business to Myanmar Guillén Pérez

Bringing your business to Myanmar?

Setting up business operations or otherwise taking your business to Myanmar? Consider how you can contribute to a sustainable and inclusive economy.

It is likely a coincidence, but it is fitting that in the month that Myanmar’s first democratically elected President Htin Kyaw took office, developments in Myanmar were also in the spotlight in the Netherlands with several well-attended events in April on doing business in Myanmar.

Lees meer

Een Russische bruiloft: les in omgaan met cultuurverschil

Dit weekend was ik op een bruiloft in Sint Petersburg. Dat betekent feest: veel vodka, veel nieuwe mensen en veel pracht en praal op de trouwlocaties. Maar ook: observeren en nadoen.

Want ja, hoe gaat dat eigenlijk, zo’n Russische bruiloft en wat behoor ik wanneer te doen?

Dus: klappen als iedereen klapt nadat de ceremoniemeester iets gezegd heeft (wat je niet hebt verstaan). Of, doen wat iedereen doet wanneer je ontdekt dat die ceremoniemeester alle gasten introduceert: wanneer je je eigen naam hoort, even opstaan en een beleefd knikje naar alle hoeken van de zaal. Handig, zo’n introductie, want iedereen weet direct dat jij die buitenlander bent die geen Russisch begrijpt.

Als je dan onverhoopt toch iets als eerste moet doen, is het gelukkig niet moeilijk om voor te stellen dat we aan de andere kant van de rij beginnen. Dan kun je tenminste af kijken wat je eigenlijk gevraagd wordt te doen. Wat blijkt: een catwalk dansje om het boeket van de bruid te winnen. Niet gelukt, overigens.

Mijn regel: observeren

Eigenlijk maakt het niet uit in welk buitenland je bent en wat je daar doet. Observeren, goed opletten wat er om je heen gebeurt en de anderen nadoen is altijd de regel waar ik me aan houd wanneer ik in een onbekend buitenland ben – en waar ik het belangrijk vind om de gedragsregels en etiquette van dat land te volgen. Dat geldt op vakantie ten dele, maar nog veel meer in de zakelijke context waarin ik me vaak bevind in China of Japan.

Met ondernemers praat ik hier regelmatig over: wat moet je wel en vooral juist níet doen wanneer je succesvol wil zijn in China of Japan? Want natuurlijk: in China en in Japan krijg je als ondernemer te maken met een andere cultuur, met andere regels, andere gewoontes die voor ons misschien niet belangrijk lijken of onlogisch lijken. En het is belangrijk om je daar van te voren in elk geval een beetje in te verdiepen. zoals ik bijvoorbeeld een paar weken geleden deed in een maatwerk workshop met een ondernemer die binnenkort voor het eerst naar China gaat.

Angst voor cultuurverschil

In die gesprekken komt altijd een soort angst naar voren dat je direct een deal kwijt bent als je niet precies de juiste dingen doet.

Maar cultuurverschillen zijn niet iets waar je bang voor moet zijn.

Ja, het is anders en ja, je weet niet precies wanneer je wat geacht wordt te doen. Maar tegelijkertijd: door goed op te letten en de mensen om je heen te observeren kun je veel domme acties voorkomen ook al ken je de gebruiken niet op je duimpje. Dat kost namelijk tijd om echt goed door te krijgen.

In de tussentijd kun je op heel veel andere manieren laten zien dat je oog hebt voor de verschillen en hier met respect mee omgaat. Dat ziet je zakenpartner ook en zorgt er voor dat je echt niet altijd foutloos je stokjes hoeft vast te houden tijdens het diner.

innovative Dutch: Guangzhou TV Tower

Dutch business: innovative, creative, diverse

Industrial design. Baby products. Digital signage. Horticulture. Online gaming. Ecommerce software. Veterinary pharmaceuticals.

This list is just a fraction of the industries I have encountered through the companies that I have spoken with over the last three months. In that time, I have met with nearly 60 Dutch companies from almost every conceivable industry and market segment. I spoke with them about – of course, their company and products, but mainly about their interest in doing business in China and what type of Chinese counterparts would be good business partners for them.

