In the world of small business, the value of successful peer role models and shared best practices can't be overstated: already facing challenging odds of success (about 50% of new companies fail in their first five years), the keys-to-success wisdom shared by a fellow entrepreneur can make the difference between your chances of failure or flourishing.
This is especially true when it comes to taking your company from local to global – an increasingly alluring business model as advances in technology have swiftly reduced the barrier to entry, revealing new market opportunities and additional revenue streams.
The following peer success stories shared by entrepreneurs around the world demonstrate how adaptivity, passion, and a global focus set small business leaders apart, and turned passions into profits.
Local items with global appeal
In sourcing locally and selling globally, merchants have demonstrated that they can adapt traditional industries to access a worldwide audience. These leaders have looked to their cultural heritage and built a global brand by selling local items to an array of global consumers.
New Delhi-based Sanskritii is an example of local sourcing leading to global success. Owner Jyoti Bansal, looking to supplement her family's income after her husband left his career in banking management to launch a technology start-up, launched the company on eBay's online marketplace because it offered no upfront costs and required payment before shipping, making her feel more secure in filling international purchases.
This enabled her to start small, using a little money she and her husband had saved, and quickly build upon it. With inventory that now includes fabrics from Pakistan and Bangladesh, in addition to their local Indian community, Sanskritii developed a truly global customer base, with 95% of sales from international customers.
Sanskritii has become one of India's leading online vintage fabric stores with worldwide appeal, selling over 100 items per day – so successful, in fact Bansal’s husband decided to forgo his startup to join his wife’s.
Global is a fast path to growth
Thinking globally from the beginning can be one of the quickest ways to scale your business.
Taking advantage of the nascent online consumer market and Amazon's weak presence in Asia, Lazada Group was created with the goal of being "the Amazon.com of Southeast Asia." They soft-launched their first e-commerce websites in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam in 2012, with a business model of selling inventory to customers from its own warehouses.
In 2013 it added a marketplace model that allowed third-party retailers to sell their products through Lazada's site; the marketplace accounted for 65% of its sales by the end of 2014.
The Pro’s Closet has evolved from one of eBay’s top stores specialising in reselling new and used cycling gear to a top cycling brand. A former professional mountain biker who toured all over the world, owner Nick Martin recognised that "peak season" in cycling depended on where you are in the world – and that selling to enthusiasts internationally could bypass the "nice weather window" that most retail bike shops are forced to sell into.
The bet paid off: currently 40% of The Pro’s Closet’s sales are to overseas customers. Growing 20% year over year, international customers drive 95% of sales. The Pro’s Closet still sells online via eBay, and at their warehouses in Boulder and Denver, CO, in order to serve local, national, and international clients.
Solving problems and accessing vibrant markets
Solving a specific problem can open up enthusiastic market segments that align with company passions. Several merchants noted problems to solve and quickly grew their companies by targeting loyal customer groups.
Singapore-based Airfrov is a platform that pairs up frequent travellers who have a little extra luggage space to spare, with shoppers who want to buy specific products but don't have the luxury to travel for it. Through Airfrov, shoppers get to enjoy their favourite products more frequently, while buyers get to make a little profit in exchange for filling the empty spaces in their luggage.
Founder Cai Li shares about his inspiration behind the website. According to him, Airfrov came about from personal experience: his girlfriend would pass him lists of products to buy from the countries he travelled to, while colleagues based out of Singapore often needed products that were more affordable locally. He began offering to help them buy medicines and local snacks whenever he left the country.
The platform boasts a 70% fulfilment rate for purchase requests within two weeks and they now have about 1,000 active users on the system.
Founded in 2011 by professional architect Kristen James, the business idea for Gilded Shadows was first sparked while she was helping a friend choose wedding day accessories. James was unimpressed by the overpriced and unoriginal selection on the market, so she offered to make some herself.
Turning a hobby into a profitable business involved sourcing high-quality materials and using platforms like Etsy and PayPal to access international customers – which now account for nearly 30% of sales, with the majority coming from brides in the UK, Canada, and Australia.
Take the advice of these merchants – these stories show how an eye towards international opportunities and problem solving can turn a hometown venture into a globally viable brand.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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