Here at GMIC 2012, Richard Robinson from Youlu is moderating a panel of speakers from the greater Asian region. Entrepreneurs from Australia, China, Indonesia, India and Thailand each gave their insights into what the start-up environment is like in each country.
Famous Australian entrepreneur and Founder of Kogan Technologies, a maker of electronics, spoke about his experience of building a successful company down under. The best part about being in Australia is clearly the great lifestyle and weather, being from Sydney I can agree. However Australia does suffer from challenges that make doing business harder. A small population of ~20 Million makes the market size difficult to scale, unlike China’s massive 1.3 billion population. That’s why he see’s China as the market any business man can’t afford to overlook. Beyond a small population, Australia’s position, all the way on the other side of the world makes it challenging to communicate with the rest of the world through very different time zones and long haul flights. Ruslan also noted that Australia lacks a very active venture capital industry. However, he reiterated that entrepreneurs should not focus on raising money but instead building a valuable business that makes customers happy. He believes, the first goal is to build a loyal customer community then profit will easily follow then VC’s will seek the company out.
Shieny Aprilla, COO of Agate Studio in Indonesia gave some insight into a country which has the fourth highest population in the world. With a very high mobile penetration, Indonesia like China has great potential. Although feature phones still dominate, smartphone growth is on the rise. One of the biggest challenges in Indonesia is taking online payments because technology and regulation is still immature. Interestingly, mobile carrier billing is more advanced in Indonesia.
Vivek Bhargava, Managing Director of Communicate2 in India gave some very interesting insights into another very exciting market. Unlike China that can shield itself from competition by building Chinese language products and services, India primarily works in English. Paradoxically Vivek believes that this hinders India from growing globally successful technology companies because they automatically compete with a large majority of the English speaking world. For example, China can make a Ren Ren or a Weibo to be used instead of Facebook and Twitter, but India can’t because it simply uses Facebook and Twitter. Another challenge for the startup eco-system in India is that many big company decision making power is still held by people who are 50 years + old. It has only been within the last two years that such executives have realized the power of mobile and internet via social media and networking. Another issue that hinders that amount of start-ups in India is the mentality of ‘how to’ rather than ‘what to do’. Meaning, many Indians can execute tasks and instructions very well, but when it comes to creative thinking, they struggle to come up with innovative ideas.
Alvin Wang, CEO of Minfo based in Shanghai talked about his perspective about China’s start-up ecosystem. The key challenge start-ups face is the fierce competition from other companies and the giants like Tencent and Sina etc. The speed of China is so fast that it puts alot of pressure on companies to run faster and iterate quicker to outlast the competition. Another main challenge in China is the ability to retain talent. Due to China’s hyper market of growth and size, many people want to be their own entrepreneur. This means many employees will join a start-up to learn and build networks, then will leave to pursue their own startup. Of course this talent switching cost is both draining on time and money. In response to a question, Alvin said Chinese companies have a difficult time expanding outside China for the same reason foreign companies find it difficult to penetrate China. The lack of cultural understanding of international markets, makes it difficult for Chinese companies to localize and succeed.