All these companies are participants of a trade delegation travelling to China at the end of next month with the mayor of Amsterdam. My part in their preparation for this trip is small, but essential: having a clear profile of the type of contacts and the type of business the Dutch company is interested in is fundamental for finding suitable matches in China. This, of course, is not easily done. China is a big place, the business and products of many of these Dutch participants are very specific and Chinese companies may have different expectations of meeting them. Nevertheless I feel confident that my part in this process will have contributed to this matchmaking search.

From advice to sharing experiences

Many of these meetings weren’t interviews where I would only check off the questions I had in front of me. Talking to entrepreneurs and export managers is one of my favourite (work) things to do, so I try to get as much information from them as I can – relevant to the context of course – but in so many of these discussions that also means you hit other topics.

Such as Japan: I was pleasantly surprised to hear that many of these companies are also interested to explore opportunities for their products in Japan – or are already there, alongside their China activities. Or, when talking to a company which is very new at doing business in China and international business in general, my role becomes that of an advisor in which I try to help them along in figuring out what is the best way for their company to grow their business internationally.

And then there are some entrepreneurs I spoke to which have been involved in China for much longer than I have – and those sessions turned into a mutual sharing of experiences in China.

Innovative, diverse, creative

But over all, what has been so good to see over the past three months – and what amazes me almost always when I talk to an unknown company – is the immense diversity, level of innovation and ambition that is inherent in Dutch business. Dutch business has raised world leaders in the smallest niches and the most advanced technologies, and includes some of the most creative work I know. It’s been a pleasure meeting and working with all of these companies which are hopefully heading towards a successful future of doing business in China, starting in Beijing.

Movies as market research?

Last Sunday I saw the movie movie Maruyama, the middle schooler as part of CinemAsia film festival. A funny movie about a 14-year old boy going through your regular teenage angst in his very individual way. But what also struck me afterwards when I was preparing for a meeting I had this morning was:

“This would be perfect market research material.”

The movie focuses on life in a regular Tokyo neighbourhood, with many scenes taking place inside the different apartments of the characters in the story. And if you are a Dutch business interested in selling your interior design products that is one of the things you want to know: what do Japanese houses look like? Are they colourful? What type of interiors do Japanese people like? What kind of items do they use?

The meeting I was preparing for was part of some market research being conducted for a Dutch company. The company is eyeing Japan as a potential new market for them, and the students who had been asked to take on this research phase had a long list of questions for me. This list included the above questions on the look and feel of Japanese houses to find out if the items this company designs would potentially fit in a Japanese interior.

Of course, the best way to find out more about this is to go to Japan, see Japanese houses, find out yourself how people live and what they surround themselves with. But, that is not always the easiest thing to do.

The next best thing? Watching movies.

And, it’s a lot more fun than going through stacks of market research reports.

Who’d have thought watching movies could be a productive way of finding out more about a potential new market.

Admittedly, not every movie works as well for this purpose. But if you look for films that show what real life is like in a certain place, like Tokyo, you can find plenty of good movies that give a bit of insight into an average apartment in urban Japan. And that, of course, counts for any place you are researching.

PS, looking for some good suggestions for Japan? Try some of Koreeda’s beautiful movies.

Crossing Continents: to Japan

Thinking of doing business in Japan, what comes to mind for most people (I hope) is that it takes time, where relationships are important but hindered by a different language and culture. The opportunities are there, but as a business you need to put in a lot of effort.

Japan doesn’t attract a lot of attention anymore as a potential new market for Dutch companies. Overshadowed by other countries in the region with much more impressive economic growth rates. Yet, Japan is still the third economy in the world, which should offer plenty of potential.

So, in a way it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when I found the announcement of an FD & Deutsche Bank hosted event focusing on business opportunities in Japan – and Vietnam – which took place yesterday: Crossing Continents. I’ll focus on the Japan part below, as that is of course what I know best.

