Should you take your fast-growth business global?

Growing Business brings together a diverse mix of successful entrepreneurs to discuss the benefits and perils of trading internationally

For many fast-growing businesses, an international strategy is crucial to hit targets, but is going global right for all businesses? Will your offering even work overseas? And if you do decide to expand internationally, is there a ‘right time’ to make sure your first foray into foreign lands is a success?

During a roundtable lunch hosted by Santander, Growing Business invited seven fast-growth business owners to tackle these very questions. With experience of running and growing a multitude of companies between them across numerous countries, our guests (you can read more about them here) have first-hand experience of what it means to take a growing company global.

Here, they discuss their initial experiences of trading overseas, including evaluating risk, understanding your market and the advantages of UK Trade & Investment (UKTI).

Should operating globally be part of your growth strategy?

Guy Mucklow, CEO, Postcode Anywhere:

“There are two approaches to going international: unplanned and planned. Unplanned may arise because a customer approaches you from a new market and then it naturally grows from there. Planned is obviously a deliberate growth strategy. Even when businesses plan to grow internationally they can be a bit haphazard.

“Most companies automatically look to the US market when considering international growth, when Europe is both more accessible and a larger market.”

John Stapleton, co-founder, New Covent Garden Soup and Little Dish:

“For us at NCGSC [not trading globally] was about managing risk. We planned to make the business successful here and then sell to an international trade seller such as e.g. Nestlé. We didn’t want to go half-hearted, be only moderately successful, or worse, fail and then allow people to conclude the business wasn’t internationally scalable. We were conscious to not risk our international play to potential suitors.”

Dale Lovell, chief digital officer, Adyoulike:

“We know there’s bigger marketing budgets when you go international – people have global marketing campaigns so you’re opening yourself up to a bigger audience.”

Simon Ellson, co-founder, Nexus Exchange:

“We believe our business is franchisable so we wanted to set up in one global territory ourselves successfully to support our long-term aim to franchise.”

Richard Smith, founder, Search Office Group and Meetingrooms.com:

“For us, the property market is amazing in London so I’d be happy if we could be successful here primarily. However, we do operate globally and have global coverage. What’s key is how much you invest in marketing and people on the ground in new territories – it’s a tricky balance.”

Dave Sherrington, business development director, Santander:

“From a bank’s perspective – global businesses are far more likely to grow faster and are less likely to fail because they’ve diversified, so going global is certainly a positive thing. However, we do understand the challenges and see two main setbacks: lack of knowledge and trust.

“There are numerous resources available to help alleviate these. A supportive bank with international reach and presence in the markets you want to expand into and specialist support agencies, such as UKTI.”

Jazz Gandhum, founder, e-Careers:

“Do we go international too quickly as UK businesses? Should we spend more time building customers in the UK? We [e-Careers] are operating globally but it’s much harder to manage teams.”

Ben Whitaker, co-founder, Masabi:

“Some people feel they have to [go international] for venture capital funding – especially for tech companies. But it is hugely expensive going global and I know a lot of people who have burned through millions.”

Understanding your market: Will your offering work overseas?

Ben Whitaker, co-founder, Masabi:

“The interesting story for us was doing the first hop over the Atlantic to America to sell ice to the eskimos, sorry to sell IT to the Americans. We’ve had a lot of companies come to us who are introducing agents, sales agents, people to help you internationalise and facilitate meetings – but we decided we would just go and find out about the American market ourselves to start with. We just basically did the long haul, kept flying out there and going to conferences to meet people to see if the market could be persuaded into doing it the way we thought it could be done.

“We got to the point where we got our first wins and then we were able to attract good local employees to hire to take the story forward but it meant that those employees didn’t need to have the entrepreneurial capabilities to sell the empty box.

“When you’ve loaded the first sale and you know you’ve verified the market it makes it easier for your sales team.”

John Stapleton, New Covent Garden Soup and Little Dish:

“For FMCG, the UK is a big market if you can get it right – so at Little Dish we have focused on that first. And also markets are different. Ready meals don’t really exist much outside the UK [Little Dish specialises in kid’s ready meals] and even with New Covent Garden Soup we only had about 10% of our sales through export by the time we sold in 1998.”

Ben Whitaker, co-founder, Masabi:  

“On the flip side, a friend of ours looked around globally to where there was no competition and they deliberately targeted areas where there’s lots of international travellers and have been the first to market.”

Guy Mucklow, CEO, Postcode Anywhere:

“Our technology is very well understood in the UK but we are looking at the US and have piggybacked on a few companies there. More recently we did a white-label deal.”

UKTI and making the most of the British brand

Guy Mucklow, CEO, Postcode Anywhere:

“We’ve done two great trips with the UKTI to Australia, they’ve helped set up meetings for us and they’ve got amazing facilities for businesses to take advantage of. Its brand just opens doors for you. The Australians are delighted when British businesses go and see them and UKTI can help you make the most of that.”

Simon Ellson, co-founder, Nexus Exchange:

“Being British has a cache definitely. If you’re British it really helps in South Africa [one of the markets Nexus is trading in].”

“We used UKTI in my previous business to launch in China and they were great. But I’ve heard of other people using them and finding it really unsuccessful. It’s all down to the people.”

This feature is the first of a three-part series following a roundtable discussion sponsored by Santander on international growth. You can find out more about Santander’s Breakthrough International programme here.

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