the benefits of expanding to Southeast Asia via Singapore here.
  • Is there dramatic growth or shrinkage of the market? Many APAC markets are experiencing dramatic growth, and we like to refer to them as fast-growth or rapid-growth markets. Make sure you understand which markets are experiencing the highest growth, especially in a post-pandemic world.
  • Can you beat the competition? The more popular your solution is, the higher the probability that it will be replicated. Local competitors are easy to underestimate but don't judge them simply based on their website. Typically local founders have quite an extensive business network, which helps them grow despite (often) a poorer product.
  • Do you have enough funding to make meaningful progress there (or are you confident of your ability to raise this money)?
  • How will the time zone differences and travel impact you? It sounds obvious, but sometimes the excitement of a great opportunity far away outweighs the challenges of doing business across quite different time zones.
Ranking matrix for a UK marketplace business expanding in Europe
Source: Balderton Capital.

Dropbox case study

Sometime back, Dropbox opened its first non-US office in Dublin, Ireland. This is the approach they took after researching and debating which market would make most sense amongst Dublin, Amsterdam, London, and Zurich.

“Some of the locations we were evaluating were Dublin, London, Amsterdam, and Zurich, because those were the cities where a lot of other tech companies happen to have a substantial presence.

To decide, we ran an experiment. First, we went to the government-sponsored development agencies and a few local headhunting firms in each location and asked them for stacks of profiles for sales and support roles, with the identity info blanked out.

Then, we handed these CVs to our sales and support hiring managers and asked them to rank the top candidates, without telling them which countries they were in.

After they went through about a hundred of these, it became very clear that the talent in Dublin was just head and shoulders above the other three cities, for the roles that were important to us.”

Chen Li Wang, Head of Product and Business Operations at Dropbox
Evaluate international expansion based on current needs
Source: Dropbox’s Playbook for International Expansion, with ChenLi Wang by Reforge

As the table illustrates, the team chose Dublin because of its strength in sales and support. Understanding what talent you can find in each market can be another important factor when deciding where to expand first. That's why many tech businesses have built their regional headquarters in Singapore, benefiting from the extensive operations of global brands like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Stripe, Uber, etc. The high density of large and successful companies results in a well-trained talent for various roles across sales, product, and support.

Brand USA case study

"When we have fully established all international offices, Brand USA will have representation in the markets that generate 93 percent of inbound travel to the United States... We look forward to working even more closely with the travel industry and media partners around the world to attract rapidly increasing numbers of international travelers to the U.S."

Chris Thompson, President, and CEO for Brand USA

Nathan Blecharczyk, Airbnb’s co-founder and chairman of Airbnb China, talked about how he would make multiple trips to China and sit down with both Western and local companies to get their perspective and advice on localization.

The Key Points

  • Map all challenges you may face when expanding abroad.
  • Consider the size of the market, are there any synergies across markets where you plan to expand to, the state of the local competition, the growth of the market, your current runaway, and even time-zone difference.
  • Define and refine your decision framework by mapping what's truly important for you.


Validation; go-to-market strategies

Alright, by now, you have a clear hypothesis of which market might be a good fit for your solution. Next, we recommend you test that market by outsourcing business development efforts on the ground until you reach market-product fit.

If you feel that you have strong triggers behind your global expansion, such as many customers coming organically from that market, you may want to skip this step. However, in our experience, most foreign businesses prefer to do some testing before investing aggressively in the new market.

When speaking of business development services, we are referring to the following services:

  • Market research - hiring a service provider to study customer behavior, run interviews and focus groups, or provide a comprehensive overview of demographics and customer behavior in your target market. Unfortunately, there is a lack of standardization of such services in emerging markets. Some of our partners charge as high as +$100,000, others as low as $2000 per report.

Spotify's case study

“The one main takeaway was understanding how different Asia is from the rest of the world… Whereas in the US you’ve got 50 states but it is essentially the same culture and language, you come to Asia and even in just one country like India, for example, it’s almost like having 28 different countries within one because you have such different cultures, such different languages, everything.”

Sunita Kaur – Spotify’s Managing Director for Asia
  • Business Matchmaking - some service providers offer what we call "business matchmaking," a service designed to arrange meetings with strategic partners, suppliers, importers, potential investors, clients, wholesale buyers, government officials, and whoever else might be relevant to your business. On average arranging, a meeting with a strategic partner will cost you anything between $300 to $1000, depending on the market and seniority of the person you want to meet.
  • In-market representation - if you want to be more aggressive with your tests you may outsource altogether your sales force through a service provider on the ground. That's a preferred choice for much larger brands, as it helps them to quickly validate assumptions. The advantages are that you do not need to deal with:
  • Training on your own - as the service provider will invest equal efforts in preparing the new team on the ground.
  • Labour laws in each market - some countries have very pro-employee laws making it hard to hire temporary workers. Letting go of people can be quite complicated, requiring a local HR manager, contracts in two languages, and income taxes across markets.
  • Payroll - as the service provider will handle all that.
  • Dealing with recruiters - expensive and often unnecessary as the service provider will have better access to relevant talent

Typically such services are charged upfront and have an element of commission. While most foreign businesses prefer to pay simply commissions and have a very low-risk option, in our experience, all good service providers would ask for payment upfront. The costs vary, but it's reasonable to estimate that about $10,000 will be sufficient for an average scale project.

  • Lead generation - for companies that want to have a tighter grip on their sales narrative and business development, hiring a service provider to identify prospects and build pipelines is the preferred choice. Do consider that many service providers have delivered such services multiple times, making them sit on a large pile of verified databases that you can quickly unlock.

Before moving forward to the next phase, consider the following framework for using the validation phase to your advantage.