There aren’t many events focusing on business in Japan, and happily the room was full of an attentive audience. But: when asked who of the audience had already been in business in either Japan or Vietnam only a handful of people raised their hands. So: who was in the room?

Possibly because of this, or because the format of the afternoon didn’t leave much room for questions from the floor (which were limited to the last 10 minutes), it felt a little like Doing Business in Japan for beginners. But again, maybe this was the right audience for that – I’m not sure how many people in the room have a long acquaintance with Japan. I felt it was also hard, especially at the beginning, to translate economic (Abenomics) and political developments to the practical consequences for business (wo)men.

I liked that the afternoon highlighted some interesting developments: retail in Japan, opportunities for horticulture and connected suppliers in the tsunami-struck region of Tohoku, how trade missions work etc. (In fact, a recent horticultural trade mission to Sendai is profiled here, good to watch!) But then it also seemed to lack answers to concrete questions such as: where do I begin if I want to find an importer for our special brew beer?

Which reminded me: I need to get my post up and online about what type of support is out there for Dutch/European companies interested in entering the Japanese market. To be posted soon!

Sustainability networks in China: a few to start

Sustainability and CSR are very broad terms, and include so many different topics: environment, urban farming, pollution, impact investment, corruption, diversity in the workplace, urban development etc etc. There are several informal networks – worldwide, but also in China – which provide a place to meet and chat with a diverse group of people working in these various areas of sustainability.

When you are new in a city, but looking to build a local network with sustainability professionals, this is a great way to meet people. I’ll list a few that I’ve come across in China & Hong Kong.

> Green Drinks is a worldwide informal network, with groups getting together in more than 600 cities. The extent of activity varies quite a bit in each city, but the Green Drinks website lists all locations in China (including geographically diverse cities such as Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Hangzhou, Chengdu, Beijing, etc).

Of maybe special mention is the location in Shanghai, which has grown far beyond ‘just’ the monthly drinks. The organisation now organizes an event at least weekly it seems, and is in the process of changing into a more formal organisation which will be working on projects on sustainability, together with partners in the Shanghai region, aimed at moving beyond raising awareness on sustainability to impact and results, including some projects on education. It was very interesting to hear about this last week in Shanghai, and I can’t wait to see what the organisation becomes in the next few weeks.

> The Beijing Energy Network is a similar network based in Beijing. Apart from regular events, their online platform also posts vacancies, mostly in the field of (renewable) energy and environment.

> And in Hong Kong I joined the SippedIn-network which meets irregularly but brings together sustainability professionals in HK, from diverse areas such as sustainable finance to organic farming.

Of course, there are more networks you can tap into – which might not be solely focused on sustainability, but may offer you other useful contacts. It’s worth looking at networks supporting companies from your country in China. For the Dutch: make sure to get in touch with the Dutch representation in the region where you do business (currently, located in 11 cities across China, including Hong Kong and most recently in Chongqing).

The Benelux Chamber of Commerce (BenCham, in short) offers networking and a wide membership of companies from the Benelux doing business in China, and related organisations. Located in three cities the BenCham chapters organize regular events focused on the practicalities of setting up your business in China (such as HR, IT, and anything else). In Hong Kong, there’s an equivalent organisation: the Dutch Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.

Business in Tokyo: where to find a short-term work space

in between meetings in Tokyo

Imagine a situation in which you will be in Tokyo for some time on business. You are there to set up the Japanese side of your business and work on the positioning of your product on the Japanese market. This is not a hit-and-run visit of only a few days filled from dawn to dusk with meetings. It is meant as a longer stay with time for more local research, building up a network and being able to take advantage of unexpected contacts and meetings. Something that by the time that happened on shorter trips, you usually would be leaving the country again.

But: where can you do your work? At home, you would have an office available to you with all the facilities you might need. Where do you go to work in Tokyo?

