【雙語】歐美新創的「東向」──來自西方的創業者,要如何在快速崛起的亞洲市場成功?

【雙語】歐美新創的「東向」──來自西方的創業者,要如何在快速崛起的亞洲市場成功?

【本文以中英雙語刊出/翻譯:黃維德】

編輯導言:本文由換日線美籍作者唐文理(Stephen Turban)撰寫,畢業自哈佛大學,擔任麥肯錫顧問公司專案研究員的他,現居於越南胡志明市。本文由作者觀點與自幼豐富的亞洲經驗出發,探討歐美新創公司,於東南亞為主的亞洲市場發展利基與挑戰──

歐美新創企業的「東向」,和台灣近年提倡的「南向」,同樣在爭取東南亞市場快速爆發的商機與潛力。彼此具備的優劣勢,更往往「同多於異」──本文值得有意了解東南亞市場「經營心法」的你,對照參考:

想像一下:你身處越南胡志明市,坐在機車後座。你的指節發白、滿臉青綠、雙眼泛紅──你血壓大升,害怕這段機車之旅,是你活在地球上的最後一刻。

你往前望去,看見對面一位三輪摩托車司機瞪著你,賭你們不敢和他逆向的三輪摩托車相撞。你心想:「這就是西方世界講的亞洲經濟奇蹟?」你環顧四周,拳頭也握得更緊了一些。

初次進入胡志明市的那一刻,你心中或許充滿了恐懼。但在你第二次進入這座城市之時,心中可能會滿是讚嘆:你抬起頭,見到建造中的、460 公尺高的 Vincom Landmark 81 摩天大樓。你望向一旁,看見預計於 2020 年開始營運的地鐵系統破土典禮。你低下頭,想起你是用 Grab 預約了這台摩托車。

我在越南的好友兼旅伴。她們經常替我翻譯、解說當地。


在快速崛起的亞洲,西方創業者要怎麼樣才能成功?

亞洲部分地區快速成長之際,許多西方創業者也在思考,該如何加入這場令人興奮的發展熱潮。

過去十年裡,我對這個問題一直很有興趣:我的家庭來自美國,但在我成長之時,我們一直在亞太地區四處遷移──我在香港、新加坡和台灣先後居住過數次。去年五月,我從哈佛大學畢業,也決定利用畢業後幾個月的時間,找出這個問題的答案。

這個問題引導我來到胡志明市──東南亞最快速成長經濟體之一的經濟中心。

過去幾個月,我在這裡訪談許多創業者──從尿布出口商、科技創投、到十億美元投資基金的創辦人等等,無所不包。

他們的成功和失敗,點出了外國創業者應當考量的三項要素──環境、企業,以及創業者自己:

一、環境

渴望創業的西方人,最先會問:「我應該在亞洲的哪個地方創業?」隨便一點的答案,或許就是「目前成長最快的經濟體」。

然而,更周全一些的方式,則是同時考量這個經濟體目前的成長速度,和成長方式。例如新加坡和越南,預期都會進一步發展,但兩者的成長路線,有著根本上的不同。

要了解這點,我們得探入二十世紀最重要的經濟模型之一:熊彼德的「創造性破壞」模型。

熊彼德模型:你是模仿者,還是創新者?

熊彼德模型認為,想抬升一國之內的生產力,方式有二:模仿和創新。對於身處「科技前緣」的經濟體來說,成長的唯一之道即為創新(亦即創造新科技或企業流程),想想矽谷和科技產業即知。

然而,對於並未身處前緣的經濟體來說,最快的成長方式就是模仿。模仿比創新容易,但不可能永遠持續下去。經濟體接近前緣之時,成長速度通常會放慢。

創業者在有意進入外國市場之時,應該思考自身的興趣所在──想追求科技創新,就應該找個身處前緣的國家。想追求成長,發展中經濟體的機會應該比較多。

除此之外,經濟體對待外國創業者和企業主的政策,也是相當重要的考量。各國在這方面的差異非常大 ,例如,印尼的公司設立流程相當繁複,並要求至少有一位居於當地的人擔任董事(甚至會要求由當地人擔任),以及約 30 萬美元的資本。

