Success Factors in Internationalization: From entrepreneurs to an empowered global organization

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We have introduced the Takeoff Success Factors framework that builds on our own experiences in growing businesses overseas. We will now dig deeper into the five different (although interrelated) success factors featured in the framework, i.e. People, Solution, Scalability, Positioning, and Traction. 
We’ll start with the single most defining success factor, which is – you guessed it – People. How does an internationalizing company make sure it hires the right people and empowers them to turn the vision into reality?

1) Getting started: Who's on the bus?

International growth takes a vision, and to start up a growth company, there should be at least one visionary on board in the team, preferably several that can challenge each other’s ideas. The vision doesn’t need to be about solving world’s hunger (it won’t hurt though) but the founders need to be able to envision how their solution will solve a genuine problem not only at home but in the global marketplace. This will take ambition and a fearless attitude.

Of course, the founding team will need to know the business itself to make their mark home and overseas. And not only the business technically, but really the potential customers and competition: Whom will they be up against? Does the business idea have truly global potential? The team needs to know the business landscape they will be entering. Finally, since the team will need to create its own space in the ecosystem from scratch, the early growth will require strong personal stamina and tolerance for long hours.

2) Getting ready: Borrowing the brains of the experienced

Getting ready for growing beyond the immediate home turf already puts pressure on resources. Hiring very carefully is key. While the right advisors and/or recruits can greatly accelerate the company’s development, they may also eat up existing resources and critically slow down progress, or in the worst case blow the entire plan.

Not all team members need to be permanent. Hiring talent through temporary arrangements such as project contracts or Board memberships may be a great way to tap into much needed expertise in a flexible fashion. No matter the technicalities of the deal, incentives must be in line with expectations on both sides. Team leadership practices also come into play: Working in silos rarely produces the desired results, and the deliverables and working methods will need to be systematically managed.

3) International market entry: Seeking channels, partners and local team members

Show time! Entering the selected markets abroad typically involves hiring new people on the ground. Depending on how much the business model relies on pure online sales, this phase may come along early on or further down the road. In any case, typically in a B2B market entry, at least a regional presence will become necessary.

Again, not all staff will need to be permanent hires. It may be a good idea to involve consultants and experts on a contract basis to perform specific tasks or to serve as suppliers. Engaging channel sales partners may also be a good way of maximizing local sales and at the same time testing out further cooperation prospects. Whatever the formal role of the local persons involved, quality of the recruitment process itself remains essential.

As the team grows, so do the demands for managing not only payroll and health benefits, but also the recruitment, target setting, KPI’s, team building activities, and employee satisfaction of personnel. An HR management system emerges.

4) International growth facilitation: Ensuring a shared vision and culture

As the company adds dots on the map, it also adds to the diversity among the people involved in the growth story. People management processes and tools will be needed, and support roles will also emerge. Yet the support structures will never make up for the increasingly important role of empowering leadership.

In addition to managing people processes, leadership needs to ensure transparent communication in many ways. As the team is by now spread across the world, the company’s vision and strategy need to be communicated to everyone. More importantly, they need to be shared among the employees home and overseas. To achieve that, employees will need to have a chance to meet each other at least occasionally to really engage in working together for the vision.

5) Running a global business: Providing employees with opportunities to grow

People don’t want to be managed, especially not the skilful professionals needed to run an ambitious company. Instead, the want an engaging vision, and leaders to show a good example in reaching for the vision. They are also interested in being recognized for their talent and ambitions. This is where many companies adopt specific talent management and career development programs.

At this stage, the once small team of entrepreneurs will need to unlearn some of their earlier hands-on skills and to transform themselves into coaches and leaders that arrange for the rest of the organization to succeed. It's not rare to find some entrepreneurs doing soul searching: Am I a topic area expert or a people leader? Some may want to adopt an expert’s role at this stage, or even launch into an entirely new endeavour.

About the Takeoff Success Factors framework
The Takeoff Success Factors framework is a summary of best practices in internationalizing B2B software and service businesses. It grows from the combined experience of the Takeoff Partners team in taking businesses global. The framework is a unique checklist for entrepreneurs to help plan for their company’s internationalization from ‘flight preparations’ all the way to reaching the ‘cruising altitude’.