🐧 Breaking into the US market from Asia

INSIDE: International Careers, US vs Singapore vs China, Top 3 Founder Mistakes
January 14, 2024

SzeYing is the founder of Ventur-io, which builds talent connections between Asia and the US.

Previously, she helped rebuild the National University of Singapore Overseas College during Covid — particularly in New York City.

Today, in 10 minutes or less, you’ll learn:

  • 🇸🇬 How this National University of Singapore Overseas College Manager Became a Talent Bridge Between US and Asia
  • 💪 Key Habits and Actions to Build an International Career
  • 🇨🇳 Building Businesses in Singapore vs Beijing vs the US — the Must-Know Differences
  • 😨 Top 3 Mistakes Founders Make When Breaking into the US Market 


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🇺🇸 Breaking into the US market from Asia

SzeYing is the founder of Ventur-io, which builds talent connections between Asia and the US, and the former program manager of NUS Overseas College, Singapore’s premiere work-study abroad experience. Her mission is to be a multiplier, accelerating the growth of businesses and individuals alike. She thrives on hosting gatherings and weaving together diverse groups of people. With the global experiences gained from her work in Singapore, China, and the US, she's all about sharing those epic tales and connecting with others.

Tell us about your career journey going from managing programs for NUS Overseas College to helping Singapore founders & professionals enter the US market.

First, quick intro: the National University of Singapore (NUS) Overseas College program is a one-year entrepreneurship program where selected students are sent globally to intern in a startup while coming up with their business plan.

Each student have to form a group and pitch a business idea to the university, and they’ll receive seed funding to get started if their idea gets approved. 

My job as a program manager in New York City ranges from interviewing and selecting students, preparing them for job interview, mapping out their growth potential, sourcing for startups who are hiring, building workshops and mentorship program. It was a life-changing experience for me too. I unexpectedly discovered so much about myself.

In all honestly, I was hesitant about taking on this role. I felt I didn’t have the patience to deal with college students (GenZ). But having the opportunity to rebuild the program (it was shut down due to covid and we lost 90% of previous partners) in a new city I’ve never lived in is a challenge I’m excited about.

I didn’t expect this role to be so fulfilling. When students graduated and wrote me a thank you note, it felt like all the “hair-pulling moments” were worth it. It’s great to be part of someone’s growth journey. 

I took on a corporate job because my previous startup failed majestically during Covid - it’s a story for another day. I burned my savings and still have bills to pay so I chose “stability” while figuring out what’s next. I knew I wanted to build something again but I didn’t have an idea yet.

Through this role, I worked with many brilliant founder founders who told me the same things - that I’m good at identifying talents and matching them to the right role based on skillset, mindset, and growth potential. They even asked me to help them hire full-timers (beyond my day job).

I also noticed friends who are great at what they do but they’re burnt out because of “bad managers/boss”—while many great founders who struggled to hire good talents because (1) limited budget (2) lack of awareness of their early stage startup (3) insufficient time to focus on hiring.

I’ve always enjoyed connecting good people together, so I guess I stumbled into my “mission for the next stage of my life”:

Which is to connect good talent to good founders.

I left my role at NUS in May and started the talent business to connect Singapore’s tech talents to US startups.

Why Singapore? I’m starting with Singaporean because we have an exclusive work visa with the US (H1B-1) which does not require balloting, and application is open all year round with a 2-3 days processing time only. 

As the hiring market is pretty rough right now, we have pivoted to remote internships where we curate top talents from Singapore and South Korea to US startups. Students work remotely at any time of the year, not just during the summer break.

You’ve built a fascinating global career, working in Singapore, Beijing, and New York. What habits or actions did you take that helped you grow your career internationally?

To be honest, I’ve been extremely lucky to have landed my roles in Beijing and New York.

It was an accumulation of the work I’ve done previously that led me to these opportunities and I’m forever grateful for it!

If I can share my two cents on how/why it happened, here it is:

  1. Doing my best work at each moment. Before landing my first role in Beijing, I had no idea what role or industry I wanted to be in. However I knew very clearly that I wanted to work in China, so I actively put myself in projects or attended events related to China. I kept doing it for 3 years and didn’t set a timeline, I was just trusting the journey along the way. 
  2. Similarly, when the first opportunity came for New York City, I wasn’t even thinking about it. (But I had the intention to work in Silicon Valley a year before this.) The opportunity came because the hiring manager worked with me on a couple of projects in our previous role. He thought that I was the best person for the role because of the work I’ve done and the values I stand for. I was recommended for the role, interviewed, and got the offer.
  3. How you do one thing is how you do everything. People can see your work ethic and feel your passion. When an opportunity comes along, you never know who’s going to move the needle for you. So set intentions, have a general direction on where you want to go then let go of the outcome and do your best work. Trust that the journey will bring you to where you need to be. Be patient, things don’t happen overnight.
  4. Network. I was very intentional with the people I wanted to surround myself with and shaped my own experience. I went for every tech event I could find in the city for the first 2 months. I also run dinner parties to connect with good people I met. Since I can’t meet everyone for coffee individually, I decided to host dinners every month to connect with interesting people I’ve met along the way.
  5. Put yourself out there when you’re in a new city or environment. Give before you take. We have a lot more to give than we think we have.
  6. Volunteer in a project that you are passionate about. I spent some time organizing tech events in Singapore, Beijing, and New York with Startup Grind and made many friends through volunteering! Your friends are your support system when you’re living alone in a new city (shoutout to my amazing friends out there!)
  7. Be curious. When I first moved to New York, I walked everywhere to check out the streets, buildings, and shops in the city - once I walked 2 hours from my house to Chinatown. Attend different types of events, and social meet-ups. Say yes when your friends invite you to do a new activity. Go on road trips with friends you just met. Visit the museum, learn about the city/country’s history, and understand the social-political environment. Doing things not directly related to work recharges me, which helps me think better as well.

