My first taste of international business came over three pints of Guinness at 11AM on a Sunday. My startup co-founder and I were meeting with a globetrotting British consultant, trying to keep up with his routine liquid brunches at a waterside café in Singapore — more than 8,000 miles from our San Francisco startup office.
We formed a partnership and used his relationships with Singapore-based managers of U.S. corporations that we couldn’t even get connected to in the Silicon Valley, right down the road from us. Suddenly, our small startup had a P&L that started to show more “P” when it had been awash in “L.”
Before this success, we had once fallen prey to the customer roadmap so many follow:
- Silicon Valley In-Crowd – Trying to be the newest hot startup, explaining your concept as Airbnb/Snapchat/Uber/Nest for (insert your target market here).
- Yanks – Going for the wider U.S. market. Your numerous competitors do the same, fighting for 10 percent of the world’s Web users and 5 percent of the world’s mobile users.
- Everyone Else – Expanding to international markets three or more years after you started your company.
I recommend adding international markets as a target audience much earlier, especially if you’re a digitally-delivered product or service. I now help run Sparked, a SaaS-based customer retention and engagement company. The following tips have created a lucrative foreign revenue stream for us. We now do as much business overseas as we do in the U.S., and have “British Accent Happy Hour” every Thursday.
1. Run an ad test. If you’re running online ads, going beyond the U.S. is simple and results are immediate. Here are three groups that nearly double your U.S.-based market size:
- English Speakers. Test English-speaking countries with consumer and business markets similar to the U.S. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Singapore and the UK combined have 130 million web users and 204 million mobile subscriptions.
- The Nordics. English fluency is approximately 80 percent among the the 22 million web users and 25 million mobile subscriptions in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland.
- India. English-speaking Indians add another 20 million web users and 90 million mobile subscriptions.
2. Distinguish geographical needs. I once ran several international ads for a B2B SaaS product, and then used a fun survey on our landing page featuring a chia pet, a magic genie and a mad lib to get a huge response rate. With all the data we got from respondents, we identified key needs per country, which then helped us customize marketing and outreach campaigns for each one.
3. Customize content marketing. After including a “global” section in my last three branded infographics at Sparked, we noticed extensive sharing and increased leads from the countries cited in each, and especially India, Japan, England, Germany and Italy.
4. Let analytics guide you. Services like Google Analytics tell you which countries your visitors are coming from. See which groups drive opportunistic traffic, how much time they spend on the site, what they look at, etc.
We found that South Africans particularly liked two specific product features. Singaporeans spent more time on the pricing options page. Australians were quick to directly request more information. This helped us tailor communication for each audience.
Foreign focus has helped numerous startups. WhatsApp co-founders, Brian Acton and Jan Koum, amassed approximately 400 million foreign users and sold to Facebook for $19 billion. Frontback’s global reach saved the company and won them Apple’s endorsement. Viki moved from the U.S. to Singapore and was snapped up for $200 million by a Japanese company. QuitBit went from a U.S. to a Chinese accelerator and now has more foreign customers than U.S. customers. Dave McClure has doubled down on startup globalization with Geeks on a Plane, pushing entrepreneurs and investors to think global. The movement is on.
The tips above have made Sparked a player overseas. My business partner and I have enjoyed trips around the world, making deals in Sydney, Singapore, London, Mumbai and Cape Town. Don’t be the manager who misses the boat (or plane). If you quickly and effectively expand your horizons, you may suddenly face the welcoming onslaught of new users, revenue streams and a fun life of globetrotting.
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