相反地,在新加坡設立新企業可能只要一天的時間,最低資本要求為新幣 1 元(不到 1 美元)。更棒的是,在新加坡註冊的公司,前 10 萬美元營利,不必繳交公司稅。

人口組成和市場規模

我和 Walter Blocker 聊了聊。Blocker 來自肯塔基州,現為越南貿易聯盟(Vietnam Trade Alliance)執行長,自 90 年代中期即移居越南,也在越南創立了極為成功的外資企業。「貿易聯盟」的目前焦點在於,利用數據科學,改善它們先前建立的供應鏈系統。

不過,這並不是 Blocker 剛到越南時從事的業務。1995 年,越南的 GDP 低於新墨西哥州(當時新墨西哥州的人口為 175 萬)。Blocker 指出,由於客層極小,他得聚焦於高毛利品項才能獲利,例如進口美容產品等。

但 20 年後,越南擁有了亞洲增長最快的中產階級,也開啟了不同的機會,例如自高毛利品項移往擁有更廣大客群的品項。

創業者在決定目標時,應該考慮市場的規模和範圍;如果某項服務或產品需要龐大又富有的消費者基礎,部分亞洲市場會是比較好的選擇(例如:日本及南韓 vs 越南及印尼)。

二、企業

西方創業者為何會想在亞洲創業?

首先,他們得相信亞洲擁有家鄉沒有的機會──更明確點來說,他們相信這裡存在他們可以填補的市場缺口,或是他們擁有這裡並不常見的特定技能組合。

進入障礙、資訊不對稱,以及波特的五力模型

哈佛教授波特(Michael Porter)的五力模型,是種理解競爭優勢的好方法。波特的核心洞見之一即為,高獲利企業擁有高進入障礙,因為那可以減少競爭。

思考進入障礙之時,我們常會想到實體資本。例如:航空公司擁有巨大的進入障礙,因為購買飛機需要大量的資本。但對發展中經濟體的創業者來說,進入障礙通常是以知識資本為主,而非金錢投資。

另一個例子就是美國大學的申請入學諮詢。理論上,任何人都能進入這個市場:它不需要資本、工具或預先建立的團隊。但在亞洲,只有少數人會在成功申請到美國大學之後,回到亞洲協助其他人申請美國大學。

外國創業者在這方面擁有獨特的優勢:由於進入障礙相當高,競爭也有限,促使諮詢公司在亞洲各地蓬勃發展(其中一間,是由與我同一年級的哈佛畢業生創立的:Crimson Education)。

另一個思考競爭優勢的角度,就是資訊不對稱。西方創業者擁有哪些當地競爭者沒有的資訊管道?

以 90 年代中期的越南而言,重要的例子之一即為外部投資。Dominic Scriven 現為市值 15 億美元的越南投資企業董事長;而在當時,像 Scriven 這樣的創辦人,有能力探入當地(越南本地)競爭者無法觸及的募資網絡。

事實上,部分證據顯示,投資上的資訊不對稱依然存在──例如,美國長大的 Eddie Thai,為 500 Startups Vietnam(率先將焦點放在越南的新創基金之一)的合夥人。研究也顯示,大多數新創資本仍舊圍繞著矽谷、紐約和倫敦,因此,有能力接觸這些投資者社群網絡的,通常還是(來自西方的)外國人。

瞄準西方市場的勞力外包

我造訪了位於胡志明市的共同工作空間 Dreamplex;亞洲的社群式工作空間逐漸興起,Dreamplex 正是其中一份子。從這個共同工作空間的人口組成,也能看出一些外國創業者的端倪──這裡約有 80-90% 的創辦人並非越南人,但超過 50% 的員工是越南本地人。這裡有外國創辦人,卻多為越南團隊。

