The Ultimate Startup’s Playbook for International Expansion – AllTopStartups

What’s the best startup advice for international expansion? It’s an important question for startups. Creating a successful startup is no easy feat, and only a prospering startup will hope to expand globally. Also, startups can have a rocket start immediately after launch when winning systems are adopted.

So, to every forward-minded business person that wants to expand their startups into the international markets, but finds it hard to start, here is a guide for you. Our team of experts has helped startups to scale up their business without much hassle. Their wealth of experience and insights birthed this incredible playbook.

Inside this playbook, you will get practical steps to help you expand your business abroad and the role of building an A-team that can achieve your goal of expansion and increase your number of customers worldwide. 

Further, the playbook will expose you to interesting stories and comments from top companies such as Dropbox and Spotify, how they were able to  scale up from being startups to a global name. Also included in this playbook are some mistakes made by some companies during their startup period and how you can avoid them. With this playbook, you will literally be learning from the painful and blissful experiences of top businesses during their journey to global expansion.

Before we begin, you must understand that this playbook is the ultimate guide, and the strategies from this playbook can be adapted to suit different types of businesses. Therefore, you are advised to study this guide and evaluate the options available to you. 

Let us get started, shall we? 

Pre-expansion Planning

On an honest note, not all  businesses are designed to prosper in the global markets. Therefore, the very first detail to consider is whether your company is ready and able to expand internationally. After you’ve determined this, you can go on to determine which global market you consider suitable for your organization and wish to enter.

It is also important for you to construct a path that can be followed which will assure long-term success in your quest. This pathway is intended to provide a framework or guideline for you and your team to follow in order to maintain the brand name of your business while growing abroad and expanding  to a new location. With a structured path;

  1. Mistakes will be minimized or avoided; 
  2. Segregation of duties is made possible, making everyone more accountable and responsible
  3. Accurate decision-making will be accelerated 
  4. And, finally, the reality of launching multiple products in different markets at the same time will be realized.

Timing the expansion

Most startup advice for international expansion focus on timing. Perfect timing can make a big difference. This, however, raises the question of ‘When is the right time to expand?’ Ideas from two schools of thoughts are considered highly helpful towards deciding the perfect time to expand your business. 

1. The first school of thought advises that individuals should first launch their business or product, then allow them to peak at a level where they satisfy the customers. It emphasizes that after setting up your business in your country and growing to a desired level, you can then expand to other markets.

2. Another school of thought advises one to experiment with different markets using the strength of the internet. The internet is now a tool that startups can use to compete in the global market effectively and with little effort.

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Whether you intend to start expanding your business immediately after launch or you wish to grow for years before expansion, time remains a deciding factor. If you sense the time is right, do not wait further before making plans to expand your business.

The ultimate blueprint for global expansion

  1. Do Your Research: Carry out a strategic study on your target market(s), your prospects in such market. Clearly define and reformulate your market from a global perspective.
  2. Validation: Validate your ideas by carrying out tests such as outsourcing your business development ideas. This system is a ‘cheap’ and easy way to help you grow customers and convert prospects.
  3. Applying the ‘double-down’ strategy: This strategy is used in trading but the principle behind it can be applied to your business. It involves pushing your team remotely to affect the international expansion of your business.
  4. The product/market fit: One way to achieve this is by hiring workers on site.
  5. Compliance: Comply with the regulation by securing licenses
  6. Create an A team: You need a team of people that share your goals. You can’t get much done by working on your own.
  7. Review decisions: Learn from your playbook and correct wrong decisions. Here is where you learn from your mistakes.

Market Research

Market research is an important startup advice for international expansion. At this part you figure out what works and what does not. You conduct a study on your target markets or prospects and redefine them where necessary. Through your research, you should be able to answer questions like;

Is the new market size feasible enough? Is there some sort of synergy across the different markets? Is the competition beatable? Is there sufficient funding to make long term progress? Will the time difference be an issue? And others.

1. Validation 

One of the rationale behind why startups’ owners must do their research is for them to have a vivid picture of the market in which they wish to expand to. You must choose your market before you think of validating any ideas or opinions that you have. 

Therefore, under the validation section, be ready to:

  • Research the market: Although it is very essential that you decide on the type of market to expand to, it is usually not enough. So, careful thoughts and proper planning must be put in place to avoid expanding your business into the unknown. This could be done simply by conducting interviews with thriving business owners in your market of choice. You can also create a market survey and study customer behaviour.

Taking Spotify as a case study, one will find that they invested more time and energy in market research. And this contributed to their success and rapid breakthrough. 

