Hey expats. Recently, I shared 3 popular stories of how expat entrepreneurs bootstrapped their businesses: 🤯
- $25M+ pizza chain in Vietnam
- ~$15M online therapy service in UK
- ~$1M job board for developers in Japan
Today in 10 minutes or less, you’ll learn:
- 📚️ 3 case studies of 7- and 8-figure expat entrepreneurs
- 💡 8 shared lessons on market, culture, product, and price
P.S. Like these entrepreneurship stories? Hit reply and tell me about an exciting expat business. 🙏
💡 Lessons learned from 8-figure expat entrepreneurs
📚 Three case studies
🍕 Pizza 4P’s: Pizza brand in Vietnam with 26 restaurants, Ippudo brand, cheese production, and wholesales/retail sales to 300+ stores. 4P’s = “For Peace” ($25M+ / year)
💙 Unobravo: Online therapy service with >60k patients, >2.3k psychologists, and operates in Italy & Spain ($15M net ARR)
🧑💻 Japan Dev: Job board for developers in Japan with a pay-for-successful-hire model ($960k+ / year)
🌱 How they got started
🍕 Pizza 4P’s
- In 2005, Yosuke and his good friend, Takaaki Yoshikawa, guided by good ol' Youtube, spent 6 months building a pizza oven in Yosuke's backyard in Japan.
- They hosted pizza parties and fell in love with the power of pizza to bring together strangers and create friendships.
- Years later, in 2008, they met again in Vietnam while working as a venture capitalist and film director. They caught the entrepreneurial bug and the idea of 4P’s pizza was born.
- Danila De Stefano founded Unobravo in 2016 after moving from Italy to the UK and struggling to find affordable mental health care.
- She realized many Italian expats faced the same problem, so she started offering remote psychology services to them.
- Her practice grew quickly, and she eventually hired a team of 9 psychologists.
🧑💻 Japan Dev
- Eric Turner, an American software developer, fell in love with Japan during a high school program. Eventually, he moved to Tokyo for a software career.
- While working in Japan's tech industry (which gave him culture shock initially), he started sharing progressive, globally-minded businesses on Reddit to help other expat developers break into Japan tech.
- Partnering up with his wife Manami, this project launched as Japan Dev in 2019.
🧩 How they solved key challenges
🍕 Pizza 4P’s
Lack of a fresh mozzarella cheese supplier: You need mozzarella cheese to make good pizza, so this was a big problem. No cheese craftsmen returned their calls.
How they solved:
- They learned how to make their own mozzarella cheese by watching YouTube videos and testing over 25 different milks.
- Their homemade mozzarella cheese became so popular that local hotels began placing orders. Today, mozzarella and burrata cheese sales make up over 10% of their business.
Opposition from Yosuke's wife's parents: When the couple told them about their plans to open a pizza restaurant, they said they would cut off all ties with him. Their family was descendents of a noble samurai and felt the restaurant trade was beneath them.
How they solved:
- After multiple failed attempts to appease them, they finally integrated the family crest into the company logo. Seeing how serious they were, Yosuke's wife's parents joined the line of customers.
Need for differentiation amongst stiff competition: There were many options for psychological services, so Unobravo needed to differentiate clearly from the get go.
How they solved: They differentiated in two ways:
- Matching algorithm to drive a higher patient-therapist success rate. A non-positive session is one of the top reasons for stopping usage.
- Pricing tiers to increase accessibility for younger people. As a result, the average age of patients is 33 instead of 40 like in traditional therapy.
🧑💻 Japan Dev
Not prioritizing monetization from the get-go: They faced a challenge in getting traction with employers.
How they solved:
- Switched from company list to job board. Then they shifted their business model to charge companies based on successful hires.
- Leveraged cultural shift in job hopping: In Japan, where workers work for 1 company for their entire lives, recruiters charge 30%+ of yearly salary. Recently, workers job hopped more often, so recruiters got paid more often. Hence, when selling Japan Dev, they said while they'll do less vetting, they'll charge less and only get paid upon successful hires. As a result, they signed their first clients.
Not enough candidates: After a year of no income, they realized they need to improve their marketing to attract strong developer candidates since they only got paid upon successful hires.
How they solved:
- Cold outreach alone was not enough. They invested a lot of energy and time into social, SEO, and a newsletter. Finally this enabled them to start closing deals with companies.
When you can’t find supply, become the supply (and monetize it).
- 🍕 Pizza 4P’s: When operating in new markets, you might be supply constrained. In case you can’t find a supplier with the right quality & cost, become the supplier yourself and sell to other players. Effectively you’re taking a cost, and then converting it into a revenue source.
Take advantage of cultural shifts and behavioral patterns in the market.
- 🧑💻 Japan Dev: Eric and Manami observed the shift from lifetime employment to shorter work tenures in the labor market. This made traditional recruiting cost structures look more expensive, so they exploited this window of opportunity.
- 💙 Unobravo: Danila discovered Italians overseas were heavily underserved when she moved abroad herself. There were no language-friendly therapy options available to them.
Be prepared to be culturally sensitive when making business decisions.
- 🍕 Pizza 4P’s: Wife’s parents felt the restaurant trade did not meet the status of their noble samurai heritage, which almost stopped the entrepreneurs from pursuing the business.
For user-generated content, provide the right incentives for users to create content in the first place.
- 🧑💻 Japan Dev: Employers weren’t willing to list on the job board until the founders removed employer reviews, due to their sensitivity towards how they are being perceived.
Leverage new technology shifts to enable product innovation.
- 💙 Unobravo: They took advantage of enhanced video conferencing technology, which made remote therapy sessions more competitive vs in-person therapy sessions.
Target gaps in less competitive pricing segments of the market.
- 💙 Unobravo: Dalia discovered a lack of affordable options for Italian expats (including herself), so she filled this gap. As a result, her service grew quickly to dominate this lower-priced segment, which had fewer competitors than the crowded upper tiers.
Differentiate from competitors using value-based pricing.
- 🧑💻 Japan Dev: Traditional recruiter fees (30% of salary) became very expensive as employees churned more frequently. Japan Dev successfully sold deals based on that they charged less and only got paid upon successful hires.
🌐 Beyond your borders
🇸🇬 Amidst rising rents, 7 in 10 Singapore firms ready to move expats overseas (Malaymail)
🇨🇳 Shanghai expat exodus shows ‘zero COVID’s’ enduring scars (Japantimes)
🇵🇭 Philippines is eyeing visa reforms for tourists from China, India (INQ)
🇨🇦 Canada temporary visas doubled last year as Ukrainians fled the war (ICA)
🇺🇸 Remote work trend creates risk of mortgage backed securities defaulting (FP)
🇨🇿 Czech extends ban on issuing visas to Russians and Belarusians (PM)
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