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The International Entrepreneur ? Inside the Born-Global Firm

Entrepreneur Community Online

As many of you know from social media – last month I started a new position as the Chief Operating officer for Entrepreneur Community Online?(ECO). This company is six months old and already has customers on five continents and in fourteen countries. Its evolution as a company is rapid, but its mission is clear:

To increase entrepreneurial companies’ online and offline value by connecting entrepreneurs to the resources they need.

ECO provides a platform for entrepreneurs to work together in social networking both online in social media and offline via events. CEO and Founder, Linda Hughes is passionate about helping entrepreneurs regardless of where they live and work. I have worked and volunteered with Linda before and feel that I know her very well. I have always found Linda to be conscientious, hardworking, passionate, honest, brilliant, and evolving her own knowledge at lightning speed. Joining her company was not a hard decision.

The decision to go international happened before I joined the company. Linda started calling me shortly after ECO?s site went live. There were questions about cross-cultural communications related to Israelis, Venezuelans, Chinese, and Indians. Sometimes there were negotiation differences and other times questions about what might be specifically important to a group of entrepreneurs. Most of the time, entrepreneurs in overseas markets were finding Linda through Twitter.

As a born-global company, I think it?s going very well. We are able to serve members in other markets, at least as long as entrepreneurs have access to social media tools and can converse in English. Now our membership base is geographically diverse and we ask ourselves some basic questions going forward:

  • What markets should we actively pursue in order to maximize our membership?base and the value we can deliver to entrepreneurs?
  • How much localization is needed to serve new markets?
  • How different is entrepreneurship in other markets?

These and other questions remain open for now. Stay tuned for future updates as this born-global firm continues to compete in international markets. If you?re interested in reading more about an insider?s perspective to a born-global company, you can follow my First Follower Blog on the ECO site:? http://www.entrepreneurcommunityonline.com/blogs/becky-destigter

The International Entrepreneur: 5 Tips for Preparing Your Product for Global Markets

The International Entrepreneur: 5 Tips for Preparing Your Product for Global Markets

I?m always amazed with how many companies don?t think to plan their product design around future company growth that includes global markets. The cost is huge to retrofit product size, material requirements, packaging, etc. after your product has already been created. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Tip #1 – Meet CE Marking Standards

The European Union?s CE Marking is the product standard accepted throughout most of the world as meeting health, safety and environmental protection legislation. To conform to these standards, you need to find the relevant Product Directives for your product. Once you?ve met these standards, you can legally sell your product in the EU. Here?s a link to information that should get you started towards compliance: http://export.gov/cemark/index.asp

Tip #2 ? Designing for shipping containers

This is a step that many companies overlook. Utilizing the space in standard international shipping containers can mean the difference between a profitable shipment and one that loses money. Your product packaging should be designed to fit as many products into one shipping container as possible with minimal damage. Here are standard shipping container dimensions in English & Metric dimensions: http://www.schumachercargo.com/shipping-container-sizes.htm

Tip #3 ? Company & Product Names should be easy to write & pronounce

This comes up a lot in international business. A good example is my last name, DeStigter. It?s a Dutch last name and few outside of the Netherlands or Flanders can pronounce it. Using DeStigter as part of a company or product name would be a bad idea. Names with characters unique to a specific language such as ?, ?, ?, or ? should probably be avoided. Speaking of Dutch, almost all American swear words are normal words in the Dutch language. A product/company name example that translates poorly is the airplane manufacturer, Fokker. Yes, it?s pronounced just like F**ker. I think you get the idea. A Google search could help find at least the most blatant translation disasters.

Tip #4 ? Trademark early in other countries

Most countries award trademark and patent protections to the first person to file the IP application. That means that if your product sells in your home market, someone can trademark or patent your product in another country. Keep this in mind if you believe that overseas markets and associated IP protections are key to your company?s long-term success.

Tip #5 ? Remember differences in electricity, sizing, weight, etc.

Wouldn?t it be nice if there was one standard for electricity, clothing sizes, and measurements? Hopefully someday there will be, but until then we need to keep these differences in mind. One way to have a better idea of what to consider is to travel internationally and see how consumers and/or businesses use your product or similar products. Another way to find out is to talk with others in your industry who have ventured into international markets.

