What Businesses With a Nontraditional Approach Must Do Differently When Expanding
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Global expansion is scary for a lot of entrepreneurs and businesses. However, for the right company and industry, it’s a must to impact the highest number of people and build a successful company -- or survive. I’ve looked at hundreds of different companies, from startups to Fortune 500s, to learn which approaches work best for a company tackling global expansion.
A successful example I saw recently came from an event discovery platform called Surkus. I’ve put on some bigger events, and the most frustrating problem I’ve encountered is the list of no-shows: Rates can range between 10 percent and 50 percent, according to most experts.
Surkus aims to connect loyalists with brands by tracking engagement -- from the moment a member walks into a venue through his social media posts to his feedback after the fact -- to give clients insights. Those metrics can impact everything from future event planning to brand positioning. It’s a nontraditional approach to events, and the brand saw an opportunity beyond the U.S.’s borders -- but it knew it had to expand properly.
Venturing off the beaten path.
Stephen George, Surkus’ CEO, said there’s a fundamental difference between traditional and nontraditional businesses: looking backward versus looking forward. “Traditional businesses are looking to dominate a given market, expand and then replicate that to build on past success,” George explains. “We’re looking at where our clients want to see us next and trying to get ahead of that.”
Surkus ventured into the Asian market due to the market’s growth and interest in integrating technology and offline experiential. George says, “Asia could eclipse the U.S. in terms of business opportunity in a matter of months.” This isn’t news to many U.S. businesses. If you look at this post shared by Ian Bremmer, you’ll see the dramatic shift from Asian markets’ steady growth over the past 50 years and its explosive growth across the past five.
When a company services bigger enterprise clients, it has to realize that many of these brands will have offices across different countries in different markets. George says that before you expand, you have to ensure that your technology is built with the ability to automate and scale, making it easy for people to use. “People don’t want to use 20 different apps just to find out what to do in different cities,” George says. “We need to be the one they immediately look at, no matter where they are. If not us, then it will be someone else. It’s a pillar of defensibility as a nontraditional business.”
Operational in multiple time zones.
Nailing operational infrastructure and support is key to preventing a global expansion flop. It’s good to set guidelines that will increase your likelihood of success. In Surkus’ case, the company evaluated different possible locations using three requirements for its strategic partners. George explains, “Too many companies look for the quickest bump in initial growth during a launch and don’t think about long-term sustainable growth in a given market. The relationships you establish can have a lasting impact on your viability in a market.”
First, it looked for partners who communicated a passionate understanding of what the brand is doing and the problem it’s solving: Do they understand why we’re in business? Then, the company evaluated whether a prospective partner had strong local ties to the community that would enable the brand to acquire the right talent and attract the right initial partners, customers and members in the market.
Finally, it determined whether the operational partner had the potential to truly lead as a brand evangelist for the company.
Businesses have to prepare to constantly adapt, at home and abroad. “Adapting doesn’t mean you necessarily have to forgo your brand or values,” George says, “ but that you care enough to think of the uniqueness of the market you’re entering.”
Nontraditional brands looking to move abroad have to consider the uniqueness of the market they’re entering -- as well as the uniqueness of their own offering. They can’t do things the way everyone else has done them, even if they’re addressing a widespread problem: They have to approach global expansion in an uncommon way to find uncommon success.