The most frequently asked question I get from startups is, “When does it make sense for a startup to go global?”
Ever since TechCrunch’s Welcome to the unicorn club post, going global has become a critical milestone for would-be unicorns.
Even though TechCrunch’s original post is US-centric, six months later Startup Management provided a more globally comprehensive perspective that showcases non-US founded startups like Prezi who have achieved or are on their way to unicorn status.
For many startups around the world, “going global” is no longer a question of if but when. A generalised answer to the timing of this move is impossible, and yet there are some important factors to think about when you’re on the topic of going global:
1. In the app and SaaS worlds, you’re global from day one, so you need to reframe the question.
2. Does your product/service need to be modified (beyond language localisation) to address a global need? If so, consider the importance of focus and read Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm.
3. What is the operational impact of “going global?” Operational requirements differ vastly depending on the product/service. If local offices and employees are required, re-read Crossing the Chasm.
Caution aside, the global marketplace is obviously appealing on many levels. If you believe it’s a part of your future, lay the groundwork:
Calculate international operational costs
Are you legally structured for international operations? Do you need a global payments system that enables local currency pricing and local payment options? Is language localisation required? Do you need local PR? Do you need local employees? Do you need local resellers? Do you need a physical office in the market?
Plan for language localisation
What are the first languages you’d localise in? (Before localising in a particular language, do a full ROI analysis. In some countries—northern Europe comes to mind—English-only products/services may be fine). How much translation is required—product UI, marcomm, learn/support materials? Is local-language support required? What would it take to establish translation process/infrastructure?
Make marketing programs global from the beginning
When I started at Prezi four years ago, we had just over a million users (we now have nearly 60 million). One of the first things I did as Head of Marketing was to create two market expansion programs: our educational Ambassador program and our Experts program, a “certification” program for independent Prezi design and training professionals. As we hadn’t yet “gone global,” it was tempting to make these US-only. I usually opt for simplicity, but this time I didn’t. Now, these programs are cornerstones of our global expansion strategy.
When you do decide to go global, go slowly
If you’re non-US tech, some kind of presence in Silicon Valley is still a must, even if it’s limited to an experienced PR agency. If your product/service is a fit for Latin America, consider localising in Spanish first. Latin America is a large, mostly uniform market where you can quickly see the direct impact of your efforts. If Spanish takes, follow with Portuguese. The Brazilian market continues to evolve rapidly. Finally, Australia and New Zealand is an ideal market for beta testing and for media that halos globally to other English-speaking markets, including the US.
Going global requires a shift in mindset
Do you and your employees know the local/international breakdown of your KPIs? Does your press page include global media or is it dominated by local coverage? Do you understand how adoption and usage patterns vary globally?
Seeding this mindset shift may require a forcing function. For example, Prezi was founded in Hungary, has its biggest office in Budapest, and most of the employees are Hungarian. Despite this, we didn’t immediately localise in Hungarian (in fact it was the seventh localisation). Why? Sure, Hungary’s a small market, but we are Hungarian. Still, we wanted to set our sights on the global forest without being distracted by the local trees. We wanted to seed a global mindset.
Drew Banks is head of international at Prezi.
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