Photo: Daryan Shamkhali / Unsplash

“There Is No Substitute for Meeting in Person” – VRdirect in Japan

How can startups successfully make initial steps in the Asian market? With help from German Accelerator, for example, which provides contacts, mentors and specific tips for the individual expansion markets with their “Market Discovery” program. The Munich startup VRdirect is using the program to become established in the Japanese market. Rolf Illenberger, CEO of VRdirect, shares his experience.

Munich Startup: Why did you choose Japan as a potential expansion market?

Rolf Illenberger, VRdirect: Virtual reality is experiencing rapidly growing demand worldwide at the moment – inspired not least by how companies experienced the corona crisis. Virtual reality technology is a central technology for digitizing companies’ training and advanced education as well as marketing or sales. In Asia in particular, they are much further ahead when it comes to using virtual reality, which makes it an extremely interesting expansion market for us.

Munich Startup: Why should German startups think about expanding to Asia?

Rolf Illenberger, VRdirect: For technology startups in particular, Asia has extremely interesting expansion markets to offer. Asian customers, but also companies, are generally quite tech savvy. Once people are on board, projects can typically be implemented quite quickly.

Munich Startup: Three tips for startups that are thinking about expanding to Japan?

Rolf Illenberger, VRdirect:

  1. Any kind of international expansion requires the use of sufficient resources and can’t just be done on the side. So in that context, startups should allow for the necessary (team) resources.
  2. In Japan – and in Asia in general – it is advisable to reach out to partners with a partnership proposal that is as specific as possible. It makes sense to prepare concrete suggestions about the timeline, budget and the delegation of tasks before meeting with people.
  3. In Asia, it is essential to have a recommendation before approaching someone. Startups should start thinking about which companies they want to talk with early on and establish and maintain relations with the right contacts.

Munich Startup: To what extent have programs like German Accelerator’s Next Step, which make it possible for startups to discover and explore a potential new market in a very short time, helped you meet your expansion goals?

Rolf Illenberger, VRdirect: The Next Step program offered by German Accelerator not only helps startups understand the mentality of Asian business partners, but also offers concrete assistance in the form of contacts to companies, mentors and coaches. For us, it was the contact with mentors that was extremely helpful because they helped us optimize our pitch for Asian companies and find and contact the right person at these companies.

Munich Startup: And what was it like participating in a completely virtual accelerator program without being able to spend time there in person?

Rolf Illenberger, VRdirect: The virtual program was certainly executed well and also the only practical option due to corona, but it will not be able to replace meeting others in person over the long term. Especially in international expansion, success very much depends on the quality of your contacts and on trust among the people involved. You can only build that to a limited extent in virtual meetings. So for us, the virtual program was a very important first step, but we hope to be able to establish contact in person in 2021.

Munich Startup: What are the next steps to take in your internationalization plans?

Rolf Illenberger, VRdirect: That obviously very much depends on how the pandemic develops. I’m remaining optimistic and expect that we’ll be able to travel internationally and meet business partners personally again in 2021.

For VRdirect, internationalization and recruiting strategic partners in different regions of the world is a fundamental objective for 2021. Virtual reality became a standard technology for companies in 2020 and we need to make sure that we can address that global market.

More information about Japan is available in our Going Global series