Tag Archives: Entrepreneurship

3 things entrepreneurs should learn from established Japanese brands like Muji and Nissan(Tech in Asia 9.3.2016)

Entrepreneurs like to learn from the pioneers in the industry – they hunt for the key to success from the blogs of successful entrepreneurs like Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk; they read books like Zero to One and The Hard Thing About Hard Things from end to end, regarding as bibles for starting up companies.

As an entrepreneur, I totally agree that it’s much easier to kickstart your journey on the shoulders of giants. But there is no single formula for success.

I recently came across several books and studies about Japanese companies with decades of history, and I found that these brands perfectly embodied the beauty of subtraction. From their design philosophies to management strategies, they seemed to be born with the power of building business lean. These are the 3 things entrepreneurs can definitely learn from them.

1. When developing your product, less is more

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Photo credit: MUJIglobal

Tagged as “brandless brand”, Muji is a retail company selling no-logo household and consumer goods with minimalist design. The brand goes by the philosophy of “no flash, just functions” to indicate what’s appropriate for every day life.

This goal is manifested for example, in their development process of household appliances. When manufacturers from China and South Korea targeted the Japan-dominated market with a low pricing strategy after the 1990s, most manufacturers in Japan tried to reclaim the lost ground with a wide variety of functions. Muji steered the opposite way – developing products with basic functions so as to keep the quality and price competitive. The company believes that household appliances with basic functions are enough for most families. On the contrary, customers might get lost in the fancy functions which also bloat the price of the product.

This is also true when entrepreneurs turn ideas into products. Innovation-oriented market positioning often leads to fancy features that fail to meet the consumer’s basic needs. While Muji’s approach is to make something people want and need, but not more, “nice to have” functions should be eliminated. Entrepreneurs should figure out problems that need to be solved and develop corresponding solutions that touch on the right pain points.

Uniqlo, the casual wear designer, manufacturer and retailer, is another Japanese brand with a no-frills design philosophy. Uniqlo is quite the rebel in the apparel industry — producing and selling clothes designed for everyone. In an industry stressing on one’s personality and individuality, Uniqlo focuses more on customers than clothes, and believes that customers can develop their own styles by mixing and matching its simply-designed clothes.

Entrepreneurs must have read quite a few suggestions on putting “customers first” and done market research before developing their products. But the truth is that balancing customers’ needs and product differentiation is not easy, due to limitations in resources and technology.

Uniqlo is one example of a brand that takes away the personalized features of their clothes and enables customers to personalize their styles on their own accord, indeed reaching the “customer-oriented” goal that many entrepreneurs have long sought.

2. Observe users, and not just through big data

Here comes another thorny issue – how could I know what my customers want? From manufacturing to the IT industry, conducting customer research is never easy.

Muji tries to communicate with costumers through different channels, including service counters in retail stores, their website, through the telephone and from market research.

However, what inspires me the most is the way Muji observes their customers. Muji built investigation teams composed of designers, buyers and management-level staff for customer home visits, in order to observe customers’ usage behaviors from different angles with the team members from different backgrounds. After the observation, they would interview these customers, directly getting comments on products and a sense of their customer’s sentiments.

During the process, investigation teams would find out about how different customers use the same product, some in innovative ways the product designers had never expected.

For entrepreneurs, there are some tools in the market for analysing consumer behavior. Although these could be used to get insights on consumer preferences, it is important not to neglect the human touch in trying to understand aspects of people where machines fall short.

3. Be decisive, and stay focused on the core of the business

2016-nissan-rogue-cayenne-red-large-car

 

 

Photo credit: Nissan USA

After launching products and scaling, entrepreneurs would probably pause to review their strategies before progressing further.

Multinational automobile manufacturer Nissan once dipped their toes in the aviation industry. But after 2000, the company successfully sold this high-end profitable business, in order to hold the lead on the global automobile market with a centralized set of resources.

This strategy is similar to that of snack food manufacturer Calbee, which has persisted in only selling potato-based snacks for over 60 years. And in order to keep businesses lean, it holds regular “off-shelf” meeting for superfluous product lines.

Apart from the products they have initially launched, entrepreneurs would also invest resources in side projects, hoping to boost revenues along both lines. However, this approach may cause them to sidetrack and deviate away from their original intentions for the business. I would suggest never to linger on businesses that do not coincide with your future plans for your business.

In conclusion, there is no foolproof formula for success. But on the way, most entrepreneurs should not only learn from technology giants, but from traditional industries, understanding the beauty of “less is more” and chasing big goals with small, manageable steps.

The opinions expressed are solely her own.
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ABOUT PING

Female serial entrepreneur, CEO and Co-founder of EVENTION, her 2nd tech startup.Business development & marketing professional with >15 yrs’ exp in IT. Writer for HK & regional media.

