90 Seconds: One Step Ahead
New Zealand entrepreneur Tim Norton has taken the world by storm with his video production company, 90 Seconds. Based in Singapore, we spoke to Tim about the practicalities of moving into the Asian market, and how he believes businesses will change and adapt in the wake of Covid-19…
As the founder and CEO of a company with a presence in a range of markets, what unique opportunities do you think the Asian market presents to New Zealand companies?
Asia is a massive region, and in reality each country is very much their own market, with local supply chains, language, culture and currency all very different. What makes Asia great on this front is you can find a niche or get an entry point, and even scale up by just getting one Asian country working, or establishing an Asia HQ in Singapore or Hong Kong and branching out from there.
Asia has three major countries and large markets that stand-out, China, India and Japan. Each of these countries are billion dollar opportunities for almost any product or service, so trying to do more than one of these at the same time is a tall order. Achieving scale in just one will set your business alight, and you’ll have your Asia cornerstone. The other approach with Asia, and one we’ve taken with 90 Seconds, has been to establish a regional HQ in Singapore, as it is in a good central location in Asia.
Key benefits of a Singapore based Asia Regional HQ:
- Singapore is the regional HQ for hundreds of the world’s global companies and a node for many Asia HQ’d companies, so it’s got both the buyers and sellers to form your customer base and create partnerships that will help drive your Asia go to market strategy.
- English is the primary language which removes a whole world of barriers if you’re an English speaking / Kiwi company. You’ll benefit from having a melting pot of Asian and other international talent and cultures combined. You can build a team who share a common language, but speak 10-15+ languages from around Asia as we have. This enables you to reach and remote control into Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Korea, China etc with your pan Asia team. It’s a joy.
- Putting aside the recent challenges, travelling around Asia from Singapore is easy.It’s cheap, it’s made for business, and departing from and arriving back to your base in Singapore is the nicest flying experience in the world.
Given the travel restrictions and social distancing measures put in place this year, how has this affected the way 90 Seconds operates, and how have you adapted?
For 90 Seconds, the lock downs have effectively killed film shoots, so that’s been a tough, instantaneous hit for us, our brands and creators. But conversely, we have over 12,000 90 Seconds creators, in 100+ countries, so as the lock-downs ease but the travel restrictions and likely slow recovery continue, the idea of flying film crews around (which is what many brands and agencies still do), will seem crazy. Our hyper-local creators become an even more valuable solution than they were before. We’re a completely online platform, so for brand managers and marketers who are stuck at home or not able to travel, using a platform makes more sense than ever. To cater for social distancing and safety, we’ve got clean shoot products in the market now, with specific production workflows to support hygienic and safe shoots in these odd times.
In terms of the company and organisation, the immediate demand hit is significant, and we’ve carefully aligned work, time and pay, especially in direct revenue connected teams, to make sure the company and jobs are stable mid to long term. It’s tough and we work super hard to strike the balance and support people, but it’s truly a different and false economy that’s been created. With the usual freedoms and autonomy taken away, it’s all about the most affected people right-sizing their personal economies to match the company’s shrunken economy, so we all come out together.
From a business development perspective, we’re a pretty online company, but also have sales and delivery teams in seven countries, so the lock-down and travel restrictions really drive the further transition to an ‘Inside Sales’ approach, where teams in one place are managing customers all over the world. This gives companies a better shot at driving revenue in international markets without having to travel as it’s become the norm. Embrace it, video and screen share more than ever, and reach those markets.
I’m also just completing a capital raise, so that’s been tough with Covid-19. I would usually lap the world several times over, from San Francisco, to New York, London, Hong Kong, Australia and Singapore, as the in-person experience is a powerful thing. However with the playing field now online, and investors who usually prefer to meet in person still needing to do deals, these deals are now being done from the lounge, pants optional!
Do you think the inability to travel is going to change the way people do business in the future?
I’m a native internet entrepreneur and built 90 Seconds without any offices or personally being in any one location. I’ve lived in cities across the globe for two decades, so believe it will continue to be valued until it’s mainstream. This disruption to the world is a catalyst to force this change upon people and companies. The idea of travelling and competing for resources from roads to cafes at peak hours has always seemed like the ultimate dead weight on people’s lives socially and financially, the lost productivity is crazy and perpetual.
How do you think how people communicate and share content will change as a result of Covid-19?
Video calls, screen sharing and collaboratively editing content are the basics of building direct relationships between team members, partners and customers. This works incredibly well, and it’s about to go to the next level.
If you could give one piece of advice to SME’s looking to expand into the Asian market, what would it be?
Hire someone local so you’re building a go to market plan in market, with the market. Don’t over formulate things on your own or with your team in New Zealand, make your in market ‘local team’ and potential Asia-based customers and partners part of the process. Like New Zealand, Asian countries value relationships, but Asia also can move really fast and that can be great for business. The region has a very long way to go. Businesses in Asia are always thinking about expansion and only see an expanding market – and as an Asia Pacific nation, Kiwis can join right in.