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Enter Emerging Markets: There Are No Rules

Mar 1, 2019 | 9m

Gain Actionable Insights Into:

  • Enter emerging markets where the rules are hidden, and the structures are made of jelly
  • Build relationships with locals, so they can trust and work with you in the long-term
  • Form and lead the right team to help you thrive in the unforgiving emerging markets


Emerging Market Factors

Unlike in the past, emerging markets today are a lot more professional and digital. Newer companies are now given a chance to start without an Indonesian partner. These days you don’t need a local face at the top for your company to thrive as long as you can manage relationships well. For instance, in Indonesia today, Grab and many other foreign companies are doing well because they have adapted.

How then are emerging markets different from developed markets?

Speed and Structure

Developed countries follow structures and rules, making sure everything is in order. Speed is not as important in these developed countries so you have the luxury of planning. In emerging markets, however, it’s completely different. Speed is vital to survival. You have to move quickly, and the rules are not clear. You honestly can’t know for sure if you are following the rules. The emerging market is not bureaucratic like the developed market, it’s more kleptocratic. If you attempt to follow the rules, you can take a long time and may never reach your goal.

To move fast in an emerging market, you have to gamble. Sometimes you have to make big gambles. You make a decision first, and then you figure out how to make it work. My company moved from 0 events to 26 large scale events within 12 months because we had to move fast. You have to be more bold, ambitious and brave.

“The only rule in emerging markets is that there are no rules.”

You need to realise that you can’t sit around and wait. You may not survive in that country for long enough to do that. You have to take risks and have the freedom to make decisions. I’ve seen companies that came to Indonesia and said they would not or could not do certain things because of the head office overseas. The head office for Indonesia has to be Indonesia! You need to have the freedom to make decisions, and make them quickly, or you won’t survive here.

Finally, don’t underestimate the time it takes to set up. Many don’t consider certain delays and other factors involved. People often think that they can easily set up just like they have done in most other countries, but again, there aren’t many rules or guidelines, so you have to figure things out on your own and naturally that takes more time.

In emerging markets, you need to take 4 steps in a month rather than 2 steps even if the steps aren’t significant. You have to keep moving forward.

Aligning With Partners

In developed markets, you can basically try to make it on your own. It’s very democratic and meritocratic. You don’t need support if you don’t want it. In an emerging market, support is not an option. Support is a necessity. You need to align yourself with larger companies and establishments with power. It’s a very unconventional type of support, but it’s integral in emerging markets.

It’s important to not just build surface relationships, but also build strong relationships and partnerships with people who are connected and have some influence and leverage. In India or Indonesia, you will definitely get into trouble because many things are grey and ambiguous. Something will go wrong every day. So, you need someone to support you.

Emerging markets are not democratic or meritocratic, they are filled with biases and run a little like a mafia where there is accumulated power with certain people and organisations that you need to align with.

Building the Right Team

It’s easy to hire the right people in a developed country as you tend to have a lot of people to choose from. That is definitely not the case in emerging markets. Because you have to focus on speed, you need to hire people who you think can be trusted and then train them yourself. You don’t have time to wait around for the perfect candidate. You may never find them. You can’t go for skillset. You need to go for potential and trustworthiness. Surround yourself with people who can be trained and trusted, and these people may not be the most skilled people for the job.

“What you’re looking for in your team is a high willingness.”

You need to teach them and they need to be willing to learn. You can’t always find a superstar immediately. Of course, don’t make horrendous hires but what I'm saying is that on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of skills, if you have a choice between hiring a 6 or 7 earlier, it’s better than hiring an 8 or 9 later. Don’t hire anyone lower than 5.

Additionally, you’ll also have to use consultants and freelancers more as you move faster. Sometimes a specific skill may be hard to train, and the person just doesn’t exist here, so you move to the freelance market for this. Don’t feel bad about bringing people from elsewhere. Import talent where you need to.

As your company grows, learn to train and delegate. Look at your calendar today and decide if you really need to be at a certain meeting. Where possible, try to send your team alone to 80% of your meetings. Your role is to start the relationship but then manage from the back, not the frontlines. Send your team to discuss, and once in a while, you can make your grand appearance.

In developed countries, you would think twice before you send someone who is underqualified. In emerging markets, it doesn’t impact the meeting. Prepare your staff but leave them to run with it. Give your staff one to one training for at least half an hour and check in every one to two days. Your training doesn’t need to be structured but be sure you train them enough for them to handle the responsibility. Be sure to keep briefing them and keeping them up to date. Most importantly, build loyalty with your team. Be their friend and help them where you can.

As you can tell, emerging markets are all about people. So, in the next chapter, I’ll give you more practical ways of building such relationships.

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Sudhir Syal

Former CEO | Chief Business Officer - Middle East

BookMyShow | Lenskart



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