Travel app Klook is Asia’s largest in-destination services booking platform. From Seoul to Singapore, travellers use Klook to get preferential rates and access at tourist attractions and services. In Hong Kong, that means everything from Disneyland to the Peak Tram.
When Generation T lister Eric Gnock Fah co-founded the Hong Kong-based startup in 2014, the platform was built to scale across borders from its inception. “From day one we were in Hong Kong, and within two months we set up in Shenzhen and then Taipei,” says the Mauritius-born entrepreneur.
Klook now employs over 500 people in 15 cities across the world. “A year ago, we had 160 people,” says Gnock Fah. “By the end of this year it will be close to 800 or 1,000.” The company’s growth has been propelled by several successful rounds of funding, culminating in a US$60 million series C in October 2017 that added Goldman Sachs to its list of high-profile backers.
Klook recently reached another milestone by opening an office in Amsterdam—its first outside Asia. “We’re the leader in Asia, and now we want to tackle the US and Europe,” says Gnock Fah.
Given Gnock Fah’s success building a startup to be multinational from day one, he’s perfectly placed to offer advice on how to create a business that seemingly transcends borders. Here are his five tips.
1.Dream big but start small
It’s important to dream big and have that plan in mind, especially when starting off in smaller markets like Hong Kong. You also need to make sure that the business model is sound and able to scale across markets to build that billion-dollar business.
It’s equally important to start small, stay focused and not be distracted as you expand into new markets. Throughout our journey, we’ve frequently been asked whether Klook wants to extend its business to other spectrums in travel—such as hotels or airlines—but we’ve never lost our focus. We only do one thing: make booking destination services as seamless as possible. This mindset allows us to fully concentrate on what we do and continuously optimise our services, which is how Klook has gone this far in terms of expanding globally.
2. Hire local talents with global perspectives
No matter how much your founding team is made up of global citizens, it’s imperative to go local—and that starts with people. At Klook, we’ve made sure our country leads have a strong knowledge of their local market, but also have a global perspective. This ensures that Klook’s company culture and vision get vividly translated to the local team.
3. Balance centralisation and localisation to ensure autonomy
At the beginning of a startup journey you’ll find yourself hiring jack-of-all-trade type talents—people who are able to hit the ground and get things up and running in the local markets, using whatever creative ways necessary. As the business grows into a multinational company, it becomes crucial to start building strong functional teams that can power the local execution teams in their market.
These functional teams make sure things are uniform, and share experience and skills [across the markets]. For example, maybe the Singapore team has experience that can help the Taiwan team—we require a centralised functional team to bridge that gap and help provide expertise.
4. Remember that passion transcends borders
We sometimes find that a huge barrier for a multinational company isn’t the language, but more the differing values across regions. One thing that keeps Klook strong as a global company is we ensure all our staff share our passion for both travel and technology. This allows staff to communicate more fluidly and have a common goal.
5. Building a company culture is about more than happy hours and bean bags
When it comes to startup company culture, people often jump to the conclusion that working for a startup means people in industrial-looking offices enjoying perks like bean bags and happy hours. We do have all of that in our Klook offices, but we also cater to much more than that. We ensure our company culture encourages staff to be creative, innovative, respectful, willing to share, and on a continuous learning curve. This allows staff to discover their full potential and realise a faster career growth.