6 Visionary Entrepreneurs On The Lessons They Learnt Taking Their Company Global

By Karen Tee

What have been some of their biggest challenges and most valuable lessons they learned from taking their businesses global?

Tatler Asia

Taha Bouqdib

President, CEO and Co-Founder of TWG Tea

Luxury tea purveyor TWG Tea has 64 Tea Salons & Boutiques in 18 countries and the brand is distributed in 42 countries. TWG also supplies luxury hotels and restaurants, and its teas are served in Singapore Airlines’ lounges, and on board its Suites, First Class and Business Class.

“Everyone in Asia is born with a proverbial cup of tea and it’s important to get everyone to embrace the brand as their own. The only way to achieve this is by offering rare and exquisite harvests of the finest quality teas. The ever-changing tastes of our customers mean that we need to continually delve deeper into unchartered territories, seeking new harvests to create more imaginative combinations. We also set ourselves apart from other tea brands by staying fresh and fashionable. When I visit fashion capitals, I’m especially drawn to the latest catwalk trends, and we incorporate these elements into TWG Tea’s packaging and design. This appeals to young and modern tea drinkers.

(Related: Welcome To The Wonderful, Colourful World Of TWG Tea)

The most important lesson I’ve learned is to never stop the creative process—the creation and innovation of new tea blends, the mixing and blending of teas, exotic fruits, flowers and spices to come up with exclusive tea blends that tell a thousand stories.”

Cynthia Chua

Founder and CEO of Spa Esprit Group

The Spa Esprit Group comprises 17 beauty, lifestyle and F&B brands with over 100 outlets across the globe. Its beauty brands, including hair removal chain Strip and eyebrow-shaping salon Browhaus, are present in 12 cities including New York, London, Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. The group also launched A Wanted Man, a cafe with attached grooming services on-site, in London in 2016.

(Related: 15 minutes with Cynthia Chua)

“I’m proud to put Singapore on the global beauty map and show the world that we have top-notch treatments and tons of creativity. I was very excited to see that our brands such as Strip and Browhaus are way ahead of those offering similar services in the UK and New York. I love the idea of cross-pollination and being in 12 different cities gives us a very good global perspective into the business and a great learning ground. The various consumer patterns and feedback constantly drive us to lead in innovation and reinvention.

Understanding different cultures, language barriers, consumer behaviour, needs, laws and regulations, and managing local staff are the major challenges I face in each new market. Each city is different and very varied, so it’s important to have a good local partner who shares our passion and vision, especially in cities we’re not familiar with.”

Reene Ho-Phang

Co-Founder and Managing Director of Brandstory Asia 

Founded by Singaporean couple Peter Phang and Reene Ho-Phang, BrandStory Inc is a public relations agency and travel representation consultancy, which has seven offices across Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Shanghai and Taiwan, and is planning to expand into Malaysia and Chicago in the US.

“Every Asian city has its own location-specific peculiarities and market nuances—what works in Singapore does not necessarily work in Shanghai, Taiwan or Hong Kong, so we need to tailor our marketing solutions to harness the best results for our clients in each market. For example, in China, existing and new social and digital media channels are rapidly developing and their dynamics continue to be influenced by China’s social and political climate.

In addition to recruiting talented team members, BrandStory taps on advanced communication technologies to enable and equip our teams to work seamlessly, regardless of geographical location. Our team members are mostly bilingual and together we speak over 10 Chinese dialects as well as English, Mandarin, Spanish and French. Our unique mindset and diversity makes BrandStory uniquely poised to help bridge the gap between China and the rest of the global community.”

George Quek

Founder and Chairman of Breadtalk Group

The BreadTalk Group comprises eight food and beverage brands, including BreadTalk, Toast Box, Din Tai Fung, So Ramen and Food Republic. The group has a network of over 1,000 outlets in 17 locations across Asia and the Middle East, and will be opening its first Din Tai Fung restaurant in London in 2018.

“Singapore is a well-developed country that is safe and secure. In the early days of BreadTalk Group, as we started expanding into less developed countries, the employees from Singapore that we sent overseas had to adjust to new realities and different lifestyles. For example, to succeed in a bigger market like China requires a different management approach and model. For starters, the individual needs strong determination. We learnt that having the right person for the role is very important.

Compared to the early years, our Singapore staff are now more prepared to take on such challenges abroad. We built up a pool of talent with wide-ranging professional experience in opening up new markets and they have been able to train new employees upon their return. Our next area of consideration is to ensure that we select the right partners for joint ventures overseas. It is very important that they share our ideals and passion for pursuing differentiation via creativity.”

Sabrina Tan

Founder and CEO of Skin Inc

Beauty brand Skin Inc, which is best known for its custom-blended serums, is currently available in over 100 cities with 350 distribution points globally, including standalone concept stores and Sephora outlets. Skin Inc is also the official skincare and spa partner of Me by Meliá, located in select resorts around the world.

(Related: 5 Minutes With... Sabrina Tan, Founder and CEO of Skin Inc)

“Transforming a homegrown company into a global operation is not a light undertaking. The opportunities and rewards are big, but so are the risks. We followed a phased approach where we first strengthened our presence in Singapore and expanded into countries in Southeast Asia that we are more familiar with. The second phase was in Europe, which has a mature skincare market where there are immense opportunities for a disruptive skincare brand like Skin Inc. Expanding to the US marked a milestone as it cemented Skin Inc as a truly global brand.

I learned to respect cultural differences, and have adapted the brand DNA and sometimes even our products to different markets. This is the most important consideration when going global. Something that works in Asia may not necessarily work in the US. Success comes when you find the balance between thinking global and acting local in your implementation.”

Sven Tan

Co-Founder and Creative Director of In Good Company

Fashion label In Good Company is the Singapore fashion insider’s go-to for smartly tailored wardrobe essentials with a twist. The brand has standalone stores in Ion Orchard and The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands and three other points of sale in the country, as well as stockists in Thailand, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Philippines and Dubai.

“Going global is lot easier today, but the competition and noise is also immense. Cultures and consumer patterns are diverse and we’ve had to learn to find our own space within markets and stay focused on who we are as a company, and put out the best product we can. As a smaller player, we get to be creative and more flexible in how we approach the business processes with our partners, working towards a more localised strategy and promoting a more collaborative business relationship. While we like to have a consistent brand image, we also encourage retail formats that are not cookie cutter. Design-wise, the challenge is creating products that are suitable for different markets. Protecting the intellectual property of our original products in these various markets can also be challenging.”

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