Some people were impressed by our achievement in global expansion at splinter.me (startup I am co-founder of – later edit: and startup that I left). Back in the beginning of April we already announced we have users from 50+ countries on 6 continents with no marketing spending. And we keep on getting users from all over the world. Time has come to share our techniques with the startups that want to go truly global. Below are 3 recommendations.
(splinter.me reach as announced on April 10th, now there are even more countries covered)
1) On the internet there are no borders!
I live in Brussels, Belgium – probably the place with the biggest mix of cultures living together. Startups here seem to have one approach: market first to Belgium as a test pool due to this cultural melting pot. They believe that if they succeed here, they can easily spread anywhere else. I find this funny. As multicultural as it may be, why limit yourself to such a small country in the beginning? It’s not like ICT startups are going to place billboard ads in the cities to make the location matter.
People today travel and relocate more often than decades ago. We keep our foreign connections “alive” through the more and more used social networks. It has never been easier for people to have and maintain international networks. All we need is an internet connection and a common language.
Startups from small countries understood this very well, forced by their national market limitations to go global from day one. Not the same happens with startups from Germany, Brazil, the US.
So the first thing you need to do is to set up the right attitude and no limits. When you market your startup, avoid as much as possible thinking in terms of countries (of course, there are some cases when this is necessary though).
The founders behind are: Ahmed, an Egyptian, and me, a Romanian. Our platform was in English from day one. We never limited ourselves to any region. Of course, in time we will have to put more efforts in developing in certain regions. But that is going to be when we already see some market dynamics and insights. And it will be helpful to have pioneers everywhere to start from.
Here is a printscreen with the latest users we got on the platform (notice the locations diversity):
2) The personal reach of the founders matters a great deal!
You better have invested in forming an international personal network in your life! It pays off a lot. If you are a founder or will become one some day, invest in your personal brand and personal network – and make it as diverse as possible. Go to international conferences, work in international teams, do international projects, have professional meetings when you travel (perhaps use https://www.bizpora.com/).
Initially the platform was built by my Egyptian co-founder, hence most of the users were from Egypt. He is very connected there especially with the startup world and the universities. Which is great because it brings us lots of good people. Plus, Ahmed made sure that even if it had a national reach at first, the platform is open by simply being in English. He always communicated in English about it and placed it on various networks, among which was AngelList, where I have found him.
There is an interesting story on how we met and how we joined forces presented here. Bottom line, I joined as co-founder in October last year and started to make this public on January this year. And I have brought with me all my European network nurtured mainly by going to international conferences and keeping in touch on social networks, to which I added my truly global network newly formed while doing the research for my book, Customer Seduction.
Note that not only the personal reach of the founders matters so much, but also the best is to have multicultural founding team, as diverse as possible. Me and him joining was a good step towards conquering the whole EMEA easily and therefore having a strong competitive advantage in terms of market (our main competitors are from the US, and…uhm….focus only on the US).
3) PR can do wonders! Have a good story and make friends with journalists!
Ahmed made friends with the people behind VC4Africa, a huge and very active entrepreneurial community covering all Africa. They wrote about us and became our ambassadors. Hence, we attracted lots of users from various African countries. And some of them liked our vision so much that they spread the word further.
In May we were covered in GigaOm, which made us appear on ere.net shortly after (strong media from our industry: recruitment) – that brought us many high-up users mainly from the US. Other main ways of getting American users was by being active on Quora and HackerNews.
Other articles about splinter.me were published both in Europe and Middle East, but it is difficult to separate the effects from media coverage from those from personal networks. It helps for sure though.
I would also like to point out that our main PR bullet was our story as founders and our vision. It worked wonderfully for making good articles and being in the favors of journalists (to mention a few that became our friends: http://domain.me/, http://www.whiteboardmag.com/). We did not focus much on features, at least until recently (as we are still in beta, work in progress).
In the end, it will be a great product that will make users tick and also spread the word. But already starting with so many “seeds” all over the world while the product was still far from ready/ being truly useful will give us a jump-start.
I hope this will help other startups go global.