Firms are seen as having a number of genetic start points. Some are seen as lifestyle, others as unicorns, perhaps as “born global”, perhaps technology-based or enabled and some we just don’t know! But there are firms, or more accurately, their founders and senior teams that begin to break through to new heights as they grow and develop. At the recent Cranfield University alumni conference three of our most successful entrepreneurs explained their strategies for going global. Justin Adams (Cranfield Master of Business Administration 1995 and Managing Director, Connect Books) has taken several firms global over his career and below he puts forward the lessons he has learnt. Magically there are seven of them!
1. There is no blueprint for going global. Each company has had to do it in the way that suits the firm, the context and the product/market mix. You are also highly dependent on the nature of the people you encounter on the way and the channels that open up.
His perspective was corroborated by Jerome Mayhew of Go-Ape which has built a $10m business in the USA. The start point was an approach by a US family to take their idea to the US. And this got them started. On the other hand, Angus Thirlwell of Hotel Chocolat has started to go global by building a business in Denmark in order to learn about the process. He took advice from founders of some big brands like Pret a Manger, Ted Baker and others.
2. Ensure you get local expertise. This is a hard one because you do not know what expertise you actually need when entering a new global market place. But you do need to get to know the local nuances in the market, the preferences of the customers, local taxes, logistics etc.
In the case of Go-Ape, Jerome was very clear that although it is possible to overestimate the skills levels of the locals, there was no question in his mind that getting a local senior management team has been essential. He has also learnt about the – almost natural – flair for customer service in the USA and how this needs to be harnessed across his business more widely.
3. Immerse yourself in the market. Although you want to get local expertise into the business and some very sound commercial advice, there is no substitute for immersion.
Angus has done this by opening three stores in Copenhagen. It has started to pay off already as he has learnt about local tastes and design flair and this is paying off. And Jerome said if he had been able to go back to doing the US entry again, he would probably have tried to get one of his team to relocate to the US.
4. Invest in specialist expertise. There is just far too much to understand in terms of local issues. Legal, accounting practices, commercial arrangements, staffing rules and a myriad of other issues. There is no point in skimping on getting the expertise.
Both Jerome and Angus agreed wholeheartedly with this and pointed to things they may have done to accelerate their global plans and indeed how key specialist experts were able to help them avoid mistakes.
5. Expect surprises. No matter how much you plan and consult, because business is what it is, you will get surprises, especially when you are still on a steep learning curve. These might be to do with hygiene factors, working practices, sometimes even opening a bank account can cause a stumble or obtaining the right visa to work in the country or to hire talent. The working culture may take you by surprise too, for example do you back someone until they learn or just sack and start again? It can be challenging to know how to build trust when you do not fully understand what is going on!
6. Focus on one territory. Limited budgets and access to talent means that you can only really focus on one territory at a time. You also need to develop case studies and understanding so that you can start to roll out globally later. The key is to land on one territory and drive sales as hard as you can. Clearly this is what Jerome and his team have done at Go Ape as they have built a lot of sites in USA now – 13, at the last count! But, Jerome did say that as a young business they took USA to mean one territory, and, with the benefit of hindsight, what they might have done is to take one cluster at a time in the US. The distances are huge and the volumes sufficient enough to justify regional development. Meanwhile, Angus and his team are doing exactly that – they are focused on Denmark at the moment – a country they selected as being in Europe, mostly with fluent English. The Danes have great taste and disposable income. They like nice things. So the country hit many of the criteria that Hotel Chocolat have identified as being crucial to their success.
7. Protect your brand. It is easy to get arrogant and lazy with growth. To continue to grow and be needed we need to think about how to stay fresh and innovative as a brand value. At Go-Ape they have often looked at diversifying products and services to include other forms of revenue. But because they have an embedded outdoor, active culture as part of their ethos, even mid-level managers have pushed back when the founders have come up with new ideas, and been brave enough to say “We are not that kind of company, this or that type of activity will not fit with who our customers think we are.”
This is grassroots feedback from the customers to inform senior management about values of the brand. And, Hotel Chocolat is also hugely protective of its brand. As a premium product and service, a lot of care is taken and actually advice is taken from other big, high-value consumer brands such as Lush, Charles Tyrwhitt, Boden and others.
This was a very different panel discussion indeed, when compared to many I have sat in on with Government agencies and professional services about how to go global – the check lists are so different and refreshing when you get them directly from entrepreneurs!