In this panel, Bernard Leong, the Technology Manager of Vistaprint talks to other panelists on how they’ve managed to successfully scale their businesses globally.
The panelists, who are also entrepreneurs running successful digital platforms were Sangeet Paul Choudary, founder of Platform Thinking, Allen Penn, Interim Head of Asia Operations, Uber, Kjetil Olsen, Vice President of Elance, Pieter Kemps, Principal, Business Development & Venture Capital, APAC of Amazon Web Services and Jia Jih Chai, SEA Country Manager of Airbnb.
Trust is so important on digital platforms. How can that be earned?
For Elance, “the matching process is the most important. We make sure that we give our users the freedom to rate others, while making sure our freelancers are securely and paid on time, ” says Kjetil. However, for other startups such as Uber, where there is an offline interaction, communication is key. The anonymity between the taxi driver and the passengers needs to be removed in order to establish a relationship first. With knowledge such as the driver’s name and picture, the first transaction is always trust.
Adding to the table was Jih Chai, who mentioned that Airbnb subscribes to the same philosophy of trust using 3 elements. First, is to establish trust in the product. This refers to reviews and the platform itself. Second is trust in the data such as the credibility of the hosts and guests, followed by the offline component of the business.
All business have different methods of earning trust from their users but the common denominator is that all these digital businesses need to first educate their users. This is done by effective communication and experience. “This is because there is no stickiness with just one contract. After every transaction, trust has to be earned again. Overtime, the business comes along with trust, ” mentioned Pieter.
Does different regulations and laws signify a business remodelling?
Not necessarily. As mentioned by Sangeet, “regulators are not as innovative as platform builders and they are slow to catch. So there are huge challenges.” However, Jih Chai continued to say that “in general, underlying principles of regulations are there for valid reasons. If we carefully analyze them, many of them do not apply to our business model. Naturally, regulations would change if your platform has real benefits.” Allen agreed and added on to say that digital platforms needs to make sure that regulators are properly educated about the benefits. Digital entrepreneurs also need to make sure that their businesses are in line with regulatory goals. This can come in a form of education, to establish the virtues that both parties get out of it. It is a process, a conversation, an education.”
This point is especially true in the example of Elance whereby freelancers need to manage themselves when it comes to labour regulations, taxation laws, etc. This is because with so many freelancers on the platform, it is simply not feasible to change the business model according to each country’s laws. What the company has then done is to educate the freelances by using brand ambassadors in specific areas that are able to train freelancers on how to comply with regulations.
This method is ideal since “businesses should be able scale, high volume and low margins. You cannot go to every country and follow, and understand every single regulation. There needs to be a balance of education and shared responsibility,” added Pieter.
Since education is key, has there been greater challenges faced in educating the Asian markets?
All the panelists agreed that although the challenges of educating the Asian markets are different, they are not necessarily more difficult than the other markets. In all markets, businesses such as Airbnb working with the community in the same manner. “We started with the first 100 people who love you, and made them our ambassadors. They were then they once who grew our community bigger. It is like the seeding strategy than Sangeet talked about,” said Jih Chai.
This strategy consists of both online and offline education methods. After all, new digital platforms always need education because you need people to adopt a new technology and learn a new skillset.