For anyone in this situation, there’s some good news. Flexible offices and co-working spaces are increasingly common in a business environment that is moving away from big corporations. It has taken a while but also in Japan (creative) entrepreneurs have been working independently for a while, and the government has more than once announced that small business entrepreneurship will be an important driver for innovation in Japan. If Japan has the right sort of regulatory environment to make that happen is another issue, but at least it is becoming more diversified in terms of office space.

There are different options for short-term office use. You can rent a small space in a big building, but other possibilities are increasing quickly.

I’ll list a few options, which I visited back in May. Each of these have their own style, pricing models et cetera. When you are looking for a regular space, I’d suggest to try out several locations before putting your money down for a month-long (or more) subscription which some places use as a model.

League Ginza is a fairly new location (open since February), is based in the Ginza neighbourhood, and it offers different types of working space in one location. It’s aimed at bringing different types of entrepreneurs together in this location. You can rent a space of your own: a service office or a personal booth. But you can also become a member and use the more open business lounge. League also has a Dutch connection: it has partnered with the Dutch company Seats2Meet which has set up work spaces across the Netherlands for independent professional, where the exchange of ‘social capital’ is the main way of connecting people and ideas – and which is, in locations in the Netherlands, the way of ‘paying’ for your work space. For League this is a new and innovative way of getting the ‘inhabitants’ of their building together and sharing expertise. When I spent a few hours here in between appointments in May I was immediately approached by the location manager Eriko and met a Japanese graphic designer who could be an interesting contact for future projects.

Agora Tokyo has been around a lot longer, since 2008, and was set up by Dutch architect Maarten Molenaar. It’s an open space where entrepreneurs – currently a mix of foreign and Japanese – can rent desk space to work from. Agora is located in Shibuya, which makes it very convenient to work from (I found in May that I passed through Shibuya and surroundings quite a bit going to and from meetings elsewhere…). The pricing plan works with a monthly membership, and depends on how much space you need. I liked the openness and informality of the space, and I imagine that because it’s a bit smaller it’s easy to get to know the other people working here which will help to build up your local network.

Shibuya MOV is the last place I visited, which I’d heard about a few times when I was researching co-working spaces. A big, brightly decorated space with lots of different areas: lounge areas to chat and talk to people, silent booths, regular desks to work at and a range of meeting rooms around it. I personally liked the interior, though it is least ‘office-like’. Again, here you pay through membership with the amount varying by type of use. You will also formally register as a member when you only need to spend a few hours here, though there is an hourly rate which then applies. What I probably liked most here is the availability of the meeting spaces which – again in Shibuya, right next to the train station – seems to be very convenient when needing to set up a business meeting.

There are many more like these, with different variations – some even with a playroom for your kids – and not only in Tokyo. All over the country co-working spaces are popping up, and this map provides a good overview and makes it easy to find a space wherever you are.

Of course, there are also the hundreds, or probably thousands, of coffeeshops around the city where you can join students and others working away on their laptop. However, don’t be fooled: the availability of WiFi is not nearly as widespread in Tokyo – let alone the rest of Japan – as it has become in the Netherlands (and probably most of Europe). I found that only Starbucks has a reliable presence of WiFi in pretty much all their locations. However, to be able to access this you need to register online at home, your hotelroom or anywhere else where you can access this Starbucks site. After registration, the internet connection works very well in any Starbucks I tried. This also meant that I spent A LOT of time in various Starbucks across the city – a place I avoid anywhere else…

Have a favourite place to work from when in Tokyo? Would love to hear about it in the comments!

 

Event: Sustainability in India

Old Delhi

It doesn’t happen often that events are organized which specifically focus on sustainability & business in an Asian country. Some will focus on a specific area, such as business opportunities in wind energy or similar but tackling the wider topic is (admittedly) difficult.

So I was happy to come across a seminar yesterday, which was organized by the Netherlands-India Chamber of Commerce and Trade, on sustainability in India. I attended an evening on a similar topic focusing on China a few weeks ago and was looking forward to a more business-oriented approach to the topic that this India-event seemed to promise.

