You Don’t Know Anything About Other Countries

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post written by Christian Springub, co-founder of Jimdo, a DIY website creator. Since Jimdo launched in 2007, it has grown into an international company fully supporting 11 languages and operating successfully from offices in Hamburg, San Francisco, Tokyo, and Shanghai. In his guest post Christian talks about internationalization and how to avoid failure. You can read more from Christian on his 3Founders blog or follow him on Twitter.

In today’s fast-paced and global tech world, internationalization is often on the minds of entrepreneurs and CEOs. If done correctly, it’s a great step that will make your business thrive on a global scale. However, there are a few essential insights an entrepreneur/CEO needs to break into a new country successfully. This is both easier and harder than you think it is. Easier, because you’ve already built up your business in one market. Harder, because what you don’t know how to do, you really don’t know. And there’s no faking it – examples of internationalization gone wrong are a dime a dozen (think “All Your Base Are Belong To Us” or i18nguy). If you’re seriously considering venturing beyond your core domestic audience, make sure you cover your bases and internalize these lessons.

You don’t know anything about other countries

This is the first and most crucial step every company must take before going international: admit you have no clue how other markets and countries function. Convincing yourself otherwise will set you up for failure. No translation agency can help you and no two-week vacation will give you the necessary insight to understand the people who live there. Once you accept this truth and what it means for your strategy, you’re ready to face the consequences—get a local to help you.

Quick quiz: where do people in Taiwan go to pay their utility bills? 1 If you don’t know the answer to this (and a lot more), you’ll need a Taiwanese native to help you break into the market! Someone from a country is an expert in its language, culture, and traditions. They can help you successfully enter a market by providing indispensable knowledge. If you choose to go it alone, you’re sabotaging your expansion from the very start.

Say hello to “mini” CEOs

So you found someone from Russia to help you get started there. Congratulations! Say hello to the new you. This person is your eyes and ears, so spend some time searching for the right person and fit. You need to give them your complete trust and support. Remember: you don’t know the language, you don’t understand the culture, and you have no idea how Russians think. So be supportive and get out of the way. If you’ve found the right person, you’ll feel more at ease about being “hands-off”.

Here is the first upside: If you hire the right person for the market and give them a bit of freedom, you can harness their entrepreneurial spirit and pass on that “founder passion.”

Hiring is easier than you think

The next time you go to lunch, look at the people around you. Listen to them. If you live in a large, international city, there are people from other countries living there, too. They’re there because of love, location, or pure adventure. If you offer these transplants a job they love – one where they keep their native language skills sharp and stay in touch with their roots – you’ll have a loyal ambassador for your company. Hire those people and cultivate a long-term relationship with them: your internationalization will benefit.

You will be slower

More markets mean more complexity—everywhere. It means you’ll need more people to do “less”—30 people to do what your competitors are doing with 10. It means rolling out features after translations are done. It means creating a new video in each language when you launch a new feature, not just one.

Despite the difficulties, internationalizing has advantages: if one market fails or doesn’t take off as quickly, you have others to fall back on. You’re also in a great position to share experiences from one culture or market with the others. And last but not least, it’s a hell of a lot of fun to work with a diverse set of people from different cultures. So, go ahead, be crazy and prepare yourself for the clash of cultures and remember: You don’t know anything about it.

1 The answer: people in Taiwan pay utility bills at the grocery store. Who would have thought, right?