How to take your start-up overseas: 4 tips from OneShift founder Gen George

May 23, 2014 by  
Filed under Wind Energy Tips

Deciding to copy and paste strategy from one country to another is a guaranteed recipe for disaster, says Gen George.
Photo: Michele Mossop

Just about every start-up dreams of cracking the global market. Where it once took decades to go from relative obscurity to market leader, technological advancement has compressed that time line into years, months and, in the rarest of cases, weeks. Thanks to the power of social media, word of new apps, services and gadgets travels fast, which creates an organic demand, paving the way for rapid market expansion.

But stories of meteoric and sudden international success are few and far between. There’s a fair bit of grafting to do before you can take a successful online business to overseas markets. It’s definitely not a simple case of “push the button and hey presto! you’re live” in a new location. In fact, it takes a lot of dedication, commitment and all-round support from your team to pull off a big move.

Following a successful three years of challenging the Australian recruitment industry, I decided to expand OneShift to New Zealand. After months of planning, testing, revising, negotiating, countless meetings with our board and team, multiple flights between New Zealand and OneShift’s Sydney home-base, OneShift NZ launched.

Here are four things I learnt along the way that are absolutely essential when expanding your business overseas.

1. Do your research

International expansion provides tremendous opportunities for growth, but it can be resource heavy, sucking up time, energy and funds. Start-ups particularly need to weigh up the cost benefit of taking their business overseas and make sure they’ve performed an appropriate level of due diligence before leaping head first into it. If you’re a hardware start-up, you may need to negotiate a new manufacturing partner for that region, or if you’re a service business like OneShift, it’s important to find the right distribution partners who will help boost user adoption and growth.

You might think having successfully established your brand in one country will make things easier, but, in most cases, in new countries, this amounts to nothing – it’s almost like starting up all over again. It’s tempting to throw caution to the wind, but the last thing you need is to rush things. You’ll only end up wasting money and inevitably tarnishing the brand you’ve built up.

2. One size does not fit all

It may seem obvious when expanding internationally to learn as much as you can about the local culture, but many businesses – even the big corporations such as Walmart – have failed to do so to their detriment. Walmart abandoned its eight-year run in Germany after realising its homegrown strategy of high-volume sales and low prices didn’t fit into the German culture and business regulation.

To start with, a business should hire a well-qualified local team that can provide a regional perspective and can successfully negotiate various cultural nuances. Then, you must adapt your customer service and all your communications – marketing, advertising, social media, blogs – to the local environment.

Attention to detail is important. When we decided to launch OneShift in New Zealand, we created a dedicated site that would display only jobs available in New Zealand. The last thing we wanted was to alienate New Zealand job seekers and businesses by Australian content on the site.

3. Know your competition well

Knowing your competition should be a continuing commitment from which you are constantly learning. Understanding who your competitors are, and what they are offering, helps to make what you’re offering stand out. This enables you to set your prices competitively and help respond to rival marketing campaigns with your own initiatives.

Go deeper than simply examining your competitor’s website. Check out their press coverage, marketing campaigns and social media channels to see how they engage with their customers and vice versa. Google has so many powerful tools such as Analytics, Trends, AdWords and Alerts that give you valuable, real-time information on your competitors’ every move.

Keeping tabs on your competitors is important because there’s a strong chance they’ll be monitoring your activities too. Having knowledge of their actions can help you identify their strengths and weaknesses and act accordingly.

4. Build local relationships

It’s true that social media and the internet have reduced the perceived amount of face-to-face interaction, but no matter what kind of business you may have – bricks and mortar, online, or a combination of both – establishing local relationships is vital to the success of your business in that market. Word of mouth is an invaluable measure of brand recognition.

Whether it’s partnering with other small businesses, hosting or sponsoring events in the local area – if they see you’re an active and passionate brand within the community, people will go out of their way to head online and search for your business.

Deciding to copy and paste strategy from one country to another is a guaranteed recipe for disaster. The reward for a well-executed international expansion pays off – in just over a month after launching in New Zealand, we’ve already signed up more than 1200 job seekers, and more than 300 companies – including Burger King NZ, Intercontinental Hotel, Linfox and Mitre 10 – are using OneShift to change the way they source talent.

Gen George is the founder and CEO of casual recruitment website OneShift.

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