As in many other Asian countries, India is faced with a range of sustainability challenges which are connected to population growth, urbanization, the need for increasing access to clean water and electricity, to name a few. I had hoped that the event yesterday would be able to give a comprehensive overview of these issues – and what opportunities this can offer for Dutch entrepreneurs. It tried to do this, but mostly remained focused on the renewable energy challenge in India with speakers from PwC India and TERI Europe. An important topic, and one that has a lot of potential – especially when you consider the social multiplier effect of enabling more people to connect to the electricity grid in India: indirectly, this opens up more opportunities for healthcare, education etc all because people have access to better appliances, light etc. Renewables such as wind energy and solar power can play a very important part to enable this access. Growth numbers also indicate this opportunity, with 17% annual growth for renewable energy in India.

This potential was highlighted by the other two speakers from TERI Europe and from Start Green Venture Capital, who also mentioned shortly the need for water technology (advisory) services. However, the presentations remained quite exclusively focused on wind energy, and a little on other sources of renewables. No doubt that this is an important topic, though I had hoped for a little more perspective on the wider topic of sustainability and sustainable business.

Nevertheless, a good way to get a little more insight into opportunities in a country which I only know a little (and of that, my knowledge mostly extends to the maritime and creative industries). The afternoon gathered together an interesting mix of people, coming from various backgrounds. That – and the great food! – combined to make for a good afternoon.

Verover de wereld!

Optimisme. Enthousiasme. Energie. Avontuur.

Dat is mij bijgebleven van de lancering van het Wereldveroveraars netwerk op 28 februari in Pakhuis de Zwijger. Want, is de boodschap tijdens deze middag, als slimme ondernemer zoek je je succes buiten de Nederlandse landsgrenzen. De export, dat is tenslotte het enige economische cijfer dat nog ten positieve groeit.

Het optimisme en enthousiasme hierover was aanstekelijk, en sprak duidelijk uit de korte interviews met de, door het FD en BNR als wereldveroveraars bestempelde bedrijven. Mecanoo, Bols, SpiritIT, Rituals – stuk voor stuk bedrijven die naam maken buiten Nederland.

Dat optimisme was fijn – dat is tenslotte iets wat we weinig horen de laatste tijd, terwijl er ook gewoon nog een hoop dingen goed gaan. Typerend misschien is de reactie die ik vaak krijg wanneer ik vertel dat ik in januari ben gestart als zelfstandig ondernemer: “Dapper!” of “En dat in deze tijd…!”. Ja, misschien is dat ook wel zo; maar de groei zit toch juist in Azië en in duurzaamheid – in mijn stellige overtuiging in elk geval. Dat is dan toch een gouden combinatie? Ter vergelijking: vaak hoorde ik vorig jaar – toen ik nog twijfelend was – bijna alleen maar aanmoediging en enthousiasme. Hoe het ook zij, deze crisis vraagt nu eenmaal om wat creativiteit – en ja, optimisme.

Terug naar Pakhuis de Zwijger en de Wereldveroveraars. Daar was weinig twijfel te bespeuren. Hoewel bijna elke ondernemer op het podium sprak over de noodzaak van een goede voorbereiding en betrouwbare partners, was eigenlijk alleen Rituals zo eerlijk om ook de andere kant te vertellen. Bij het veroveren van sommige markten hadden ze al veel geld verloren. Want dat er risico’s horen bij het internationaal ondernemen is zeker.

De grens over gaan is zeker een avontuur, maar in de woorden van een wereldveroveraar klinkt het verdacht makkelijk. Of misschien is het inderdaad gewoon een kwestie van de juiste mensen kennen. Juist dat wat het nieuwe Wereldveroveraars netwerk wil faciliteren.

MVO Exchange: perfect bestaat niet

Twee weken geleden organiseerden MVO Nederland en Agentschap NL een zakelijk evenement over Internationaal Maatschappelijk Verantwoord Ondernemen: hoe doe je nu op een goede manier zaken in het buitenland?

