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2015

"Want the Asian Market?" A detailed guide on how Singapore can play a key strategic role for ambitious Finnish companies.

Commentary

Hello folks!

TODAY I HAVE TIME! BECAUSE IT IS NEW YEAR’S EVE! So I can finally work on a new business series that has been in my heart for a long time.

LONG POST AHEAD!

This series is written specially for ambitious Finns/ businesses in Finland which are thinking about expanding into the Asian market, which is infinitely bigger than the 5 million population in Finland. Asia however, is an extremely diverse region, so I can understand the high risk involved when people simply don’t know the market. It takes guts, honestly, to expand into a region or a country which has a culture so different from yours, in an era where the highest growth is concentrated in Asia!

My intention of writing this post:

Recently, a lot of high profile folks interested in the expansion into the Asian market added me on FaceBook and linkedin. I also had the huge privilege of having very brilliant discussions with some Finnish business leaders, genius classmates, and foreigners who ARE actually ambitious and feeling frustrated with the current system in Finland.

Why are ambitious people in Finland frustrated? I still think it is because of certain elements of a welfare state, which may or may not be compatible with the rapidly changing requirements of a global economy. In essence:

  1. Smart foreigners can’t get jobs that allow them to use skills from their education because they can’t speak Finnish at native levels, especially if they are not in the IT industry;
  2. Even smart Finns can’t get jobs because the Finnish economy now is so bad and there are not enough jobs to go around;
  3. The current business environment for small-and-medium-size firm will seldom allow you to make decent profits, so instead of having work-life balance as an entrepreneur, you gotta work even harder in Finland to make ends meet;
  4. When the Finnish government give grants, they seem to support big firms like Nokia more than SMEs, a “too big to fail” syndrome;
  5. It does not make sense to become an entrepreneur just to stay in Finland if you don’t have a good business plan; and
  6. No matter how good a business idea you have, you need a bigger market than 5mil. It’s simply the law of numbers. And the situation gets even worse in light of the planned austerity measures and prolonged recession in Finland.

SO–This post is for ambitious people/businesses of any size in Finland which want to expand their operations into Singapore and eventually Asia. This post is NOT for companies contented with status quo.

I am writing this post for entrepreneurs in Finland who want to consider the possibility of expanding their companies abroad to get more business and revenue. I feel every bit of their struggle in Finland which has been in a prolonged economic slump since 2008 and I want to assist this enterprising community in Finland in every possible way. You can expand into Asia AND do your part to do publicity for the Finnish brand; you can generate tons of value if you are an ambitious entrepreneur!

And frankly, you can be ambitious and balanced simultaneously. *winks*! This harder path is just not for everybody, and I understand that it is difficult for some to even conceptualize and empathize with such motivations. It’s up to you to freely choose, however! #YOLO

Am I qualified to write this post?

Well, somehow yes–but I will encourage you to doubt me freely. At the end of this post, IF you can even for a moment consider reaching out to the relevant Singaporean government agencies that I’d listed, IF for a moment you can feel some hope and receive some courage, I would regard this post as a success.

To deal with your doubts, I will also include professional Singaporean agencies for you to consult and they are perfectly qualified. These services are also free as they are paid for by the Singaporean government. Singapore is not ranked No.#1 for the world’s most business friendly city for nothing. There are also private consultancies which charge for consultation, but I’d encourage you to approach the efficient and professional civil servants at the relevant Singaporean agencies first, since the Singaporean taxpayers already paid for their services for you (Links at bottom).

Even if you are just contemplating the idea of expansion into Singapore, there is no harm to just asking for information, since it is free, and these are useful information to know. 😉

Also, I’d been through the process and have quite some networks in Singapore, so I know exactly how to register a business in Singapore, how to get it running, what grants are available and who YOU can turn to. This is because I have a registered social media consultancy firm in Singapore, which is doing not-bad. Here’s IKIGUIDE, our content marketing arm.

So if you are really confident about your innovative Finnish product/service and YOU would like a bigger market–contact those friendly business consultants and they will strategize with you and inform you about how the Singaporean government can support your expansion plans.

The last time I checked, Marimekko is already in Singapore and is managed by an excellent PR firm in SG. They’re doing pretty well with quite some high-profile local celebrity endorsement!

So let’s get started!

What is the possible significance of Singapore to a Finnish firm which wants the Asian market?

Usually foreign companies use Singapore as a stepping stone/ hub to Asia.

A very common strategy is as follow: Set up your company in business-friendly Singapore first, and then use Singapore as a base for expansion to bigger markets such as China, India, and ASEAN.

