A Startup's Guide To International Expansion

With the speed in which technology moves, it's important for startups to think about their international strategy from day one. For many founders, the idea of expanding operations across an ocean is terrifying but if you build a solid plan, international expansion can dramatically increase the growth of your business and the power of your brand. 

Market research & planning

Before launching internationally, the most important question founders can ask themselves is whether they have a proven business model. If your business is not sound, do not complicate operations by expanding internationally. 

Your market research should include a general overview of market strength and also a deep dive into any regulatory issues that could limit your business' growth. Will you have to change anything about your offering to adapt to the new market? Are there local partners on the ground that could help soften your landing in the new city? 

I encourage companies to gauge demand by digging into where their website visitors, newsletter subscribers, and social media followers are coming from. It's also important to take a trip to the new city to start face-to-face conversations and understand neighborhoods, public transportation, and how target users live, work, and play to gain perspective on how to structure your launch. 

Team structure & local partnerships

Over the past few years I've discussed launch strategies with a number of different companies and have experimented with the initial launch phase myself. One strategy is to move a current employee to that city to serve as General Manager so they can bring their institutional knowledge to a new market, while other companies prefer to create a team of city launchers who move from city to city every three months. 

My preferred method is to hire a local General Manager who has deep market knowledge, local connections, and is able to grasp the brand and mission of your company quickly. Employees from headquarters can visit the market to ensure brand consistency, but community partnerships are one of the more powerful tools when expanding into a new market. 

Transparency & open communication

Ensuring your remote team knows you're supporting them is also important when managing international operations. Listen to what they're saying about their market. If it goes against what has worked well for the business in the past, trust that they know their market and allow them to conduct local experiments. 

One of my favorite parts about my role at General Assembly was my weekly calls with the 14 marketing producers located all over the world. If something worked well in Sydney, the Seattle team would try it. Creating these opportunities for knowledge-sharing between markets was so important in the success of the company. 

International expansion is a big step for any business, especially startups, but with the right plan in place a successful launch of international operations is completely achievable. 

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