Author and Editor: Yunchieh Tsou, Translator: Kevin Wang
Strictly speaking, QLL is not a new “startup” company, since it has already been operating for nine years since its founding in 2007. Yet QLL is a “new” company in that it constantly adapts to market needs with new products. Leading a team to improve education through ever newer technology: this is the mission of cofounder Lulu Yeh.
QLL’s products are centered on technological education, and the company has always sought to be at the cutting edge of the latest trends and technologies.
QLL began with apps for preschool education and language learning, with over 200 apps under its name, before establishing the app social platform QLand. However, Yeh saw that the fad for apps had begun to wane, and future challenges would lie in software services. She accordingly re-pivoted the company again, to produce their current presentation streaming service QLecture.
QLecture solves a very simple problem: with the multitude of lectures and meetings around the world every year, lecturers often lack a suitable solution to share their PPT files, and if their audiences want to keep PPT content in their notes, they need to take pictures of every slide with their smartphones, which distracts their attention.
QLecture lets lecturers upload their PPT files, which are then synced to the audiences’ devices during the lecture: audiences only need to connect their smartphones or internet browsers via a specialized link for the presentation to play out on their devices. In just two months, QLecture has drawn over 10,000 users and 130 schools to its service, with users spread across Taiwan, Hong Kong and Vietnam.
“Going international on day one”: QLL’s rich experience in international competitions
In addition to a keen sense for the latest trends, the international experience is also a key part of QLL’s corporate culture, a result of Yeh’s extrovert nature. Having worked in the fashion industry for many years, Yeh often needed to negotiation with foreign companies, and it was Yeh’s cross-cultural experiences that has led QLL to constantly take part in international competitions.
As Yeh describes her experience, “When I attended my first international meeting, I knew nobody in the room, but I had the chutzpah to go around and give everyone my name card, and introduce our services. This naturally leaves a strong impression on everybody.”
Knocking on Japan’s door at 2013 B Dash
Living up to their motto of “going international on day one”, in 2011 QLL was picked as one of the hundred best Asian technology companies by the international technology magazine Red Herring. In 2013 the company participated in the leading Japanese startup competition B Cash Camp, and received a special award by the jury panel.
This award opened up channels for QLL to cooperate with Japanese investors. With its large selection of high quality apps, and its marked impact in the realm of technological education, in 2014 QLL received joint pre-A round funding from the Japanese startup investors B Dash, Incubate Fund, and Viling Ventures, allowing QLL a chance to strike it in the Japanese market.
Yeh notes that Japan is a country with a deep-rooted sense of culture; investors will often focus on how complete a product is, how much impact it will bring, and—most importantly—the “people”. This is especially important in crossing culture barriers: even though Yeh could only communicate with Japanese investors in English, they could nevertheless feel if the person they are talking to is a good, sensible and righteous person.
Personal connections a must in Japanese market
Yeh stresses that interpersonal connections are crucial for Japan: “The Japanese are incredibly cautious; foreigners will face insurmountable hurdles if they don’t have someone to guide them through the Japanese market. If you have just one person who’s willing to introduce you to others, you basically know everyone else, from investors to other corporations to distributors.
Since QLL received investment from B Dash and Incubate Fund, they had already solved the problem of personal connections. Other Taiwanese companies, however, often forget a key issue they must face in Japan: the country is highly insulated with immense internal demand, and consumer demographics and habits are vastly different from those in Taiwan; companies will often need to adjust their products and services to cater to the special requirements of the Japanese market.
Partnerships speed up market penetration
With a population of 120 million that is aging rapidly in the world’s third largest economy, Japan’s software ecosystem has taken on a distinct look. Yeh points to the example of Evernote: to adjust to the habits of the elderly, Evernote sells its software services in physical packages much like video games, allowing the company to retain a large number of highly loyal paying subsrcibers.
Battling it out on a virtual in-app platform will not cut it in Japan: based on QLL’s own experience, Yeh recommends assistance through Japanese distributors and partners, since they understand local consumer habits better and can help eliminate problems when communicating across cultures.
As for communicating with Japanese investors, Yeh acknowledges that even she is constantly learning about cross-cultural differences and learning from her experiences. In any case, regardless of whether hail from the same country with those seeking investment, companies will always need to keep their investors updated with the latest developments, a part of maintaining good relations between investors and investees.
Furthermore, the cross-cultural aspect is not something that one should fear too much: no matter in Taiwan or in Japan, startups will always need to partner with investors.