International expansion is one of the most challenging paths an SMB can decide to follow. All experiences are different, and many will be influenced by differences ranging from cultures, to legal systems. It is important to do research beforehand as other people’s experiences and advice can be reassuring in this context.
In this instalment of our SMB Series, we asked Sally Poff, General Manager, APJ, for Enterpryze, to tell us more about her experience introducing Enterpryze in Southeast Asia, specifically in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia & Thailand.
I moved to Malaysia in August 2018, with no idea of what to expect.
My objectives were to build rhythm in Southeast Asia around our team, our Partners and our Processes.
We were a team of four to begin with, covering Sales and Support. 3 of us transferred from either the Dublin and London office and a recruit joined from Thailand. I was the last of this team to arrive in Kuala Lumpur.
First thing was to find both a home (for me), and a home for Enterpryze. For me, it was relatively easy! In Kuala Lumpur you are spoiled for choice, so as well as a high-spec apartment, you also get a couple of pools onsite and a gym – happy days!
For Enterpryze in Kuala Lumpur after a stint in a less-than-ideal shared office space, we found a great co-working space. It’s located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur’s bustling Bukit Bintang area.
Soon we outgrew our initial office (twice!) but managed to stay in the same co-working space, and just move into bigger offices.
On the Move Again:
Then it was on to Singapore. It’s important to work within the CBD (Central Business District) as people like to visit. Again, co-working spaces proved to be the right call. Although we are outgrowing what we have in our current office, there is wonderful choice in the heart of Singapore. There’s amazing infrastructure all around, and no need to drive anywhere – it’s an Irish person’s dream!
Then over to Indonesia to face the Jakarta traffic. Anyone who knows this side of the world knows that Jakarta is famous for having the busiest roads in the world – and it’s all true! Honestly, if you haven’t experienced traffic in places like Kuala Lumpur or Jakarta, you haven’t experienced traffic; and when it comes to pedestrian crossings they’re treated more like suggestions. However, we have managed to survive the traffic, find a home, in a great location, again in a co-working space.
Thailand is our next aim. So far, all Thai operations were handled from the Kuala Lumpur Office. We’ve been working on introducing Enterpryze products and building Thai partnerships over the past 18 months and the time has come to settle in. We are looking for an office space and are recruiting – which is a challenge and takes time but watch this space!
I knew our company and I knew our product, but I was to-date totally inexperienced in bringing our company culture to another part of the world. One of the first things I learned was that it’s not a case of overlaying our company culture, it’s a case of combining the best of both.
APJ and Ireland share a lot of similarities in culture, the foremost being that customer experience and customer relationships are very important. In fact, in Asia the customer relationship is the foremost catalyst for Sales. As a result, the workforce is generally very customer focused.
I guess one of the biggest lessons I learned when I came here was that Ireland is a very small country, and although I will acknowledge that even in Ireland culture can be region-specific, at least you can get around the country in the guts of a day. The same doesn’t apply in Asia. It’s such a large landmass and it’s not always the case that a Head Office can satisfy the needs of an entire country. That is, apart from Singapore, where business travel is made pleasurable with a transport system second to none, and a well-thought out and carefully planned infrastructure.
To anyone who is wondering about moving to a co-working space, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It enables the team to mix and socialise with other businesses – many of whom are just creating their footprint in other parts of the world, similar to us. It also creates a great sense of community. Practices are shared, they run some great community sessions and to all intents and purposes it’s like working in a larger company – you just don’t have responsibility for all the salaries!
Depending on the country, some places such as Malaysia, have up to 18 Bank Holidays in a given year. The amount of celebrations varies from one year to another depending on their repetition frequencies.
The biggest celebrations are Ramadan and Chinese New Year.
Ramadan is the nicest time of the year in Asia. It’s a celebration of culture, religion and family – It is often celebrated in simplicity with family every evening and peaks for Eid al-Fitr which a beautiful celebration with family and friends.
Chinese New Year (CNY) on the other hand can be compared to bigger and more important version of Christmas as we know it in Ireland where families are reunited for its duration and gifts are exchanged (typically red packets for CNY).
Keep in mind that everything closes for Eid & CNY, but not for Christmas (depending on your location).
All celebration days are respected, including birthdays, Valentine’s Day, 11/11 (single days) – and acknowledgement is expected, so be sure to get familiar with them before or when settling in.
Perception of time:
Everything works on dates – if you are working on a project, an update is not accepted unless it comes with a completion date – this works well and provides a timeline for everything. Sometimes, things don’t start on time, but this is primarily down to delays with traffic.
Expanding into new areas is always going to be a challenge, especially when there are cultural differences. It’s important to embrace these differences, tackle the challenges head-on and celebrate the small victories. It makes the process much more manageable and enjoyable. Not everything will go as planned but, that’s normal. If you set yourself up with a team of energetic people who can think on their feet, you’ll be halfway there already.