Elias Ek has experienced many ups and downs doing business in Taiwan. But over the past 11 years, he has transitioned his telemarketing company Enspyre into a profitable business-to-business company with 40 employees.
Two years ago, Ek, who counts Oracle, eBay and General Motors among the companies he’s worked with, began writing a book so that expats wanting to do business in the country might capitalize on his experiences as a non-Taiwanese entrepreneur in Taiwan.
How to Start a Business in Taiwan is a step-by-step guide for starting up a company in Taiwan, and focuses on its economic and social culture, which Ek says can sometimes be tough to navigate.
Ek said that a start-up needs to get a few things right when it comes to employee benefits. He cited a company’s reputation, monthly salary and the Lunar New Year bonus as important factors influencing prospective employees.
“The work environment and a sense of accomplishment are important, but save the benefit money for salaries and Chinese New Year bonuses,” he said. Ek has done this, and found that his staff responded with warmth and loyalty.
In 2003, Ek’s Taiwanese wife passed away due to a congenital heart condition. He grieved, sought counseling and neglected his business for months.
“I was not in any condition to concentrate on the business but was lucky that a number of my employees picked up the workload,” he said.
Another challenge facing potential employers is the lack of internship programs at the university level, Ek said. But, he added, there’s a work around: start your own.
“All businesses should have an internship program as they can identify potential employees,” he said.
Over the past four years, Ek’s company has taken in 120 interns and hired 20 of them part time.
“I also asked the interns to blog about the internship so potential future interns can get an even better idea of the opportunity,” he said.
Ek also broached the topic of red tape in Taiwan. Expect large amounts of paperwork to acquire a loan for the start-up, he said. Once acquired, however, it becomes much easier to deal with the bureaucracy — provided you know how to present your projects in Chinese.
“From my own personal experience, small loans are hard to acquire for a start-up. But once the business is started the government does extend grants to companies for their next growth stage,” he said.
He added that government regulations are foreigner friendly and Taiwan is one of a handful of countries that allows foreigners to own 100 percent of the company without a local partner.
“The problem is the layer below, where local businesses are not aware of the scope of the regulations which are inclusive of foreigners,” he said.