Regional Expansion. Up Close and Personal. – An interview with MING Labs
As part of our cross-border interview sessions, we’ve gathered personal insights from technology and digital investors, business owners and practitioners in Asia, across disciplines, to better understand some of the sweet spots as well as challenges in markets they have established themselves in.
Starting with China, we speak to Sebastian Mueller, partner and head of operations at global user experience and digital innovation company MING Labs.
Q: How did your journey with MING Labs come about?
It was 2011 and I was finished with my studies, after a semester abroad in Shanghai and some work and travel in Singapore and India. I had my mind set on returning to Shanghai, which is an amazing city. My time there as a student impressed me and I wanted to be part of it. That's where I met my partners and we kicked off MING Labs - three Germans in the middle of Shanghai. It was a great adventure and I enjoyed every minute of it since the very beginning.
Q: Tell us a little more about the business and what's unique about it.
We started the company as a user experience (UX) design business - that's where we saw a big trend and need in the market back then, even though none of us were designers. From the very beginning we broke the established rules of running a design company, and did it our own way. Following our entrepreneurial nature along the way by building our own product businesses, forming co-ventures with entrepreneurs and continuously adding new services. Now we are a digital innovation and transformation company - helping some of the most well-known brands globally, including, adidas, BASF, BMW, Lufthansa, Siemens, Singtel and many more.
Q: What do you think helped or was pivotal to building a successful client base in the industry you guys are in?
For us it was a combination of being unorthodox in our processes, flexible in approach and very humble in approaching new clients. We never backed down from a challenge, sometimes biting off more than we could chew - but always figured out how to get it done and delivered. That's why we were able to make multiple transformations from a UX design company with one small office to a digital innovation and transformation company with over 75 experts and 5 offices globally at present. And we are just getting started.
Q: When did MING Labs establish presence in Asia and China? What was a key driving force or trigger that made it happen?
We started in Shanghai - that was where we all met and it was our first office location. That's also one of the aspects that our company name pays tribute to. Our love for China and our roots that run deep in Shanghai. Later, we also opened an office in Singapore when I decided to move there after 5 years in Shanghai. That was mainly for personal reasons. Yet the locations we have now are working together perfectly as many of our clients are looking to work with a strong partner globally. So we can support them in China, South-East Asia, Europe and the US.
Q: Could you share a thought on how design thinking is applied best in cross-border products and services? Particularly when a lot of localisation needs to happen.
The core of Design Thinking is the human centricity. Developing empathy for the user and defining the problem from their perspective. Understanding their situation, constraints, requirements, needs, wants, motivations and fears. That makes it a very powerful tool for crossing national boundaries. Every time you create or adapt a product, the first consideration is the user. So we go out in the field, visit the people, speak with them, shadow them, try to understand them. That helps us craft impactful solutions, or adapt existing solutions to local circumstances in a way that makes sense to the local population.
Q: What has been the most interesting observation about China users/consumers or competition in the digital industry?
What I find amazing about China is their willingness to try anything new - adopting a new service, giving it a chance. The barrier to adoption is very low, allowing new tools and services to be rolled out and tested quickly, while getting feedback from a large user base and iterating at pace. New ideas are welcomed and people are very open. I love that. This is especially so in our industry where new ideas lead to quick and radical shifts in consumer behaviour and expectations. Think about how quickly ride sharing, mobile payments and bike sharing have proliferated and become part of people's lives, as if they'd always been that way.
Q: Thanks Sebastian. How about ending the note with a taster on how MING Labs has successfully helped a business in China?
One of my favourite projects was helping a German automotive company to launch their car sharing and mobility offering in the Chinese market. We started with user research in various cities, testing their existing offering with customers and understanding what Chinese users expect from such a service. Based on the generated insights, we created a product strategy that included modifying parts of the UX design and also launching a new valet feature for dense metropoles with difficult parking situations. That offering was successfully launched in 2018 and it got great feedback from the local audience because of those customisations. This is a great example of how Design Thinking and customer centricity are essential for scaling offerings globally, and these ultimately form the core of what we do at MING Labs.
To dive deeper into adapting your web or mobile products for entering China, join ZomWork and MING Labs at the PIXEL UI/UX Mixer: Web and Mobile Interface Design Considerations for the China Market on 6 March 2019. We'll be sharing about design considerations, the user research process, product-market fit, and more. This is a free event so make sure you register today!
In the meantime, get some inspiration by viewing other projects done by MING Labs and get going with your business by posting a request on ZomWork to outsource your design and development needs to experts now!