Tech startups have brought money to nearly every part of the world. Multinational and boutique companies have the potential to grow, expand, and create jobs across national boundaries. But getting into the insanely competitive world of tech means potentially competing in real estate, social media, marketing races, and the constant battle of public opinion. Therefore, your most impactful decisions getting your business started and successful come at the beginning. Most importantly, you should consider how to grow your business beyond the place you started it, especially if your business is located in a smaller marketplace. Take some simple steps to prepare your business for growth and to execute a plan for global expansion.
Set a Global Vision
You can’t just have your laptop and an internet connection and assume your tech business will span the seven seas. You need to explicitly set out to expand beyond national, international, and continental borders. You need to start by thinking about how your service or product will connect with customers, how you will hire talented staff, and how you will set up operations in each new market. It’s important to have an overarching vision that drives your decision making. The vision should be clear and concise, and it should either be achievable in specific contexts.
This establishes a realistic, simple way of measuring progress. Because if you don’t know where you want to be in five years, how can you achieve your goals? It’s important to align your company’s goals with this vision. For instance, the most local oriented restaurant finder probably can’t expand to countries without the same restaurants. Ask yourself if your vision is best in your market, and how can you make it profitable in other markets? The answers to these questions will inform your approach to growth and give you a sense of direction as you begin to execute on your initial plan and begin to scale.
Define the Need
You have your vision, but now you need to get a hold on what purpose your company is serving. What’s the need for your product? Why should people use your service? Answering these questions requires a firm understanding of the context of your business, here in a geographical sense.
First, you should think about who your customer is and what their needs are. Identifying and defining those needs are the first steps to designing a product or service that can be taken around the world. In the most basic terms, the customer is looking for a solution to a problem they have. Some customers need a solution that’s easy to use and requires very little training. Others require a solution that’s flexible and can easily assimilate new features and functions. Some customers need a solution that’s easy to integrate with existing systems, while others need a solution that’s easy to set up and integrate with existing systems. Maybe this sounds vague, but these broad questions will allow you to take your business across countries where customers have very different versions of similar problems.
This analysis should be done as early as possible in the process of building your business. If you are creating a product or service like most tech startups, you may want to conduct an unstructured market scan. This is when you simply show up, talk to people and ask them about their needs. It’s especially helpful in the expansion phase, because you can move past tacit assumptions and get real people’s real feelings about your product. Even without a big budget for extensive market research and product development, you should at least be able to get a sense of where the market is going. This market scan will help you understand the need you are filling and the current pain points in the market.
Map the Market and the Customer
Dovetailing with a market scan, conducting other types of market research will allow you to map the customer base. Knowing who you want to expand to is a prerequisite of knowing where to expand–obviously important if you’re jumping across rivers and oceans. You need to understand the customer in their cultural context if you are to identify and satisfy their needs. The best way to do this is by conducting market research on not only who your customers are but where they are and what they do. This research should include data on age, gender, location, occupation, and income for each of your customers. It can be especially useful to buy organic website traffic if you need more data on consumers in the early stages. Make a list of the top three segments of your customer base and work to understand how to reach each segment of your customer base.
Build with a Small Team
The best way to understand the market and identify customers is to build products that address their needs. This means that you need to bring in customers from the market research phase and start building a product. It also means that you need to build a team at an early stage of your business. While your product is being developed and tested, start by building a team that can support you and your business while you are in this phase. This team should be made up of people who are committed to your vision and can see it through to completion. A dedicated, small group of likeminded people who agree on your global vision. They should have similar dreams of expansion and a genuine passion for your business. There shouldn’t be a horde of talented but disinterested coders who won’t stay motivated if the going gets tough. While building your team, you can use the market research and customer data to identify the right talent. You should start by seeking out prospective employees who have experience in building products and who can see the vision through. However, it’s important not to fall into the trap of hiring only people with experience in building products at the expense of looking for employees who can drive your business forward and help execute the vision.
Test Other Markets
Once you have a team in place and you are ready to start testing your product and refining your business, launch your product in one market. This will help you determine the best market for you based on your research and market conditions. It can be challenging for a small business to compete in a larger market, so launching in one market will help you understand how to expand your business and achieve global success. At the same time, you should test your product and make adjustments as necessary before you launch in additional markets. Dealing with design and rollout challenges are much easier in an environment you are comfortable operating in. It’s easier to keep a handle on all the moving parts. You should also continue to conduct market research–even within the market your operating in–and adjust your business operations as necessary. You may find that your initial market was not the best place to start. You may also find that you are facing competition in that market and need to find a way to differentiate your product from the others in the market. That’s okay! As long as you hedge your bets and kept enough investment money, you can learn from the mistake and move your target to another more suitable market.
Iterate and Optimize
As you begin to test other markets, you will quickly realize that different markets require different strategies and tactics. For example, one market may require a new product design and production schedules that are not feasible in other markets. A Chinese consumer base may not intuitively understand an app interface in the same way a Nigerian one would. Therefore, you should make adjustments based on market conditions and customer feedback. You should also continuously test to ensure you are making the best product possible. Since tech is often so flexible, there’s no reason to get complacent.
“If it ain’t broke, you must be fixing it already.”
One of the most important aspects of marketing your product is to constantly iterate. You should be testing your product and making adjustments based on customer feedback, market conditions, and your vision for the company. This process of iteration and optimization should really continue throughout the entire lifespan of your business.
Tech startups are now synonymous with global business. However, the vast majority of tech businesses only operate in a single country. So if you want to expand beyond your hometown and motherland, it’s important to ensure that your business is global in nature. Start by setting a global vision for your business, understanding the needs of your customers, and building with a small team. Then test your product in other markets and iterate and optimize your business as necessary. Then, like any business, you can use the data and optimized efforts to bring your particular product anywhere in the world! Who knows? If you really believe in your product, it could translate to any cultural context and become the next ubiquitous name in tech.