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Four Things To Consider When Taking Your Startup Global

Your startup is growing at a healthy pace and you’ve done pretty well in your domestic market. In fact, you’ve come to the point where you’re already considering expanding across the region… or even internationally.  That’s an incredible milestone, and you’re on your way to success. Congratulations!

But going international will be an entirely new ball game. When you’re running a startup with big ambitions but limited resources, you can’t afford a single misstep. If you’re wondering how to take your startup global, here’s some advice:

1. Consider your original business plan officially useless.

The first step a founder of a startup that intends to venture outside of its current markets is possibly the most important one – realize that the rules have now changed.

A different market represents a totally different business landscape. From the number of competitors (and their size) to the quality of the local talent, from the myriad of legal and governmental jurisdiction on businesses to understanding foreign exchange complications, these differences can impact on your business greatly.

Many companies large and small that has tried and failed to penetrate the massive China market, for example, largely because they couldn’t navigate through the various business challenges thrown their way by that lucrative but notoriously fickle market.

2. Localize your product.

Recognize that in order to thrive in many markets around the world, you not only need to localize your product according to market needs but your business also needs to speak their language. And we mean that literally.

In fact you’ll most certainly need to get much language translation work done, from your sales kits and your website to your instruction manuals and marketing materials. Opt for professional translators, such as EVS Translations, and most definitely stay away from free but blind (and blunt) translation tools like Google Translate.

Why? Because you need to consider cultural context as well.

Consider this example. Mitsubishi Motors named their sport utility vehicle Pajero, first introduced in 1982, after a feline cat native to Spanish-speaking Argentina… except that ‘pajero’ is also an offensive term that means ‘wanker’. While that didn’t seem to have affected sales all too much and the Pajero was marketed using different names in some other markets, it probably attracted quite a few Spanish sniggers.

Certainly you don’t want your product to be made fun of?

3. Hire strategically.

When you’re expanding your team – and you have to if you’re looking to grow and venture into different markets – it can be advantageous that your new hires are global in mindset, come from different cultural backgrounds, can speak more than one language, and have no qualms relocating (or a combination of the above).

Having someone in your team who understand the cultural nuances that’s inherent in the new market you’re targeting (which can be very different from your own) will make entering it so much easier. Pro tip: That hire can also check on language translations for cultural gaffes (see above).

You need to hire anyway, so you may as well pick the talent that most suit your expansion plans.

4. Look at finding local partners. Carefully.

But if you don’t have someone on your team who knows your target market well, one of the best ways to steer clear of trouble in a new business environment is to simply work with a local partner.

The partner can possibly come in several forms. For example, it could be someone along your value chain – a distributor, a service provider, or even a key customer – who certainly has local knowledge and also expertise in your industry.

They could be another company with products or services that complement yours, and that kind of synergy may bring something not found in that market.

Or if you’re flush with funds, you may even consider buying out a potential competitor in the market you’re entering – a quick and dirty way to get off to a running start. But make sure you find the right partner. A bad partner can torpedo your chances of success.

Of course, this is not a definitive guide when it comes to taking your startup global – there’s certainly a lot more things to learn along the way and mistakes to make. But it’s certainly a start.


Daniel Goh is the founder and chief editor of Young | Upstarts, as well as an F&B entrepreneur. Daniel has a background in public relations, and is interested in issues in entrepreneurship, small business, marketing, public relations and the online space. He can be reached at daniel [at] youngupstarts [dot] com.

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