Imagine hiring a service provider that can help you with all services listed above to execute the following strategy:

  1. Conduct market research to identify local competition, market dynamics, and who are the ideal customer profiles for your business.
  2. Learning from the research, organize a virtual event where a government official/local thought leader will be invited to speak on a topic related to your business's problem, e.g., the importance of digitalization SaaS, fundraising in the market X, etc., etc.
  3. The service provider prepares a list of verified target prospects via a lead generation service for your approval.
  4. Once you prioritize the leads, you are most interested in, the service provider starts inviting them to attend your event.
  5. Several keynote presentations occur, followed by a series of pre-arranged business meetings through a business matching service where you will have the opportunity to pitch your solution less directly.
  6. Based on your learnings and early traction, you can outsource business development efforts through in-market representation service until you hit the necessary traction to consider expanding aggressively to the market.
"Find the cheapest way to validate your international proof points in a new market."

Rob Moffat a partner at Balderton Capital

The Key Points

  • Don't invest a lot of resources until you are certain you have a strong market-product fit.
  • Consider outsourcing lead generation, market research, in-market representation, and business matching.
  • Be strategic on how you use local service providers. Markets in Asia are relationships focused, invest early in getting to know key-decision makers.

Double down

Double down; go-to-market strategies

Alright, by now, you have proven your early assumptions by outsourcing market research and validation services. Your total spent so far is quite low, and the results are promising. What do you do next?

Start investing quickly while you have momentum and early signs of traction.

While the validation step was all about being scrappy, now you need to start allocating more sales, product, design, and marketing resources from your headquarters. In that way, you will support your team's efforts on the ground and scale existing efforts to more geographies.

"Ideally you want to hire the country manager first, then get them to hire their team. Where possible, use resources from your centralized team (for example, allocate staff from your headquarters-based marketing team to focus on the new country) as they can get going faster and make more use of what you learned in your home market."

Rob Moffat a partner at Balderton Capital

Your second step is to assign a budget per market (if you are testing/expanding to more than one). Otherwise, you may end up overspending in some markets.

Third, assuming you don't have experience running a business in the market where you are expanding, it's important to visit in person and get a sense of the local culture and business ecosystem. If you do not visit frequently, you risk creating friction between your local team/partners and the headquarters. Nothing beats the first-hand experience of meeting locals and doing business on the ground.

For example, Sujay Tyle, founder of Balderton investment Frontier Car Group, is an extreme example of this. He visits every market where they operate every quarter, covering Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkey, Chile, Indonesia, and Mexico, plus HQ in Germany.

Once you allocate more resources, assign a budget per market, and visit in person, you have two options:

  1. Open a representative office
  2. Keep on relying on a service provider on the ground

Both approaches have merits; here you go the breakdown of pros and cons:

Double down different strategies:

Expansion strategy



Setting up a representative office

- Relatively inexpensive 

- In most countries, the entity can be converted to a foreign-owned business at a later point 

- You can start recruiting talent 

- In many countries, such a setup does not let you collect revenues 

- In some markets setting up such an entity is a bit complex and will take longer than the regular foreign-owned type of incorporation 

- You will need to manage a new entity, work permits, tax filing, accounting 

Relying on a service provider

- Less expensive 

- You do not need to deal with company formation compliance yet 

- You will be dealing with fewer service providers

- Less control as most work will be outsourced 

Dropbox case study

When Dropbox opened their office in Dublin their support team noticed how letting know users that they are based in "Europe" or "Dublin" would result in a noticeable warming. Dropbox was not another foreign company, they were "local."

“We were a data-driven organization, and yet, we couldn't have run an experiment to find that out. We actually had to go there; you can't test or run an experiment for everything. That was an unexpected surprise that ended up driving a lot more growth than we had forecasted.”

Chen Li Wang, Head of Product and Business Operations at Dropbox

Whatever choice you make, the newly assigned resources must focus on localization to adapt your product to the local market's needs.

Amazon.cn case study

“So, as Amazon’s fourth international market, the company followed its pattern of employing non-Japanese leadership—but this created a bit of a problem. The lack of local leadership set Amazon’s efforts back, as local executives would have understood the nuances of the local market with their native experience, while the international executives Amazon went with could only rely on theory and their US e-commerce background.”

"Localizing your service isn’t about what you and I think, it’s about how the market thinks."

Wang Hanhua, CEO of Amazon.cn

Mobile-first approach

In many emerging markets across Asia, people do not own a laptop. Yet, pretty much everyone owns a smartphone. That became increasingly obvious when COVID took place; many companies realized how few employees own laptops and how dependent they are on company laptops. Moreover, as many people have smartphones, they are tech-savvy when using such devices but less skilled with laptops.

Spotify case study

“It’s mobile-first, and a mobile-first strategy was very important to us here in Asia. It made sense for us because everybody here lives on their mobiles. So when we launched this new feature people were talking about it in social media. Our best marketers are Spotify users. Everybody was telling their friends about the fact that you can get Spotify free.”

Sunita Kaur – Spotify’s Managing Director for Asia


Nobody likes feeling language or cultural barriers on their home turf. Users expect their experience to be localized, even if they are using an international company.

For example, when Spotify was launching in Japan, their team produced several TV and print ads to introduce local audiences to their platform and product. The videos were culturally on point and featured funny scenes from everyday life in Japan.

Spotify case study

"For Asia, the approach has been to go local, with the music-streaming service actively reaching out to local artists/labels in each market, which has helped the company push its user update extensively. This is particularly so for markets such as the Philippines, Hong Kong and Taiwan.”

Elizabeth Low, Marketing Interactive

The Key Points

  • Assess what makes more sense: set up a representative office or to continue relying on a service provider.
  • Allocate resources from your headquarter to support product, design, and marketing.
  • Assign a budget per market rather than an "expansion budget" across markets.
  • Asia is a mobile-only market. Assign resources to optimize the product for mobile.
  • Translate the entire product, decks, landing pages to reflect the local language.

