Seizing Business Opportunities Beyond Asia

Announcement

31 December 2021

Making the world your oyster - A Today's Manager Article

Market expansion is a hot topic often on the minds of entrepreneurs in Singapore, especially as the domestic market is often small and opportunities limited, especially in the business-to-business and business-to-government sectors.

However, it is often difficult to market our products and services overseas, especially when the business practices and cultures tend to be different, thus the usual choice for businesses would be to venture to their neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia like Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, where it is usually easier to understand and adapt to cultural norms and nuances. For bigger businesses, they would tend to prefer giant economies in Asia like China and India, where the market size and business potential would be sizeably larger, though most struggle to compete unless they have unique product offerings that are cheaper and better in quality.

On a personal front, I had the same considerations, and I thought hard about where I wanted my young business to be. In the end, I ended up on the tiny island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean – 5,580km from home, and just next to mainland Africa.

While I was there, I realized the country’s similarities with Singapore – both are island nations with a multi-ethnic society and bilingual residents. Mauritians are mostly Indian in race, with Creoles (locals with roots from Africa) and a minority of Chinese and Europeans, speaking English and either French or Creole.

The parallels between these two countries didn’t end there. On the business front, Mauritius references Singapore as its role model, and is one of the most competitive economies in Sub-Saharan Africa with consistent GDP growth, and a business friendly environment that ranks well on the ease of doing business.

Leveraging on our strong Singaporean branding and a good business partner, I successfully brought my trade technology solutions to Mauritius and delivered on several large national IT projects in the country. These successes fuelled my interest in doing business in Africa and soon after, I set up my first subsidiary in Kenya to realise business opportunities in this untapped region.

I chose Kenya due to its large economy and its reputation for having one of the busiest seaports in the East Africa, serving as a gateway for trade to the hinterlands, including Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Ethiopia. With its vibrant economy and fluency in English, it is also an attractive nation for many foreign investors.

A key advantage for me personally was also that Enterprise Singapore (ESG) had recently setup their office in Nairobi to promote our Singapore businesses in Kenya, providing additional support to Singapore companies expanding into Africa, with Kenya as their base. Singapore, with its strong international reputation as a global hub for businesses, was also a favoured business partner for many African counterparts, especially with the strong growth and dominance of Asian nations like China and India in the recent years.

With my base in Kenya, I started to explore further into the western regions of Africa, chancing upon Togo, a smaller nation with huge potential but relatively more difficult to penetrate due to language barriers and differences in legal systems. I managed to get in contact with key personnel who were interested in the solutions we had to offer, making it easier for us to gain inroads into the country to secure new deals.

During this period, the team continued to also make further inroads into Cambodia, Indonesia and other Middle-eastern countries through word-of-mouth, strong delivery of our service offerings and perseverance.

In essence, over the years, I realized that expanding your business overseas is always exciting yet daunting. It is always important to start off by knowing what advantages your product or service can bring to a new market, and understanding how cultural nuances, business practices and legalities can affect your business in a new country. It’s always good to find reliable partners and leverage off our good government support and network to advise you on local requirements especially when in a foreign land.

We should and can always dare ourselves to venture a little further, just like I did with Mauritius, and to create our own paths by navigating unchartered waters. You may just discover some great hidden gems!

Market expansion is a hot topic often on the minds of entrepreneurs in Singapore, especially as the domestic market is often small and opportunities limited, especially in the business-to-business and business-to-government sectors.

However, it is often difficult to market our products and services overseas, especially when the business practices and cultures tend to be different, thus the usual choice for businesses would be to venture to their neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia like Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, where it is usually easier to understand and adapt to cultural norms and nuances. For bigger businesses, they would tend to prefer giant economies in Asia like China and India, where the market size and business potential would be sizeably larger, though most struggle to compete unless they have unique product offerings that are cheaper and better in quality.

On a personal front, I had the same considerations, and I thought hard about where I wanted my young business to be. In the end, I ended up on the tiny island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean – 5,580km from home, and just next to mainland Africa.

While I was there, I realized the country’s similarities with Singapore – both are island nations with a multi-ethnic society and bilingual residents. Mauritians are mostly Indian in race, with Creoles (locals with roots from Africa) and a minority of Chinese and Europeans, speaking English and either French or Creole.

The parallels between these two countries didn’t end there. On the business front, Mauritius references Singapore as its role model, and is one of the most competitive economies in Sub-Saharan Africa with consistent GDP growth, and a business friendly environment that ranks well on the ease of doing business.

Leveraging on our strong Singaporean branding and a good business partner, I successfully brought my trade technology solutions to Mauritius and delivered on several large national IT projects in the country. These successes fuelled my interest in doing business in Africa and soon after, I set up my first subsidiary in Kenya to realise business opportunities in this untapped region.

I chose Kenya due to its large economy and its reputation for having one of the busiest seaports in the East Africa, serving as a gateway for trade to the hinterlands, including Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Ethiopia. With its vibrant economy and fluency in English, it is also an attractive nation for many foreign investors.

A key advantage for me personally was also that Enterprise Singapore (ESG) had recently setup their office in Nairobi to promote our Singapore businesses in Kenya, providing additional support to Singapore companies expanding into Africa, with Kenya as their base. Singapore, with its strong international reputation as a global hub for businesses, was also a favoured business partner for many African counterparts, especially with the strong growth and dominance of Asian nations like China and India in the recent years.

With my base in Kenya, I started to explore further into the western regions of Africa, chancing upon Togo, a smaller nation with huge potential but relatively more difficult to penetrate due to language barriers and differences in legal systems. I managed to get in contact with key personnel who were interested in the solutions we had to offer, making it easier for us to gain inroads into the country to secure new deals.

During this period, the team continued to also make further inroads into Cambodia, Indonesia and other Middle-eastern countries through word-of-mouth, strong delivery of our service offerings and perseverance.

In essence, over the years, I realized that expanding your business overseas is always exciting yet daunting. It is always important to start off by knowing what advantages your product or service can bring to a new market, and understanding how cultural nuances, business practices and legalities can affect your business in a new country. It’s always good to find reliable partners and leverage off our good government support and network to advise you on local requirements especially when in a foreign land.

We should and can always dare ourselves to venture a little further, just like I did with Mauritius, and to create our own paths by navigating unchartered waters. You may just discover some great hidden gems!


About the Author

Desmond Tay is the CEO of GUUD, a business that aspires to use technology to make global trade accessible for anyone and everyone. He starts all his days with an insatiable curiosity, a drive to learn, and a vision to make the world a better place to live in.


Latest News

Media

27 September 2022

Fundraising carnival is the first-of-its-kind, engaging MINDS members with their corporate donors and their families, raising awareness for persons with intellectual disabilities

Read more

Press release

10 August 2022

Award recognises the efforts of the company in developing Southeast Asia's first multi-bank portal to unify trade finance transactions for corporates and to realise gains for all parties in the trade ecosystem

Read more

Press release

23 March 2022

Clickargo is the nation’s first digital logistics platform to be integrated with Customs and appointed as an LPL for the collection of government duties and taxes.

Read more