by Jason Humphries, co-founder of Good Pharma Dermatology
What are the secret ingredients needed to take your company beyond Singapore’s shores? With the acceleration of globalisation, it is unlikely that the ingredients in the recipe that may have been have used just 10 years ago would be the right ones required for international expansion today.
Venturing overseas is challenging and there have been recent calls for the government to further support trade associations to help local SMEs in Singapore expand in this region. ASEAN countries continue to be the most attractive markets for local businesses.
At Suu Balm™, it was crucial for us to first develop an innovative offering with a strong, local foothold before taking our brand and product beyond the shores of the little red dot. There have been some fundamental learnings along the way:
Tip 1: Work with the right partners.
Look for quick wins to build confidence and develop learning. We knew that we would not be able to build a business in all the markets we approached. We kept a positive and open dialogue with a range of potential distributors across non-strategic markets and chose those we felt were committed to actions to build our Suu Balm brand over the long-term. This has led to some great partnerships, and in all cases it added to our learnings on critical steps to succeed in market.
Tip 2: Push hard on the art of the possible, be brutally honest about ability to execute.
I am the kind of person who thinks up ideas all the time, and I want to get them implemented yesterday! My business partner, John, is very strategic and thinks hard about the real requirements for execution. I think the ideal for a new business is somewhere between the two, you need to be more nimble than entrenched heavy hitting competitors but of course you need to be able to execute. We have funded the business ourselves and expanded at breakneck speed, that has required a lot of creativity about where and how to invest – some creative tension on the business plan has been a good thing.
Tip 3: Manage internal efficiencies.
Always look for efficiencies where you can. Appoint a central agency or have an in-house team dedicated to a specific business function that covers all markets. Not only is this more productive, it is also easier to integrate all functions of the business from branding to channel distribution and export marketing, which helps strengthen company operations. We have quickly brought digital marketing in-house – Facebook media has been critical for us to reach consumers and being able to quickly exploit those opportunities a desk away is a very positive and energizing experience
Tip 4: Harness local support.
As a start-up in Singapore, you should certainly seek out the help that is on your doorstep. Local support from government agencies helped us facilitate negotiations and provided us with introductions when entering other markets. Support from IPI, Spring and IE meant that we could use their well-crafted initiatives to help build an attractive business offering including our trademark, digital marketing including online sales to China and facilitating the licensing agreement to help bring our product to market. These government bodies are available and very responsive to young, innovative Singapore businesses.
Tip 5: Smart resourcing.
Hiring the right people is a crucial component of success as your start-up business begins to gain momentum, particularly as you start to explore opportunities overseas. The calibre of talent you hire has a sizeable impact on your business performance and when you’re small your wage bill is the most frightening part of your company expenditure! Remember that you don’t have to follow a traditional employee structure. Build teams with flexible working practices and part time opportunities. We are strong believers in offering highly productive and focussed professionals, such as part-time working mothers, the opportunity to bring their valued experience to the mix. It’s also important to hire the right people with local, on the ground knowledge and in-market experience so you can minimise the number of mistakes, avoiding painful and expensive lessons along the way – not only will this help your business performance, your sanity will thank you too!
Jason Humphries is seasoned multinational healthcare executive. He is co-founder of Good Pharma Dermatology, a consumer healthcare brand company, and along with his business partner Dr John O’Shea most recently teamed up with the National Skin Centre in Singapore to launch skin care innovation Suu Balm™, a rapid itch relieving moisturising cream which has seen rapid success since its introduction to the Singapore market in 2015.