Pop quiz: Tell me three traits about the Asian startup ecosystem?
Unless you’re surfing specialty sites like TechInAsia and e27, chances are you weren’t able to answer that question in much detail. We don’t blame you, the lack of exposure stems from a lack of global internet presence. Naver, Weibo, Yahoo JP, rack of hundreds of hits for Asian startups in their local languages, but what about English?
You’ll most likely find a website or social media page consisting of broken English or no English at all. Asia might live in the future when it comes to technology, but it may as well be in the Dark Ages communications-wise (*HINT* we’re looking to change that!).
The silver lining to all this is that the startups themselves seem to be aware of the issue. Governments have scrambled out programs to help startups gain exposure abroad, while VCs and founders are also engaging in more English-friendly social media and websites.
One article on Naver (written in Korean), touches on this very issue with Harry (JW) Oh Senior Vice-President at 360ip stating that Korean startups – no matter how amazing – are simply unable to get foreign investment because there is just simply not enough English material on the local startup and VC scene for them to bank on. The article further explains that roughly only about 41% of Korean startups actually make it past three years, largely due to funding and scalability issues.
The highlighted Asian countries on Table 1, below, show that there is a clear discrepancy between economic stature and the startup rankings among Asian countries. Singapore is the exception here (the country has a notably high level of English ability) but countries like Korea, Japan, and China are clearly struggling compared to other countries in their economic neighbourhoods.
Table 1: Listed by country FDI and Startup ranking (measured from least to best, 0 to 100,000)
Banking on Change
With that wake-up call, is it any surprise that Asian startups have been looking to go global from the get-go? We’ve already seen a number of Korean startups experiment with English crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is inherently challenging but by using impeccable English and social media know-how, many of these startups hit their goals – and then some.
In addition, the Korean government has been steadily funding overseas trips to events such as TechCrunch Disrupt to get Korean startups some of that Silicon-Valley-shine. These opportunities gave Korean startups a chance to interact with foreign media and bring back some of the aforementioned English content that is oh-so currently lacking in Asia today.
One attendee, Cloudike, mentions outright that the press coverage at the event helped achieve investment goals, and we’re guessing it’s this type press coverage investors are not seeing from Korean startups. Again, this is another area where we expect continued progress, given time.
What I Need to Survive ‘Death Valley’
One statistic often cited is that Korean startups rarely survive beyond three years, largely due to cash flow issues. This isn’t particularly surprising when articles like Erin Griffin’s in Fortune state that almost 90% of startups fail (and funding was the second highest reason). We believe that given the numbers from Table 1, this is a problem that is evident in other Asian countries as well.
Given all the factors for startup failure in Korea, there is one facet of failure that startups themselves can actively address: Asian Startups lack investment infrastructure and networks in their own countries.
By reaching a broader network of investors through global media, Asian startups can mitigate the challenges posed by a lack of local VCs and investors. If your startup can’t find investment at home or is looking for easier entries into foreign markets, this is where a global internet presence is going to go a long way.
What Makes My Startup Look Good?
So what do you need to get foreign investors on-board your Asian startup? Take a look at Shakr, a Korean startup and the first Korean startup to receive an investment from SV-based 500 Startups. Everything they publish is in impeccable English, with an active blog and Facebook page. Or another 500 alum, Between, with 5 language options on its website and a product primed for global expansion. Both startups have a product that is not bound by any local or regional learning curves and convey a message conveyed in perfect clarity across multiple languages.
The road toward startup success is treacherous, but there’s a map that takes you on a path toward global investment. The map charts a path through properly written English blog posts, company profiles on global startup listings, building relationships with journalists and sending them news when appropriate. Investors travel the same, seldom trodden road, in the reverse direction, actively looking for Asian startups that they can actually understand. With so few travelers, your chances of getting picked up are much better… as long as you follow the Global communication roadmap.
 Startup rank is provided by startupranking.com and is based on a startup’s internet and social media presence. The ranking is scored from 0 to 100,000 (low to high). For more information on how the ranking works, visit their website.