For decades, China has been the mega factory of the world. Today, an increasing number of Chinese companies and startups are looking to innovate and sail abroad.
At 2018 DTech International conference, Zuo Xiao, senior manager of strategic programs at Indiegogo, spoke about what the challenges and opportunities for Chinese entrepreneurs building international brands.
The San Francisco-based crowdfunding startup debuted a pilot program in China in 2015. In June, the company decided to expand its efforts in Asia and launched a Global Fast-Track Program aiming to help bring Chinese entrepreneurs to international markets.
Compared to other crowdfunding sites, Indiegogo emphasizes more heavily on technology and design innovations.
“In the years following China’s reform and opening-up, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area has produced many brand-oriented enterprises, too numerous to enumerate,” said Zuo.
Despite the emergence of home-grown brands and products, starting from this year many began to stumble—not just issues with money or getting new products to market. Zuo noted that some companies are having trouble innovating products, others are gradually losing the sense of direction in positioning their products.
“Having no clear idea of what they should do, some companies started following what other players are doing, others started following suit with mainstream brands in the US and Europe,” Zuo said, “but this is not right.”
Going beyond the borders is more difficult than it appears to be. The Chinese market is drastically different from markets in the US and Europe, Zuo said. Companies that have launched successful products in the local market often need to design another version of the product for the international market, he adds.
Generally speaking, it is very difficult for Asian brands to enter the international markets because of poor product design, Zuo noted there are also other factors such as the lack of understanding and preparation for entering markets overseas and the lack of access to sales channels.
Large corporations are not immune, Zuo said Chinese consumer electronics giant Haier, for example, racks up billions in sales each year from manufacturing products for foreign partners.
This is where Zuo sees the opportunities for Indiegogo lie. The platform focuses on four key aspects: product presale and sales, market testing and collecting consumer, and marketing and branding, and helping innovative products enter international markets.
The company essentially wants to build a one-stop shop—from the crowdfunding stage to pre-order—for innovators in China, Zuo said.
One of the key aspects to succeed on crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo is data, he told TechNode in an interview that the company generally spend six months to a year to collect data and conduct market testing.
Indiegogo is the world’s largest crowdfunding and product launch platform, according to Zuo. With its user base, which is predominantly young people between 25 to 35 years old, Indiegogo aims to help companies in Asia launch 30,000 products abroad annually, he says.
Indiegogo China’s core strategy for the next two years is not only to provide funding option to help local entrepreneurs alleviate financial strain, Zuo said the company aims to build strategic partnerships and establish strategic channels for Chinese companies.
“Without access to channels, you won’t get decent sales performance and you won’t survive,” he says. Indiegogo also connects Chinese inventors with universities in the US including Cornell and MIT to collaborate on product innovation, according to Zuo.
There is no 100% guarantee whether a project will succeed, however, Zuo said, whether the product or the technology has a competitive advantage and whether the team behind the product is reliable and has what it takes to deliver the product are some indicators he looks at when picking out potential partners.
“’A good design’ could mean that the product has a good branding or strong brand recognition, but, more importantly, it means good sales performance and higher commercial value and profit to the brand,” Zuo said.
To him, the products designs should be done “without thought”—a philosophy developed by Japanese industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa which holds that design should be based on instincts and awareness—which essentially comes down to “meeting users’ and consumers’ needs, and capture what they truly want.”