Insights on International Market Development

By Talia Tan

Discovery+ is a series of online industry panels which give students the chance to interact with working professionals and learn about the careers they aspire to enter. These panels provide youths and working professionals with the opportunity to better understand industry trends, hear first-hand perspectives from industry professionals, and gain valuable advice on entering or navigating these industries.

On 5 April 2022, Advisory hosted Discover+ International Market Development, the 55th edition of the Discovery+ series. Speakers on the panel included:

  • Zhilin Sim (Moderator), Regional Vice President, International Marketing Europe, Economic Development Board
  • Michelle Tan, Senior Development Partner, Enterprise Singapore
  • Henry Woodward-Fisher, Senior Management, International Launch, Impossible Foods 
  • Vinay Palathinkal, Regional Head, Wise Platform, Wise

Below are some key points shared during the session:

Day-to-day work comprises meeting stakeholders to build business platforms, participating in negotiations, and potentially supporting international business expansion through reviewing market regulations and securing necessary permits. You also need to dedicate time to getting to know your foreign counterparts better and make friends, as doing business becomes easier when you get to know your potential partners on a personal level.

It can be challenging to work or study abroad, as people may feel that they have to alter their behaviour and mimic the lifestyles — and even conversational habits – of the local community. However, there is no need to change who you are and how you act to fit in; be comfortable in your own skin and people you work with will afford you a level of respect for it.

The opportunity to be exposed to a diversity of ways people communicate and work. Unlike Singapore, where most companies operate by-the-book, there tends to be more nuances in communication and working styles when working with people from a different cultural background. The process of discovering and adapting to those nuances can be exciting.

The job may require you to work long hours to communicate with counterparts around the globe. Learning to draw boundaries will be important.

Another challenge is communicating opportunities persuasively to your internal stakeholders (for example, to your colleagues in the company headquarters based overseas, from where you are based in the Singapore office). Business opportunities may not be immediately apparent to your colleagues or business partners based overseas if they do not have a strong understanding or exposure to your market. For example, multi-national companies with an office in Singapore may overlook certain opportunities here if they compare the size of our domestic market to larger countries like the U.S.. Thus, you may need to spend a significant amount of time on internal sales to communicate the true value of the opportunities you have identified

The way forward is having people spend time in different markets – internal transfers and secondments are important for newcomers to really gain an understanding of the country. For instance, many western companies entering China do not understand the degree to which they need to adapt and the time it takes to break into the market. There is a whole new culture – no Google, Instagram or Facebook, and things move five times as fast. 

The way to get around these challenges is for companies to decentralise their operations – you cannot have operations in Asia run from an office in London or New York. Which is why gaining an in-depth understanding of the emergent market in question is key for any successful global expansion.

One key quality is adaptability. There is a lot of cultural switching that needs to be done, and it is important to be open-minded and accept that people may not readily accede to your agenda. Learning how to communicate in a receivable way is vital. A great way of doing that is exposing yourself to challenging environments, like start-ups or overseas workplaces.  

Being able to take initiative and having a self-starter mindset is also important.  You should have the ability to work through complex things. You need a strong sense of purpose and a keen understanding of your product or offering to be able to effectively pitch to stakeholders.  Lastly, as part of nurturing business relationships, you should be generous with your time and resources.

There is no one road. There is a slightly more defined route if you want to work in legal or financial functions of a company, where certain accreditations and training are needed. Those who are keen to join the industry have to be comfortable with ambiguity. You are at the vanguard of a business when working in new market expansion and development, even if you are attached to a big company.

The first is food and food as technology. The growth of the food industry ties very much into issues of food security, which is top-of-mind at a national level now.  Genetic engineering, for food in particular, is here to stay. Structural resistance to GMOs in regions like Europe and China is diminishing, possibly bringing about exciting new frontiers.  

The second is personalised medicine, especially with the emergence of new technologies like CRISPR, a type of genome editing technology. There are also many exciting possibilities in the field of cryptocurrency and nuclear energy. 

Taking a more general perspective, business ideas can be promising if they have a sound thesis. Finding out what is interesting and worth working on will serve you well. It could be something as esoteric as making a new type of tabletop. 

There is a lot of hype around certain industries, but you will ultimately need to find your own ‘why’ to motivate you. When people join a space that already has some sort of attention, it may already be too late. Find your own niche and start making small adjustments from there.