February 19, 2019

[MONEY20/20] Adapt or die: how startups should scale up in Asia

PUBLISHED : March 13, 2018 - 16:09

UPDATED : March 14, 2018 - 15:40

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[THE INVESTOR] SINGAPORE -- Scaling up in Asia is tough, especially for an “out-of-town” startup.

An increasing number of companies from Europe and North America are seeking entry and expansion in Asia, but clichéd as it may sound, it’s often not as easy as it may look, and requires a lot of patience and time. 

Speakers including two Korean CEOs -- Lee Jun-haeng of Streami (first from left) and Lee Seung-gun (fourth from left) -- talk during a session titled “Exploring the dark side of entrepreneurship” at Money20/20. Park Ga-young/The Investor

“It’s a matter of keeping your company culture, that is, the original vibe of the firm, as you scale up,” said Nicki Ramsay, co-founder of CardUp.

She was among the heads of several vibrant startups expanding in Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, who gathered on the sidelines of Money20/20 Singapore to share their insights with up-and-coming startups.

CardUp’s technology allows both individuals and businesses to use a credit card for big recurring expenses, even if the recipient does not accept cards.

As some of the essential things to think about before scaling up a startup, Kelvin Teo, co-founder of debt crowdfunding platform Funding Societies, cited learning how to listen to local customers and do some extensive research before jumping in.

“Do your research first, so much that by the time you enter the market, it should not be, why are you doing it now when you have been around for long? Why didn’t you do it already? You should have that many connections and market knowledge,” he said.

Funding Societies was launched in Singapore in June 15, and has completed its Series A funding by Sequoia.

Teo noted that SMEs account for about half of the GDP in Southeast Asia, making them a force to reckon with. For a company, it’s important to know the markets so they don’t fail any more than they have to. On the government side, the right amount and type of regulations should be in place to get things running smoothly, but not be too suffocating.

Take Korea as an example.

Scaling up -- for both startups hailing from home and abroad -- is still almost nonexistent. An industry report last year from the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry showed that it takes just 2 days to start a company. much lower than the US, which takes an average of 5.6 days.

But while it is relatively easy to set up office, only 38 percent actually exist beyond three years.

Money20/20 is the world’s largest fintech and payments conference. The event -- which originated in the US -- made its Asian debut in Singapore on March 13, brought hundreds of industry leaders around the world to the Marina Bay Sands Expo & Convention Center this week.

A number of Korean companies including financial services firm JB Financial and blockchain expert Blocko have set up exhibition stalls at the Singapore event.

The Investor and The Korea Herald are official media partners of Money20/20.

By Kim Ji-hyun (     

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