Why I Skipped My Local Market of France and Launched My Business for the Globe
I come from France. My country may be famous for great cheese and everybody knows about our love of wine, fine dining or culture, yet you rarely hear about the French business market.
There is a great startup ecosystem in France actually, yet our economic playfield is small. It's even more miniscule when compared to the worldwide playfield.
I started working in the French market at a VC fund in 2004. Since then, I’ve met countless entrepreneurs and investors who told me that the most effective way to start a business is by testing the idea in the local market first. Only then, with the concept validated this way, should you turn your attention globally.
But five years ago, I decided to do the opposite. I launched WisePops on the global market right away. I ignored all the business advice I got at the time and built the company to target worldwide customers first.
Today, my company generates a $1 million in annual revenue and continues to grow at an incredible rate. I attribute a lot of our initial success to my decision to ignore the local market focus.
The line between local and global markets got blurry.
I never saw WisePops as a French company. We operate online. Anybody could visit our site to learn about our product. We can help people regardless of their location.
With technology to communicate at an instant, service businesses can work with clients on the other side of the planet just as easily as with the business next door.
Manufacturing companies can ship products almost anywhere too. And for a digital business, the notion of the local market must, most likely, seem abstract already. It can deliver its products online, collect payments and manage every other aspect of its operations this way too.
And yet, many companies choose to ignore everywhere else but their local markets. Why?
What’s the lure of local markets?
For one, I’d imagine, many companies see a local market as a more secure option. Such a business would be operating in a familiar environment, after all. It wouldn’t have to break language or cultural barriers or comply with new laws and regulations to establish themselves there.
Superior knowledge about the market, most likely, plays a role in such decision too. Particularly, if the company’s founders have worked in the industry or have access to extensive insights about it.
And it is certainly easier to build and expand a business network in a home country.
But there is a problem with starting up in a local market only.
Local markets tend to be small. And always shy in comparison to the global opportunity. For WisePops, the difference was staggering. Even evaluating the number of relevant Google searches revealed the stark contrast. Globally, more than 680 people would look for our main product category into Google each month. In France, that number reaches just 20.
Our customer data confirms the above. France is only our sixth market, delivering only a small fraction of our revenue.
Local companies suffer from being convenient. For many customers, local business is a natural choice. Working with a company operating in your language and understanding you culture seems far easier than a global stranger.
This also means that customers don’t choose you because you’re a better vendor but out of convenience. This can hardly challenge a company to improve and grow continuously.
Targeting your local market doesn’t protect you from global competitors. In fact, I’d argue that it leaves you more exposed. The story of Trombi.com illustrates this best. Trombi.com was a French copy of Facebook built for the French customers specifically. And it worked, at least for a while.
But then, Facebook entered the French market. Look what happened (the interest in Facebook is in red, Trombi in blue):
Today, the site focuses on helping users exchange school photos with classmates.
And so, by focus on making something comfortable for a local market to use, you risk being overthrown by a bigger player. Luckily, the opposite is also true. Going global doesn’t mean that you would lose local customers. France might be a small market for WisePops, but these companies use our tool too.
What’s important, however, is that our users turn to us because of the quality of our product, not where we’re from.
What did I do to ensure customers see WisePops as a global brand from the start?
I communicated in English. When I launched WisePops, many business people I turned to for advice told me to start in France. When I revealed my intentions to go international right away, they said I should have the website in French, at least.
The advice made no sense to me. The global market communicates in English, after all. So I built our site and ran all marketing campaigns in that language.
I appreciate that such an approach might prove challenging if you can’t speak English well. But you can always hire a professional copywriter or a proofreader to write your copy for you. Or use tools like Grammarly to fine-tune what you’ve written.
I used international talent. Thinking globally allowed me to make the world my playground. I was able to leverage talent from abroad. For example, our first writer was from San Francisco. Because of this, she was able to add an American touch to our content and talk like our potential customers in the U.S. do.
Today, our remote team works from Thailand, San Francisco, Ireland, and many other places.
I talked to my international customers. Doing so allowed me to gain unique perspectives on the many ways my audience approach the problem WisePops solves.
As a result, over time, I was able to identify and understand our customers better, develop better customer segments and deliver on their expectations, boosting the WisePops’ growth further.
I admit, going global isn’t the only way to build a business. For some business, it might not even be the most effective. But it can be done. And if you’re dreaming of taking your company global at some point, think big from the start. Don’t limit yourself to the local market but hit the largest business playground, the international market. It’s well worth it.