Onderwerpen die gedurende de dag aan bod kwamen waren bijvoorbeeld corruptie, ketenverantwoordelijkheid, communicatie, financiering en allerlei andere aspecten waar je in het buitenland mee te maken krijgt. Maar die ook vanuit Nederland enorm moeilijk te controleren en te beïnvloeden zijn. Want hoe kom je er achter of alles gaat zoals afgesproken in, bijvoorbeeld, die Chinese fabriek waar jij onderdelen inkoopt? En als je er wel achter komt dat niet alles gaat zoals je wil, wat doe je dan? Complexe dilemma’s, en dat blijkt telkens weer uit de ervaringsverhalen die ik van bedrijven hoor over deze thematiek.

Dat is ook wat me vooral is bijgebleven van deze dag, of wel de MVO Exchange: complexe materie dat bijna niet helemaal perfect uit te voeren is.

Zo was er een ondernemer die sprak over zijn bedrijfje dat intussen succesvol lampjes op zonne-energie verkoopt in een aantal landen in Afrika waardoor mensen in kleine dorpjes licht krijgen, ’s avonds nog dingen kunnen doen, kinderen kunnen lezen en zo meer naar school kunnen. Allemaal ontzettend goed. Maar vanuit de zaal kwam de onvermijdelijke vraag: “Maar waar & hoe worden deze lampjes geproduceerd?”. In China, en hoe… dat wisten ze niet precies. De ondernemer gaf wel duidelijk aan dat wat hem betreft het doel van de onderneming is om licht te krijgen in die dorpen. En dat lukt. En aan de rest wordt gewerkt zodra hier goede en haalbare oplossingen voor zijn.

En er was de Dopper, het hippe waterflesje waardoor je gewoon kraanwater kan drinken en niet steeds nieuwe plastic flesjes water hoeft te kopen om die vervolgens weer weg te gooien. En een deel van het geld gaat naar een NGO voor waterprojecten. Wat wil je nog meer? Maar ook hier kritische, en terechte, vragen uit het publiek: “Waarom is dit wel geproduceerd van plastic? Waarom is het niet op z’n minst biologisch afbreekbaar plastic?” Etc. Nu blijkt dat het tweede niet technisch mogelijk is, maar het blijven scherpe vragen. Want zouden we in een ideale wereld niet van producten af willen die olie als grondstof hebben, en daarmee dus ook van plastic? Op dit moment zoekt de Dopper naar producenten in China voor een RVS-versie van de fles, maar ja… ook dat is niet zo makkelijk.

Dit zijn maar twee voorbeelden. Maar de dag zat hier vol mee. En niet alleen deze dag, maar veel andere ervaringen die ik hoor van bedrijven. Dit zijn niet alleen de ervaringen van kleine bedrijven, ook de grote multinationals van deze wereld lopen tegen dezelfde dilemma’s aan. Hoe goed deze bedrijven ook bezig zijn, ze hebben ook nog een lange weg te gaan. Maar gelukkig gaan ze allen met vertrouwen die weg op.

Perfectionisme op het gebied van MVO en duurzaamheid blijkt in elk geval niet te bestaan. Een bedrijf dat denkt zijn MVO-beleid zo in te kunnen richten dat het daarmee alle issues heeft afgedekt komt dus bedrogen uit. Want ja, de dilemma’s zijn ook vaak moeilijk bij elkaar te brengen.

Dit bleek ook eerder deze week weer toen een bedrijf vertelde over hun afwegingen bij inkoop in China, bijvoorbeeld rond overuren. Je wil als Nederlands bedrijf voorkomen dat jouw leverancier zijn mensen veel te veel uren laat werken. Maar ja, stel nou dat dat komt omdat jouw klant heel snel een grote order geleverd moest hebben? Maar ook: bij deze productielocaties in China werken vooral migranten. De enige reden voor hen om naar die plek te komen is om te werken, zo veel mogelijk om zo veel mogelijk geld te kunnen verdienen en terug te sturen naar hun familie en kinderen. Dus wat nou als zij gewoon die extra uren juist willen maken, en anders wel naar de buurman gaan om te werken…?