Market-product fit

market-product fit; go-to-market strategies

Reaching market-product fit is the point in time when you feel confident that the newly tested market will work great for your product. It's hard to measure it in a quantitive manner, but you can pay attention to:

  • Traffic coming from that market, and direct traffic in particular
  • High NPS from customers in that market
  • Revenue growth
  • Intuition

When all metrics are up and to the right, you will need to recruit your first hires. Do consider that your recruitment playbook might not be terribly effective as you will deal with cultural differences at every step. Take your time and hire wisely because most fast-growth markets in Asia face talent shortages. The tech sector grows faster than the educational system can adapt and train people. In fact, a recent report by RGF International Recruitment Talent in Asia surveyed 3500 employers across 11 markets discovered that over 50% of Indonesian employers struggle with a talent shortage.

Another study by Monk’s Hill Ventures, and Slush Singapore, discovered that 90% of respondents believe the skills gap is a major issue. The study surveyed more than 100 key players in the regional startup scene.

The main challenges we have observed are the following:

  • Few suitable candidates, especially in technical fields like software engineers.
  • The lack of qualified candidates drives salaries up. Software engineers and digital marketers often command salaries three to five times higher than the median wags in Southeast Asia.
  • Job-hopping, we have personally assessed thousands of resumes and have noticed that a significant portion of all candidates stays for about 1 year before moving to a new job.
  • Most employees do not understand ESOP, which is a crucial strategy for attracting early employees to any startup.

Back in the days, the Chinese startup ecosystem coined the phrase "Sea Turtle", explaining Chinese citizens who have returned to China after studying abroad for several years. Lately, the same approach has gained popularity across Southeast Asia too, and most foreign businesses quickly learn the benefits of hiring sea turtles.

If you can tap into a community of such people, you will be able to quickly build a capable, culturally intelligent executive team that will give you an edge when growing your business.

Even if you can locate communities of relevant people, you will need to invest efforts in getting the right culture fit.

Most foreign companies send core staff to live and work on the ground for the first year. The new market must be considered as a startup within the company. In that way, you can control spending and get people with the right mindset with a strong bias for action.

Dropbox case study

“It was important for Dropbox to ensure that the culture of the international offices was not exactly the same but shared the same core values as what we had at SF. A key element on how we chose the initial landing team was that they'd all be long-time Dropbox employees and excellent culture carriers for establishing that first office and onboarding its first hires."

Chen Li Wang, Head of Product and Business Operations at Dropbox

In the early days of your global expansion, there will be much work to do around recruitment, traction, managing local vendors, and complying with the legal system. Each new employee will end up having quite a bit of responsibility, often outside what they sign for. To navigate the local complexities and instill your business's organizational culture, it's recommended to send a few people on the ground.

Additionally, having your team on the ground to hire, there are some important points to consider when hiring your local employees.

On Globalization Partners' webinar on "Building a Team in APAC: How to Deliver an Exceptional Employee Experience", they discussed with Kyle Hegarty, cross-cultural communication expert in TSL Marketing, about preparing to hire employees in the APAC region.

Globalization Partners case study

“My recommendation is to double whatever onboarding time you think you’re going to take for building relationships and getting that person in tune with your company’s approach to doing business. In my experience, you need almost to rethink how you build relationships remotely.”

Kyle Hegarty, Managing Director of Leadership Nomad, part of TSL Marketing

Globalization Partners also suggests that to ensure that you attract and hire the right people, your company's communication is tailored and specific to the market you are entering. Since the culture is different, so does the messaging.

The Key Points

  • To understand if you have Market Product Fit, pay attention to your NPS, direct traffic, revenue growth, and intuition.
  • Be aware of potential talent shortages.
  • Your first hires are very important, pick them wisely. Sea Turtles are a good place to start.
  • Manage the global expansion as a startup within the company.
  • Send a few people from your headquarter to instill your company culture.


Compliance; go-to-market strategies

Jurisdiction complexity

Depending on where you are expanding to, you may face many challenges when incorporating and securing the necessary licenses. A good indicator of how complicated it may be to form a new entity is the following rankings:

The higher the score, the more difficult it will be to handle all paperwork. In countries with high complexities, you will need to choose a service provider to help you navigate all that. Such service providers in Asia are known as corporate secretarial companies, corp sec, professional services firms, market-entry companies, and corporate services firms.

Selecting a service provider

In some markets like Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Philippines, it's mandatory to appoint companies to help you with all corporate matters; in others, it's up to you but highly recommended.

When selecting a service provider, make sure you ask for the following:

  • If the firm has any experience in your industry
  • References from past customers
  • Testimonials
  • Size of the team
  • Who will be in charge of your project, e.g., the person you are negotiating with, or another team altogether, someone junior vs. someone senior, all that matters
  • Languages their team speaks
  • Frequency of updates

Once you select the most appropriate service provider, you should consider what other services you will need. Most professional service firms offer a wide range of services covering everything from incorporation to tax filing, accounting, work permits, payroll, director services, and many others. It would help if you always asked for clarity on what services are mandatory and what are nice to have or handled in-house.

If you are an early-stage startup and do not have many resources, we advise you to handle most of those services in-house as hiring people who can do that is relatively affordable. In any other case, it makes a lot of sense to outsource those services so that you can focus on what matters most to your business, growth.


The incorporation process typically takes 1 to 7 days in developed and 1 to 3 months in emerging markets. To avoid going back and forward with the service provider and causing unnecessary delays, ask for a list of documents you will need, prepare them before the process start and submit them as soon as you can.