The International Entrepreneur: Environmental Impact of Globalization

The International Entrepreneur: Environmental Impact of Globalization

Is expanding into overseas markets going to hurt the environment? This question was raised recently to me by a CEO/founder/entrepreneur. The answer is: it depends how you conduct your business.

Two years ago, my flight into Beijing bumped and lurched dramatically as we made our way through polluted skies. I was ready to panic and had barf bag in hand when I saw the calm demeanor of every Chinese person in my row. Evidently this must be normal. On Tianamen Square, pollution had grown so thick that the sky was gray on a clear day. You could actually see, smell, feel and taste the pollution.

For years, multi-national corporations have made headlines for employing child labor, skirting environmental laws in industrialized countries by offshoring high-polluting low-cost manufacturing, and selling off toxic process byproducts to anyone willing to dump in their own backyard. But is this path to destruction and responsibility avoidance just part of growing globally? ? ABSOLUTELY NOT. In fact, global expansion by environmentally conscious entrepreneurs can improve the environment abroad.

Tianamen Square Outside the Forbidden City- pollution hanging in the air

Entrepreneurs bring innovation to all that they do ? and environmental stewardship should be no exception, regardless of your country of origin or current country of citizenship. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Offshoring is a Losing Proposition Long-Term. Industries that have little product differentiation and require the lowest possible cost structure to compete will always need to keep shifting manufacturing from one cheap labor/tax market to the next cheaper one. Ten years ago, much of our clothing in the West was made in China. Where was the last piece of clothing you bought actually made? I would guess instead of China, it came from Honduras, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Lesotho or some other country where labor is even cheaper. Building new factories, training new people, etc. ? is that where you want to spend your company?s efforts? Instead, focus on creating real and lasting value.

Produce Products in the Markets Where You Want to Sell. The middle classes of China and India are enormous and growing rapidly. India?s middle class is actually larger than the entire population of the United States. Instead of offshoring to India or China, develop operations to serve those markets in-country. This eliminates shipping products across oceans and the pollution associated unnecessary shipping.

Incorporate Best Environmental Practices from Both Your Home and Host Countries. Think your country is the most advanced in all areas of environmental sustainability? Think again. No country has the definitive lead in all aspects of sustainability. Instead, learn from all markets where you compete in order to improve your company?s long-term sustainability worldwide.

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The International Entrepreneur: Interview with Translation and Localization Expert ? Eve Bodeux

The International Entrepreneur: Interview with Translation and Localization Expert ? Eve Bodeux

Accurate translation and culturally localized content is critical to business credibility. Recently I interviewed Eve Bodeux (@ebodeux) for her professional insights:

?What do you see as the greatest difference between translation and localization?

Translation takes place on the written page and is the process of communicating the meaning of one language in another. Many types of translation exist including literary translation, commercial translation and technical translation to name a few.

Translation is a part of localization. Localization is the process of adapting a product for a specific region or country. In addition to translation, localization also takes into consideration cultural and technical aspects. The goal of localization is to fully adapt a product or text so that is accurately reflects linguistic, social, technical and cultural norms in the target markets. Examples of localization are changing measurements on food packaging to the metric system, using the correct date format in a software program, making sure that accent marks display correctly on a web page and updating customer service phone numbers for the new target markets involved.

What are the worst misconceptions that business people have when using a translator?

I find that the biggest misconception about translation is that people do not realize that is it is a complex and time-consuming task. Anyone in the translation industry can relate numerous stories about how they have been asked to produce large translations overnight. Depending on the content of the text involved, a translator will translate somewhere between 500 to 2,500 words per day. Therefore, it will take weeks if not months to transform a large corporate manual of 100,000 words into a polished translation suitable for business use. One way to estimate how long it will take to translate a specific work is to consider how long it took to create it in English. Three months to create a manual in English–including drafting, editing and proofreading?may take at least several weeks to translate.

Another misconception about translation is that anyone who is bilingual can do it. A bilingual individual in your office may be able to summarize the content of foreign-language document, but for public-facing documents (web pages, legal contracts, etc.) a professional translator provides more accurate and readable document. Professional translators can craft text so that it attracts the intended target audience while transferring ideas and concepts into culturally appropriate context, rather than a word-for-word rendition.

Can you give me an example of low-cost translation doing any real damage to a company’s brand?