Okay let’s step back to think for a while. Why don’t companies in Finland expand to China directly? After all, the distance from Finland to China as compared to Finland and Singapore is shorter. Why is Singapore needed, and how is Singapore relevant?

The reason is very simple: Singapore can bridge the language and culture gap. The language and culture gap is PRECISELY why the potential of the Chinese market is underutilized in Finland currently. This is why sometimes Finns might even come across as racists to Asian folks. And THIS is where expansion to Singapore can help as part of the strategic plan to expand to Asia.

Let me share with you an anecdote of a cultural difference which really creates tension for everybody. When I was at the Helsinki airport this September, I realised that there weren’t any Chinese translators at the customs. ZERO!!!

Then, I met two very distressed Chinese tourists who were stuck at the customs, and the frowny Finnish custom officer was disapproving their suspicious travel documents. To be honest, the Chinese tourists might indeed come across as somewhat suspicious as their invitation expired by 3 weeks, and they actually told me that they are going to Norway by BOAT one day after arrival to Helsinki–so even I felt a bit suspicious.

But that aside, the distressed Chinese tourists spoke no English, and the customs officer could not understand each other. In desperation, one of the Chinese tourist asked me 你会说国语吗?? (“Do you speak Mandarin?”) as I was standing behind them. And SO, I became their FREE translator. It took me an additional 15minutes to my flight which was already delayed, and my poor cutie Finnish Boyfriend had to wait so long outside for me. 🙁

Yet this experience frankly made me a bit disgusted–I started doubting the sincerity of Finns when they said they wanted to do business with China. Hello?! Chinese tourists is now Helsinki’s no. 1 largest tourist group, with Russians ranking 2nd. How can there not be Chinese translators at an AIRPORT? Where is the sincerity in doing the business with Chinese folks??!

So you see, in my view, the Chinese market’s potential is underutilized in Finland/to Finns BECAUSE:

  • To Finnish folks— China/Chinese folks might come across as suspicious due to the huge culture gap. Chinese folks are great at doing business everywhere, due to Chinese philosophy. Chinese folks love elites, and they are okay with being really filthy rich (a.k.a no such thing as equality or maybe even taking refugees in). And coupled with all the fakes–fake luxury goods, fake eggs, fake this, fake that–come’on, it might have really seemed very very suspicious to the Finn. And–OH NO there are “no” human rights and “no” freedom of speech in China! So to a Finn, that might REALLY be infinitely suspicious! So you see, the ideological differences between Finnish and Chinese folks are huge.
  • Now to Chinese folks— Finnish folks might come across as disrespectful. The logic is as follows: Seriously, you DO NOT go to China directly to do business, with ZERO love/knowledge for the culture. Chinese culture is super rich and vibrant, and honestly, no form of translation does justice to how beautiful the Chinese language and culture is! Personally I was from a rather prestigious bilingual English-Chinese high school in Singapore, and I did Chinese philosophy, literature and culture studies for 6 years. The Chinese culture is indirect, and any sustainable business relationships with Chinese folks take years to build.
  • In addition, I think Finns tend to assume that the Chinese market is cheap. To enter the Chinese market, you gotta be prepared to have a huge marketing budget, which means you need a lot of money. To understand more, please read this excellent piece of analysis written by my genius Chinese classmate. So if you have no money at this point in time, just forget about expansion to China directly, because you’d fail and you’d be seen as extremely disrespectful.

In view of this, my business proposition of Singapore to a Finnish firm of any size is as follows:

As a Finnish firm, go to Singapore, hire Singaporean-Chinese (70% of the SG population) or China-Chinese folks (We have a lot of China-Chinese friends working as permanent residents in Singapore too), and from there expand to China.

The key idea here is that being effectively bilingual, Singaporeans can work as effective bridges of culture. So, we can understand how a Finn would think, and how a Chinese would think.

So far as I’d observed, this model totally works for service industries, such as foreign education and events in Singapore. So, since most Finns think that Finland is truly top in global education, then Singapore would be a rational choice for expansion to Asia, because Asians in general spend a lot on education.

If you want the Indian market, basically repeat the same method with a Singaporean-Indian or India-Indians. They are easy to find and hire in Singapore, if you have a headquarters or some sort there.

So effectively, the Finnish firm would have prevented group-think IF the company has some sort of a intermediary. Singapore can provide that. In addition, our working language is English, since we are an ex-British colony. English is taught to every kid from kindergarten and nursery.