In that way, any delay will be attributed either to the service provider or the government body you are dealing with. In emerging markets, it is common to experience sudden changes in requirements/processes. Otherwise, even if there are massive delays, it will be hard to understand who is causing them and how to fix them.

Paid-up capital

Developed markets would require a symbolic amount of about $1 to form a business, but emerging economies may ask you to commit to considerably high investment before incorporating. For example, in Indonesia, certain business licenses may require up to $10,000,000 investment over a five years period of time.

You will probably stumble on service providers arguing how that's unnecessary, and there are ways around it. Our recommendation is to steer away from such advice as you never know how the local government may react if they discover what you have done.

Data risks

Some countries may require you to set up local data storage centers to sell your product there. In general, people in emerging markets do not care much about their data privacy; that mindset changes quite a bit as you explore developed markets like Singapore, South Korea, and Japan.

The best way to handle such regulations is to identify other tech companies who operate in your target market and reach out to see how they have handled the matter. In our case, we had discussions with AWS before addressing some of the regulations in Vietnam.

The Key Points

  • Manage your expectations by checking rankings on ease of doing business.
  • Take your time and do proper due diligence on the service provider you want to hire.
  • Start your incorporation by quickly submitting all documents the government requires to avoid unnecessary delays.
  • Be careful on how you navigate the paid-up capital requirements, going around such rules is not recommended.
  • Some countries would require you to set up local servers and keep customer data locally, make sure you discuss with other tech companies to find out how they have handled such matters.

Build a team

Build a team; go-to-market strategies

Assuming you have hired a great local executive team, the process of building the rest of the team must be straightforward. The local management would be able to tap into the relevant communities and attract good talent. Having said that, do consider that cultural differences will always be present.

The culture of the satellite office would most probably differ from your headquarter's one. Each country is unique and different, so we cannot provide a definitive guide on how to tackle the region, but throughout the years, we managed to narrow down our learnings on the topic to the following lessons:

  • Always remember that you are perceived as the boss, not a facilitator.

Consider the following: in many Southeast Asian countries, office buildings have separate elevators and toilets for senior management, clearly separating the management and regular employees. That creates a high degree of power distance, hence why people expect you to be decisive at all times.

"While professionals in some countries appreciate being able to have individual autonomy in their workplaces, professionals across the world might expect a clear hierarchy."

Kyle Hegarty, Managing Director of Leadership Nomad, part of TSL Marketing
  • Giving feedback publicly is unthinkable.

Losing face in public is a big thing in Asia, so never confront an employee in a group setting. There are better ways to deliver feedback. We encourage you to do it in private, but even then, if the feedback is delivered too suddenly, it may backfire. It helps to carefully build up the conversation, pass some positive observations, and only then deliver your constructive feedback.

  • Be clear in your communication; if you need input from your team, explain that and give them time to prepare.

Southeast Asian cultures tend to stay quiet in meetings as they learn from an early age to speak only when they know what they will say is correct. You can say something like:

”During our next meeting, I will be asking for your input on these six questions. Please prepare because I will be calling on you.”
  • Pay attention to body language.

Sometimes your team would have something important to say during a meeting, but they will remain quiet unless called by the facilitator. Look carefully for hints in your team’s body language as people might want to speak and are waiting to be called on. You can use the following sentence to encourage someone to speak:

”James, you know a lot about this topic. Do you have something you’d like to add?”
  • Insist that everyone speaks global English

Other than Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Philippines, most countries would struggle to understand English speakers. Speak slowly and clearly and, if possible, recap the discussion before the end of the meeting to ensure everyone is on the same page.

  • It takes two to tango.

When entering Southeast Asia, you will need to adapt to local norms, but the local teams will need to adapt to your culture too. That process requires a lot of communication and even some training to ensure both sides are tolerant.

“If groups have different systems for reaching decisions, you must be explicit about the process.”

Erin Meyer, professor at INSEAD and author of The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business
  • Learn how to build trust.

Asian countries are relationship-focused, meaning, no matter how logical it may seem to do business with you, if you have not invested in building a relationship, the deal may not go through. It would help if you built an emotional connection early in the process. That would involve going out for meals and drinks (golf, karaoke, dinners at restaurants, etc.) without talking only about business during such activities. In most Southeast Asian countries, the legal system is traditionally less reliable, and that’s why relationships carry more weight in business than written contracts. Only once there is a strong trust between both parties you will end up with securing the deal.

  • The bottom line about business culture in Southeast Asia.

Getting culture right is not easy, but you do not need to be an expert to be a successful leader. As long as you are working on your tolerance and emotional intelligence, you will have a positive approach to situations that may not make any sense at first glance. Always recognize that simply because something is done differently, it does not make it wrong. Be informed about the basics of doing business internationally and be flexible enough to adapt your style.

Literature on cultural intelligence

There is a lot of great literature on the topic; if you want to read more on culture intelligence, we recommend reading Hofstede, Ed Schein, and Erin Meyer’s work, and in particular:

Securing an office

Going back to the point on high power distance, Asian cultures tend to be hierarchical. Meaning, your office's location is quite important as local people will judge you on the size and location of your office. Additionally, incorporating a business outside the capital of most emerging markets will take a longer time. That's why most foreign companies choose capital cities and central districts. Typically, your corporate service provider will be able to give you a basic overview of different office districts across the capital. Alternatively, you can tap into expat communities or do a google search to see where most foreign companies have secured an office.

The Key Points

  • Always remember that you are perceived as the boss, not a facilitator.
  • Giving feedback publicly is unthinkable.
  • Be clear in your communication; if you need input from your team, explain that and give them time to prepare.
  • Pay attention to body language.
  • Learn how to build trust given the local culture.
  • Follow best practices and talk to other expats when choosing the location of your office.


