How to take your startup global on a shoestring budget

How to take your startup global on a shoestring budget

Alec Lynch is the founder and CEO of global crowdsourcing startup DesignCrowd.


If you run a startup or online business (or have an idea for one), there’s a good chance the opportunity for your venture is a global one.

However, conventional startup wisdom seems to be: start local, then go global. Focus on one market – probably your domestic market – first, get traction and think global later.

I disagree with this as a hard and fast rule. For some this is definitely the best path but for many online businesses there will be a strong case (and sometimes a necessity) to look to an international market or markets early. Here’s why.

For many online businesses, the US will be the largest and most attractive market – but it will also be a foreign market. For businesses based outside the US, it might make sense to launch or target the US or other international markets early – and in some cases from day one.

Regardless of your location, there are many large English speaking markets in the world that might be attractive. If targeting these markets remotely (using the magic that is the internet) is possible with your business, it might be lucrative to do this early (and it doesn’t mean you have to translate your website into 27 languages and learning Japanese).

This is the good news: it is possible to grow a startup in an international market remotely and with limited capital. The internet and Google et al have removed barriers to launching and growing internationally and, wherever you are based, it is now possible to launch and grow your startup in an overseas market without physically being there.

All you need is a credit card. And don’t worry, we won’t be raking up absurd charges.

At DesignCrowd, we’ve been able to grow internationally (and with some success) remotely from Australia. As background, we launched DesignCrowd in Australia in 2008 on a shoestring budget and from day one we have attempted to market DesignCrowd around the world.

Today, the business has reached great scale and 75 percent of our sales come from outside of Australia. In the last couple of years, the US has become DesignCrowd’s largest source of sales without any presence or staff on the ground. Our traction and success outside of Australia has meant that earlier this year we were able to set up a small presence and team in the US.

Whether you’re based in Sydney, San Francisco or Tel Aviv, launching your startup in an international market remotely might be an opportunity worth pursuing sooner rather than later.  Chances are you will want to do this as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Here are seven ways to grow your startup internationally (with limited capital):

1. Localize

Get a local domain name, a local phone number and ensure you accept the local currency. Over time, you can localize smaller things too – such as sample clients/testimonials from that market or marketing copy.

2. Google

Advertising online is the best way to grow your startup in foreign markets remotely. Google should be your first port of call. From validating market demand to getting your first sale – Google is your friend.

3. Partnerships

Look for partnerships with large businesses in the market you want to enter. At DesignCrowd, we’ve launched a partnership with a large online printer that spans the US, UK, Singapore and NZ which has helped us grow in all those markets.

4. Acquisitions

Acquisitions can be a great way to enter a market inorganically. It is also likely one of the more expensive routes.

We’ve acquired three US based websites such as BrandCrowd and more recently Worth1000. We paid cash for these websites, but if it makes sense you could acquire for equity.

5. Content

Content marketing (viral content, thought leadership and infographics) is a great way to grow your business in remote markets. We’ve been able to use these techniques to get lots of coverage in US publications (see Buzzfeed, Vanity Fair, TIME and MTV).

6. Thought leadership

Developing thought leadership can be a great way to promote your business around the Web. Think about what advice or knowledge you can share via presentations or articles. For us, we’ve targeted crowdsourcing and startup as our niche.

7. Build brand

Building the brand is one of the hardest things to do in a new market. Many of the above strategies will help do this but you can supercharge this with a local PR strategy.

Look to announce your launch in local markets, then look for local, relevant news (like Uber in the UK announcing “ridership was up 850 percent” in London after a strike by London taxi drivers). Find an appropriate time to make your presence known, and jump into the game while your services may be of interest to current, local events.

In a nutshell, the world is increasingly flat for startups. Whether you’re based in San Francisco or Timbuktu, launching internationally is easier than ever before, and it makes sense to do this early.

You don’t need a lot of capital or local staff to get started. With 60 percent of the world’s population still to connect to the internet, launching in international markets will only become more attractive with time.

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