How to set up a company in Singapore

It’s quite easy to register a company in Singapore, of any size. Basically registration can be done online at ACRA and it takes a grand total of 1 day. For PTE registration, the cost is SGD300/200+Euros for a year, subjected to annual renewal. LLP and sole proprietorship are cheaper.

For bank accounts in Singapore, you’d need a physical office address. But a bank account is easy to set up in Singapore after obtaining the address too, within one week. There are a lot of commercial banks in Singapore–at least five.

For all new startups in Singapore, you get tax-free for 3 years for revenue under certain amounts. This is part of the Singaporean government way of encouraging the growth of startups in Singapore. What you need to take note of is your declared year of accounting–but if you register as a private limited (PTE) then you’d need a certified accountant to do your accounting.

I think highly-educated labor in Singapore is easy to find, and the overall wages and corporate tax rate are significantly lower than in Finland. But employers need to pay this thing called the Central Provision Fund (CPF) to employees, something like the pension, which is 17%.

Also, the Singaporean government is super generous with the business grants, provided you qualify and don’t mind doing the paperwork. Some grants popular with foreign-owned, Singapore-registered companies are the Productivity and Innovation Credit scheme (PIC) and the Innovation and Capability Voucher (ICV). Apparently it’s easy to qualify for them too. For a complete list of 100+ grants available to startups based in Singapore, click here. Personally, I’d had local and foreign friends who started successful companies that received more than > SGD100,000/ 60,000Euros of grants from the Singaporean government. Yes, the Singaporean government is THAT generous to locals and foreigners alike that it’s sometimes hard to believe.

A caveat really is the paperwork sometimes though, but if you don’t mind the paperwork, I personally do think it’s easy to do business in Singapore. People are in general quite stressed, so if you are an innovative firm selling really smart lifestyle products it’d sell. Also, if you are a B2B firm selling some high-tech machines or technology, most likely you would be super welcomed in Singapore as well, because we want more innovation in our economy.

So my view is that expanding first to Singapore actually decreases your overall risk in expanding to Asia, because there is less of a language/culture gap. So if you are relatively risk-averse BUT ambitious, Singapore is a good option to consider for expansion into Asia, BECAUSE you will also get strong government support. We have quite good business infrastructure in terms of banking, transportation and skilled labour, so to me if you have a reasonable business plan, you can “test out” in Singapore since it’s relatively cheaper as compared to other regional regions. In addition, the Singapore government is very strict on corruption, so with stable politics, the business and investment environment locally is stable and predictable.

Which Professional Government Agencies to Contact

Just email the relevant agencies: Singapore is famous for efficiency, so you’d definitely get a reply from a person who can advise you on what to do next, and how to go about setting up a business by referring you to directed links and website. This is unlike the Finnish method where basically sometimes people don’t even reply emails. Also, if they do refer you to a governmental website, those websites are usually very detailed.

Now thing is, the Singapore business environment has English language as a working language, so there is no barrier to communication as long as you speak reasonable English (which most business Finnish folks do). So whenever they say “Singapore-based” companies, it does not mean “companies run by Singaporeans”, BUT “companies based in Singapore”. So you as a foreigner can use this to your advantage.

Yea, that’s the end of part I. But honestly, if you are a Finnish firm considering expansion to Asia, I’d encourage you to just take the first step to email the relevant Singapore government agencies I’d listed in the above. They’d reply with more information and consultants are actually really friendly–and it’s free, so you have nothing to lose!

If you have any questions about this post, just leave a comment here, or add me on linkedin. I’d write Part IIs and IIIs when I’m free! ^^ Hope this post has value-added you. 😉

Incompatible Cultures?

Commentary, Finnish Culture

Today I want to blog about this concept of “incompatible cultures”.

I’d been thinking about this topic for a long time, and especially after the influx of 1 million refugees into Europe this year. For starters, some Europeans are insisting vehemently that they are “not racists”, even as some of them attempt to for example, burn down asylum houses, or make random attacks on darker skin foreigners. This is often followed up by statements such as– “I don’t mean to sound racist, but [insert racist statement]”.

How about, chicken?

…Which means having NO guts to stand by what you say?

Anyway, today I am going to articulate another argument, which is to say that some Europeans are not necessarily racists, but can be motivated additionally by fear. I can only speak from what I’d observed in Finland and not other countries, because I’d been living here a while already.

And YOU can be assured that I’m not influenced by any sort of institutions/money which forces me to constantly sing praises about Finland. This blog after all, is personal and non-profit. This is unlike of course, some websites run by privileged groups of (white) foreigners who have, by the way, made a niche out of only saying good things about Finland.

