What I Learned Taking my Company Global
This entrepreneur discusses what it took to take his business from a team of six to thousands.
Looking back, most of my early days in business were focused on local rather than global. First operating as a six-person team above a bar in Cork, Ireland, in the early noughties, you couldn't say it felt like we were about to set the world alight.
However, as with many businesses, Voxpro started small. We found a niche in the local market and went about providing a range of business support services in what was a competitive BPO (business process outsourcing) industry. By 2007, we had made a name for ourselves regionally and had grown to a team of 300 people.
Back then, during the boom times, we were among the businesses that didn't have to concern themselves with looking overseas as a result of having strong local demand. But not long after the financial crisis hit Ireland, we were feeling the pressures of relying solely on a local market that was predominantly made up of other small- and medium-sized businesses, who themselves were feeling the pinch. It was at this juncture that we knew we had to pivot.
Around that time, we were also providing work for a number of global tech brands, the kind of partners that were proving reliable business during a difficult economic period. It turned out to be the writing on the wall -- we should focus on partnering with recession-proof companies, and that meant targeting other tech giants as our main source of business.
Having already had a respected relationship with Google, we identified an opportunity to provide customer experience (CX) and tech support for the company's enterprise products and services. Starting as a pilot program, it grew to a team of more than 500 team members over an 18-month period. Suddenly, one partnership had poured rocket fuel on our ambitions and, not long after, other lucrative partnerships followed. We were suddenly a big fish in a small pond.
That pond was Cork. And while the city and region in the southwest of Ireland is truly an amazing place to start and run a business, and one that is bursting with entrepreneurial spirit, it's not on the tip of the tongue of every Silicon Valley decision-maker when it comes to investment. In order to continue our journey of delivering exceptional CX to some of the most disruptive tech companies in the world, we had to think and act as they did -- globally.
This change of mindset would ultimately turn Voxpro from an Irish outsourcer of 300 people into a global company of almost 5,000 in the space of seven years as we opened new centers of excellence in the U.S., Europe and Asia.
Have a shared global vision.
Scaling internationally is a huge step that brings with it significant change to any organization. Not only do you need the right people who share your vision, values and ambition, but you also need to create an international mindset among them. This is critical to ensure that your team is clear about the need to embrace constant change and that it is always considering the business from an international perspective. Be transparent and provide your colleagues with an idea about how individual roles might be impacted.
Having this shared international vision is an essential ingredient in any company seeking to grow globally. At Voxpro, it wasn't an easy adjustment, but no business decision is now taken without taking a global view of the company.
Tap into your multicultural workforce.
One big difference between doing business domestically and internationally is culture. Cultural nuances in overseas markets can add real complexities to doing business. To overcome this, it's important to have the right partner on the ground. However, one approach that has also helped us along the way has been our ability to tap into our existing multicultural talent pool.
Something that we wanted from an early stage at Voxpro was to develop and harness a diverse workforce. This has given us a flexibility that many of our competitors do not possess and various staff members have successfully moved between our international offices. Indeed, a number of team members who worked in our Cork center of excellence recently played a pivotal role in helping us establish operations for the first time in their home nations.
If someone at your company -- at any level -- has valuable knowledge of a new market that you're entering, make sure to tap into that resource.
Take risks, but not before doing your homework.
Scaling across continents won't happen without taking risks, and we've made mistakes along the way. You just have to look at the likes of Walmart in Germany, Tesco in the U.S. and Japan, and McDonald's in Bolivia to see how some major companies have tried and failed to break into new markets.
Consider factors such as infrastructure quality and services (particularly in developing nations), currency exchange fluctuations, local laws and regulations and the political climate, then prepare yourself for unexpected economic swings.
We've learned from our mistakes and reaped rewards by being brave. As I often advise others in business: "Throw yourself off the cliff and assemble the airplane on the way down." Had I turned down some of the opportunities that came my way all those years ago, Voxpro would still be a one-location company.
My message is to not be afraid to have serious global ambitions, no matter where in the world you're starting from. Be it a garage in California or above a bar in Cork, when you've got the right idea, the right mindset with the right people behind you, have done your research and are ready to take risks, business has no borders or boundaries.
These days, when we use the word "local," it's only ever in reference to visiting the nearest bar. And, if there, we're usually discussing the next steps of our global journey.