International Expansion: How To Know When Your Business Is Ready to Go Global – Forbes

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In our technology-fueled global economy, startup success hinges not just on the rate you innovate, but the speed at which you’re able to scale your business. As the world becomes more connected and broadly-available technology enables startups to reach international markets faster than ever before, expansion beyond borders is on the radar for ambitious business leaders whose goal is rapid growth.

If you’re in a small country, international expansion becomes very important very quickly. It’s especially true in Europe, where companies expand internationally 19x faster than their American counterparts, mostly out of necessity. After all, companies in the U.S. can build billion-dollar businesses by focusing exclusively on their home market—with its population of 325 million in 50 open-border states unified by one common language and a shared history. Across the Atlantic, to reach the same number of people, European companies have no choice but to do business across borders in a continent made up of 50 distinct countries, each with their own policies, regulations, infrastructures, languages, and cultures.

Of course, successful international expansion isn’t just a matter of geography. There’s no shortage of success stories to be found on either side of the pond, from San Francisco-based Uber, which honed its regional playbook first and then exported it globally, or Stockholm-headquartered Spotify, which optimized local music preferences and personalized features to break through to 61 countries (and counting). As the world becomes more connected, there are more opportunities for companies in any corner of the world to discover new markets where they can expand both their reach and their profit margins. Yet, from where I sit, there are distinct advantages that arise when you don’t treat global expansion as an afterthought.

To be sure, going global from the get-go isn’t easy. It’s complicated and comes with hurdles —especially as you navigate them alongside the normal growing pains of scaling a startup. Building products for an international customer base and creating multicultural and multilingual brand awareness across borders adds a level of complexity to most facets of the business.  But, on the flip side, those early pains can enable earlier gains—potentially providing an edge on competitors that aren’t optimized to deal with the complex fragmentation of a global market.

But, how do you know when you’re ready to go global? This answer will vary from company to company. But, here are a few things to think about as you determine whether or not to pull the trigger on international expansion:

Go Beyond Your Gut

“Go with your gut.” It’s a piece of advice we’ve all heard at one point or another in our lives. And, when you’re first getting your business off the ground, your gut is often all you have until you build up a customer base and implement a feedback loop. But, before you decide to take your business international, you can’t just go with your gut anymore. You have to go beyond it.

The decision to extend beyond borders means a shift away from opinion-driven development to data-driven development. Rather than pushing into a new market, make sure customer demand is pulling you there. Do your homework, and make sure you have the numbers that back up the need to jump in.

Iron Out the Infrastructure

Flashy features build plenty of buzz, especially when you want to make a splashy entrance to a new market. But, at the end of the day, it’s all about function. Don’t underestimate the importance of infrastructure when you’re planning an international expansion. Business regulations, tax codes, legal standards, and other requirements differ from region-to-region. Iron them out before you make the leap.  it will save headaches for you—and your potential customers—as you get the engine going.

Localize Your Launch

You need product-market fit to succeed in a new country or region. But, that’s not the only way to ensure success. In my experience, winning over a new market oftentimes hinges on your ability to localize your strategy to fit the business climate and culture of each country you enter. That’s where the European entrepreneurial mindset is helpful.

To paraphrase Darwin, it’s not always the strongest or the smartest species that survive; it’s the one that is the most adaptable to change. Don’t assume that, just because something works well on your home turf, it will work well anywhere. Meet potential customers where they are, in the language they speak, instead of asking them to bend to fit the way you typically do business. Educate yourself on local customs, and enlist local support to assist you as you prepare to go to market. It’s an investment that will pay off over and over, no matter how many markets you reach.  

Think Big  

Don’t let your geography limit how big you think, or how far you can expand your reach. Going global from the get-go is challenging, but when you take the time to invest in infrastructure and localize your approach, you’ll be able to recognize and adapt to global complexities from the start—allowing you to tap into vast and varied business opportunities as time goes on. And that puts you in a great position, not just to win locally, but to win the world.

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