A CEO who has helped launch businesses in China, Australia, Taiwan and Germany offers advice on internationalization. 

By Raffaela Rein (CEO & Founder, CareerFoundry)

Before I founded CareerFoundry, an online education platform for Web Development and UX Design, I contributed to building four other companies: One was in Germany, one in China, one in Australia and one in Taiwan. During this time I saw four completely different approaches to starting a company, operations, marketing strategy and brand. It was thrilling to observe how the market reacted to these companies. From each experience I was able to take what I had learned about product development onto the next project.

First of all, there is no holy grail to internationalization, meaning there is no singular right way to do it. Whichever path you choose, your success will depend partly on external market forces, such as whether the market is ripe for your product, varying consumer behaviours and the competitive landscape. Secondly, the path you choose depends on your product. An ecommerce shop requires a lot more localization and local presence than companies like Facebook, Whatsapp or CareerFoundry, which can be scaled from one location.

Whichever type of company you are thinking of founding, there is one constant that is invaluable when taking a product global.

Define and Test Your Target Market

Define your target market as precisely as possible. Bear in mind that it can vary across countries, so keep testing your assumptions.

When I helped build the Chinese group buying site we initially targeted women, because they were the main customer base of group buying sites in the west- so our design and communication were specifically targeted at women. Over time, we realized that in China more men were buying, so we had to change our communication strategy.

In Australia we targeted a higher end market than for similar sites in Asia or Germany and chose design and price points based on that. To our surprise, very large and very small sizes turned out to perform surprisingly well, which caused us to redefine targeting to those groups.

At CareerFoundry, we set out to work with people who either want to move into tech or level up in their current employment. However, we did not anticipate the demand from businesses themselves and so we have therefore developed a B2B product.

In summary, set out with a strong and clear idea of your target market and make that as niche as possible. However, observe closely who signs up, inquires and pays, and constantly check and validate your assumptions. Most of all, recognize that you cannot know it all in advance and be prepared for your assumptions to be proven wrong by the market.

Even with the above companies – run by some of the smartest and most experienced entrepreneurs and veterans in the industry as well as millions in venture funding- some expectations were overturned by consumer behaviours. It’s important not to take mismatched assumptions as personal failures. And never be too proud to adjust. While the popular Silicon Valley slogan goes “learn fast- fail fast”, I think it´s always better to do the opposite: “don´t fail fast- learn fast!”

rMS5JAdXAbout the guest blogger: Raffaela Rein is founder and CEO of CareerFoundry, a tech education startup based in Berlin. She was on the founding team of www.theiconic.com in Australia, www.zalora.com in Taiwan and a group buying site in China. Before that, she worked as an investment strategist. Raffaela is a mentor at the Berlin Geekettes and contributor to Edsurge.