On Thursday night, I had the opportunity to attend The Global Innovation Forum at the Living Social headquarters in DC. Global Innovation Forum partnered with Tech Cocktail, Ideaspace, Living Social, Intuit and eBay to host a panel of experienced entrepreneurial minds for a discussion centered around startups breaking into international markets.
The panel featured Kavita Shukla, Founder and CEO of Fenugreen, Laura Kennedy, Head of Business & Corporate Development at Living Social, Lindsey Grossman of Intuit, Pranav Vora, Founder and CEO of Hugh & Crye, and Usman Ahmed, Policy Council at eBay Inc. and was moderated by Jake Colvin of the Global Innovation Forum. Opening remarks were given by Tech Cocktail's Jen Consalvo and Yoshi Maisami of Ideaspace.
The crowd heard lots of great advice peppered with a few cautionary tales of challenges overcome. Here are a few of the standout things that startups should think about when taking their business international:
1. Be Culturally Sensitive – Research the culture of the country you're thinking about entering. Understand their culture as much as you can, especially the nuances within the specific marketplace. Living Social's Laura Kennedy stressed the importance of understanding culture when choosing your international teams (if you plan to have ground teams in foreign markets). “Understand the cultural components of the global teams. Are they passionate about the space?”
2. Find Trusted Advisors – Of course this is critical for starting up in general, but even more so if you're planning to take your startup across a few borders. Find advisors or partner with business leaders who have gone down this path before. They will have the expertise you may lack, particularly when it comes to tricky bureaucratic issues such as immigration.
3. Choose Your Markets Wisely – “Leverage foreign countries who want you.” advised Lindsey Grossman. Depending on your product or mission, some governments will actively help you, while others will not. Find the markets that are willing to work with you and are as excited about your business as you are. Some countries are more open to foreign entrepreneurs than others. For example, the United Kingdom offers an entrepreneurship visa which makes it a lot easier for startups to enter the UK than some other countries.
4. Take the Chance – “Only 4 percent of small businesses in the US are doing business across boarders,” says Usman Ahmed. A lot of this has to do with the lack of resources and infrastructure that would make it easier for startups to expand globally. While it is hard, it is not impossible. He countered the previous statistic by mentioning that 65 percent of businesses that use the eBay marketplace are still in business after four years (compared to 45 percent of businesses nationally), because of their easy access to global consumers.
Taking your startup international may be intimidating, but it could be well worth it in the end. Thousands of startups have entered international markets with great success, but having a solid strategy is key. According to Lindsey Grossman, “If you are exporting to one country, you should be exporting to ten.” In other words, once you make it work in one country, the opportunities to scale to other countries is limitless.