而這些創業者想進入哪個市場?大多數人瞄準的是西方市場,通常是美國或歐洲。他們在亞洲創業的原因,則多是生活成本低廉與勞力成本較低。舉例而言,越南的近期大學畢業生,平均薪資約為每月 200 到 400 美元。越南勞工的表現也相當不錯:根據 OECD 的排名,15 歲學生的數學及科學評分,高於澳洲、英國、美國的同儕。

可惜,如何為新創外包勞力的相關研究有限。這種模式則很可能可以快速又低廉地起步,但也可能缺乏成長為世界級企業所需的基礎建設或人才池。當然,東南亞的科技教育水準快速上升之際,這些企業的可能性亦持續增長。不過,這些企業要成功,我們得進一步檢視創業者(多為非越南人)和團隊成員(多為當地人)間的關係:

三、創業者

西方創業者在亞洲的優勢和劣勢為何?

以劣勢而言,我們有下列幾個重大弱點:

● 不夠了解當地文化
● 當地社交網絡脆弱
● 語言障礙

另一方面,西方創業者有機會得益於下列優勢:

● (歐美的)研究所教育背景
● 外國社交網絡
● 以英語為母語
● 甚至是「看起來就是個外國人」

但在亞洲國家不斷發展之際,這些優勢和劣勢亦將有所變動。在大多數發展中國家,「留學美國」是種獨特的教育優勢;不過,隨著這些經濟體逐漸成熟,必定會有愈來愈多出國留學,並回到家鄉的學生。

同樣地,教育機構的水準提升後,在國外念書的比較優勢亦將消減。例如,越南在 2016 年送出超過 5 萬名學生出國留學,預期這個數字在接下來幾年裡將增長近 40%。另一方面,越南政府亦大力投資於已經有所改善的大學系統。

創業者確實有能力克服許多劣勢。以 Scriven 為例,他的越南語十分流利、是個革命時期藝術品收藏家,近期還獲得了越南勞工勛章。但他在 20 多歲來到越南之時,對這個國家的了解十分有限;他早早就開始全心發展這些技能。

社交網絡可以建立、語言可以學習、文化也可以理解──這些事情並非一蹴可幾,但這些西方創業者的劣勢,並非無法避免。

部分優勢和劣勢則是相對恆久。例如:除非願意入籍,西方創業者會被擋在許多產業的門外。天然資源等少數產業,通常是由國營企業主導;外國創業者在沒有政黨門路的情況下,跨入這些產業或企業並非易事。

同樣地,西方人確實擁有一些「社會性優勢」。在英語教學、飯店管理或娛樂等部分產業,說話方式像、看起來像「西方人」,是種令人遺憾但也無可否認的優勢。

一趟由越南語言學校贊助的登山之旅。


簡要整理如下:

外國創業者的時間愈來愈少

Thai 認為,外國創業者的機會正在緩慢消逝。如上方表格所示,西方人的優勢多為暫時性的──這些優勢的起源為,在相對優於多數亞洲地區的教育環境中學習和成長。然而,留學生增加、當地教育系統改善之際,外國創業者的比較優勢也會下滑──

我在夏季之時認識了 Trang Duong,這位年輕女性恰恰彰顯了這個趨勢。她在美國的 Phillips Exeter Academy 讀高中,接著就讀布朗大學。

Duong 在大學四年級之時,已經創立了名為 Penta 的營利社會組織,協助連結越南的截肢者與美國的二手義肢。她計畫在畢業後回到越南,也已經開始在可可豆產業中,尋找下一個創業機會。

像 Duong 這樣的人,目前在越南並不算太多。不過,像她一樣、出國留學並重回越南的人愈來愈多,西方人的優勢也會明顯下滑。這些歸國者不但能探入西方社交網絡,而且比近期才移居的西方人,更加了解當地市場。

這是我為青年學生、畢業生和企業家舉辦的晚餐派對。Trang Duong 也在照片中。


西方創業者能成功嗎?