Repeat international expansion framework; go-to-market strategies

Expanding abroad is a difficult and long process. Reviewing decisions and progress too frequently may backfire, but it is important to reevaluate your efforts and investment to improve your playbook consistently. In our experience, most companies do that annually, unless they experience rapid growth early in their global expansion, then the review cadence can be more frequent.

If your playbook turns out to be effective in one market, it will probably work in other similar markets, e.g., Singapore and Hong Kong, or Indonesia and Malaysia.

Having said that, no two markets are identical, and your processes will need to improve all the time, especially in markets that are quite different. You will need to be patient and adapt the playbook often. Focusing on speed without a great foundation will result in bad hires and poor product adaptation and messaging.

Carwow case study

"Our expectation was that we could get going in months, and in retrospect, we went too wide too early. In practice, it took over a year to get the right people and suppliers in place, adapt the messaging, and optimize marketing. We had to go back to get it working on a small scale. Since then it has really clicked and growth has surpassed our expectations.”

James Hind, CEO of Carwow

Spotify case study

"I think it’s not so much a challenge as it is quite a lot of fun. Not to have a cookie-cutter strategy that we use across each market. With each country that we go into, for example, Hong Kong, we work with the big artists here, whether it is Eason Chan or Jay Chou, who is trending on top of the list in Hong Kong. When we look at the music trends across all of the different countries, every country is very, very passionate about their local artists so it’s not just the big international stars that trend well across Asia. They’re also very passionate about their local music scene so what we always try and do is walk with as many local music artists or middle concept promoters to be able to build up a marketing story in that country. It is kind of starting from ground zero in every country."

Sunita Kaur – Spotify’s Managing Director for Asia

Dropbox case study

“Get one round out there. Internalize the lessons and build your V1 international playbook, then apply the playbook to make the second round faster, the third round even faster, and go from there. But don't go from zero to ten, because it's going to be a big struggle.”

Chen Li Wang, Head of Product and Business Operations at Dropbox

The Key Points

  • Setup annual reviews of your progress and learnings.
  • There is no cookie-cutter globalization strategy for all Asian markets, but keeping an updated playbook allows you to move fast and keep the team organized.

Bonus: Mistakes companies make when expanding to Asia

mistakes companies make when expanding to Asia
Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Most companies see themselves as data-and analysis-driven yet many still end up making common mistakes when expanding to Asia.

These are the most common mistakes we have witnessed in our work:

  • Jumping into global expansion without enough research and planning

Every expansion will be challenging and costly. Rob Moffat, a partner at Balderton Capital, argues that when a business is going well in its home market, $1 invested in local growth typically increases # of users and revenue by more than $1 invested abroad. Meaning, you need to prove your market thesis quickly. Always consider what could go wrong, e.g., insufficient investment in the new market, starving the home market of investment, running out of cash before reaching milestones, etc.

Dropbox case study

The most foundational of these mistakes, says Wang, is jumping into global expansion without enough research and planning. How much is enough?

“At Dropbox, we did tons of planning — maybe we even overdid it and could have gone earlier — but we talked to other companies, asking them these same questions about mistakes, and one that stood out was doing it too fast..."

Chen Li Wang, Head of Product and Business Operations at Dropbox

Walmart case study

When Walmart was expanding internationally into South Korea and Japan, the same globalization strategy of offering discounted products that were a huge success in the United States was perceived differently in the Asian countries. South Koreans and Japanese associated low prices with cheap quality and made them hesitant to buy from Walmart.

"One of the core reasons for the power of suppliers is the fragmented nature of the market. And even though Walmart tried its “everyday low price” formula, so successful in the US, it discovered that in Japan this was not enough. Price by itself could not win over local consumers looking for a marriage of the freshest food, along with high-quality service.

Japanese consumers’ preferences are also very varied, with tastes for staples such as soy sauce varying from region to region. This can allow smaller, regional retail rivals to compete on price."

WARC's analysis of Walmart Japan
  • Expanding into too many markets at the same time

Imagine you planned to go global in 2021, and your goal is to be in Singapore and Hong Kong in Q1, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines in Q2, South Korea and Japan and Q3, and Q4 in China.

It's just too much at the same time. There are cases of companies that have done it successfully, but most fail. It's hard to manage multiple regions, especially when they are quite different and require localization.

Not to mention all the legal hurdles that would come out of a multi-country expansion, think immigration visas taking longer than expected, waiting for various business licenses, commercial licenses, and other requirements for legal entity setups. All those examples illustrate potential setbacks that are completely outside of your control. You will be dependent on local vendors and governments. In early-stage companies, the founding teams will be overwhelmed. In more mature startups, your internal resources, i.e., HR, Finance, and Legal teams, will be overload with options, setbacks, and difficult decisions, e.g., how do you structure the right expat packages across multiple countries, what benefits expats get VS local hires? Your expansion will pull many internal teams in the process and require a lot of effort to find good answers on complicated but important answers.

Dropbox case study

“It's just like building a product. You have to go through one cycle to learn and iterate and then the next cycle to learn and iterate. Don't try to do five simultaneous experiments at the same time. If you try to launch five products at the same time you're going to run into the same issue as launching in multiple countries at the same time.”

Chen Li Wang, Head of Product and Business Operations at Dropbox

Shopee case study

"(South-east Asia) is a very fragmented market. People speak different languages, have different traditions and preferences. So over the years, we have developed that sense of sensitivity to the subtle differences across the market in terms of the users' preferences,"

Forrest Li, Founder of Shopee
  • Targeting harder markets first

Breaking into a foreign market is hard. Breaking into an emerging economy is harder. Going directly for a market like the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam would be much more difficult than expanding to countries like Singapore and Hong Kong. Such countries are international hubs of many foreign businesses. They are well resourced with experienced legal firms and immigration vendors. The ease of doing business is great, and the population speaks English. Even if such markets are not your ideal target, having a "beachhead" market like that can help you coordinate expansion efforts across the entire region.

