Minimum Viable Localization (MVL) and 4 steps to product localization in any new market

“Never venture, never win!” — Sun Tzu, The Art of War

It’s about time to bring some science into localization. In this post I’ll present 4 steps you need to follow when bringing your tech product into any new market. It’s based on an interview I gave at China Business Cast, and it does reference China a lot, but it’s true to any tech company going into any new market (from B2C in Brazil to B2B in England).

I spend the last 3 years as Asia Pacific CEO for my company Leverate, taking it into several markets in the region, with focus on China. This is written with the benefit of hindsight. I’d be lying if I said that we were organized about going global. In fact, we made every possible mistake in the book- including most of those I will warn against. But in time, we learned to be more systematic. Over the last 3 years I became obsessed with the concept of taking your company global. I saw first-hand that it can create game-changing revenue streams, and how subtle it can be. I took every opportunity to speak with founders who were involved in similar journeys.

This post can be helpful for all your management, but especially to The Champion of your geo-expansion. Who is The Champion? The person who leads the expansion. In some companies it’s a regional CEO (me), in some companies it’s the founder/CEO, in some companies it’s the VP Sales who needs to crack a market before the company sets foot there. But there should always be a Champion.

Here are the steps of taking your company to a new market (say, China):

Step 0: make sure the market is right for you

There’s a good amount of homework to do before you expand into a new market, but I won’t cover it in this post. Why this is step 0 should be obvious: new regions are hard to enter and there is a big opportunity cost in choosing your next frontier. If (like us) you’re less rich than Uber, and live in a complex industry, you can only be serious about expanding to 1-2 markets in a given moment. So choose your frontiers wisely.

Continue reading “Minimum Viable Localization (MVL) and 4 steps to product localization in any new market”

Minimum Viable Localization (MVL) and 4 steps to product localization in any new market

Partners won’t save your startup from failure (but clients will)

From the startup in 2008 to date, we announced at least 10 unique partnerships between Leverate and other companies. They cost tons and, at times, took all the brainpower and sweat we had. Every single one of these partnerships has failed (channel partners aside).

When I listen to startup founders, I sometimes notice the abuse of the word “partner”, and it reminds me just how unclear we were around the partnerships we took. I’ve heard this word from startup founders to describe what I would otherwise call “client”, “vendor”, “distribution channel”, “an opportunity to get some PR”, “another company that we want to have an integration with because it’s cool” or in the worst case “an established company in the industry who thinks we’re neat but we’re not sure what’s in it for us or them”.

Undefined partnerships are dangerous. And they often come with the promise of some PR, especially in fintech, where banks and consulting companies enjoy setting up accelerators and hanging out with the cool kids (startups). This has been funnily described as the fintech zoo. An executive at a bank or established company may talk to a startup about partnership opportunities that can generate a mention or two in the press, but…

startupculture
Pictured: the beginning of an epic failure

Continue reading “Partners won’t save your startup from failure (but clients will)”

Partners won’t save your startup from failure (but clients will)

The Tech Founder’s Guide to Cracking China: The Customer Service Meltdown

Our first customer service (CS) person in Asia shocked me with a resignation just one week after I landed in Hong Kong. He said it was health related. Damn. We had about 9 clients in China at the time, and he was the only customer service person in the company who could actually speak their language. I promised him that I’ll work on a new recruit the next morning. I tried to paint him a less hectic future, and I truly believed in it. In a short-sighted whim I even offered him a title and a much, much higher pay. He said no thanks. He was so burned out I could smell the smoke. I ended up hiring 2 people to replace him, taking into account our near term growth.

The second CS person quit 5 months later. She said it was family related. Tough luck, I thought- and set out to find the next person. At least I was encouraged by a strong delivery on sales. Hell, Sales Cure All.

When the third CS person quit, I hardly bothered to ask why. I knew it couldn’t be a coincidence- something was wrong with how we built the team. But also I knew that the guy would give me a million Hong Kong Dollars before he tells me why he hated his job. It’s common for people in HK and China to avoid confrontation and try to save their boss from “losing face”. They didn’t seem to notice that I was much closer to losing my mind. All I wanted was for someone to gimme some truth, but I knew I had to search for the reasons elsewhere.

OK, I wasn’t that clueless. I’d been running both Hong Kong and Shanghai for over a year year at that point. Things are always harder away from the HQ, and customer service is a thankless job almost by definition. But I couldn’t explain what was causing such a strong and continuous implosion, while sales and marketing kept growing and delivering.

crying bar

Nearly desperate, I switched to recruiting mode again. And then I finally started noticing a pattern: many of the people I interviewed in HK & China left other foreign companies under the same circumstances: the company was new to Asia, and the person struggled for a year or less before quitting. When speaking to candidates, they told me everything that our staff who resigned wouldn’t tell me. I listened carefully as they described The China Customer Service Meltdown happening in their previous company and leading them to quit. And I realized that as much as these people seem driven and talented, I run a risk of losing them for the exact same reasons again. I also learned from other friends who run businesses in HK, and especially China, that constant bleeding on customer service is very, very common (in local and foreign companies).

Here’s the dynamic that leads to the China CS Meltdown:

Continue reading “The Tech Founder’s Guide to Cracking China: The Customer Service Meltdown”

The Tech Founder’s Guide to Cracking China: The Customer Service Meltdown

Can Hong Kong really become a fintech hub?

Jeffrey Broer has recently published a blog post called Fintech, the polarizing industry for Hong Kong. Through a bunch of interviews he shared the pros and cons for starting a fintech company in HK. Fintech is indeed a loaded topic in HK- the scene is small and people have strong opinions on its good, bad and ugly corners.

It’s no secret that HK lags behind London, NY and Singapore in fintech. Since HK has made it clear that it wants to be a fintech hub, let me ask more specifically: what’s standing in its way to become one? What’s going to really move the needle?

Continue reading “Can Hong Kong really become a fintech hub?”

Can Hong Kong really become a fintech hub?

The maker crunch: is the HK tech scene doomed?

In a talk titled Inside Israel this month, I shared my company’s story and my insights on the tech scene in Israel. The next thing everybody wanted to know was what HK can learn from “the tech miracle” of Israel, a country only slightly bigger than HK in population.

It’s a good question, because the scene in HK is still hardly impressive compared to that of Tel Aviv, or London or Singapore (yes, Singapore). The government and local entrepreneurs have plenty of pride and good will. Some people say that HK will eventually explode. I understand where the argument comes from. After all, startup scenes are magic. The success factors (risk tolerance, talent, capital, ideas and heroes) get built up slowly and reinforce each other. Once they reach a tipping point, the scene catches fire and sustains itself in a big party. But I have a feeling that HK lacks some big things if it wants to catch up with the fully burning ecosystem in Tel Aviv or the catching-fire scene in Singapore. Let me present the most obvious one, in my opinion. Let’s look at some facts:

Continue reading “The maker crunch: is the HK tech scene doomed?”

The maker crunch: is the HK tech scene doomed?