If You're Expanding Your Business Globally, Don't Make This Mistake

Mar 14 2014, 11:03am CDT | by

If You're Expanding Your Business Globally, Don't Make This Mistake
Photo Credit: Forbes Business

By Ty Morse, CEOSongwhale.

When I started out as an entrepreneur, I focused my businesses on American markets. I wanted to create an American record label; a study abroad program to take Americans overseas; new technology for American products.

But as I began to develop Songwhale, I realized that what we were doing with mobile devices — like providing premium mobile content for sporting events, targeting consumers through text messages and forwarding incentives, and creating web, tablet, and mobile versions of websites — already had global relevance. So I worked hard to make connections overseas and create new business opportunities for us.

Soon enough, I found myself halfway around the world in a corporate conference room, trying to impress slick-suited potential partners with a fast-talking presentation.

Tired from the flight and still groggy from the speed at which this venture had progressed, I had to amp it up to keep myself and the audience engaged. I began bug-eyed and too loud, pointing excitedly at the big-time executives, trying to elicit energetic responses. “What do you do?” I shouted with a finger point. “What do you want?” I asked, turning it on another. I went around the room, pointing and questioning in the hopes of generating some enthusiasm. My efforts were met with reluctance and awkward silence.

After the meeting, our partners took me aside and explained that in Thailand and Japan, pointing is a disciplinary action. It’s forceful, even accusatory. While the roomful of executives knew enough to forgive me, my actions had upset a few people. They felt very weird throughout my presentation as I had pointed and, effectively, disciplined them.

After this first meeting, I realized that as a Westerner, I was often out of the loop in international territory. I couldn’t speak the language and I didn’t understand the culture. Even while I was guiding projects, I couldn’t communicate my ideas and plans through all channels.

I realized that in order to develop our international presence, we would need to ensure strong relationships in our targeted markets. If you’re thinking of branching out to another part of the world, here are some important principles to keep in mind:

  1. Build joint ventures. I brought resources and technology, and the already established companies brought infrastructure like office space and employees. We used systems already in place, saving time and money.
  2. Develop local leadership. Having infrastructure, investments and technology prepared in advance wasn’t enough. We needed people who could make things happen in our new markets. Our strong local managers became conduits, carrying our vision to the people on the ground.
  3. Network. Opportunities for expansion often come from people you haven’t met yet. An entrepreneur I met at a West Coast event knew someone working on a digital platform like ours in Japan. I reached out to him, and it turned into a viable joint venture. An employee at Nokia was using one of our services and invited us to connect with some other companies in China. We ran with that lead and developed a new product. Connections do matter.
  4. Travel. Some partnerships just can’t be created on the phone or through a teleconference. Sometimes, you have to jump on a plane — Indiana Jones style — and make your vision happen.

When you expand your business into foreign markets, there are great benefits — new ideas, new exposure, new customers and new experiences.

Even after you have built the connections, created the joint ventures, and cultivated your local leaders, you still need to recognize that you are in another market. You have to learn and adapt. I had to learn in one of those free-falling, emotionally tormenting ways that has now become an entertaining work story. But I have worked deliberately on developing new mannerisms for presentations. Instead of pointing with one finger, I now use a softer, full hand gesture to suggest “follow me” or “right this way.”

Push yourself to adapt to your audience, and expanding into international markets will become a significantly more pleasant venture for you.

Ty Morse is the CEO of Songwhale, an interactive technology company focusing on enterprise SMS solutions and Direct Response campaigns, both domestic and international. Since the company’s 2007 launch, Ty has grown Songwhale from 2 people to over 100. 

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

Source: Forbes Business


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