"Don’t fall into the trap of opening in a location where you can hire more cheaply or where you have a personal connection, as limited talent pools will cause problems down the line."

Rob Moffat a partner at Balderton Capital
  • Expand for the sake of increasing valuation

Many Southeast Asian startups expand across the region in an attempt to push their valuation. Valuations are a combination of many variables, and the number of markets where you have a presence is secondary to your traction, product, and unit economics. Adding another country would result in trade-offs. It's hard getting product-market-fit; it's harder when you have another market you need to manage.

Bonus #2: Global Expansion Strategies: Case Studies

global expansion strategies: Case studies; go-to-market strategies
Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

In the previous chapter, we have gone through mistakes that companies make when entering a new market. Following that, we wanted to share some insights and strategies on companies that, conversely, succeeded in their global expansion journey to their target new markets.

We have researched some of the biggest companies and their global expansion strategies. We have compiled them and will go case-by-case to elaborate on their strategies and how they worked for them. At the end of the article, we then summarized the similar lessons that these companies have in common.

Read the series on A Framework for International Growth

IKEA Case Study

IKEA go-to-market strategies

History of IKEA

The founder of IKEA, Ingvar Kamprad, birthed the idea of his business ever since he was a young child. Coming from a humble background in the Swedish province of Småland, Kamprad understood what his customers wanted and how to help them achieve what they wanted.

The entrepreneur kept a stock of pens, watches, wallets, and belts of which were what his classmates needed. But only in 1943 did his father give him the opening of his business by giving legal consent and paying for the registration fees of his business. At age 17, this was when Kamprad started IKEA.

IKEA was named after the entrepreneur’s initials - I for Ingvar, K for Kamprad, E for Elmtaryd, the family farm he grew up on, and Agunnaryd, his home village. Simple and would translate well across different new markets.

Thereafter, IKEA also crafted its vision “to create a better everyday life for the many people.” Defining their ideal customers as being those who value products with low prices and high quality.

IKEA’s Go-to-Market Strategies and How They Worked

Sweden, in the 1950s, was still considered to be remote and difficult to reach. As such, expanding into larger cities at that point was definitely trickier. There are three main strategies that worked very well for them.

  1. Expanding to closer countries first, then look outwards

What helped was that IKEA knew that the domestic market of Sweden was too small if they wanted to grow. Therefore, thinking international was already part of their globalization strategy from the start. This translated well with how they started expanding into geographically nearer and culturally similar markets first, before taking the leap to more diverse countries.

IKEA first expanded to Norway in 1963 and Denmark in 1969, both countries in the European region. Thereafter, did it look at Germany, which now has the most number of IKEA stores in the world, and then finally to America and Asia. Today, IKEA has 422 stores in over 50 markets.

2. Localize the products and services

Recently, in March 2021, IKEA opened its second store in India and localized its service to help the business in its success.

One interesting finding that IKEA caught before their expansion into India was that they realized this target market did not have a do-it-yourself tradition. As such, the branding that IKEA had from the start of having their customers build the furniture on their own, was not going to work successfully in India. Therefore, to suit the needs of the target customers in India, IKEA decided to add an assembly service team; their very first in-house furniture assembly team.

IKEA also adapted many of their food choices to the preferences of their Indian customers such as bringing in flatbread and replacing the beef in their famous Swedish meatball with chicken meat or vegetables.

Uber Case Study

Uber go-to-market strategies
Uber Logo

History of Uber

Founded in 2009 as Uber Technologies Inc. in San Francisco, the company soon took over the world in the span of just 11 years. It all started with just an incident where founders, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, could not get a taxi whilst on their way to LeWeb annual conference.

With that idea, the founders returned back to San Francisco where they developed a ride-sharing mobile application that would get customers a ride within minutes at the tap of a button.

Uber’s Go-to-Market Strategies and How They Worked

Three years later, the first city that Uber expanded internationally was Paris, where their idea was born. This came with many difficulties that were initially unexpected, as Mina Radhakrishnan, Uber’s first Head of Product shared in a blog post:

“At Uber, we launched our first international city, Paris, in 30 days. There was a lot of manual work to continue launching in other countries and languages while we didn’t have a core set of international systems  - we had to charge everyone in US dollars for several months. In parallel, we built out the foundations and kept moving pieces onto the new infrastructure, which allowed Uber to keep momentum and still scale.”

Mina Radhakrishnan, Uber’s first Head of Product

Thereafter, Uber started expanding and hitting every city at breakneck speed. These were some of the ways they did it.

  1. Adapted to different locales

Uber was entering different markets and at each market, it was adapting its business model swiftly and to the local regulations. In every country that it expanded in, Uber adapted the app’s UX to fit the local needs so that the app is easy to use but also retains the brand’s identity.

Uber go-to-market strategies
Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash
“For example, the first time that we translated uber.com, we realized that every change in content required multiple code changes and redeploying the entire website each time. When you have to build everything from scratch, you really come to appreciate what’s involved in scaling internationally.”

Mina Radhakrishnan, Uber’s first Head of Product

2. Understand local regulations and how to deal with them

Uber started facing legal challenges ever since 2012 because of the strong allegations thrown at them against employment rights issues and necessary permits. While Uber did acknowledge some of the allegations and tried to assuage the situation, they remained steadfast in some other instances and carried on operations as usual. This contributed to the efficiency of their global expansion to other markets.

Netflix Case Study

netflix logo; go-to-market strategies
Netflix Logo

History of Netflix

Netflix was founded in 1997 by founders Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph and their goal was to offer rentals on movies over the internet. When Netflix went public in 2002, subscribers started to grow. But it was not until streaming services took off in 2007, that its shares were pushing for $400 at one point.

