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The International Headache: How To Navigate Taking Your Business Global

By Bobby Marhamat of Revel

Six years ago, Lisa Falzone and Chris Ciabarra started Revel Systems out of a coffee shop in Sausalito. It has since become an award-winning iPad Point of Sale platform and we have grown from two to over 700 employees with new offices that have opened up in London, New York, Dallas and Lithuania, and are valued at over half a billion.

I’ve been with Revel since 2014. As the Chief Revenue Officer working closely with Chris and Lisa, I’ve experienced for myself that going global isn’t easy.

I wish it was as simple as opening an office in another country. In reality, there are dozens of unique challenges from cultural differences to navigating local compliance laws and varied employee protections. Here are the guardrails that have kept us on track and pointing due north toward our successful worldwide expansion.

 

Know Where To Expand First

Knowing which markets to enter next and when is vital. At first glance, our expansion plan at Revel seems counterintuitive. The traditional logic has always been to first go to English speaking countries with high GDPs.

Instead, we focus on the demand and need for tech in each location. Appetite for our service is crucial for ensuring we can get as close to profitable as quickly as possible.

When thinking about where your business should expand outside of the U.S first, here are some questions to keep in mind:

 

  • Could you team up with an international business partner? We partner with international customers like Unilever and Shell, which already have international offices and entities that they want to bring into Revel.
  • Where are customer leads coming in from? Avoid entering a market that will require heavy lifting on your part to drum up a customer base. It’s expensive and time consuming, and chances are that market might not be ready for your product in the first place. Part of our analysis when deciding where to go next is where our customer leads are being generated. For example, in Dubai, we had 200 prospects a week for service coming in and it quickly became one of our expansion priorities.
  • Are there local government programs that are offering incentives to bring business to their communities? In Lithuania, we work with the Invest Lithuania program where the local government provides significant guidance and financial support in helping us get started Connecting with government officials will also give you knowledgeable local advisors to help you navigate murky waters, which brings me to my next point…

 

You Can’t Stay Afloat Without Staying Compliant

Before we open up operations in a new country, we do a complete ROI analysis that looks at a matrix of local compliance, fiscal requirements and what our pipeline will look like going into it. Regulations change between countries, municipalities, and even within cities. Knowing these differences before you open up shop is crucial.

As you fill roles in new offices, it’s important that you understand the contract you’re entering into between employer and employee. If you gloss over these details, you run the risk of getting caught in a regulatory nightmare.

Here’s a very clear example of this: in the U.S., employers can fire at will. Many other countries have a mandatory six months severance. That changes the economics of your decision making substantially. If you normally have 1 million factored in for payroll, suddenly factoring in the potential of 6 months severance for an office of employees adds an unexpected drag on your cash flow.

Partnering with a compliance expert, like TWS Compliance, can be very helpful to make sure no small or paramount details fall through the cracks.

 

The Importance Of Remote Management: You Can’t Be Everywhere At All Times

When we open up in a new market, we always have an experienced member from our team go and set up operations in that country. They hire experts locally and then that team on-the-ground partners with the US office. Having an adviser on-the-ground whom you trust from Day 1 is critical to that location’s success.

Once a new location is up and running, we measure its performance in several ways. First, is money coming in? If a location is meeting forecasts and growing, all signs are looking good. Another strategy is to give those remote teams tasks that pertain to the company as a whole. This helps build culture and gives those employees an opportunity to contribute to the organization at large. If all else fails, remember there is no substitute to an open line of communication — the backbone of any successful long-distance relationship.

 

Navigate Cultural Differences

Building a global business means you will be exposed to many different cultures. Of course, this is part of the excitement. Seeing how other people live, work, and build relationships is an enjoyable aspect of the job. But be aware of the nuances — things are different and you can’t assume all meanings are the same.

How you present yourself is different. Silicon Valley’s sneaker-flannel look won’t fly in London. Even how you present a business card is different. In many Asian countries, it’s considered impolite not to receive and give business cards with both hands. Take the time to educate yourself about each location you are establishing your business in, and respect those differences. Adopting global awareness and laying the necessary groundwork are crucial to a successful global growth plan.

For any company, going global is the ultimate achievement — the highest ascension. But don’t let other’s success fool you, it’s a challenging proposition. It takes grit, determination and several headaches. But don’t worry, it’s all part of the process. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Our CTO and co-founder Chris Ciabarra likes to say that “world domination” is what we’re after. I think we are doing pretty good so far.

 

Bobby Marhamat is the Chief Revenue Officer at Revel Systems and spearheads business development, marketing, sales, operations and fulfillment.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within this guest post are those of the authors alone and do not represent those of CBS Small Business Pulse or the CBS Corporation. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are verified solely by the authors.

 

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