Four mistakes startups make when going global

Startups have a lot to think about, especially when it comes to going global. There are many important aspects to think of when growing a company. Here are four common mistakes startups often make when going global.

Although these are aimed at startups, it’s not uncommon for small or even big established companies to encounter the same problems. There are always opportunities for growth, regardless of the size of the company.

Thinking they only need to think global when expanding

Many startups only think of going global once the time has come for their business to expand. A company should have its expansions in mind from the beginning when they first design, develop and set the key proposition of their product or service. This is to ensure they do not end up with a product solely created for one specific country, which is then challenging to adapt to other

For example, a company designing a pregnancy-related app, who have a vision and plan to launch globally, have identified the UK as its first test market. The risk here is that, after research has provided a clear view of potential UK areas to explore, the company would create an app solely targeted for the UK and UK (soon-to-be) parents. Developing an app with too much of a UK focus could hinder them when they are ready to launch into new markets. How so? Developing the UK app so that it is relevant/reliant on how the NHS is set up to support parents would not be applicable to countries outside the UK. When the company is ready to launch into new markets, they might come across the problem where not only does their key proposition not work in most (if not any) other countries, but also their structure, content and design are no longer relevant.

Ultimately, when it comes to going global, it's not only about finding the differences between markets, but it's crucial to find similarities between them. Why? You don’t want to have to invest effort, money and time in recreating design or code for each country. This will mean governance and maintenance costs will be kept low.

The smart way to develop a product for future globalisation is to have one ‘framework’ (which could include key business proposition and model, design, development code and content to a certain extent) that would work globally. It should be extendable, scalable and adaptable. After developing this framework, you can then find those specific things that differentiate and make your customers in each market unique. You can then apply those specific elements on top of your ‘key framework’.

Not thinking past translation

When thinking about going global, many companies think the first or only step to reaching a new market is translation. Whilst translating is obviously an important and vital part of capturing a certain market, it isn’t the first thing a company should think of when going global.

Whilst translating marketing is important, translating software, apps and websites is also crucial, this will create consistency and ensure all content is accessible.

Translating marketing should come after a company has a full understanding of their market and audience, as only then can they tailor their marketing to directly retain, promote conversion and grow in a market.

When the time comes for translating, as good as Google translate can be, it is not 100% reliable or accurate. If a customer feels a company has not bothered with translating their content correctly or has only translated a portion of it, they will go elsewhere to a company they feel caters for them.

Even hiring a translation company can come with problems. Finding a translator who understands a particular country and a specific industry is important, as translation will only be beneficial if done so in the right context. For example, different countries might use a term differently or convey something in a certain way even with the same language (e.g. Spanish for Latin America versus Spain, Mandarin in Mainland China versus Taiwan, Portuguese for Brazil versus Portugal).

Thinking market research will tell the whole cultural story

It is not only startups that think conducting market research is enough to successfully move into a market. In fact, most companies and even published articles recommend market research as the best, and usually the only way to understand a market.

The truth is, market research only shows the basic foundations of a market. It doesn’t give insights into the whole contextual story of a country, missing out key knowledge such as customer environments, countries’ economies, available resources and more, that in total show how a market is shaped. It is from these insights that a company can target their marketing to a specific audience.

Forget that they can continue to grow in countries they have already expanded in

Once a company has expanded into a country, there are still opportunities for them to expand and grow further. Many countries have subcultures that can be specifically targeted to gain more customers in a country as a whole.

Subcultures are a group within a larger culture who often have beliefs or interests at variance with those of the larger culture. Subcultures can often be a gap in the market as not all companies will take the time to understand and cater to their needs and wants in difference to the main culture in the country. Because of this, subcultures can be ideal target audiences and allow
growth for a company already established in their county.

Alternatively, if a startup originally only conducted research in a country they have already expanded into, they should reconsider gaining more knowledge on the overall story of the culture and then re-evaluate their products and business decisions. This will enhance the opportunities for growth, conversion and retention within that county.

In a nutshell

These are only four of the primary obstacles companies can face when going or thinking of going global. Every company will face different challenges at different times, each requiring unique solutions for their specific company. The better a company can anticipate these mistakes and problems, the easier and quicker they will be to rectify.