Transitioning from a startup to a scaleup is a significant milestone for any business. It’s an indication that a company has found its product-market fit and can be profitable. Consistent growth and stability help business be robust when going global, but conquering one market does not guarantee success in another.
There’s no ‘copy and paste’ method to successfully scaling. Global expansion often means taking an expensive leap of faith into the unknown, and only 0.5 per cent of scale-ups nail the landing. But it is possible.
With the right strategy, decision-making processes, support network, vision and structure, sustainable growth in global markets can lead to significant returns, from both a financial and reputation standpoint.
Leading a business through a significant period of change is difficult and comes with growing pains, not only for teams. Scaling can be isolating for founders, but it provides an opportunity to learn from others’ experiences to soften the impact of getting boots on the ground in new markets.
With that in mind, here are three things nobody tells you when going global:
It’s a marathon, not a sprint
Growing a successful startup takes time. As a founder, to go the distance you must remember you’re running a marathon, not a series of sprints. Unlike your product development teams, working in sprints just won’t work and will only result in burnout for founders.
Entrepreneurs are easily consumed by the finish line, but part of scaling is learning to pace yourself and remain calm throughout the journey. It takes endurance and resilience – including recognising pain points early and finding solutions to build strong foundations for the future.
A marathon is a mind game as much as it is a test of physical endurance. To be successful, you must learn to master your psychology. This means getting to know your trigger points; what makes you feel stressed, anxious, motivated or productive?
Learning to not only recognise, but process your emotions better equips you to deal with the inevitable highs and lows that come with building a successful business. Identify them, and you’ll go the distance.
Test the waters before diving in
Going global is challenging for any leader, even those with experienced teams behind them.
Part of that challenge is the unknown – you can’t predict where your successful markets are until you’re there. To find out, you need to launch the product in as many markets as possible. To minimise risk, start with markets most similar to your own, and be conscious of limiting spend, operating lean and keeping constant feedback loops open with customers. This approach can be repeatedly observed in companies that land in Australia from US markets like Silicon Valley. As English-speaking, high-adopters of technology with similar cultural and social traits, Australia is viewed as a perfect ‘testing market’. Our close proximity to Asia, plus a large enough population to gain statistically significant insights, but small enough to limit spend makes us the perfect testing ground for consumer tech. When scaling, consider which markets you can leverage to do the same.
By testing the waters with a minimum viable product that’s localised to suit each market, it will soon become clear which regions are the best fit for your product. If your business fails in one, move on quickly. If it thrives in another, then you can start investing money with higher confidence in returns.
Taking this approach means you have multiple opportunities for success, and more importantly, distributes risk to safeguard your scale-up in the long run.
Of course, taking a business global is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Factors like time zones, culture, language, regulation and product type present significant challenges unique to every company. Do your research on global providers who streamline operations; GoCardless, for example, simplifies payments with direct debit meaning businesses can automatically better manage cash flows across various markets.
Learn to let go
Perfectionism is a common trait amongst entrepreneurs, and it makes sense – to build a business requires an intense level of dedication. But something they are typically not so good at is relinquishing control and asking others for help.
Long hours and huge workloads are an expectation for most founders, but there’s a fine line between working hard and overdoing it.
To avoid burnout, you must learn to lean on your team, even if you think you can do the job better. In reality, there are only a few things a founder needs to be in absolute control of – the rest can be delegated.
The best leaders are master delegators. They know there is a limit to how many hours in the day they have. Often, they’re not the best person for the job. To scale your business, you must also learn to scale time. Hire wisely to ensure your time is solely focused on doing what you do best, whether that is leading, fundraising, or setting the foundations for growth.
Make peace and become comfortable with imperfection. Get out of your control-zone, and learn to work smarter, not harder. It becomes easier with experience, but letting go is something every founder must confront head-on to see successful business growth.
- Carlos Gonzalez-Cadenas is Chief Operating Officer at GoCardless