For founders looking to move beyond the Canadian border, it’s important to try and mitigate some of the growing pains that come with scaling globally by being prepared. You need to be able to readily identify where to expand into and when to make the leap. And for that, you need to do your research.
“Success at a global level means gathering client feedback, internalizing it, and adapting the product and services to meet those needs.”
I’m reminded of an entrepreneur friend of mine who always tells me, “if you think you’re 80 percent done, you’re probably only 20 percent done.” Even if you believe that you’re most of the way there with your market research, there are likely a number of things you haven’t considered. I’ve experienced this myself—when I was moving to London, I thought I had gathered all the advice I needed and I still ended up facing tax challenges with the business I was relocating for. It’s amazing how complex each of the moving parts can be if you don’t look at them with an outsider’s perspective.
So how can you prepare? If you’re wondering whether you’re ready to make the leap, ask yourself if you have a strong, repeatable sales process. Does 20 percent to 25 percent of your business come from international markets? Do you have the resources to hire the right team and support in a new market? If all your answers are affirmative, then it might be the right time to look towards international expansion.
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way that could help make sure you don’t face the same stumbling blocks that others have.
1. Look (and look again) before you leap
As founders research potential jurisdictions as part of their expansion strategy, it’s important to prioritize the key factors that could lead to success for the business. To start, your market research should help you understand whether there’s enough of an addressable market to drive demand for your product or service.
It’s also critical to understand the regulatory and tax environments—and whether or not they’re open to international businesses. Missteps in these areas are easy to avoid with the right level of insight, but can be detrimental to an organization’s reputation and bottom line if not navigated properly.
Ask yourself how well you understand the socioeconomic and cultural factors in that market or country. Take Japan, for instance. It has a strong currency and are willing to pay market rates for tech products. However, it has a cultural environment that expects a higher level of local presence and support.
Then there’s South Africa, which might seem easy to navigate in that it’s an English-speaking country, but presents a challenge in that they have a limited ability to pay market value for software. All these components will ultimately shape how your product or service is consumed, but also how you conduct your business in that region; so make sure you’re engaging people who have been there before for help.
2. Land with the right team
The success of your international expansion will be tied to the people you bring to the table. Make sure you have the right mix. Bring in people from your head office to represent the values of the wider team and culture. People with strong institutional knowledge that can act as an ambassador. Add to that someone with strong local knowledge and a network of connections that can help you break ground as quickly as possible.
Any new regional office should represent the culture and values that helped your head office thrive, but also have the agency to create its own identity. At Yahoo, for instance, it used to be that every office in the world had purple and gold furniture. The traditions and cultural practices of each international office could be unique, but the overall Yahoo brand identity and experience was always consistent.
3. Listen and adapt
The success of any business, whether it functions locally or at a global scale, comes down to how well it listens to its customers. Success at a global level means gathering client feedback, internalizing it, and adapting the product and services to meet those needs. Just like Starbucks and Burger King have different menu items for each jurisdiction, tech companies need to be able to tweak their product to address the needs and wants of the customers they serve in a given market.
Are you ready for this?
Expanding beyond borders is not an easy feat. It’s a process that comes with its challenges, both expected and not, and requires a willingness to learn and adapt in order to succeed. And sometimes, you can do all the research and planning you want, and it’s a strike of luck, meeting the right friend of a friend for instance, that makes it all happen.
As you start thinking about scaling your company globally, don’t forget to rely on the skills that got you to where you are now. That, combined with extensive research on your target markets and the support from the right team, will be critical components to a successful expansion strategy.
Are you a Canadian entrepreneur looking to go global? If you’re looking for insight as you navigate the challenges of scaling and expansion, get in touch at @richgadam.