One time, we were asked to take over the translation of a software product that had previously been translated by Spanish bilinguals within the company. Spanish is tricky because there are so many variations around the world. There is a standardized Spanish version used in software applications that is accepted by most Spanish users. Using standardized Spanish prevents clients from having to pay for 20 or more Spanish versions of their product.

In our client?s case, the company?s internal Spanish speakers had chosen a word for a common software term that had a strong sexual connotation in several Spanish countries (but, evidently, not theirs). This resulted in a serious issue where the client?s software contained offensive and outright shocking text in their flagship product. We updated the text so that later versions of the software contained the universally accepted (and non-offensive) phrase.

What is the best piece of advice you can give to companies thinking about translating or localizing their products?

Early assessment of your text or product for translation and localization is critical. As soon as you know that you?re going into international markets, you?ll want to find a specialist who can guide you and help you create a translation and localization strategy. This will give you a road map that saves you money downstream and also helps your globalization strategy grow with your company. Tweaking your content and workflow in relation to translation has the potential to significantly reduce overall translation costs.

Thank you, Eve, for sharing your insights!

The International Entrepreneur: Born Global or No?

baby techIn many parts of the world technology start-ups are expected to become global companies from their inception. Companies like Skype launched into international markets right from the start. The reason why these ?Born Global? companies are a worthy topic in start-up technology circles is that they?

  • Grow faster than domestic-only companies
  • Hire more local staff in their home markets
  • Succeed in greater rates than their domestic counterparts.

But is Born Global a realistic expectation for most tech companies?

As is the standard answer for most international business strategy questions ? it depends.

Here are circumstances that make Born Global a more likely choice:

  • Small Domestic Market. If your company is located in a country like Uruguay (3.3m), Finland (5.4m), or Israel (8.2m), everyone expects you to plan for international expansion right from the start. It is no surprise to see small country tech companies competing effectively in world markets. Entrepreneurs have already cultivated their international market connections. Government and industry resources support this Born Global expectation as well.
  • Small Global Niche Market. It is much easier to globalize when your market is small. With fewer potential buyers there is pressure to find the customers no matter where they are located. For instance, if your company develops some measurement device specific to copper mining then you?ll quickly want to expand to places like Peru and Zambia.
  • Differentiated Product. If your product is valuable enough compared with the available in-country alternatives, local customers can overlook your product and company?s ?foreignness?. They also are more likely to pay a premium, which helps defray any exporting-related costs.
  • Internationally-Minded Company Leaders. This is probably the biggest factor for Born Global companies. I?m not talking about the leader who likes to take his or her spouse occasionally to Paris for a holiday. These are professionals with deep connections in another country. Often they are either immigrants or former exchange students or both. IT outsourcing started with Indian, Pilipino and other immigrants connecting developers in lower-cost markets with software development needs in high-cost markets. An international orientation brings a completely different set of solutions to a start-up.

Going Global Criteria

To be effective in global markets a company needs to have a competitive product, financial stability, and infrastructure that support a global reach. I?ve spent the past decade in and around start-up companies and it?s a rare company that has even two out of these three criteria in its earliest stages. So rarely will there be a company that can start its business ready to be completely global.

On the other hand, all young technology companies should be planning for how they will enter and compete globally. This focus should influence hiring decisions, building capacity and potential partnerships. The timing on when the company actually enters international markets will depend on when international opportunities are worth spending the time and energy to make the final adjustments internally for global launch. At that point, the company can finally take advantage of the vast opportunities in the global marketplace.

Advice for Big-Country Tech Start-Ups (U.S., Brazil, Japan & China)

I often hear particularly in the U.S. that international markets come later in the company?s plans. I rarely hear one of our technology industry gurus touting the benefits of early international market preparations. Instead of having the domestic market act as a benefit to growing the company, it can actually slow down long-term growth. For tech markets, often 80-95% of total markets are outside of the home market. To delay preparing for the whole potential market will slow growth. Even if you delay international market entry, start preparing by making connections and researching your market.

(?Born Global or No?? is a play on Walter Kuemmerle?s famous Harvard business case published in 2001: ?Go Global or No??)

The International Entrepreneur: International Business Readiness Checklist

This checklist was updated on November 17, 2014

Many companies start their international expansion as a reaction to unexpected market demand from overseas. A Japanese customer wants your product and is willing to pay a premium for shipping to Japan. Or one of your clients expands internationally and needs you to send your delivery to their Colombian offices.

