How to build a global business

Published 15 November 2012 04:48, Updated 21 November 2012 07:33

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As a start-up scene, Australia is kicking butt. There’s funding, entrepreneurs, engineers and ideas. It’s a great time to build any company because the internet means that the whole world can be your market.

We know this because we built Bigcommerce from $0 in revenue with a handful of employees to tens of millions in revenue, almost 200 employees and $35 million in venture capital in two years. With 90 per cent of our customers overseas, we know firsthand how much opportunity there is globally. Here are our tips on how to go global:

Solve a real problem

This is basic start-up methodology but if you can help solve a problem for businesses or consumers in Australia, there’s a good chance that the same problem exists in other countries and regions.

Sell to the world from day one

If you want to build a global company, everything you do should be attuned to that, from the tools you choose to the people you hire to the goals you set. That way you’re always ready to take the next step when the time is right.

The internet is the best and most affordable marketing channel in the world. Search engine marketing (Google AdWords) and search engine optimisation (SEO) mean there’s no reason you can’t target a global audience from day one, specifically the United States market, which is about two to three years ahead of us in terms of adopting technology.

When we launched Bigcommerce in 2009, we put most of our marketing budget into Google AdWords. We only targeted potential customers in North America (both the US and Canada) using Google’s built-in geographic targeting options. It let us reach a huge potential market of 300 million people compared with just 20 million in Australia.

Fake it until you make it

Give your business the feeling of being a global brand even if you’re not quite there yet. When we got started, we set up a virtual office in the US that gave us a toll free 1-800 number and a postal address. All calls went to voicemail and all snail mail was forwarded to our Sydney office. This gave the impression that we were established in two countries, which gave us credibility, especially with customers who had no idea who we were.

Set up shop in the US

As soon as we’d built the beta version of Bigcommerce, we set up an office in Austin, Texas, where we now have almost 100 people in sales, marketing and support. We wanted to be close to our customers and 70-75 per cent of them just happened to be in the US but it also helps with hiring talent because the US is such a big market.

Build a great team around you

Sometimes CEOs who start off handling every aspect of their business have trouble letting go of certain duties as they expand. You also need to admit to yourself that you’re not an expert at every part of your business. Hire smart self-managers who have performed their roles before and make sure they share your vision of creating an international brand. Our own executive team includes people from PayPal, ReachLocal, Travelocity and Atlassian. Their experience and passion have been invaluable in building Bigcommerce.

Find an experienced mentor

Find a mentor who has previously built a global company from Australia. No matter what industry you’re in, there is most likely a global company in that sector that’s based in Australia. You can find a mentor in a few different ways – approach entrepreneurs on LinkedIn, attend membership groups such as Entrepreneur’s Organisation, start-up events like Tech23 or post your company on Angel.co. Mentors are everywhere and you may be surprised at how willing they are to help if you just ask.

Build scalable systems and processes

As a SaaS (software as a service) provider to nearly 30,000 clients, we’re big believers in using cloud-based systems that allow you to rapidly scale your business and work from anywhere in the world. It’s important to put those services in place early so you’re not struggling with clunky systems in the midst of a big growth period or opportunity. Then if you want a new office in another country, all you need is a laptop and an internet connection.

Put systems in place to foster communication

We always tell our team that we’d rather they over-communicate than under-communicate. At Bigcommerce, we have direct feedback tools where sales and support teams in the US can thank engineers halfway across the world for software updates that helped their clients. We’ve even held a hackathon that had teams competing across our offices. In the age of the internet, distance is no longer an excuse for lack of communication.

Raise money at the right time

Raising money from venture capitalists is easy if you remember that a business isn’t just a product. It’s a product that solves a problem, for which customers will pay money. If you can generate revenue (even if it’s just $10,000 a month) from your business and prove that you can scale your marketing to generate a predictable return with good margins, then you won’t have trouble raising money to fund global domination.

Building a global business takes time, persistence, help and strategy

Oh, and one final tip – find one or more co-founders to share the load.

Bigcommerce software services power almost 30,000 online stores worldwide

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