Today, Netflix has more than 207 million paid subscribers from across 190 countries (as of 2017). Along the way, Netflix was met with many controversies as well, but what made them successful today is how well they adapted to the needs of their target customers and built a loyal customer base in those countries.

Netflix’s Go-to-Market Strategies and How They Worked

Here are some tips and tricks that Netflix used to help with its global expansion.

  1. Choose to enter markets, one by one

Netflix’s earliest international expansion was to Canada, which was geographically and culturally similar to the United States (US). Drawing lessons from these familiar markets, Netflix started to pick up some skills to adapt its strategies and business model to more diverse markets and looked to 50 more countries.

Some of the factors that Netflix chose to select these markets were:

  • Shared similarities
  • Purchasing power of potential customers
  • Availability of internet services

These factors then lead to their next strategy, which is to study these factors and see how their model can fit the local needs.

2. Localization of product for customers

Netflix recognized that as they expanded further away from English-speaking countries, enjoying these international movies was going to be a challenge. As such, Netflix added more languages to their app interface and created more subtitles and dubbing for their international customers. They added regional languages like Hindi, Malay, Korean, Japanese, Thai, and Bahasa Indonesia.

Additionally, Netflix also realized as they were expanding into the Southeast Asia markets, that some emerging markets are primarily mobile-first. They then not only adapted prices, of $5 a month, to suit the purchasing power of the locals but also offered subscription plans for streaming their service on mobile devices.

netflix expansion strategies; go-to-market strategies
Photo by Souvik Banerjee on Unsplash

Another such example is also how Netflix expanded into Cuba offering a monthly subscription rate of $7.99 to their Cuban subscribers.

3. Partnered with the right companies

Netflix understood that to better adapt to the local markets, they needed partnerships and investments that can support their type of technological needs like big data and analytics. Therefore, they teamed up with local companies to work on solutions for both companies.

One example is how Netflix worked on investing in local content and partnering with these creators to push for their products on Netflix’s platform. This is because they realized that their customers liked local and original content, which helps build Netflix’s vision of attracting a global audience.

Airbnb Case Study

Airbnb Logo go-to-market strategies
Airbnb Logo

History of Airbnb

The creation of Airbnb was inspired by the three co-founders, Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia, Nathan Blecharczyk when they could not pay for their rent in 2007. So, they decided to bring in three strangers into their home and that was the advent of a new era of the home-sharing industry.

Started in 2008 as AirBed and Breakfast, they were soon accepted into the startup accelerator program Y Combinator in Silicon Valley. A decade later, there were over 4500 experiences of using Airbnb and they had people all over the world checking in to Airbnb nearly 300 million times.

In the midst of getting to the international audience, they learned many lessons and skills that enabled their success. This was how they did it.

Airbnb’s Go-to-Market Strategies and How They Worked

  1. Localization by translation

From the get-go, Airbnb was already positioning itself as a global brand. As such, they made sure that their application was translated into many languages, even having their own in-house translation managers.

“[As a global startup, it’s] important that we are both international and local at the same time. Because of this, we’ve taken many steps toward localization, one of which is translation.”

Jason Katz-Brown, Software Engineer at Airbnb

Therefore, to cater to their international audience, engineers at Airbnb have a sophisticated translation management system that enables their translators to edit almost immediately when a new phrase is added onto the website.

When entering into China, Airbnb also took notes of the variants in the Mandarin language: Simplified Chinese writing versus Traditional Chinese writing). This helped to raise user experience and made it that much more customized.

2. Leveraged on credibility in sharing economy

Airbnb is a brand that thrives on trust and openness, thus it was crucial for them to have their users recommend them more than just advertising their good points.

In a TechTalk by Airbnb’s Growth Product Managers, Jimmy Tang and Gustaf Alstromer, we see how they used referrals as a method to drive sustainable growth, even across regions. Their end goal was to ensure that after a customer’s experience with Airbnb, what they do with it was to share that offline with the people around them.

“Our users tell the story better than we do. We never compromise on user experience. No tricks.”

Airbnb’s Philosophy

In another talk by Gustaf Alstromer on Y Combinator, he explains how to use growth channels like referrals to scale your user base and why that is valuable to your company’s growth. He explained how Airbnb used a referral system and the funnel as you see below to send personalized and direct email invites to convert new users to use their platform. He emphasizes that measuring the different stages of the referrals funnel to the conversion rate at the end will help to track the progress of your growth channel.

Airbnb's referral funnel; go-to-market strategies
Source: Gustaf Alstromer’s talk on Y Combinator

Gustaf Alstromer gave a glimpse of the 4 main components that make an email referral invite convincing: Social proof, clear value, urgency, and exclusivity.

Airbnb's referrals product; go-to-market strategies
Source: Gustaf Alstromer’s talk on Y Combinator

Using this tactic, especially in the relationship-driven Asian countries, encouraged growth that was incentivized by the referral program. As such, their bookings rate grew exponentially.

Gustaf Alstromer gave a glimpse to the 4 main components that makes an email referral invite convincing: Social proof, clear value, urgency, and exclusivity.

Airbnb's referral invite email; go-to-market strategies
Source: Gustaf Alstromer’s talk on Y Combinator

Summary of Lessons

With that, we have gone through 4 different case studies of how some of the biggest startups made their global expansion.

Across the 4 case studies, there are many similar points that we want to highlight. Other than doing heavy preliminary market research beforehand to determine if your product is a good product-market fit, the repeated similarities between each case study really highlight the importance of these points.

