SINGAPORE – Hootsuite’s Singapore offices on Keong Saik Road are in the middle of a move.
In short order, the Vancouver-headquartered social media management platform will be relocating its 20-to-25-person Asia Pacific team out of a co-working space to offices in the heart of the country’s financial district to enable more capacity for growth.
“We grow quite well, and we generally grow faster than other markets. And partly because the North American market has been developed for so much longer,” explained Roger Graham, Hootsuite’s senior director of marketing and growth for the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region.
According to Graham, the company’s team grew 40% in 2016, and web traffic has grown by 50% over the last 14 months. Three million of the platform’s more than 16 million users are in the region, with Japan ranking as Hootsuite’s third-largest global market for user sign-ups.
But even with APAC in his title, Graham is quick to point out that in some ways, the term is misleading.
“It’s a very diverse region, and that term APAC oversimplifies the business challenge that we go through,” he said. “You kind of have to get into each country almost to figure out what’s optimal.”
One of the biggest challenges for Canadian companies in Asia – whether startups or multinationals – is navigating that diversity, country to country.
“It’s kind of like a really big MBA case study on how to grow a business,” added Graham, and it shows up in everything from how business is conducted to the level of technological adoption within firms to how populations engage online and which platforms they use.
Access-to-internet figures provide a good case in point. Where internet penetration is at 88% in North America, it ranges from 69% in Oceania – which includes Australia and New Zealand – to 58% in Southeast Asia and 36% in South Asia, anchored by India.
Within Southeast Asia, 80% of people in Singapore are connected, compared with just one in five in Cambodia.
“You can’t just kind of set up in Singapore and assume that’s your ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] strategy done,” said Peter Harris, Sydney-based executive vice-president and managing director of Asia-Pacific for Vancouver’s Vision Critical.
After expanding to Asia via Hong Kong in 2012, Vision Critical opened its Singapore offices in 2014 as a regional hub, now staffed with 13 people, including the company’s regional heads of consumer success, and product and sales engineering. Geographically, the location was desirable, as was Singapore’s appetite to adopt new technologies.
Bains co-founded Bluzelle in Vancouver, where the company’s 10-person tech team remains, before relocating to Singapore. The impetus behind the move was to be closer to the startup’s initial target customers: financial institutions and insurers.
Bluzelle now has a five-person team in the Lion City. It closed a US$1.5 million Series A round last year, raised US$19.5 million in an initial coin offering in January and just announced a fresh million-dollar investment in March.
“It was exciting,” said Bains of his switch to Singapore. “I felt Vancouver was stagnant to me.”
Relationship building, committing boots on the ground, focusing on specific markets within the broader Asian region and accessing Canadian diplomatic and trade representatives have helped B.C. technology companies branch out into the hemisphere home to East Asia and the Pacific – what the World Bank has flagged as the world’s fastest-growing region.
“In the last couple of years, I’ve noticed a lot more technology companies setting up regional headquarters-type of operation here,” said Michael Nicholas, managing director for Singapore and Malaysia at the B.C. government’s new trade and investment office in Singapore.
Last year, the company saw double-digit growth in the region and expects the same in 2018, but Harris said it has taken time to build the 18-year-old company’s brand in a new market.
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