Start-ups

Tips for building a global business from the founder of billion-dollar start-up Klook

A smart phone with the travel app Klook is seen on the screen in Hong Kong.
S3studio | Getty Images News | Getty Images
A smart phone with the travel app Klook is seen on the screen in Hong Kong.

Building a business is no easy feat, much less establishing one with global appeal — but it helps to aim high.

That's exactly what Eric Gnock Fah did when he quit his finance job in 2014 to launch travel booking app, Klook. "I just wanted to start something that I could relate to and that was globally relevant," he said.

Four years on, Klook's platform is visited by more than 20 million people across 100 countries each month and it ranks as one of the few start-ups born in Hong Kong to reach the much-coveted $1 billion "unicorn" status.

Though the journey was not always easy, Gnock Fah, Klook's chief operations officer told CNBC Make It three major decisions helped him keep course and get the business to where it is today.

1. Avoid going too niche

There's a fine line between an original idea and one that's too obscure to capture consumers. If you want your business to grow on an international scale, you must ensure it has a global appeal, said Gnock Fah.

"We've stumbled on that quite a number of times," said Gnock Fah, who initially wanted his business to focus on a single market — China.

A tour guide, center right, holds a flag while introducing a location to a group of tourists during a guided walking tour hosted by Klook Travel Technology Ltd. in Hong Kong.
Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A tour guide, center right, holds a flag while introducing a location to a group of tourists during a guided walking tour hosted by Klook Travel Technology Ltd. in Hong Kong.

However, he said he soon realized that to win big, he had to make sure his strategy had global relevance. "You have to find something that's actually able to replicate if you are building a larger platform."

That meant excluding smaller, one-man-band tour guides from the platform, which he said are better suited to more niche platforms. "Of course there are other businesses where you can go very unique, but you'll be driving higher margins," Gnock Fah noted.

2. Create company culture

As your business grows, it will be tempting to focus on the major milestones, but it's important to ensure you have the essentials in place too.

That includes introducing the right structures, like a HR and legal department, and concentrating on creating a good company culture. Without that, it will become increasingly difficult to get your staff to buy into your vision and drive the business forward.

"When things grow too fast, it is very important to think about structure and powering the business internally, rather than trying to find growth from outside," said Gnock Fah.

Klook's executive team featuring David Liu, chief product officer, Bernie Xiong, chief technology officer, Anita Ngai, chief revenue officer, Eric Gnock Fah, chief operating officer, and Ethan Lin, chief executive officer. 
Klook
Klook's executive team featuring David Liu, chief product officer, Bernie Xiong, chief technology officer, Anita Ngai, chief revenue officer, Eric Gnock Fah, chief operating officer, and Ethan Lin, chief executive officer. 

"That's something we realized earlier this year when we thought 'oh, we don't have a HR, we don't have a legal team.' All of these things we took for granted when we were in larger companies, but that is something that's actually really important and powers a business," said the 31-year-old.

3. Know your investors

Whether you choose to start up on a shoestring or begin with a bang, there will come a time when you'll need to look for external capital.

Investors will be looking for good reasons to part with their cash, so you'll need to pitch hard. That means not only selling your idea but proving you're the right person to execute it.

For Gnock Fah, that was easier said than done. Coming from the finance industry, investors thought he was more of a salesman than an entrepreneur.

Eric Gnock Fah, co-founder and chief operations officer of travel platform Klook.
Klook
Eric Gnock Fah, co-founder and chief operations officer of travel platform Klook.

"I still remember there were a number of investors who, once they found out we were from a finance background, lost interest," he said. "They thought people from finance were all about putting up a good pitch-book, being a very good salesperson, but in fact they may not be very well-versed in running a business. So we had a lot of doors closed for us."

It's therefore important to ensure you strike the right tone by first building rapport with prospective investors, proving your credibility and showing what's in it for them.

Since launching four years ago, Klook has gone on to secure $300 million in funding from the likes of Sequoia China, Matrix Partners, and Goldman Sachs.

"Some people now talk to us and say that Klook has been able to raise a lot of successful fundraising rounds because we came from finance," said Gnock Fah. "Actually, a lot of people don't know that that was actually a hindrance."

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