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Top 10 quick tips for starting a business in Southeast Asia

Establishing a startup in Southeast Asia is more straightforward than in other regions globally due to favourable market conditions such as cheap labour, good infrastructure and advanced technology

  • If a business is to be sustainable during the initial years, it is crucial it fully understands the market and its factors
  • Southeast Asia is composed of 10 countries making the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). These include Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Philippines, Brunei, Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, and Laos
  • ASEAN is a hub of around 600 million people, mostly living in high urban cities. This population is growing rapidly and with it, demand for different products and services

Establishing a startup in Southeast Asia is more straightforward than in other regions globally due to favourable market conditions such as cheap labour, good infrastructure and advanced technology. However, if a business is to be sustainable during the initial years, it is crucial it fully understands the market and its factors. In this guide, you will learn top tips to startup and successfully operate in Southeast Asia.

There are currently 10 different types of markets: Southeast Asia is composed of 10 countries making the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). These include Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Philippines, Brunei, Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, and Laos. Each market is unique and will need proper research to focus on the right market that suits your business model. 

Visit the chosen market: This will help entrepreneurs and investors get a good idea about all the ASEAN markets. Visiting offers the opportunity to experience the local culture, business customs, and meet suppliers, partners, customers, or government chambers with whom the business will work together.

Find opportunities: Entrepreneurs need to look out for the right opportunity. ASEAN is a hub of around 600 million people, mostly living in high urban cities. This population is growing rapidly and with it, demand for different products and services. 

Understand challenges: ASEAN is all about exciting opportunities, but these come with challenges as well. Economic disparity, different levels of infrastructure, funding, and language are just a few. Read more about these challenges in our article here.

Is it possible on your own? Most of the ASEAN markets have restrictions on direct and indirect forms of investment. Entrepreneurs should look out for local shareholders or partners for starting a business. This is one of the best ways to get around the restrictions as partners will better understand local conditions and customs.  

Find the right people: For a business to be successful, it’s essential to have the right team. Finding the right people is always challenging especially in ASEAN as education levels, qualifications and skills vary. Focus on building a network that helps the business meet its different needs, such as IT, legal, or marketing.

Be patient: Once decided on committing to a particular market, ensure that the timeline for setting up the business is realistic. Entrepreneurship requires patience, especially doing international business which takes time.

Understand the culture: Southeast Asian countries each have different cultures. Although these are similar, it’s completely different from that of the rest of the world. Businesses must avoid situations that could potentially hurt cultural sentiments, particularly when marketing products and services.

Build trust: Business in Southeast Asia runs on trust and friendship more than in other regions of the world like Europe or North America, which lean towards follow government or industry rules. Conducting lots of formal and informal meetings with partners will help build trust and healthy relationships.

Use government assistance: This varies depending on the market, type and size of business. Entrepreneurs should study various government programs available. There are also assistance programmes from Non-Government Organisation (NGOs) or Social Entrepreneurship from other organisations that can help businesses in these sectors.

Businesses come with challenges and if you want to succeed in Southeast Asia, follow these tips for the best results. Use our PESTLE Analysis to properly analyse the Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, and Environmental (PESTLE) situation in your chosen market. This will ensure you discover all opportunities possible.

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