Nicholas Van Breda has been working in the technology industry for 15 years and is currently the regional vice president for Asia at US-based e-signature solution firm DocuSign. He started his career at cloud-based software company Salesforce, then moved to marketing automation software company Marketo, before joining DocuSign in 2016 at the company’s office in Australia. He relocated to Singapore in 2019 to lead the firm’s Asian business, with the mission to empower companies across Asia in improving the finalization of agreement processes.
Oasis (OS): What prompted you to move to Singapore?
Nicholas Van Breda (NB): It was quite a conscious decision for me. I’ve always believed that Singapore is a vibrant city, and had always considered moving here. We had one representative in our Singapore office at the time, and he was doing an excellent job assisting prominent customers with the digitization of all their agreements. I thought that there was a lot more we could be doing in Asia, and given it’s a key market for our growth in the Asia Pacific and Japan region, I moved to Singapore with my wife.
OS: What kind of environment and support were you looking for when you decided to move to Singapore?
NB: I wasn’t looking for a vast amount of support. I was looking to gain experience in Singapore and understand the consumer needs in greater Asia. At the time, the team at the Singapore office was really small, so it was sort of like an outpost. Despite that, my management team had been able to provide me with the resources I needed to meet important clients and get through the process. That support was enough for me.
OS: What is something you’ve learnt about cultural differences and building teams in Asia?
NB: I didn’t face many issues, but the critical thing that I learned by coming to Asia was that you can’t implement and push your ways onto people. Everyone has a unique way of doing things. The best way to build a team here is to look at the type of people you’re hiring. If you’ve got the right type of people, who are motivated and excited, and you understand what drives them on a day-to-day basis—both within and outside their job—you won’t need to worry. As long as you can motivate them towards their goals, they are going to do all the required work.
I like to lead the team based on my core values—integrity, empathy, and teamwork. Integrity is coming into the office, working with your customers and teammates, while ensuring that you’re doing the right thing even when nobody’s looking. Empathy is placing ourselves in the customer’s shoes. Particularly in today’s world, some customers are going through a tough time. We need to observe and understand customers’ struggles before deciding how to best support them in the current work environment. Lastly, teamwork is essential. If everybody is on the same page and driving towards the same goal, you’re going to be in a far better position because everyone’s headed in the same direction.
OS: How has DocuSign grown since you started leading the team in Singapore?
NB: When I was coming out here, there was not much focus on the region, and there wasn’t a huge amount of marketing investment at the time. The opportunity was that Singapore is the gateway to the rest of Asia. We were able to tap into Singapore and build the growth engine for the APAC region.
In the last two years, DocuSign has grown quite significantly, and we have been getting more investments. We are glad to prove to ourselves and everyone else that putting effort into Asia as a business was the right move. Two-thirds of the world’s population lives in this region, and it is digitizing much faster than any other area. Hence, the ability to supercharge the growth for the DocuSign Agreement Cloud software is here.
OS: Were there any skills you’ve transferred from your previous jobs that aided you in leading DocuSign in Asia?
NB: Absolutely. Salesforce was one of the first companies I joined when I moved to Australia. Going through that gave me a good foundation in understanding the entire sales process and having sales methodologies in place. My time at Marketo gave me an idea of what it is like to be a startup, as the Australia team was small. It gave me a sense of how to go from a large and well-run company to a smaller startup. We did not have all the necessary resources. We had to think fast and be creative by coming up with new ways to do things because not everything is set in stone in terms of how a process should work.
Those extensions set me up really well because DocuSign was also a startup initially. While I had not been in any leadership roles before this, all my roles have exposed me to some of the best leaders in the industry. My previous vice president taught me how to be creative, build large deals, and support your team. It was a combination of all these different companies I’ve worked for that definitely set me up for success here at DocuSign.
OS: What should multinational corporations and executives know before looking to expand their business in Asia?
NB: First, one has to understand that Asia is not just one place. It’s made up of many different countries, cultures, and belief systems. The things that might work in the US, Europe, and Australia may not necessarily work here.
Second, it is important to have a clear and defined strategy. While opportunities are absolutely immense, if you don’t have a clear focus, you can easily get distracted because there’s so much to go after over here.
Lastly, you need to be really excited about the opportunity. Asia is one of the fastest-growing regions in the world, so many companies across the region are inquiring on how they can do business faster, or digitize and automate their agreements. This is easily the biggest opportunity in the world right now. Be excited about what’s in front of you.
OS: What are your future plans for the team?
NB: Our team is growing quickly, and we are looking to have around 50 people by the end of this year. We’ve got a huge focus on Singapore, and there is so much more to do here—starting with some of the largest financial institutions and insurance companies in Singapore. We’ve also got a concerted focus on Hong Kong, the Philippines, India, and South Korea—which is going to be another big market for us. An increasing number of companies across the region have also been inquiring regularly on how to easily do business when they’re no longer necessarily working from an office. For this reason, while Singapore is still a core country for us, there will be a lot of extensions to be done outside of it.
OS: What advice would you give to someone thinking of relocating to Singapore?
NB: First, you have to understand and know why you’re moving. Have a clear and defined goal as to why you’re going somewhere. Otherwise, you’ll have a tough time. Then, immerse yourself when you’re going somewhere like Singapore. Get involved with the culture and understand the people. Enjoy local food—go out for a Kaya toast and coffee. If you relocate with the mindset that you are not staying for long, it will not be the right move. There’s so much to do in Singapore, it is a very efficient city, and you will be well looked after.