Being deluded obviously is a choice, so if you want to stay deluded, maybe you shouldn’t be reading this blog. Trust me, I really don’t care, because my livelihood doesn’t depend on your opinion. I can however, understand your need to stay deluded, and I really feel sorry for you, so maybe you can consider finding other things in life to look forward to?

Okay, so lets get started! 🙂

What is “culture incompatibility”?

In the current refugees migration into Europe context, I’d define culture incompatibility as the clash of ideologies.

Let me start with a really simple example. Some patriarchal societies believe that women are subordinate to men. Some men of these societies might then believe that if a lady were to be uncovered (for example, having their shoulders bare), then they can/should be raped. Now, seen from a purely theoretical perspective, the rapist basically doesn’t see himself as doing something wrong. In his culture, that is something that just happens–woman doesn’t cover herself = signal to be raped.

So the point is, some refugees might belong to such a culture, and when they migrate into European cultures which champion equality of gender, ideological conflicts are bound to arise. Imagine being brought up in an environment whereby as a man, you are used to viewing women as sex objects. What makes anyone think that this habit is going to stop suddenly, just because the man is now in a different physical location?

The worst thing about this is that a culture incompatibility does imply behavioral modification of women in the host countries. If the integration process of refugees sucks, or is non-existent, this means that women in the host country cannot wear whatever they wish, doesn’t it? If they choose to still wear say, mini-skirts, the fact is that they are inviting rape to people who once subscribed to a culture where rape is permissible, and short skirts are the invitation.

My point here is: cultural change is infinitely difficult, so perhaps it is better to avoid such conflict in the first place?

Because, any country which accepts refugees has to care about culture compatibility too. Tolerance is an issue, and so is knowledge of both the host and migrant cultures. Of course, I doubt any European cultures would be accepting of a “rape culture”, and this implies that educating refugees of the “European way of life” is very important. Failing which societal chaos would ensue.

Doesn’t this mean that leaders should consider re-conceptualizing how they define “integration” of refugees, and by extension, migrants? Integration doesn’t mean simply giving refugees houses and food. Integration means really treating them as equals– equality to opportunities, access to education, enhancement of cultural understanding, etc.

Of course, in Finland’s context, for years they have been used to the idea of migrants= refugees, or poor foreigners. And this sort of ideals still stick. In addition, any integration of migrants depends largely on how big-hearted your human beings are, and how ready they are to show their generiosity. And I quote this Sami spokesperson Pekka Aikio:

“Being charitable has never come easily to Finns. They seem to fear all foreign cultures and influences.”

Then again, it might be hard to be big-hearted and generous when the Finnish economy is obviously declining in a tumultuous EU region, and having defined “international” as EU.

This is where narrow-mindedness comes in, no?

But honestly, I was thinking if the concept of “culture incompatibility” can be applied to Asian migrants as well. Asia afterall, has become a rapidly growing economic region, but some in Finland probably still see Asians as an inferior race. For example, Aalto University assuming by default that all Asians/Africans can’t speak/write English and makes them all take the English test for admission to university, but oh, all by virtue of physical region, all EU folks are exempted from this test. 🙂 And no, the language rule still hasn’t changed since 2011.

The fact still is that most East-Asian/Southeast Asian cultures are probably incompatible with Finnish culture in many areas. Therefore, a high degree of integration and big-heartedness on both sides is needed.

For example, many have spoke freely (talk is cheap, remember?) about expansion into Asia, but when asked about marketing budget, they say they have no money. Ha-ha, so expansion into Asia is cheap? LOL.

To be honest, I think Europeans who have no money should not even consider expansion into Asia. That is seriously insulting and nonsensical.

And obviously, there are many who think that Asian students are in Finland to leech on the free education system. To me that’s a ridiculous notion which stems from the idea that “Finnish tertiary education is the best in the world”– because smart Asians could get scholarships anywhere in the world. If your system is attracting not-so-smart Asians who even need the free education instead of being able to get a scholarship, then that is a system-error.

-roll eyes-

I guess complacency is something any nation should consider guarding against, because that sort of attitude really stinks. And the way I see it, I will not and never want to contribute towards an inward looking culture in this age of rapid globalization. And this is why I don’t trust any “expert” who say that they are professionals in “intercultural communication”, when they have no vast experience working across different cultures!