As reactive foreign sales begin to expand your company?s scope, it is time to investigate what a proactive international expansion would mean for your company. Here are important considerations to be ready for expanding into your company?s first overseas market:

1.?Long-Term Management Commitment. If you don?t have this, then stop right now. For top management to buy into international expansion, it needs to fit well into the company?s overall strategy including any plans for current owners? exit (M&A, IPO, etc.).

2.?Market Research. What is the market?s potential? You?ll never be able to reach an exact number, but it should be a well-researched estimate. I find it helpful to use both secondary data from industry and government sources, as well as primary sources such as interviews/round tables with potential in-country partners and customers.

How much would customers pay for your product? Oftentimes companies are surprised by different cost expectations. Your current cost structure might price your product out of a market or make it highly competitive. Consider potential offering size changes too. For example, a downloadable software product might be better received as a Software-as-a-Service model.

Also, how much localization of your product will be needed for it to be competitive in the market? This includes any local regulations, certifications, market expectations of the product, localizing any marketing promotional materials and approach to sales, etc.

3.?Financial Capital to Fund the Expansion. Does your company have enough capital to fund not only the production of products for the new market but also all the start-up costs and extra funds should things not go according to plan? Is the expected payback period?

4. Market Entry and Related Legal Structures. There are many ways to enter new markets ? from indirect exporting through distributors to wholly-owned subsidiaries. Each have unique advantages and drawbacks. Know your choices before making assumptions. Many companies new to international markets assume that contracting with local representatives is the best way. That?s not true for all situations, especially when there is valuable intellectual property to protect. It is also vital to research any legal requirements for your chosen entry mode, as well as any industry-related restrictions.

5.?The Right Transportation. If you have product to transport, you?ll need an excellent freight forwarder or else another practical way to get your products and/or materials into the new market. An FF knows how to avoid costly mistakes and coordinate delivery of your products to market.

6. Local taxation, profit repatriation and corruption. As part of your research, learn about the local tax requirements and repatriation restrictions. Also, depending on the degree of corruption you may need to plan an anti-corruption policy for your company employees. Those caught bribing in another country may face fines and prison back home.

7.?International Staff Experience. You will need managers and other staff who are ready to meet the needs of overseas operations. If your company doesn?t have internal international experience, this can be supplemented with outside assistance from government assistance centers and consultants.

This is only the high-level list. Basically go through every function of your company to ask how international expansion will affect the function. Once you know your initial approach for each function, you?re ready. Just be prepared for surprises when another country?s business environment brings up issues that you didn?t know existed!

For all of its complexities, international expansion can unlock much larger potential than staying in one?s home market. It exposes the company to new ideas for product improvement. And can mitigate the risks associated with doing business in a single market (recessions, etc.).

This checklist was updated on November 17, 2014

For assistance researching your international markets, please contact Becky at [email protected].

The International Entrepreneur: Arbitrage, A Smart Firm?s Source of Competitive Advantage

The International Entrepreneur: Arbitrage, A Smart Firm?s Source of Competitive Advantage

There are many small and medium-sized firms that expand to the most similar markets they can find. For American firms, this means Canada, then Australia and New Zealand, followed by the U.K. and then eventually northern Europe. The language and cultures are similar, so why not take advantage of these similarities to make international expansion easier?

P&G_Bold
Image via Wikipedia

This approach misses a key source of competitive advantage gained from doing international business: arbitrage. Arbitrage is the learning from differences between business environments and culture. The first type of arbitrage most in business think of is outsourcing ? exploiting the differences in wages to locate especially manufacturing and call centers in places where it costs much less.? But as we all know, outsourcing usually only produces short-term gains. Other types of arbitrage hold greater advantages. First is market input. The original Pampers diapers from Procter & Gamble were thick and bulky. When P&G introduced them in Japan, the diapers did not sell well because Japanese households are much smaller & have smaller storage spaces. In meeting the need of thinner diapers, P&G was able to improve its product and use this improved version to have a more competitive product in its home market. The Chinese business culture holds many keys to cultivating long-term business relationships. This knowledge can then be used in other cultures where business dealings rely more heavily on relationships. So instead of taking the easy path of similar business environments, consider the value of differences and what can be gained from arbitrage.

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