International Expansion's 'Bad Name'

Ed Marsh | Aug 31, 2011

"International Expansion can happen almost by accident"

No!  John, say it ain't so!  I shouldn't shoot the messenger, and after all you probably know from my frequent reference to "accidental exporters" that I fully concur.

But who is "John" you ask?  I recently came across a wonderful series of three blog postings by John O'Farrell (of Andreesson Horowitz) in Fast Company.  The articles can be found here:

Part 1 - Building the Global Startup

Part 2 - Get Yourself A Global Strategy

Part 3 - A Roadmap to Success in International Expansion

Voice of Experience

Being a software focused VC he comes at the topic from a software angle.  Some of the information has to do with tweaking code - and that may or may not be relevant to your business.  But don't get lost in the weeds.  The bulk of his message is broadly applicable, spot on, and clearly based (his confirming anecdotes aside) on having actually "done it."

Rather than paraphrase John's articles, I have captured several quotes below.  And seriously, use the links above to read the articles.

    • "the American entrepreneur is born with a silver spoon in his mouth.  He has the luxury of a massive home market -- 300 million affluent consumers, 30 million businesses, one language, one currency, on culture, one legal system -- from sea to shining sea.  Initially that's a huge advantage....On the other hand, that huge starting advantage can become a liability when it comes time to expand internationally."

    • "start talking and acting as a future global leader....Make the company's mission explicitly global from the outset."

    • "consider making international....and localization experience mandatory"

    • "International expansion can happen almost by accident...but that rarely turns out well.  The markets you end up in turn out to have limited potential...commitments get missed, or tensions arise....All of a sudden, international expansion has a bad name.  It doesn't have to be like that.  On the contrary, going global can be highly rewarding for everyone if it's deliberate and strategic.  Before you make your first move overseas, you should have an explicit, well-communicated, company wide international strategy"

    • "What countries to focus on, and in what order, is perhaps your most important decision.....Sometimes fairly arcane factors can make one market much more attractive than another....Competition will almost certainly be a criterion, as will product fit:  Your product may work with minimal changes in some countries, while requiring months of development work for others."

    • "Naturally, analysis doesn't take the place of judgement -- it just supplements it.  You may decide to postpone entry into a market that looks good on the spreadsheet because you believe the company isn't ready or the risk is too high."

    • "Product need product requirements and a product plan for every market you're going to enter"

    • "By now your undoubtedly thinking: I'm working 16 hours a day, and so is my team--who's going to do all of this new work?"

    • "In any company...there are far more things to be done than time or resources to do them...Taking the company international is a long-term project that demands sustained effort.  Your international aspirations will go unfulfilled unless you start with an explicit strategy....led by (someone) with the ability, authority and time to pursue the international business."

    • "Down the road a year or two, once the international business is established, you may decide to appoint a worldwide VP of Sales to run it, or in some cases create a separate International Division...I recommend giving the initial responsibility to someone on your team (who doesn't have responsibility for the US) if the core business is still heavily focus on the US Market.  You don't want quarterly bookings to suffer, or your fledgling global strategy to get hurt by short-term ales pressures, so you should probably not give the role to your VP of Sales, even if she really wants it."

    • "Idelaly you want someone wiht international experience...(and) given the time demands, this person shouldn't have day-to-day operation repsonsibilities that could suffer."

    • "Your international strategy should be the road-map that guides the whole company's pursuit and support of the global opportunity over the next 3-5 years."

    • "Make it clear that becoming global is a critical priority for you, and participate actively in the process....Don't let it be an academic 'staff exercise'!"

Strategically Conceived and Properly Executed

That's really the premise of the Consilium Method.  You have heard stories, or even experienced yourself, the frustration that accompanies an abandoned, half hearted or poorly planned effort at internationalization.  With Consilium as your partner you will find a resource which not only speaks to the demands on your stretched resources (which John addresses above and you have read about here earlier) but brings a depth of real-world "on the ground" international experience to crafting your strategy.