Grab has shown what adaptation looks like in business. Source: Shutterstock

Businesses that want to grow must be ready to adapt

In the business world, success is not so much dependent on how new or ground-breaking the business model is, as it is on how companies can adapt ideas to cater to the local market.

Several Southeast Asian companies are a testament to this. Take, for example, the ride-hailing company, Grab. Instead of just ‘copy and pasting’ business models of companies such as Uber, Grab localized its services, and repackaged it in a way that appealed to local customers. Uber itself had attempted to penetrate the local market, but failed because it couldn’t adapt.

Tech Wire Asia spoke to Sharmeen Looi, an independent consultant who co-founded ShopBack Malaysia in 2015, and current consultant for, on how businesses can take models, and replicate them for local markets. Looi is a good authority here; ShopBack is an online loyalty program that drew inspiration from cashback initiatives that originated from the West.

Looi emphasized that there is no one-size-fits-all business strategy, and replicating business models requires customization.

The key to good customization, noted Looi, is to be able to listen to customers, and innovate accordingly. Using ShopBack as an example, Looi said that “Structural adaptation wise, there is always a limit on what businesses can do to fit the market. So it was important that we listened to the customers, and grow our strategies from there.”

“We knew we had to get our customers to understand what ShopBack offers is beyond the conventional thinking of online shopping, where a customer buys something online and gets some rewards. So, we’ve extended our product to other categories of purchases that you can find online, including travel and dining. We also use customer insights to make the right promotional strategy and stay relevant.”

Complacency should never be allowed to set in. Businesses should keep pace, instead of playing catch up with the market. Expanding their business ‘as it is’ will not be enough – horizons must be widened, new markets analyzed, and new business offerings extended to the customer.

Not from a tech background herself, Looi believes that it does not take being a ‘techie’ to be able to succeed in a tech business. Teams must comprise skills that fall across a spectrum of competencies.

“You need expertise in different areas. Forming a good team is crucial, there is no place for selfishness in business: get industry experts involved, and be an enabler […] hire people that are better than you.”

On why legacy businesses might be falling behind in markets they used to dominate, Looi said that often they are not customer-centric. To be customer-centric, an organization would have to be in the know of how disruption is happening in the industry.

“Organizational structure-wise, there is not much need for change. But legacy businesses need to be more open, stay relevant, and adapt to the increasingly digital market”.

Indeed, it does not take someone with an MBA or a tech degree to make a tech business profitable.

What it takes is to be sensitive to emerging market trends, have an open mind, and have the courage to constantly reassess the adaptions needed to make a business viable in its market.