可以──但也有幾個得注意的地方。

我訪談的創業者大都認為「可以成功」,但不是永遠如此,也不是每個產業都行。在進入亞洲市場之時,創業者必須先思考這兩個問題:

1. 我的競爭優勢和劣勢為何?
2. 我的優勢可以維持多久?

如果你有意在亞洲創業,也已經考慮過利弊,是時候挺身前行了;正所謂「機不可失,時不再來」。

後記:作者在此特別向 Eddie Thai、Henry Nguyen、Dominic Scriven、Chad Ovel、Trang Duong、Walter Blocker、Ken Watari、Tony Ngoc和 Dreamplex 團隊致上感激之意,謝謝他們的協助、支持和精采訪談。

 

【以下為作者 Stephen Turban 撰寫之原文】
本文原發表於 TechinAsia,經作者與平台授權後獨家刊登於換日線

Opinion: How Western entrepreneurs can make it in Asia

Imagine this: You're sitting on the back of a motorcycle in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Your knuckles are white, your face is green, and your eyes are red—bloodshot from the abject fear that this ride may be your last moment on earth.

You look ahead at a pedicab driver who’s staring you down, daring you to collide with his vehicle. You wonder, "Is this the Asian economic miracle that the West talks about?" Your knuckles grip whiter as you begin to look around.

Your first moment in Ho Chi Minh might be characterized by fear. But your second may be characterized by awe: You look up and notice the construction of the 460-meter high Vincom Landmark 81 Tower. You look to the side and see the groundbreaking ceremony for a metro system set to open in 2020. You look down and remember you booked your motorcycle on Grab.

Two of my Vietnamese friends and travel partners in Vietnam. They often helped me with translation and Vietnamese instruction.


How could a Western entrepreneur make it in rising Asia?

As parts of Asia experience rapid growth, many Western entrepreneurs wonder how they could be part of this exciting development. It's a question that I've been interested in for the past decade. My family is from the US, but growing up, we bounced around Asia Pacific, living in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan at different times. I graduated from Harvard last May, so I decided to spend the following months trying to answer that question.

The question has led me to Ho Chi Minh City—the economic center of one of the fastest growing Southeast Asian economies. I’ve spent the past few months here interviewing entrepreneurs—from diaper exporters to tech VCs and founders of billion-dollar investment funds. Their stories of success and failure highlight three factors that foreign entrepreneurs should consider: environment, enterprise, and the entrepreneur.

The environment

An initial question for a wannabe-Western entrepreneur would be: "Where in Asia do I want to build a business?" A careless answer could be whichever economy is growing the fastest.

However, a more thoughtful approach would consider how fast an economy is expanding and in what way. Singapore and Vietnam are both expected to develop further, but their path to growth is fundamentally different.

To understand this, we need to explore one of the most important economic models of the 20th century: the Schumpeterian model of creative destruction.

The Schumpeterian model: Are you an imitator or an innovator?

The Schumpeterian model argues that there are two ways for productivity to increase in a country: imitation and innovation. For economies at "the technological frontier," the only way they can grow is by innovating (i.e. creating new technologies or businesses processes). Think Silicon Valley and tech. For economies that aren’t on the frontier, however, the fastest way to grow is to imitate. Imitation is easier than innovation, but it can’t last forever. As economies approach the frontier, they tend to slow down.

When an entrepreneur looks at entering a foreign market, they should consider where their interest lies. If they're interested in technological innovation, they should find a country that already exists at the frontier. If they're interested in growth, then a developing economy likely provides more opportunities.

With that in mind, it's important to also consider policies toward foreign entrepreneurs and business owners. Countries differ significantly in this regard. Indonesia, for example, provides a laborious process for incorporation, demanding a local resident director (and even locals in some regions) roughly US$300,000 in capital.

On the contrary, startups in Singapore can set up within a day, with minimal capital stock of less than US$1 (or S$1). What's even nicer is that a company registered in Singapore does not pay corporate tax for its first US$100,000 of profit.

