The creation of a successful startup is a feat unto itself. Eighty-hour work weeks, all-night coding or strategy sessions, and months or years of uncertainty all become worth it when the company transforms into a successful business that offers a valuable, appreciated, and sought-after product. Nine out of ten startups fail, so making it into the elusive 10% is a feat worth celebrating.
For many startups, a natural growth progression includes expansion into international markets. Startups from smaller countries often go global relatively quickly. Startups from countries with populations under 50 million tend to reach an international audience in about 1.4 years — twice as fast as startups from countries with populations of more than 50 million, which typically reach an international audience after about 2.8 years, according to Venture Beat.
But that doesn’t mean startups from larger countries, such as the United States, shouldn’t expand internationally. It merely means the United States offers a rich market where companies can make their fortunes without looking past US borders. International expansion provides an array of advantages and opportunities for startups to seize.
What are the benefits of global expansion for startups, and how can startups best navigate the challenges of international markets? This article outlines some of the benefits and challenges of expansion and offers tips on how to approach the transition and find success.
Even if a startup is newer or smaller, it could still have enormous global expansion potential. Here are a few signs that your company has the potential to benefit from expanding internationally:
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International expansion for startups offers a host of opportunities and benefits. Here are a few of the benefits that startups expanding internationally are likely to see:
Focusing on the home market works well for many companies because it involves less risk than international expansion. But expanding globally helps create powerful international brand recognition. When that happens, audiences all over the world become familiar with the startup and its products, which can help boost sales, drive word-of-mouth marketing, and expand potential markets even more.
Of course, one of the primary reasons startups expand internationally is to increase their revenue. With the right advance research and planning, startups can bring in substantial revenues in new markets, revenues which more than make up for the increased costs and risks of operating internationally. Successful international expansion can help startups solidify their financial footing and set themselves up for steady profits for many years to come.
The increased growth that comes along with international expansion can dramatically improve a startup’s long-term outlook. In one ambitious example, a McKinsey study found that companies that had attained 60% growth by the time their revenues had reached $100 million had an eight-times-better chance of reaching a billion dollars in revenue than companies growing by less than 20% when they reached the same milestone. But even if most startups don’t grow to become billion-dollar companies, expanding internationally helps companies grow more rapidly and improve their likelihood of long-term success.
Finding skilled workers is essential for any startup, and an international expansion provides the opportunity to access high-potential global talent pools. A flexible, qualified, and diversely-talented workforce is exactly what a startup needs to remain innovative and drive growth. As business becomes increasingly interconnected across the world, tapping into these new employment markets will help establish an edge above your competition.
During international expansion, startups can expect to face a few different obstacles:
Language barriers on the international market can lead to a host of issues, such as miscommunications and loss of nuance during essential dialogues. And though English may be the lingua franca in many areas of business, to find lasting success in international markets, most startups will have to contend with local languages as well. Doing your best to learn and communicate the local language can help you in these areas. It also demonstrates your interest in and respect for the local culture. And hiring expert translators and staff members who speak fluent English helps streamline communications.
Cultural differences can cause misunderstandings and can even cause products to miss their target in the market. In a culture that prizes tact, a brutally honest management style is unlikely to be effective. In a culture with a community focus, marketing highlighting individual achievement and worth may fall flat. Thorough research into cultural differences can help a company improve its sales and marketing strategies and provide a collegial and welcoming workplace environment.
The logistical challenges of expanding internationally can be daunting, especially at first. Startups will need reliable ways to transport their products, as well as strategies for navigating bureaucratic and legal processes such as taxation, rules and regulations, banking, and more. And startups may not always have sufficient staff to tackle these challenges. But making sure they have experienced, knowledgeable teams in place to handle logistical issues is one way startups can help themselves succeed in global markets.
It’s often helpful if at least one member of the startup has experience in starting and running another successful company. Startup veterans provide invaluable guidance along what can sometimes be a grueling and bumpy road. Startups with all-new members can flourish, of course, but it’s beneficial to seek advice from experienced mentors, especially to navigate the complexities of international markets. Startups with mentors grow 3.5 times faster and raise seven times more money than startups without them.
Marketing issues in international markets are often closely aligned with language and cultural barriers. Techniques that work persuasively in one market may seem overbearing in another, or the values to which a specific marketing strategy appeals may resonate hollowly in other markets. In international markets where language and culture differ from those in the home market, market research is indispensable. It allows startups to tailor their strategies to the needs and desires of their new audience.
Forbes suggested product-market mismatch as one of the primary factors that prevent startups from succeeding internationally. Many startups work feverishly to develop products that fit perfectly in their home markets only to discover they do not translate as well internationally. Yet if startups develop products with more general appeal, the products may prove uninspiring in the home market because they’re not differentiated enough to be a hit there. Startups can help themselves resolve this paradox in part by performing thorough market research and determining which potential markets share common needs. That way, they can define and tailor products to their potential markets from the beginning.
Staffing a startup office internationally comes with its own challenges. Startups expanding globally will need to handle recruiting, onboarding, training, payroll, benefits, terminations, and more, all while also trying to devote their energies to areas like sales, marketing, and research and development. Attempting to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to handle international human resources is one way to deal with this challenge and creating a subsidiary in the new market is another. But both solutions come with drawbacks. Partnering with a local employer of record is an efficient, reliable, and cost-effective way to handle staffing matters smoothly.
For the best chance of success when you expand your startup globally, follow some of these tips:
When you’re looking to expand your startup into foreign markets, do your research before making a huge
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