How to expand your business abroad » SMEInsider

How to expand your business abroad

Branching out into a foreign country is a big, brave, exciting move that might just propel you into an accelerated stage of growth. But every new region is a fresh learning curve, as Rytis Vitkauskas, co-founder of going-out app YPlan, explains.

First, says Vitkauskas, you have to study the local culture and figure out your target demographic in this new region. Social and cultural differences could mean that you need to alter the way you pitch your product there in subtle or not-so-subtle ways.

When it came to New York we drew on our experience in London to make sure we tried and tested the model from every angle,” says Vitkauskas. “We took time to consider various alternatives before deciding on the Big Apple as our second location. We heavily researched its social cultures, establishing a local team that knew the city well. We made sure that we understood the challenges the new operation would face in a new market. We knew that New Yorkers shared the same spontaneous streak as Londoners, and having been downloaded onto 15% of the UK capital’s iPhones, we felt we were ready to make the move across the pond.”

Once you’re sure that your product works in this new location, and you’ve worked out how to pitch it there, make your move, make it fast and make it big.

By far one of our greatest achievements was securing $12m worth of Series A funding – from General Catalyst Partners (investors in Kayak and Airbnb), Wellington Partners (investors in Hailo and Spotify) and Octopus Investments (investors in SwiftKey and, A-Grade and American Express amongst others,” says Vitkauskas. “We knew that we’d need to roll out our product into as many markets as possible and as quickly as possible to maximise the opportunity. Three months afterwards we launched in New York at a star studded event headlined by Pharrell Williams – a contact who we were introduced to by these same investors – who has since joined the company as a special adviser.”

No matter how much research you do, you’ll struggle to understand a place as well as the people who live there. Hiring great, committed people from day one that can help you establish and grow your company is essential.

Startups tend to flourish quickly in the early stages because the core team is so involved with every aspect of the project – they know it’s inner most workings and can adapt quickly to new challenges. That’s something I’m keen to keep hold on to as we grow,” says Vitkauskas. “Viktoras and I interview everyone that joins the team – it’s time consuming, but the rewards make it worthwhile. Aside from your product, the company is only as good as the people who work for it, so making sure you invest in your team is vital.”