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How to Scale a Start-Up Internationally in 5 Steps

Taking a start up from a small company in your home office, to a global spread tree of business is a tough feat, but there is a plan you can follow. Sebastian Lewis, CEO at Mettrr Technologies, provides CEO Today with expert insight into how business can make international scaling achievable.

Scaling a business internationally is as exciting as it is challenging. In addition, without a plan in place, it’s all too easy to burn through capital and destroy your team. It’s not as simple as replicating the successful model you have locally – indeed, it’s imperative to adapt to different markets – taking into account cultural differences, the competition and timing.

So how do you scale smartly and effectively? Here are 5 things to consider before going global:

  1. Find the right location and office to match your brand

Time difference is a huge factor in deciding which destination to expand to first. Europe is appealing for obvious reasons, but for somewhere with no language barrier the US (particularly the East Coast) is another great option for UK start-ups – and the time difference is manageable. In New York, it is five hours – a sizeable extension of operating hours.

Another consideration when choosing the right location is figuring out where your brand fits best contextually. For Mettrr, New York made sense because some of the best location technology companies in the world are there (e.g. Yext). Our customers are small local businesses and getting them “out there” on the internet is very important to them. There is a natural synergy between this location tech and products we want to offer customers.

  1. Build partnerships to develop local expertise

Despite the similarities between the US and UK, these two markets don’t do business in exactly the same way. Thorough research and early conversations with trusted local partners to assess the pros and cons of doing business in that area will set you in good stead for when the time comes to open up shop.

By seeking relationships with people who have local market expertise, you will fast track your understanding of tax, legal and regulatory compliance and accelerate early consumer traction and distribution. And this can start at home. For example, the London and Partners GotoGrow programme provides access to workshops, helps build contacts and organises trips to different markets to help accelerate your international growth ambitions.

  1. Grow your team on the ground

There isn’t a right or wrong way to begin expanding internationally – Google, for example, sent small teams from HQ to new regions and tasked them with hiring and growing a local team. While Uber replicated the same model around the world: a local GM, social media marketer and a driver operations manager, who then added resources as necessary.

However you do it, research business partners extensively and meet with them in person to ensure they will be able to support your growth requirements and provide a great experience for employees. Training up partners so that they understand your product inside and out is an invaluable step in expansion, and will mirror your company’s culture and philosophy around the world.

  1. Master the language and customs

Whether it’s the US or Asia, there are nuances in how markets around the world operate. That’s why it’s vital to spend time understanding local buying habits before you set a new tech idea live. The last thing you want is to come across as an outside force with little understanding of foreign market needs, local customs and regional ways of living.

This involves developing policies, procedures and playbooks that comply with local requirements and align with overall company policies. Don’t forget that even just expanding to the US may pose some language challenges – you’d be surprised what a difference colloquialism will have on your approach to customer service, for example.

  1. Get your finances in order

When scaling internationally, financial decisions in large markets are usually clear-cut. Especially if there is a substantial time difference between the countries in question. In smaller markets, however, it is often less straightforward and financial issues may prove more of a factor.

Important questions to consider from the outset are: how much does it cost to establish and maintain an operation in a particular territory, if it were to fail how punitive are the costs of closing down, and how high are the taxes? If you are choosing between two markets of a similar size, in a similar geography and both are equally as easy to penetrate, these issues usually determine where the expansion takes place first.

Ultimately, global expansion requires thorough research and patience and it isn’t without its challenges. However, with careful planning and collaboration with the right people in your desired market(s), such hurdles can be overcome and the route to success, cleared.

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