  1. Localization of your product and adapting to the local markets’ culture are huge ‘must’s when expanding into global markets
  2. Expand first to culturally similar markets and learn what are the strategies for expanding into international markets in more culturally diverse markets
  3. Partnering with strategic local companies to help build your international brand in the local scene
  4. Understand local regulations and how to deal with them effectively


International expansion does sound like a tedious and arduous process. However, these are learning points that startup predecessors have gathered, which are worth giving a shot to avoid an even longer expansion journey.

In Conclusion, Our 8 Tips to Successfully Expand into Asia

Successfully expand into Asia Pacific; go-to-market strategies
Photo by George Bakos on Unsplash

As we close off with the last chapter of this E-book on knowing your steps to create your Go-to-Market playbook, we decided to compile our final 8 tips on how to successfully expand internationally.

According to the Singapore Business Federation's (SBF) annual National Business Survey 20/21, Southeast Asia (SEA) is the top choice for most businesses to expand in the near future. While an expansion in 2021 does not sound the most promising, there are other steps you can take before the actual execution phase.

Some of these steps are especially crucial as it translates to whether your business understands its position in your target Asian market and how to leverage on the business opportunities present.

Essentially, these tips will help prepare you for expansion into Asia. Some require a little more homework than others, but we promise you that you won’t regret it when you reap the benefits of it.

Here we have our 8 tips to consider to successfully expand into the Asian market.

1. Know that SEA is not one market

In our previous article on Where do companies go wrong when expanding to Asia?, the first reason was that most companies do not conduct enough research and planning before throwing themselves and their team into a completely unknown market.

SEA is not a singular market with the same cultures and people speaking the same language. Just in SEA alone, there are already 2 archipelagic countries: Indonesia and the Philippines.

As such, with different markets come various business opportunities and challenges. Therefore, it is essential to select your market well, understand how to target and position your business in different markets.

2. Understand the local nuances of your target market

Once you have selected your target market for expansion, studying the local nuances of the market is vital.

Some of these include:

  • Language
  • Culture (work and social)
  • Organizational hierarchy
  • Government schemes/grants
  • Business opportunities and challenges
  • Regulations, and more

Knowing this basic information about your target market helps put you on a pedestal especially in front of your local business community and even potential investors.

We wrote an article discussing and comparing some differences between Business Culture in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world. This will ensure a smoother and more successful journey to expansion.

3. Outsource the right partners: marketing agents, corporate services providers, etc

Entering onto new grounds means you could be an easy and vulnerable target. Just as it is with hiring the right people for your team; take the extra time to outsource the right and suitable business partners.

Finding reliable and credible partners who understand your company’s goals and objectives drives the success of your expansion.

Don’t always just settle with the most affordable price points, but always vet through their credentials and reputation in the Asian market. This could also justify paying a higher price for quality service.

4. Localize your strategies for expanding into international markets

Running off the point on understanding the local nuances, learning consumer behaviors and purchasing habits in your target market will serve you well when customizing your business strategies more uniquely.

Some areas that localization strategies may affect are:

  • Pricing: Do you know the price sensitivity of your consumer?
  • Content: Does it rank on the country’s SEO search?
  • Products: Are you consumers more likely to search using mobile devices?
  • Perception of your brand: Do your company logo and name translate well?
  • Marketing strategies: What sort of promotion mix would you use?

If you’d like to read on the importance of localization strategies from a Singaporean VC’s perspective, we recommend reading this article.

5. Have patience

Asian countries are relationship-focused. Doing business there is built around trust and status, both of which are not characteristics that you’ll naturally be perceived as a new business in their land. Since there is a commonly a lack of trust among new businesses, it’s crucial that you start building connections even before you expand and enter the Asian market.

Additionally, in some of the emerging Southeast Asian markets like Vietnam and Indonesia, the system is quite bureaucratic. So, factor in extra time when obtaining your licenses and work permits as they may take slightly longer than expected.

All in all, it’s still important to focus on being authentic and ensure your product in the market is of high quality.

Also read: Business Relationships Are Vital in Winning Fast-Growth Markets

6. Connect with communities

As we have briefly touched on building connections in the previous point, we would like to reemphasize it once more. Maintaining a network of business relationships before expanding into Asia and during your company’s expansion of your business will be super helpful.

Some common avenues are:

Not only are you able to gain valuable insights from these communities whilst in a foreign land, but you’ll also be able to value-add to these other businesses that are just as eager to explore more business opportunities.

In this article on How Active Communities Can Help Businesses Expand in New Markets, helpful business communities from networks through Linkedin and coworking spaces help you get insights from partners which is valuable.

7. Settle your compliance requirements

As mentioned before, studying the legal and statutory requirements for your business expansion in your target market is another important tip for success. This is definitely not an easy task as some of these requirements are not always easily understood, and sometimes even in the Thai or Bahasa Indonesian language.

As such, we recommend outsourcing for trusted local, on-the-ground service providers who will be able to help with market entry services like setting up your business entity or obtaining your work permit.

Greenhouse empowers you to connect with qualified service providers who can do the job well and properly for you. Find out more here!

8. Manage your finances

Expansion to a new market will require sufficient funding and capital. It’s always important to ensure that your company is in a stable financial position when considering expansion.

Some ways are to seek out government grants or loans from either your home country, like the recent Internationalisation Fund for Businesses in England, or from the target market like Cambodia pledges $5m to strengthen tech startups.

There we have it, our top 8 tips to ensure a successful expansion of your business into Asia.

We hope you had gained an insight or two into what are some key considerations when expanding into Asia. If you have any questions about the contents of this article, feel free to contact us here. We’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Looking to expand your business into Asia?

Greenhouse empowers you to connect with experienced consultants in your target markets who can help with market research and validation services and answer your questions about expanding to this part of the world.

Contact us here for more information on global business expansion strategies.

Share this article: Link copied to clipboard!

You might also like...