South-East Asia is a booming market for pretty much everything thanks to its huge economic and demographics growth. The Philippines were last year the 2nd Asian growth after China (CNBC), and Indonesia remains a 250 million population juggernaut with about 10 million more people entering the middle-class every year (BCG).

As more companies serve these markets, they experience the need for better technologies as well: this is where the Saas Business Asia conference kicks in, showcasing for the first time the best startups from the region and reflecting on topics ranging from metrics to growth strategies.

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The event, which sold out to about 100 participants, was co-organised by Florian Cornu (a well known tech chameleon of Singapore), who recently took to studying the field of SaaS startups in South-East Asia, one country at a time, and Adelina Peltea, VP Marketing at TradeGecko, an inventory management startup based in Singapore.

You can check the maps of the SaaS business Florian did on his website (a few excerpts are shown here).

Organisation strategies of SaaS startups

It’s hard to say if these insights are specifically from SaaS startups. Other tech ventures have shown how to organise differently both to please employees (see how Zappos does take care of employees and customers) or to strengthen their resilience (Netflix and its “Chaos Monkey” strategy).

Still, Buffer CEO Joel Gascoigne made the biggest impression with:

  • No more managers both in function and title within the company
  • Systematic CC’-ing of ALL the company e-mails to anyone in the company to help decrease them and increase transparency
  • Publicly available metrics on their service, revenues and other key stats like Lifetime Value of each customer.

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Other speakers such as Service Now VP for Asia-Pacific James Fitzgerald showed how “recruiting drivers, not passengers”, helped them in a mere 18 months to grow from 1 to 300 employees regionally (in case we needed one more sign of the extraordinary growth of the Asian economy).

On another note, Jon Yongfook, known to have “hacked the “growth hacking” keyword on Google”, is now “having an ultra-rigid schedule, working with the team from 8am to 12pm. Then: the beach, and when at the beach, no work in mind, no one left behind”.

Startups are probably as much about organisation and culture than technology. We’ll have other opportunities to discuss this (we speak at and cover Asia’s first Coworking Unconference tomorrow by the way).

 

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What metrics for SaaS startups?

Entrepreneurs, investors and would-be startupers gained a lot of time by listening to the data stories on-stage.

Metrics which were discussed and deemed relevant for SaaS business were both expected, and for some of them, really innovative.

Basic metrics for SaaS startups included:

  • Growth of the revenues
  • Cost of Customer Acquisition
  • Lifetime Value of Customer
  • Churn & Retention

More innovative metrics and KPIs can be:

  • Upsell capability
  • Detection of high-risk accounts based on consumption data
  • Hiring rates of the SaaS

Increasing SaaS market adoption in Asia

Of course, conquering the Asian market for SaaS business is not an easy feat.

A first hurdle is cultural. “In Australia, people are OK with having virtual meetings but in Korea, people need to see you face-to-face” said Ivan Gomez from Microsoft, speaking about the development of Skype for business in the region.

Another feature of the Asian business is their relationship to technology and software, not as open as in the US. Tiang Lim from Evernote notices that SMEs see SaaS as a cost, they want to know the savings value, and look for government incentive to decide themselves”.

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(Full version of the SaaS Business Map in Asia here)

Then, the infrastructure of both bandwidth and payment are another limit to strong adoption of SaaS solutions. Traffic jams in notoriously congested cities is another aspect SaaS business must take into account.

A side-effect of both the ease of launching a tech business today, the numerous languages and territories of South-East Asian countries (Indonesia is made up of about 17,000 islands) is that the market of SaaS is extremely fragmented.

It doesn’t help SMEs and business to read this industry and choose a solution. Its sustainability is all but guaranteed, when a US-based SaaS can have a few dozen millions user as a reference.

Evolution of SaaS business in Asia

In any case, the SaaS startups need to anticipate, if not lead the way, into their own evolution.

Florian Cornu compared the industry with advertising: “Ads went from selling eyeballs to clicks to actions. SaaS can switch from selling on a per user basis to a per transaction/performance. Then SaaS could go from being perceived as an expense to being a revenue-generating service, and be stronger on market adoption”.

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Another hint at future development is offline access to the service, says Florian Cornu: “The problem with SaaS is you can’t use it if there’s no Internet. We need to think of more offline solutions”. It’s especially true in Asia where the connection is pretty bad on average.

A future evolution of SaaS ventures is also on simplifying the access and education, or on boarding, on the service. We’ve met Peter Walraven from Pie, a SaaS whose tagline could be “Slack for your mother”. He adds: “So far, SaaS has a strong adoption in geek, tech circles, but if you put your parents on Slack, there’s no chance they would understand it, they would not know what a hashtag is in the first place”. So his solution tries to make it simple for non-tech users to collaborate with a SaaS format.

SaaS Business Asia: a new startup ecosystem

Well, it’s fair to say that with this SaaS Business Asia conference, and the underlying data projects Florian is running, the ecosystem is discovering its own existence, and has now a meeting point to reflect on its challenges and history.

What has been built in the previous month is a data-driven media, where qualified readers (= investors) can find an information on companies which is actionable rapidly.

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Two other leads are being explored by Florian:

  • A database of SaaS startups, already partly built by his website, and which could get closer to a Mattermark for Asia.
  • A bootcamp to empower teams of entrepreneurs to take over the “white spots” which have been discovered during this one-day conference.

Stay tuned, Innovation is Everywhere is a proud and happy sponsor of the Saas Business Asia conference, and the upcoming adventures of its crazy founder.