Indeed, integration is a choice of the migrant too. But for migrants who can choose, I’d say, you don’t have to stand for nonsense. Think through your opportunity costs properly, and make a wise decision on where you want to best live out your life and chosen destiny. =)

And nope, I’m not saying here in any way that Singapore is perfect, or that I’m glorifying Singaporean culture. In fact, our Singaporean society is highly competitive, and obviously not for anyone who accepts mediocrity, or prefers a slower pace of life. If you’re in Singapore–it’s best to make sure that you work very hard, or be very rich. There’s no middle ground.

What if Santa isn't real?

Commentary, Finnish Culture

Merry Christmas— I hope you’d enjoyed your Xmas eve dinner!

For Christmas this year I received this Santa Claus book from The Boyfriend’s Mom:

santa

So I read it after sauna. It’s a really cute book–filled with cute gnomes drawings! And it left me wondering if Santa Claus is real.

Haven’t you wondered about it? Hmm..I am pretty sure Santa Claus means different things to people of different cultures. And honestly, Santa is a symbol for many things–nostalgia, childhood, lost time, etc. And maybe, just maybe, a non-exaggerated version of Santa might have really existed?

Yet as a marketer, I always felt that Santa Claus is definitely a fake. It is a deliberate ploy by shrewd capitalists to cheat the feelings of kids, isn’t it? Santa Claus sends presents to kids, so daddies and mummies got to pretend that they are in contact with Santa, so that kids will receive presents, because their friends receive presents. So present-giving and receiving became the norm, and people who benefit are shop owners.

Ka-ching!

It’s also funny how Japanese guys who call themselves “losers” even went on the streets to protest such an evil capitalistic phenomenon. And I quote–

“The group of about 20 people — part of the communist-inspired group that routinely protests Western holidays — marched under angry banners that read “Smash Christmas!” in Tokyo’s Shibuya district, where couples and families were engaged in holiday shopping.

The participants — mostly single men — said they were against capitalism and were opposed to the commercialization of Christmas.

“In this world, money is extracted from people in love, and happy people support capitalism,” said the head of the organization, formally called Kakumeiteki Hi-mote Domei, or the Revolutionary Losers’ League.”

Hmm…so I really started to wonder, if Santa isn’t real, why are we lying to the world that it is real?

Or should I ask: why are people allowing themselves to be lied to–that Santa is real?

I am unsure. This year, I started to seriously doubt that people want the truth at all times. In fact, I think people actually like to be deluded. So perhaps, before we start to approach people with the harsh truth, we should check if they actually want to face it.

In a sense, I think it’s way easier to be deluded. Delusion = comfort zone for some. You know, for some folks delusion can come in the form of not wanting to accept that things are going to get worse. Or perhaps, not being deluded hurts their ego, or some sort of a fall from Grace.

So instead of seeing reality for themselves, they actually get further and further away from it. It’s actually really laughable.

I used to think that it’s unethical to not tell deluded people that they are indeed deluded, even in the face of harsh facts. But now I see that delusion is a form of hope for them. It’s also a form of protection–because they’d never get the past back again. Perhaps deep down inside they know that they already lost the past for good–but people choose to be deluded because it is comforting and they don’t know what to do.

However, if you tell them that they are deluded, they will get angry and lash out at you. So I’d learnt along the way, that unless these people are close friends, it’s not a wise idea to go around telling people that they are living a lie.

In the movie The Matrix, there was a scene where you can choose either the blue pill, or the red. I always wondered why the guy chose The Truth.

The answer is because being deluded forever seriously wastes your life. It’s okay to be deluded for a while, but after some time everybody needs to snap out of this delusion and move on with life.

Facing reality takes strength. Keeping up with the rapidly changing world requires character. The conscious choice to stay deluded and mope–“Oh, we are not number 1 anymore, our most important company failed blablabla–but we will be greater than ever!” isn’t. Because that’s just sinking deeper into the delusion.

And after a while such whining can get really irritating, especially when ignorant people repeat outdated data that may be true 5 years ago, but totally baseless today.

I really feel sorry for deluded people.

So yes, there is a difference between a dream and a delusion, and the difference is the system. When you say you’re pursuing a dream, basically the success rate depends on the type of system you have put into place, and how successful the system had worked for you so far. If the system has failed you, then maybe it’s high time to change the system.

Delusion on the other hand, is living in a voodoo world, and assuming that what has NOT worked in the past would somehow magically work in the future.

Not gonna happen. =) Take nothing for granted, before the situation really gets worse. It will, by the way. Talk and hype is cheap–and makes the delusion worse.

Anyway I’m glad I don’t have to deal with this sort of nonsense anymore. 🙂