  • Business Matchmaking: Another way through which one could accurately test different assumptions is by engaging in business matchmaking. Matchmaking is more than a dating term, it applies in business as well. In fact, there are special services with the sole purpose of connecting different businesses, startups and otherwise, together. They are effective at linking strategic partners, clients and investors to a business.
  • Lead generation: Generating prospects for your products is a great strategy that can help increase your sales and fast track your goal of expansion. You could generate more leads or prospects by hiring copywriters to help craft the right words to aid you in marketing your product. Also, you could hire professional services that specialize in lead generation.
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2. Applying the ‘double-down’ strategy

The thing about this blueprint for global expansion is all the steps are mutualistic and progressive. The startup advice for international expansion recommended in this guide are focused on helping you take action. So, if you have successfully followed the first and second steps, the next thing you need to do is select a remote growth team to support the company’s efforts and vision in the new expansion location.

The ‘double-down’ strategy allows an employer to hire the manager who then hires his own team. It also means you can use resources from your central team if need be. Hiring individuals who already know everything about your product/services, can help you hit things quickly and get the work up and running.

Using Dropbox as an example, one can tell they were lucky enough to make a lot of correct decisions while expanding. Also, the ‘double-down’ strategy was highly effective for them during their spread out to Dublin.

3. The product/market fit

This is the point where you hire a team on site. Getting a product/market fit is a determining step for your company expansion. It is a position of confidence and security because you are assured that a newly tested market will be well suited for your product, old and new. 

4. Compliance

There are numerous hurdles which a company aiming to expand will face. Some problems faced will depend on what country or region you are expanding to.  These challenges include:

  • Opting for a Service Provider

In places like Asia, companies are advised to hire agents who will manage all corporate affairs of the business.

Establishing or incorporating your organization in another region can take some time. It could range from a few days to a couple of months depending on the laws in place and the market response. However, the delay may also be extended if problems arise with the service provider.

In industrialized economies, data privacy is considered critically compared to emerging markets, where consumers are less concerned. Communicating with IT firms to learn how they handled rules requiring startups to set up local data storage centers is the best method to combat such risk.

5. Create an Alpha team 

The first step to this is setting up a new board in the region of expansion. This process should be seamless with the existence of a local executive team. To facilitate your business growth and expansion, the number and quality of your team matter a lot. 

Also, cultural differences must be put into consideration, and you must note the following details.

· Act as the boss you are. Avoid being a facilitator.

Your team expects a clear hierarchy. They should not just see but know who is in charge. 

· Avoid giving public feedback.

You should avoid giving feedbacks, especially those in the negative to your workers. 

· Communicate clearly

Lack of effective communication can crumble any team. Communicate with your new squad, physically and virtually; be clear with instructions you give them.

· Take cognizance of body language.

A good leader will always pay attention to the body language that their workers give. You must learn these hints and act accordingly.

· Insist on English 

Establish a ‘law’ that makes it compulsory for everyone to speak English in the workplace. This allows for easier communication and eliminates distrust.

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6. Review decisions

A business expansion abroad is not always smooth sailing as it seems. Learn to review all your decisions, keep track of your progress, and keep your playbook consistent. Give room for spontaneous decisions too especially when there is no time for a more ordered process. Also, consistently make time for an annual progress and growth review. 

Bonus: Wrong Approaches to International Expansion

A lot of companies are modern and try to be data-driven, yet they make pretty similar mistakes as regards global expansion. Below are some things that they are not doing right and how you can avoid them.

1. Starting a global expansion too soon

If you are looking for startup advice for international expansion, don’t forget what not to do. One heavy mistake that companies make and are still likely to make into the future is going into global expansion too soon without proper planning. It is essential to research and plan well as the cost of expansion will be checked. Also, they make a company proactive in combating challenges even before they arrive. 

One key thing that helped Dropbox grow massively is that it did not make the mistake of jumping into international expansion without enough planning and research.

2. Expanding into multiple markets at a time

Another mistake made by some companies is expanding into many markets at a go thereby leaving room for error. A few companies have successfully done this, but the truth remains that more companies fail at this. This is because it is indeed difficult to handle the rigors of controlling different regions-which might be opposing in every possible way-at a time.

Apart from the issue of managing numerous companies all at once, other challenges will be encountered. For instance, legal hurdles, immigration issues, licenses problems and many more are problems one might encounter. Resolving these issues could prove to be resource consuming. 

3. Expanding to increase company’s valuation

Many startups often believe that expanding their company will increase their market value. However, expansion changes little, even if it is to an entirely new geographical area. A reason is that many factors or variables contribute to ensuring an increase in valuation. So, a one-time attempt to expand to another continent might not change much for your business.


If you religiously follow our startup advice for international expansion, you are prepared for expansion overseas. With the insights we have on display in this playbook, you already have an edge over less informed people. However, you might need to carry out more research by yourself to succeed in your plans to expand.

Finally, there might be no need for you to wait for 5, 10 years before expanding your business; you just need to take full advantage of the potentials of the internet. Wehireglobally is a global PEO with excellent EOR solutions that help companies expand globally. Wehireglobally has an official presence in 180+ countries around the world and they help employers in staging safe international expansion strategies, attracting and retaining talents, managing employees’ payroll and taxes, ensuring HR compliance and 100% risk mitigation.

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