Demographics and market scale

I spoke with Walter Blocker, a Kentucky native and the CEO of the Vietnam Trade Alliance. Blocker has lived in Vietnam since the mid-90s and has begun one of the most successful foreign-owned businesses in the nation. At the moment, his Trade Alliance focuses on using data science to refine the supply chain system they've created.

However, this wasn't his business when he first arrived. In 1995, Vietnam's GDP was smaller than New Mexico's (with a population of 1.75 million people at the time). According to Blocker, because the customer segment was so small, he needed to focus on high-margin items, such as imported beauty supplies, to make a profit.

Twenty years later, Vietnam has the fastest growing middle class in Asia. This opened different opportunities, such as moving from high-margin items to items that appeal to a broader consumer base. The scale and scope of the market should influence where entrepreneurs target. If the service or product requires a large, wealthy consumer base, then some markets in Asia will be better than others (e.g. Japan and Korea vs Vietnam and Indonesia).

The enterprise

Why would a Western entrepreneur want to start up in Asia? Well, they'd have to believe that there are opportunities here that don't exist back home. Specifically, they'd believe that there are market holes that they could fill or that they have specific skill sets that are not widely available.

Barriers to entry, information asymmetry, and Porter's 5 forces

A useful framework for understanding competitive advantage is the Five Forces by Harvard professor Michael Porter. One of his central insights is that the most profitable firms have high barriers to entry, which allow for less competition.

When we think about barriers to entry, we often imagine physical capital. For example, the airline industry has substantial barriers to entry because it requires significant capital to buy a plane. But for entrepreneurs in developing economies, barriers to entry are usually more about knowledge capital than monetary investment.

Another example is admissions consulting for US colleges. In theory, anyone could enter this market. It requires no capital, tools, or pre-established team. But in Asia, the number of people who have successfully applied to US colleges then returned to help others do the same is remarkably low.

Foreign entrepreneurs have a distinct advantage here: Because the barrier to entry is rather high, there is little competition, leading to consulting firms flourishing across the region. (For a look at one from my class at Harvard, check out Crimson Education.)

Another way to think about competitive advantage is information asymmetry. Which information channels does a Western entrepreneur have that a local competitor does not?

In the mid-90s in Vietnam, a significant example of this was outside investment. Founders like Dominic Scriven, now chairman of a US$1.5 billion investment firm in Vietnam, had access to fundraising networks that local competitors didn’t. In fact, some pieces of evidence suggest that information asymmetry in investments remains. US-raised Eddie Thai is a partner at 500 Startups Vietnam, one of the first Vietnam-focused startup funds. Research suggests that most startup capital remains centered around Silicon Valley, New York, and London. So, investors who have access to those social networks are often international.

Outsourcing labor for a Western market

I visited the co-working space The Dreamplex in Ho Chi Minh City. The Dreamplex is part of a growing trend in Asia toward community-based workspaces. The demographics of the co-working space told a story of foreign founders, as roughly 80 percent to 90 percent of founders there were non-Vietnamese. However, more than 50 percent of the employees were Vietnamese. There were foreign founders, but largely Vietnamese teams.

What market are these entrepreneurs trying to enter? For the majority, it's somewhere in the West, often the US or Europe. The reason they've started up in Asia was the cheap cost of living and an inexpensive labor force. For example, the average salary for a recent college graduate in Vietnam is around US$200 to US$400 per month. Vietnamese workers also perform well. The OECD ranks the math and science scores of 15-year-old students above peers in Australia, the UK, and the US.

Unfortunately, little research exists around how to outsource labor for a startup. It's likely that this model has the ability to start up quickly and cheaply, but it may lack the necessary infrastructure or talent pool to grow into a world-class business.

As education levels in technology increase rapidly in Southeast Asia, however, the possibilities for these companies continue to grow. For these enterprises to succeed, however, we need to examine the relationship between the entrepreneur and the teams they lead.

