Last night, Eva Missling (General Manager Europe at 99designs), Nicola Anderson (General Manager Euope at MOO), Christian Springub (Co-Founder at Jimdo), and Peter Gamelkoorn (Senior Country Manager Netherlands at OUTFITTERY) sat together for a roundtable discussion about how to internationalize. As every company represented different products for different target groups, it made for an interesting conversation with deep company insights and learnings. Moderated by Derk Marseille from Friday at 6, the topics of expanding out of Germany as well as entering the German market were discussed.
LAW & ORDER
Anderson explained that the UK-based business card startup launched in other European countries (Italy, France, Spain and Germany) in 2013 in cooperation with the facebook moo cards. Launching in Germany brought some surprises that were not expected, e.g. the legal regulations. The examples she mentioned dealt with a simple wording problem: While the website said “order now!” in the English version, it needed to be changed to the German term for “buy now!”. German Regulations say ‘order now’ is not clear enough to the customer, she explained. Also, different to other countries, you cannot use net prices on products in Germany, but have to add taxes right away. Another special is the “agree to terms of service” checkbox that was not a topic moo had to deal with before launching in Germany.
EXPANDING FROM GERMANY
In a discussion on other countries, Switzerland was quite a topic. While Jimdo is able to charge higher prices, as they only charge net prices, OUTFITTERY had to look at specific regulations such as transport of goods rules, as Switzerland is not a EU country. While OUTFITTERY does not have remote offices (for Austria, Switzerland and Netherlands), Springub explained that he moved to San Francisco to open the US office. Being in there, he had to face cultural differences. Doing the hiring himself, he had to get used to a completely different résumés outline and how people present themselves in interviews. After setting everything up, Jimdo made sure to hire a company to take care of the paperwork such as salaries, taxes,…
Though it takes a lot of hardwork, Springub explained that being known in the American market increases the chances of being recognized and seen, e.g. for cooperations with other companies. However, it is also a market with very strong competition that often spends a lot more on marketing.
HOW TO START GOING GLOBAL
To internationalize the founders of Hamburg-based Jimdo at some point simply sat down and started to translate the website themselves. Shortly after, a friend from China joined and helped with translating it into Chinese.
“Though it is necessary to be available in other languages, it also distracts you and slows you down”, Springub explains. According to Springub, it causes delays in developing the product, growing in your first market and later on when launching new features, as you have to wait for translations and define location-based extras.
While Jimdo did not use any VC money to expand to other cities, OUTFITTERY just received €13 Million with a clear focus on this topic. Gamelkoorn stressed it is important to be realistic and honest about expectations with investors. As the market in the Netherlands is similar to the German one, it will be used as a test case. A first learning that OUTFITTERY had was to wait a little longer before launching as it went live too fast, Gamelkoorn said.
WORKING TOGETHER WHILE WORKING APART
Different time zones became another topic of discussion. Missling explained that she is often in touch with the 99design team in Australia. While some startups have weekly or monthly reporting meeting, moo has a call every morning.
Besides that, the right technology not only for video calls but also for e.g. reporting was a topic. You need to stay connected, but you also need to let other offices work out their own way. Everybody agreed that it is about trusting and letting other locations be independent.
There is not only one way to go global. It depends on different criteria such as the industry your startup is in, the product that needs to be launched, the country you want to launch in, and your financial resources.
If you’re planning on expanding, the best advice is to talk to many companies who have experienced this to understand where possible issues and risks are hiding.