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How Southeast Asian Start-ups Can Do Things Fast and Well

It doesn’t always have to be a choice between one or the other

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BY Marishka M. Cabrera - 07 Dec 2016

southeast asian startups

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

There is the perception that when you want things done well, you have to take your time. But founders know all too well that the start-up world is one that rarely waits. So how can Southeast Asian entrepreneurs do things quickly, but at the same time of high quality?

An article from the Harvard Business Review by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman identifies the most differentiating behaviors of people who worked both fast and well. The authors analyzed a data set with information on over 75,000 organizational leaders.

How are these leaders able to combine these two leadership goals? Here are four traits:


1. They give clear directions

Leaders should be able to provide their teams a clear strategic perspective, which means having a clear vision and direction for the organization. “They were effective at defining that perspective and then sharing their insights with others so the strategy could be translated into challenging, meaningful goals and objectives,” the article says.  

In addition, the leaders included in the research also set high standards so that others knew exactly what they meant by high quality work.


2. They are not afraid of change

Zenger and Folkman’s research suggests that those who were “slow” and produced “poor quality” work were also the ones who resisted change. On the contrary, speedy leaders who produced high quality output were “champions of change.”

Shannon Kalayanamitr, co-founder and CMO of female-focused e-commerce site Orami, is not one to fear change. When Moxy, the start-up she founded in Thailand, underwent a merger with Indonesia’s Bilna, Kalayanamitr admits that it was hard to find a common vision for two countries that were so culturally different. Employees were concerned about losing their jobs, having a new boss, changing their scope of work, and even moving into a bigger office in a different area of Jakarta.

But Kalayanamitr, along with the management team, focused on internal communications to make sure everybody had the same goal, enabling the company’s smooth transition.


3. They know how to inspire and motivate others

The most effective leaders know how to inspire and motivate others. Direct reports of effective leaders felt that they were on a mission, while those who worked under uninspiring leaders felt that it was just a job and they work for their pay.

JP Bisson, founder and CEO of, an online platform that matches borrowers with lending institutions, shares in an Inc. Southeast Asia story that for him, the most loyal and hardworking employees work for companies that believe in a bigger mission. In other words, they are not only there to make money.

He says their sense of mission is to make lending more accessible to Filipinos and to get rid of loan sharking in the Philippines. He realizes that people are becoming more in tune with the impact they create; hence he makes sure that this message clearly comes across within the organization.


4. They consider external perspectives

Leaders who are focused only on internal organizational problems “tended to miss big shifts in the environment and customer’s preferences.” This can affect the way leaders prepare for up and coming trends and changing mindsets early on.

Co-founders Ashwin Jeyapalasingam and Viren Doshi capitalized on the inevitable when they created online bus-booking platform CatchThatBus. They saw the problems faced by many Malaysians—manual bookings, arbitrary price mark-ups, and bad customer experience—and figured out a way to make bus transport more convenient and efficient.

This trait is also helpful when dealing with conflict among co-founders. Vinnie Lauria, founding partner at Golden Gate Ventures, says in an Inc. Southeast Asia story, “Sometimes, you can’t talk to your co-founder about something, and it may be difficult to even approach your investors, so the best thing is to talk to other co-founders like yourself.” He adds that they are probably going through the same ups and downs.

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