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What it takes for Australian companies to go global

- August 28, 2015 3 MIN READ

Australia has always been a little out of the way from the rest of the world to make a massive global difference. But in recent years, the world has never been more open, or more accessible for the taking, for local entrepreneurs.

Home-grown companies like Atlassian, Shoes of Prey, Bigcommerce and my own company, Xero (which hails from across the ditch in New Zealand), have taken advantage of these new opportunities, recognising the huge market potential to quickly expand their business reach. At their heart is modern technology – and most importantly, online software – that is enabling them to expand beyond our shores quicker than ever before.

Often companies who plan for international expansion from the outset – thinking of Australia as the means, rather than the goal – move into other markets earlier than their predecessors. So it’s worth looking at what qualities make them ideal for global expansion.

Outward-looking

What sets globally successful companies apart from the rest is their vision for growth and the values that drive that growth. They are unafraid of doing things differently and are constantly on the lookout for new technologies and systems that can improve and help grow their business.

While some companies expand globally in order to grow and thrive, others look offshore as a means of survival. Particularly for software companies, the Australian market is often simply too small to justify the cost to build and continually improve their product.

Companies like Atlassian, which make software development tools, and Campaign Monitor, which provides email marketing software, found that some of their earliest customers were from outside Australia. Though Xero focuses on expansion in four countries, it has customers in 180 countries around the world.

The global reach of cloud–based software meant they could sell globally from day one and they did just that. These entrepreneurs aren’t satisfied with building a product just for Australia; they’re constantly venturing to see how far they can reach, and how quickly they can get there.

Tech-savvy

Previously, companies looking to expand internationally had to establish a raft of infrastructure – IT systems, staff on the ground, payroll, HR – to even get started. They also needed to ensure global access to internal systems with on-the-ground support.

The development of new technology and cloud-based systems means a business can now expand quickly without any of that. Instead, many companies now use tools and technology to establish ways of managing their business and global growth over the internet from virtually anywhere in the world –  all they need is a connection.

They don’t need to be IT experts – most online software can be bought, configured and rolled out within a matter of minutes by anyone with a credit card and keyboard. But they do have a willingness to try new things, and constantly look for ways to become more efficient, productive and global.

The result is a business that is available around the clock and that offers employees a more flexible, productive workplace unencumbered by IT infrastructure.

Highly adaptive

It’s not uncommon for entrepreneurial global companies to plan from day one to reach international audiences. But as their assumptions and the scenarios change, so does the business plan.

Globally successful companies are those that know when to try something different. They don’t try the same thing over and over again, hoping that blind persistence will pay off – instead, they try new things and even completely change their strategy (or, in Silicon Valley parlance, ‘pivot’) in order to reach their end goal.

Adaptation can mean new products or features, a new leadership team, or even an entirely new business plan. For Xero, it was a change in the way we approached small businesses in the US market, who approach accounting advice differently to businesses in Australia and New Zealand.

While many of us are loathe to change something we’ve put our heart and soul into, that ability to recognise when something isn’t working, and what needs to change to put it back on the right path, is an important characteristic of any successful company, and especially a global one.

They are hungry

Hunger is important – it ensures that the initial enthusiasm that all business owners start out with doesn’t wane after a couple of years. Any business looking at its overseas growth potential, needs the hunger to succeed as a driver so they don’t stop at the first misstep but continue on.

Fight or flight are the alternatives that many business owners face. The globally successful ones are those that immediately choose the former option – they adapt, however many times it takes, to get to that goal.

Not all businesses are suited to global expansion, but many are. It takes tenacity, hunger and the ability to adapt, but the world is now ripe for the taking.

Image: Chris Ridd, Managing Director, Xero Australia.