How to Expand Overseas (and Not Get Overwhelmed)
Entrepreneurs who want to go big often try to do it by going overseas. After all, new territory can offer a boatload of new opportunities. But it can also mean a boatload of headaches, if you're not careful. We asked members of the Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) for their best advice on heading off the common problems that come with international expansion.
Get Your Money Upfront and Your Expectations Clear
"Nothing ever works out as smoothly as you think, and timelines always get stretched out further. I would advise to collect as much payment in advance so that you can attack obstacles around currency conversion and have as many communications around setting expectations as possible, which will help ensure a successful engagement. As for permanent moves to a new country, we've established specific milestones (such as revenue targets, new opportunities, market opportunities, etc.) to help determine and define when we make the move."
--Tejune Kang, EO New York
Founder and CEO, Six Dimensions
Always Be Opportunistic
"We went to Canada first because we got an inquiry from the owner of a potential partner who was personally interested in our product. That's a very low-risk way to start. We then went to England because we found a good partner there, and the lack of language barriers made setting up a subsidiary much easier and cheaper than anywhere else in Europe. Once you establish a company and inventory in any country in the EU, selling to the rest of the EU becomes fairly cost-effective and straightforward."
--Bryan Pate, EO San Diego
Co-founder and co-president, ElliptiGO, Inc.
Seek First to Understand
"It all starts with understanding the culture. People do business with people they like, trust, and respect. Working in other countries requires even more careful planning and a sensitivity to cultural norms and relationship building. In Europe alone, their 28 countries have 24 official languages. Some countries like Austria, Germany, and Switzerland speak the same language, but differently. Don't assume your style is universal."
--Michael Ross, EO Orange County
Founder and managing partner, Altitude 7 Group
Watch Your Time Zones
"In 2012, we acquired a company in Singapore and Australia. This swept me into a life of multiple time zones. Running a business here and overseas requires strategic planning. I have a young family, so for me to be an executive, husband, and dad, I had to make sacrifices and adjustments. That means getting to work hours earlier, finishing the U.S. shift mid-afternoon, and then getting back to work at 9 p.m."
--Sam Levin, EO Philadelphia
President and CEO, MavenWire
Ask the Locals for Help
"We expanded internationally in 2008 by utilizing local volunteers from our customer list to assist us; they gave us a place to crash and provided transportation around the city. In exchange for their help, we offered our products and services. These kinds of relationships were crucial in helping with logistics, and they allowed us to get a grasp of the local customs and insights of the city."
--Nick Kho, EO Boston
CEO, Real Social Dynamics