This year I have been on a record number of business trips overseas, some solo and some with Korean startups. All with the aim of brokering closer international business ties and developing startup success across boarders. I have learned a lot and would like to share some tips from my experience to help you make the most of what can be expensive mistakes if you are not prepared.
This post was inspired by one similar for Silicon Valley that I recently saw (here for full article), and will run in a similar format; as a list of things I did / should have done that did / would have increased the effectiveness of my travels. Although this post is written with Singapore in mind, the basics apply equally for any overseas business trip.
1. Rationalize why are you going.
If you don't have a very clear notion of why you are going you won't hit top results. It may seem elementary, but on a recent 1-month business expansion trip to Singapore I was astounded that few of the 10 companies who applied for the 1 month overseas program had deeply considered why they wanted to join or had planned anything in advance (also partly due to the lack of time from confirmation to departure). Most wanted to 'find partners', but had not considered which type of partner would be valuable, never mind compiling a hit list. Without clear expectations before you start out you will spend valuable time overseas determining this, or simply not achieve anything of real and lasting value.
- Once you've determined exactly why you are going build a spread sheet on google docs with a wish list of people or companies you'd like to meet (include all contact details and suggested meetings times). Share this, as others will be able to help you build it out.
- Ensure that all of your material in English is of high quality. Bad English makes what could otherwise be a great presentation look very amateurish.
- Update your LinkedIn account and start getting availability for meetings early (final confirmation on meetings time / place can be done in the week or two before you leave). Koreans should be aware that everyone outside Korea uses LinkedIn all the time and if you don't at least have a good profile in English it could really damage your ability to get meetings confirmed.
- Start to build your trip calender and keep it up to date (google calender works well and can be shared with anyone helping you to plan your trip)
- Prepare all presentation material in advance (including business cards, handouts, ppts, etc). It's amazing how time overseas gets swallowed up and you shouldn't assume you'll have time for printing and compiling pitch decks overseas.
3. Use your time wisely overseas
- If you need to keep up to date with work at home, assume you'll do it in the evening. You shouldn't be wasting valuable daylight hours doing 'office work'.
- Be aware of travelling distances between meetings and plan meetings on a given day in a similar area wherever possible. Even in Singapore it can take an hour to travel between business areas.
- Be aware that the taxi situation in Singapore is crap. Use the MRT (subway) wherever possible to avoid wasting time.
- Get a local number and data plan on your first day. You can get a prepaid card for $18 and buy top ups in any convenience store. Locals won't contact you if you don't have a local number. It's advisable to get business cards printed with your 'home' and local details (this could be done locally in Singapore after you arrive).
- Wherever possible connect with new contacts on LinkedIn immediately, as this will often throw up new 2nd connections that you should schedule meetings with, and you can ask for immediate referrals / introductions.
- You will meet people during your trip who you need to connect with in person. Make sure you leave enough time (preferably a whole week) to follow up with people you connect with, while away.
- Your trip, especially if in a new location for the first time, will throw up unexpected results. Approach everything with an open mind, in terms of market characteristics, pre-conceived ideas, connections, events, etc.
4. Don't underestimate the value of local events
- Startup community events are normally held in the evening (so won't disrupt your day-time schedule). Get a list of local events that are on while you're away. Not all will be worth attending, but going to a good event can very quickly open up a range of connections you may not have had access to. On a recent trip we attended a Games event and even though there were no gaming startups on the trip many made very valuable connections.
5. Engage with startup and local media
- Local media connections will be important in your PR drive once you launch overseas, so build strong relationships early, and face to face. Most startup journalists will be happy to meet for a coffee and share their knowledge. They can also help identify local connections, make introductions, tell you about local events, and provide free PR through their channels if you have something interesting to share. Remember that face to face interaction will always build better relationships faster .
6. How long should you go for?
- The general consensus is that 1 week is too short and a month is too long. If you are properly prepared I would say that two weeks is long enough to get a very good understanding of Singapore and to make a lot of excellent contacts and build existing relationships. I would however suggest that if you are serious about doing business in Singapore or SE Asia you would need to schedule for at least two trips and up to 4 - 6 months to finalize partnerships. Make sure you have the resources (time, money, people) to follow through with any overseas expansion, and overestimate.
7. Who's who in Singapore? Below is a list of people you should to connect with. This is only a short list, based on what most Korean startups want to achieve in Singapore. I will leave it to you to connect, or send me an email and I'll do an intro for you.
- Accelerators & Co-working spaces: JFDI Asia, Egg Accelerator, The Co., The Hub, Silicon Straits, Block 71 (a building in the heart of the Singapore startup scene which houses about 200 companies from startups to accelerators to VCs)
- Investors: Vertex (Sang Uh), Rakuten (Saemin Ahn), Golden Gate VC (Jeff Paine), Walden, Red Dot, Abacus, etc
- Media: e27, TechInAsia
- Corporates: Facebook, SAP, Amazon, Singtel, StarHub, LinkedIn, IDA, Spring Singapore, and many others
For any other tips on business trips in Singapore please feel free to contact me in person on firstname.lastname@example.org