Launching a business in a new country can be a daunting task, especially when there are significant cultural differences to navigate. If you’ve only ever done business in the US, you’re going to have severe culture shock when looking to expand to India, Brazil, or Nigeria, for example. However, with proper research, preparation, and the right strategies, it is possible to successfully launch a business in a foreign market that isn’t already similar to yours.
Julia Ponomareva has worked with some of the biggest IT companies, including Asus and HP, and now handles International Business Development Projects for GetCourse, a software company that develops an online platform for content creators who sell their online courses. She has been working with international markets for over 10 years and has experience launching businesses in different countries including the UK, India, the USA, and more. According to Julia, there are several key factors to consider when launching in a new country with a different culture.
Research like you’ve never researched before
The first step is to research and check criteria such as the economy, pricing, and political and internal forces. And when Julia says “research,” she means it. It’s crucial to go deep on each topic and discover everything you can.
For example, let’s imagine you’re thinking of launching a business in Turkey.
Turkey has been facing high inflation for a while now. According to the Turkish Statistical Institute, the inflation rate reached 15.61% in December 2020, which is higher than expected, making it difficult to plan and budget for the future.
And the current political situation in Turkey is uncertain, with an election coming up this year and a chance of political and civil unrest. This can make it seemingly impossible for businesses to make any mid or long-term plans and investments in the country.
With high unemployment rates, trade restrictions from the US and EU, and volatile currency fluctuations, there’s a lot to learn about Turkey before you decide to build a business there.
No iPhones? Really?
Another important factor to consider is technology differences. Every country uses different communication methods, and it is important to learn and understand the popular and standard messengers and software. Julia notes that in India, most people use Android and mobile internet, and laptops are not as common. This means that a solution that requires a laptop may not be suitable, and the business may need to update it to make it mobile-friendly.
In China, major tech giants such as Google are blocked from entry into the market, so if you have a startup that relies on Google technologies and APIs, or sits currently on Google Cloud, you won’t be able to operate there, either technically or culturally.
Cultural differences can also have an impact on how business is conducted. For example, in India, it is common to overpay your taxi and ask them to put the excess on your mobile account, which can be used for in-app purchases. This is very different from the credit card-driven US market. For every country, highly specific knowledge is needed, and Julia suggests renting accommodation with local people to understand how they behave. That is how she explored the market in the UK when launching the project there in 2017. You will learn a lot of non-obvious things from people’s behavior that you never learn from a conversation with them
Timing hires is critical
When it comes to hiring, Julia suggests it’s best not to hire locally in the early stages but instead work with local consultants, or existing business partners that operate there. Once the decision has been made to go ahead and launch in that country, it is important to immediately hire the local senior execs and their team so that you can set your new location up for quick success. She also recommends that you should add 30% to your budget when setting up the business, as there are often hidden or extra expenses due to local customs and norms that weren’t clear in the research phase.
If you believe your product or service will do well in developing countries, Julia suggests you spend extra time understanding the region and how business works, with a special focus on certain subjects.
Bureaucratic red tape, lack of infrastructure, a higher risk of corruption, language barriers, political instability, and limited access to funding are key topics to investigate in developing countries, so paying extra attention to them is crucial.
Walk a mile in their shoes, and in their streets
The biggest challenge, according to Julia, is the culture, and she has an interesting way of understanding this quickly, yet at a deep level.
When it comes to launching in a new country, it’s important not to hurry and to try to put yourself in the shoes of the local population. Julia does this in a literal sense. She lives, pre-launch, in the target country, and with the locals rather than in 5-star hotels. She believes that is the best, fastest, and most revealing way to understand the place and its people.
Julia also recommends reading “The Culture Map” by Erin Meyer, a book that explains how people deal with communication and etiquette in different countries. It’s important to live, talk, and act like the locals, and to understand the cultural norms and expectations. Arriving well-informed can help you to avoid embarrassing or insulting gestures, idioms, or behaviors, and will assist in making good connections and fitting in.
In conclusion, launching in a new country that is significantly different from your own can be a challenging task, but with proper research, planning, and understanding of the cultural differences, it is possible to successfully launch in those markets. It’s important to take the time to understand the economy, political and internal forces, technological differences, and cultural norms and expectations. By following these tips and being prepared for unexpected challenges, a business can navigate the process of opening an office in a new country with confidence.