Munich Startup: Why did you choose Japan and South Korea as potential expansion markets?
Christian Vetter: First, we see parallels between Germany – our reliable domestic market – and South Korea and Japan. We have a relatively high number of global companies and a strong technology sector, like the automotive industry. These industries are highly valued. We also think that all three markets have some catching up to do when it comes to innovation and disruption. Which is why we also think that our tools and services could be a good fit for these companies’ needs.
Second, it’s clear that are large proportion of people live in Asia. Which is why we have a strong focus on Asia in general and want to learn more about the different markets. We think our solutions can be implemented well globally. But we obviously still have some language barriers and cultural differences to overcome.
Munich Startup: Why should German startups take Asia into consideration?
Christian Vetter: Asia is a huge, high-growth region with a rapidly growing, young population that is now quite advanced when it comes to purchasing power. In comparison, I think the market in Germany is much more saturated. So it looks like there is quite a lot of potential in Asia.
“Asia has long been more than just the continent where all the world has factories”
Moreover, Asia has long been more than just the continent where all the world has factories. There are now millions of highly skilled jobs in Asia and the search for the best skills dominates the job market. So what we develop for Germany should also be relevant to Asian markets.
Munich Startup: Do you have tips for startups that are thinking about expanding to Japan?
Christian Vetter: My first tip is to not expand with a big bang, but to try out the market first instead. Programs like Next Step at German Accelerator are an excellent option, because it keeps financial risks manageable.
My second tip is to find local partners – especially in Japan due to the differences in terms of language and culture. We were able to significantly speed things up with partners.
As a third tip, I would recommend talking to as many mentors as possible and to use their networks; they’re familiar with the market and can also network you with concrete customers. Mentors can also raise your awareness about cultural aspects.
Munich Startup: To what extent have programs like German Accelerator’s “Market Discovery,” 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?
Christian Vetter: We participated in several accelerator programs, such as Kickstart Innovation in Switzerland, the main program offered by German Accelerator in South East Asia as well as their “Market Discovery” program in South Korea and Japan. The greatest added value is being able to validate your business model. We were able to talk with international people who are globally active about our concepts, which allowed us to improve our business model.
“Our solutions and apps work very well globally”
The programs also help increase your cultural awareness, regardless of whether you’re in Singapore, Japan, South Korea or the Philippines.
It was through these programs that we discovered that our solutions and apps also work very well globally and only need minor adjustments. That encouraged us in general to market our products more globally.
The programs also provided additional benefits such as gaining an understanding of who makes decisions in the countries of focus, which companies and industries are attractive for us and which target groups need our tools. It’s particularly through the mentor networks that you learn the most.
To summarize, we learned that our solutions are ready for the world but that we also need to get to know the local markets very well.
Munich Startup: And what was it like participating in a completely virtual accelerator program without being able to spend time there in person?
Christian Vetter: We were able to achieve our goals for the most part: Communication with mentors went smoothly, it was possible to successfully optimize our business model and we gained insight into the markets.
What didn’t work so well was building personal relationships. And that is of tremendous importance in the countries that we’re investing in. That is why we looked for a sales partner on the ground to take care of local tasks, which also includes building a personal network.
Less travel, lower costs and lower risk as a result
I think whether or not a virtual program is a success depends on a person’s goals. If your only goal is to sell your product everywhere as quickly as possible, that is certainly difficult virtually – if you aren’t an eCommerce company.
But I would still recommend that people take part in virtual programs. The advantages are obvious – less travel, lower costs and less risk as a result.
Munich Startup: What about the future of your international expansion – what do you have planned next?
Christian Vetter: Right now we’re optimizing our business model based on what we learned. We will then hire additional local partners and employees to hopefully acquire customers over time.
What we’ve seen in the current virtual world is that there are no limits to data-driven business models like ours in particular, because we don’t have to take account of physical boundaries. The future looks exciting and I have a very optimistic outlook!
Further information about Japan and South Korea can be found in our Going Global series