What are the biggest differences between building businesses in Singapore vs Beijing vs the US?

I’ve spent some time in China and the US, but I’m still no expert in this topic. Here are my observations based on my experience:

  • Ease of setting up an entity as a foreigner. I would say it’s pretty straightforward to incorporate a company in all 3 countries (even as a fully foreign-owned entity) but I think the struggle comes with taxation. Information is not readily available in China, while it's extremely complicated in the US, and relatively straightforward in Singapore.
  • An additional layer of challenge for China is the ability to move money out of the country. Trust me, it’s extremely painful. There are some ways to get around it, for example setting up a joint venture between a Singapore & Chinese company (since the two countries have strong bilateral and business partnerships). I’m no expert in this, but happy to chat more separately offline (: 
  • Localization. It’s crucial to localize in every country but China is a different beast altogether. I would say there are two parts to localization. 
  • First, it’s product localization - China has its ecosystem for everything from web browsers to payment systems to e-commerce. It’s very insulated and big enough to be. Plus, the language difference and, more importantly, the UI/UX is pretty different. If you observe the e-commerce apps, the Chinese consumers are used to a certain way of display, aesthetics, and user flow. For instance, less white spaces to prioritize functionality - instead, they prefer a layout where everything is on the first screen/webpage they visit.
  • Second, it’s the people localization - To date, we have not seen a single successful major company that is fully foreign-owned. To even lift off from the ground, you need at least one local partner/co-founder on the team who understands the Chinese consumers, manages government relations, manages the local team, and fund-raising.  The fact is that business is done in Chinese, so speak the language, and understand the cultural nuances or you’re out.
  • Cultural differences are very real. Relationships matter everywhere but we have to understand the cultural nuances. In my own experience, here is a subtle difference I observed when building relationships in each city.*
  • US: Relating to them via personal value systems and interests before talking business. Having a strong personal brand/being charismatic goes a long way.
  • China: Help them see the business win so they would want to cultivate the relationship with you. Once you win them over, they’ll be very loyal as business partners and a friend.
  • Singapore: Usually pretty transactional. Strive for a win-win situation and business gets done. The personal relationship develops over time with deeper business collaboration.

*At the end of the day, staying grounded and being yourself is still the key to building relationships.

What are the top 3 mistakes you see founders and professionals make when breaking into the US market? 

  1. Not getting professional advice for legal matters (tax & accounting) and HR (employment law differs with each state). Many international founders underestimate how cumbersome the legal processes can be in the US, they think it’s fine to just wing it along the way but the consequences are usually more costly than they think it is.
  2. Thinking that they can start penetrating the US market by engaging a distributor to handle local sales. You need to commit time and money to be in the US to understand your customers and build your own sales channel. Many companies fail because they are not localized enough. They did not do enough market research, thinking that the US is a homogenous market. 
  3. Underestimating the amount of marketing work that needs to be done. The US is a marketing-heavy market where brand awareness and alignment of values are crucial to converting new users and retaining them. 

What are counterintuitive or non-obvious advice would you give to founders and professionals looking to break into the US market?

Don’t be afraid to try. The US is a huge market. Keep testing your hypothesis because it’s always never accurate. It may seem daunting to take the first step, and yes it will be. But you’ll learn fast, fail fast, and build fast when you’re in the market. Don’t try to test the market from your home country. You have to be in the US to build relationships and understand the nuances. 

There are many great business advices on the internet, so let me share more personal advice.

Stay grounded and confident of who you are. Let’s be real, Americans are great storytellers. Many founders are charismatic and can charm you right off the bat. They seem like they got it all figured out (but most of the time, no they don’t). So don’t be intimidated or feel like you’ve to put up the same showmanship (some of it is good).

Be confident of who are you, and tell your story in your own way. We don’t have to put up a completely different persona when we are in the US. We are good enough, being ourselves - be confident of your culture, your accent, or anything different about you. Adapt and integrate but maintain your core self.

Where can we go to learn more about you?

Follow me on Linkedin, X and my website to find out more. Reach out if you’re looking for a remote role with a US startup or looking for a high quality intern.

I’ve also prepared a starter guide (101) for people who are new to SF and NYC tech ecosystem.

🌐 Beyond your borders

🛂 Most Powerful Passports in 2024. Top passports by nationalities with visa-free travel. It’s no surprise to see the US declining on the list, but I didn’t expect to see the countries at the top of the rankings! (link)

🦴 The Spinal Alignment of Business. I’m rarely impressed by business frameworks, but this one punched above its weight. I started applying this idea immediately in my projects, and now I’ve got it stuck in my head (link)

📈 Reddit: Is lump investing 100% into VOO for a retirement fund crazy right now? Say it with me: The market is often at all-time highs. In fact, data shows all-time highs are even a bullish indicator (link)

🧑‍💻 Reddit: Forgoing $900k+ FAANG income for entrepreneurship. Fascinating comments on whether or not this person should take the leap. Thanks Kirill for the share (link)

📆 How I can help

That’s all for today!

Whenever you’re ready, here’s how I can help you:

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Dexter Zhuang

Dexter is the founder of Money Abroad, a website focused on financial independence for professionals abroad. He has 10+ years of experience building products and teams at companies like Dropbox, Xendit, and startups. He's lived and worked across the US, Asia Pacific, and Latin America. His work has been featured in global publications like Business Insider, CBS, US News & World Report, and Tech in Asia. He graduated from Dartmouth College.

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