Q&A with Gao Lufeng, Founder, Chairman and CEO
Strategic acquisition and organic growth yield global leadership
Ninebot and Segway brands targeted to diverse markets
What is the scale of Ninebot’s global export business? And what strengths do you rely on for growth?
Ninebot has maintained a high annual growth rate of 300-to-400 percent, with our operations mainly covering Asia Pacific, Europe and North America. Our strengths in intellectual properties provide strong support and favorable conditions for us to expand globally. Ninebot’s strong growth has been supported by our commitment to continuously consolidating our first-mover advantages.
Ninebot’s acquisition of Segway, in 2012, extended your global reach. How do you position the two brands?
We position the two brands differently. They complement each other in target users, product types, and pricing strategies, with Ninebot being more tilted toward younger users and online channels. Segway has unique strengths in intellectual properties and Ninebot is strong in product R&D and iteration. In the western markets, we sell Ninebot products under the name “Ninebot by Segway.”
As a global player, how do you adjust for regional or country differences?
We cater to the needs of various markets by differentiating product features and by adjusting the speed of product launch. Overall, the European and North American markets are quite similar, and they are remarkably different from the Asia Pacific market. The Asia-Pacific market evolves quickly. Competitors are nimble, which requires us to move with speed. Market entry in Europe and North America moves at a slower pace. But once you enter those markets, you can steadily grow your business. The European and North American markets and the Asia Pacific market are highly complementary.
How do you ensure the effective implementation of business and brand strategies across so many country markets?
We have officers with deep experience in multinational business operations and have headquarters in three regions. This structure helps ensure our strategies and implementation respond in relevant ways to local market challenges. Before that, we had a cross-regional department responsible for providing product and strategy support for the various regions. We also have a well-structured system for integrating the three regions and two brands, which to some extent can defuse certain region-specific risks.
What challenges or difficulties has Ninebot encountered in the process of globalization?
First, Ninebot operates at a large scale and faces a high trial-and-error cost, which means that we must reduce misjudgments of market conditions. Second, while Ninebot is in a favorable position, we need to continuously solidify our advantages through constant innovation and disruptive change. Although our products enjoy high consumer acceptance in Europe and North America, market entry and channel development tend to be slower in those markets. In a way, this slowness counts as a barrier to entry.
From what other industries or product categories do you face potential pressure and competition?
In robot products, we have a large workforce and industry-leading partners. We are the world leader in terms of both products and R&D. In the short-distance transportation business, we have expanded our presence from self-balancing human transporters to all other major short-distance transportation vehicles and built up our competitive edge.
How does Ninebot’s develop its brand in overseas markets?
Our primary strategy has been to go a long way quietly, sustaining high growth before promoting our brand on a large scale. Starting next year, we will take a more proactive approach to branding, and maintain close cooperation with Google. In 2016, we established our brand management center, which has worked with Google to acquire new overseas users and engage users online. We have substantially increased our brand awareness.
How will you close the gap with benchmark brands? What is your vision for the Ninebot brand?
In the industry where we operate, we are benchmarked against Panasonic. Our products are user-oriented and we hope that one day every household in the world will have at least one Ninebot product. We hope Ninebot will offer products and solutions for all mobile transportation scenarios. Our business strategy can be summed up in three points: one, look forward to the future; two, tailor strategies to different regions and markets; and three, ride on trends.
Will negative connotations of “Made in China” impact Ninebot’s globalization?
Ninebot is not much affected by the “Made in China” label. I think the label may be significant for an industry or product category that has many competitors. But, in our product category, our products don’t face competition from products with comparable quality.
What advice would you offer Chinese brands that would like to go global and reach the level of success that Ninebot has achieved?
And after you enter an overseas market, you should make good use of global resources to optimize your costs and supply chain.
People tend to see the globalization of a brand as a daunting thing to do. Consequently, some companies act too cautiously because of scale, stage of development, and intellectual property issues. But the fact is there are many opportunities in Europe and the United States. If you take the plunge to go global, you will find that doing business in overseas markets isn’t really that difficult. My advice is to be bolder and take bigger steps.