 

Original article was published on《Tech in Asia》on 9 Mar 2016

 

 

 

 

大學創業基地首重互信 (ezone 12.11.15)

eZone_HKUST_TheBase

現今大公司請人難, 初創企業(startup)請人更難。筆者認識的Startup「十居其十」都在忙於解決人才問題,「人才荒」成為Startup發展的最大絆腳石。近年創業氣氛刺熱,本地大學為了協助學生創業及讓他們體驗創業過程,相繼開設創業共用工作間(Coworking space)及提供多元化的創業支援,冀學生真正明白創業為何物,自行決定是否適合創業還是打工,同時讓學生知道在Startup打工亦是一個選擇。

筆者日前到訪香港科技大學的創業大本營(THE BASE),其營運理念跟其他共同工作間差不多,內設乒乓枱、留言牆、豆袋座墊以及Hot Desk,而且還會定期舉辦講座、分享及交流會,邀請不同行業的創業者及成功人士分享心得。筆者了解到THE BASE 的名字意念源自登山者聚集的地方,在這大本營,登山探險者除了可以在攀上高峰前小休外,還可結識一班志同道合的人,分享經驗、互相勉勵,甚至組織團隊,再闖高峰。其徽標設計為兩座山峰,寓意創業歷程要經過重重高山,絕不是易事。

對筆者來說,這個大本營最獨特之處是,為學生提供了一個「上莊」以外的選擇﹣校園創業。科大在THE BASE闢出一處地方,讓學生獨立營運一間Café,親身體驗「小型版」創業及從中學習。這間Café由8名學生開設,以自負盈虧的方式營運。創業中心負責人表示最初只是邀請同學給予意見,初時同學建議引進社企,但最終商討後,大家覺得讓同學自行及全權選擇生意類型及營運,更切合創業大本營的理念。今年9月開業至今,Café現在由大約35名同學一起經營,同學分別負責不同範疇的工作,包括:財務、市場推廣、日常營運、人力資源及資訊科技,十足一家Startup的架構。負責人說校方亦會考慮將Cafe「轉手」給其他學生營運,讓更多同學可以體驗創業。

另外,大本營現時24小時開放,但校方不會特別增派人手在場管理,實行以學生為本的「開放政策」,實屬開創先河。筆者不禁問:「這政策相當大膽,不擔心學生會弄得烏煙瘴氣嗎?」創業中心負責人說:「我們信任和尊重學生,學生才會信任和尊重我們,開業到現在已兩個多月,情況及進展均十分滿意。我們相信這樣,學生的創新力才會被引發出來。」

近年政府積極「加碼」支援年青人創業,除了「實質實在」的支援外,筆者更希望見到政府放手、鬆綁,相信年青人,尊重年青人,少些限制及繁複程序,多些自由空間,讓年青年作更多、更大膽、更創新的嘗試,才能培育出香港的「獨角獸」。

 

原文刊於eZone900 201511月12日

 

創業路難 努力今天 (eZone 13.11.14)

Google_EYE_program

創業路難 努力今天

由Google及中大創業研究中心舉辦的Empowering Young Entrepreneurs Program (EYE Program)最後選上6間香港初創企業,並於上月尾完成了美國矽谷的終極體驗之旅,跳出香港,走入「科技創新之源」。

五天行程非常緊密,除了到Google總部「尋幽探秘」外,更到訪多個知名創業培育計劃(Accelerator Program)及協作工作社(Co-working Space),最重要是有機會向成功創業家取經,以及最後在矽谷投資者面前推銷自己的公司及產品!以上活動不但這些香港初創企業有所得著,筆者隨行數天也有所「觀察」。

1)多元文化

在美國矽谷,初創企業喜歡亦十分容易找到不同種族、文化背景及思想模式的人一起創業,因為他們相信「擦出火花」比「融洽和諧」更重要,企業需要多角度思維及多樣化的創新意見,對於面向國際市場的企業尤其重要。相反,在香港也許因為文化背景及價值不同,創業者通常比較喜歡找和自己性格、背景及理念差不多的人一同創業,相對地團隊的思維會較單一。

2)暢所欲言

美國矽谷的創業家隨時隨地暢所欲言,不論是業務行情或新點子,因為他們相信聽取多些「異己意見」,有助優化新點子,業務策略變得的更好,更重要是別人在「局外人」看一定比局中人看得更清楚。他們不怕你抄襲,因為意念往往不是重點,重點是真正執行的實力。

3)人人talk得

在矽谷遇過的創業家,幾乎所有都talk得、sell得同present得。曾經遇到一位「創辦人」,有關業務發展也好,技術層面也好,問甚麼也答得頭頭是道,最後收到他的咭片才發覺他是 ﹣ Developer (程式設訊員)!talk得未必做得到或做得好,但至少賺了好感,利多於敝。

至於香港人最可貴之處就是獅子山精神 ﹣刻苦耐勞、勤奮X搏及自強不息,跟上述6間EYE Program中選企業理念一致。日間要趕行程、周圍走,晚上又要構思及練習pitching,每天只睡幾小時,明天一早又要上路了。

香港的初創企業與美國矽谷相比,仍有進步空間。創業路漫長,今天的努力未必立刻看見成果,但今天種下的種子,必成就未來的成功。

原文刊於eZone848 201411月13日