The entrepreneur

What are the pros and cons for Western entrepreneurs in Asia?

In the disadvantages column, we have the following as significant weaknesses:

● Lack of cultural understanding
● Weak social network
● Language barriers

On the other hand, these advantages can help an entrepreneur:

● Postgraduate education
● Foreign social networks
● Native English language speaker
● And even "appearing foreign"

As many Asian countries develop, however, these advantages and disadvantages will shift. In most developing countries, studying in the US is a distinct educational advantage. Yet, as their economies mature, a growing number of students will have studied abroad and have returned to their country.

Similarly, as educational institutions improve, the comparative advantage of studying abroad will diminish. Vietnam, for example, sent over 50,000 students to study abroad in 2016. That number is projected to increase by nearly 40 percent over the next few years. Similarly, the Vietnamese government is investing heavily in an improved university system.

Entrepreneurs can also overcome many of the disadvantages they face. Let's look at Scriven. Scriven is fluent in Vietnamese, a collector of revolutionary art, and the recent recipient of the Vietnamese Labor Medal. But when he came to Vietnam in his mid-20s, he knew very little about the country. Rather, he focused on developing those skills early on.

Social networks can be built, languages can be learned, and cultural understanding can be acquired. None of this happens quickly, but it's not an inevitable disadvantage that Western entrepreneurs face.

Some advantages and disadvantages are relatively permanent, however. For example, unless a Western entrepreneur is willing to change citizenship, many industries fall outside of their potential reach. State-owned enterprises typically dominate a few sectors such as natural resources. Without access to the party structure, foreign entrepreneurs will have difficulty entering these industries or companies.

Similarly, Westerners do have some social advantages. In some industries like English teaching, hotel management, or entertainment, speaking and looking like a Westerner is an unfortunate but undeniable advantage.

A hike sponsored by my Vietnamese language school, VLS.


Here's a simple way to break all of this down:

A ticking clock for foreign entrepreneurs

Thai argued that the window of opportunity for foreign entrepreneurs is slowly closing. As you can see in the table above, the advantages that Westerns have are mostly temporary. They come from studying and growing up in an educational environment that is stronger than in most of Asia. However, as more students study abroad and the local higher education system improves, the competitive advantages of foreign entrepreneurs decrease.

During the summer, I met Trang Duong, a young woman who represents this trend exactly. She went to high school at the Phillips Exeter Academy in the US, then went to Brown University. As a senior at Brown, Duong has already founded a social for-profit called Penta, which helps connect amputees in Vietnam with used prosthetics in the US. After graduation, Duong plans to return to Vietnam and has begun scoping out another potential venture in the cacao industry.

At the moment, Vietnam doesn't have many people like Duong. But as more people like her study abroad and return to Vietnam, the advantage of pure Westerners decreases markedly. Not only will these individuals have access to Western social networks, they also understand the local market more than recently relocated Westerners.

This is a dinner party I hosted for young students, recent graduates, and entrepreneurs. Trang Duong is pictured.


Can a Western entrepreneur make it?

Yes—with caveats.

The entrepreneurs I spoke with answered yes, but not forever and not in every industry. Before entering an Asian market, entrepreneurs need to ask two questions:

1. What are their competitive advantages and disadvantages?
2. For how long can they reasonably maintain their edge?

If you're interested in entrepreneurship in Asia and you've weighed the pros and cons, then it's time to take a leap. In Mandarin, there is an expression that mirrors this situation well: 机不可失,时不再来. Translation: Opportunity knocks but once.

The author would like to thank Eddie Thai, Henry Nguyen, Dominic Scriven, Chad Ovel, Trang Duong, Walter Blocker, Ken Watari, Tony Ngoc, and the Dreamplex team for their help, support, and fascinating conversations.

執行編輯:鄧紹妤
核稿編輯:張翔一

Photo Credit:Stephen Turban 唐文理 提供 

出發,改變人生的一次旅行