In today’s economy, “going global” isn’t just an option; for many, it’s a prerequisite for success. Recently, Rajeev Singh was invited by the Washington Technology Industry Association to talk with entrepreneurs and other business leaders about Concur’s experience of going global. On the agenda: what lessons were learned from entering new markets and deploying internationally. In this first of three parts, Singh shares the need to learn as much as you can in one country before expanding into the next. Concur began life as a tiny software company—literally as two guys in an apartment and about as far from being global as you could imagine. I’m fairly certain that our journey was not very different from a number of other entrepreneurs out there. As entrepreneurs, we share that passion of seeing our ideas become reality, that thirst for the next big challenge and the desire to make a difference. Taking your business global certainly hits on all of those themes.
For Concur, the toughest part of our global journey was perhaps the idea of starting small. Like many entrepreneurs, I’m sure, we’re an impatient bunch and wanted to expand quickly. We had solutions, we had ambition, and we knew that we could help businesses worldwide with our products. We went into the United Kingdom. And Australia. And France. And Germany.
That became one of our first big lessons in going global. Yes, you have to start somewhere, and where you start really depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. But what we learned was that we needed to pick one country, and focus on being the best we could be there, before adding other markets to the mix. Once we figured that part out, then we could focus on doing what we do best: executing on a plan and serving our clients’ needs. I’m also sure we’re not alone in leveraging the work that we had already been doing for years for some of our multi-national U.S.-based clients. This is often the basis of how many companies first dip their toes into the global waters. We had been fortunate enough to land a number of big, multi-national clients who liked our product. So much so, they wanted their employees in places outside the U.S. to use it as well. For a small company, that’s music to your ears.
It was also a wake-up call for what was then still a rather small company. We were good at helping U.S. companies manage their expense reports. We believed (and still believe) no one does it better than us. But now there was this huge self-imposed challenge in front of us about making our products “global.” What did that mean? For us, it meant getting up to speed on the regulations that govern expense reporting in the other countries in which our clients do business. It meant localizing our software for languages and currencies. It meant translating the documentation. And tweaking the implementation plans. But it also meant understanding the IT requirements in other countries. Their data security needs. You name it, it was different.
In short, it was like starting over. And starting over is tough enough in one new location. Doing that simultaneously in several places, well, let’s just say it was a lesson learned. My advice to any small company thinking of going global is to focus on one market, get good, then move on only when that market is humming. Once it is, you’ll be able to leverage your experience to make the next “start-up” country just a bit easier. Coming up next week: Making a commitment to new markets and finding the right partnerships.
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