Want to go global? Iloilo tech startups told to ‘stop underestimating’ their market

There are a lot of things that tech startups can do to get to the global stage. But two things stood out from everything that Ilonggo marketing and communications practitioner Ken Lerona told Iloilo-based startups during a virtual chat: be very agile and understand your market.

Particularly, Lerona told the attendees of a recent Kwadra Tekno 101 session to stop underestimating the capability of their market to pour loads of cash into a product or service that they find valuable.

Lerona was the resource speaker for the session “Local Startups Going Global,” one of the virtual chats that the Iloilo Science and Technology – Kwadra TBI (Technology Business Incubator) holds for its incubatees monthly.

PROVIDING VALUE

Understanding the local market and their exposure is a way to have a better grasp of where local startups can stand globally, especially on the aspect of providing value. This is the way to go, particularly for those targeting Ilonggo customers, the head of public relations at Home Credit Philippines said in the session held on February 11, 2022 via Zoom.

“There is a perception that money is tight around here. But the numbers show that there is money in Iloilo,” he said, citing middle-income earners spending on high-value items. “If domestic consumption is unhealthy, we wouldn’t be seeing a lot of these malls mushrooming around Iloilo. People are actually willing to spend, that’s why retail outlets are mushrooming.”

Lerona, a native of Alimodian, Iloilo, also quashed the idea that Ilonggos are a “stingy bunch.” He said: “I think Ilonggos are only after value for money. And if I am a startup owner, my proposition would play into that—that by paying a certain price, I must be able to experience my perceived value of a product or service.”

Local entrepreneurs, startups, and other business players are partly to be blamed for this long-held notion, said Lerona, whose specializations include brand management, public relations, customer relations, and customer experience. “We let local customers get used to cheap prices without showing or making them understand the value of our products or services.”

Moreover, the idea that Ilonggos can only afford so much is “wrong”; that is “underestimating the exposure of the Ilonggo market,” he said. He pointed out the existence of a generation of affluent Ilonggos who are “very well-educated, very well-traveled, very, very, very well-exposed.”

“And you’re thinking that they can only afford low-value service or products? You’re actually underestimating your market, therefore you are limiting your opportunity to grow,” he said.

“I believe Ilonggos are willing to pay for and spend on [products and services] if business owners, startup founders, and business players become more sensitive to the needs of this niche and be part of driving the appreciation of the value that you provide to your customers.”

‘FLEXIBILITY IS KEY’

But Lerona also understands that many tech startups operate on the thinking that there is “less friction” when they position themselves in a foreign market, unlike locally where “the wind that goes against our faces is too strong.”

He mentioned how Philippine businesses, tech-based or not, spend a lot of time and resources on marketing, discounts, and customer education to attract and keep customers. “It’s very dangerous to play [within a] very limited market. This is why we’re looking at a wider market wherein friction is lesser, wherein penetrating the right segment, the right set of customers, is easier.”

In addition, aiming to “go global” is about not just profit but also becoming a respected brand. “We want to conquer the world with our business ideas,” Lerona said. “Who wouldn’t want to be as respected as (say) Jollibee?”

Asked if Iloilo startups can ever be ready for global positioning, Lerona said readiness is relative. “Readiness is a mindset. You’ll never be ready, equipped, or prepared enough to fight globally. What I encourage you to do is to be very agile. Try to test and fail and iterate and play again.”

“It’s not about being ready financially or with your technology. It’s actually about being proactive and flexible,” he stressed. “Readiness is passé. Flexibility is the key to compete globally.” #

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