Fast Company

Venturing Overseas

There are a whole host of U.S.-based companies that have succeeded in offering their products in other continents. One that comes immediately to mind is San Diego-based WD-40, a relatively common household item that is available in more than 160 countries today. There’s good reason for American organizations to look beyond its own borders, most notably when you consider that the United States holds less than five percent of the world’s population.

However, for every thriving overseas venture, there exists countless of other examples where a product introduction in a new country failed to live up to expectations. That’s because some of the lessons learned in navigating through the North American market won’t be transferable to another region of the globe where needs and preferences are as different as the language.

I know from where I speak, since we at TV Ears launched our European initiative earlier this month. While we certainly believe the demand for our assisted listening devices in this continent is significant, we are paying close attention to our execution strategy to make sure that the manner in which we go about informing and engaging consumers is effective. We took our time to get it right from the outset; we felt that the costs would be too great otherwise. So to help other entrepreneurs, I offer some insights.

* Learn from others. There is a slew of publicly available information for startups and established entities on the things to consider before crossing either ocean. Pay attention to them; the best authors all graduated from the School of Hard Knocks.

* Survey the competition. While you don’t want to be a copycat, uncovering the way local rivals reach out to the regional market may give you good insights as to the best way to communicate with customers. It may also give you ideas on how the client base isn’t being served well enough, and thus take advantage of the opportunities they represent.

* Get some qualified help.
Nothing beats experience in a market, and that’s especially true when venturing into uncharted overseas territory. At the very least, bring qualified marketing and operations folks to your team – either in house or under contract – that have deep, first-hand knowledge on ways to enter the new region. The added overhead will pay for itself in short order.

* Visit often. Don’t be afraid to get on a plane and see for yourself the country’s obstacles and opportunities. Witnessing the challenges and potential first hand may have a big and positive impact to the strategic decisions you make.

Put it this way. The successes many companies currently enjoy in their own backyard came about only after a lot of hard work and research as well as a bit of good old fashioned trial and error. Starting from scratch in a new country will have very similar characteristics, though hopefully not be as long. The key is to take the same due care and consideration in understanding the customer’s unique needs and wants based in many respects to the culture and customs of that region. Embracing and adapting to them will surely bring about greater and faster results.

About the author: George J. Dennis is the founder and CEO of TV Ears, fast-growing manufacturer of doctor recommended TV listening solutions. He can be reached at gdennis@tvears.com.

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