How to successfully scale an international business

Flat young woman and man helping and growing together. Concept businessman and businesswoman characters relationship, extending a helping hand to colleague. Vector illustration.“How did you launch 15 countries within a year?” is a question that I have been asked numerous times.

There is no magic formula but, in my experience, it’s all about the team and the execution behind it. Forget about extensive research. Confidence is the fuel you need to succeed!

Do your homework, but fast! 

Before an expansion, we do a market assessment to identify our next growth opportunities. We look at key metrics, such as the demand for tutoring, competition level, purchasing power and more. We also examine the cultural differences and the habits around tutoring. This part is fascinating because you get to learn and understand other countries, perspectives and cultures. As an example, in Germany and France, the culture towards tutoring is mostly connected to a problem: “My child has an issue at school, and we need a tutor”. On the other hand, in markets like Greece or Spain, it’s more common for children to study with a private teacher for a few hours a week, regardless of their school grades.

The first international market we launched outside the DACH region was France. Families in France spend the most money in Europe on private education. This was – besides the fact that I am a native French speaker – one of the reasons that we felt comfortable making France the first country we expanded to. In addition, the culture towards tutoring is similar to Germany, where we had successfully proven our business model to work.

Build a playbook and a cross-functional team

When it comes to the launch of a new market, companies must consider all the local processes and content to be implemented. The so-called International Expansion Playbook is the key to success for us at GoStudent. This playbook contains a list of tasks that must be completed when entering new markets. The playbook is managed by our cross-functional international expansion team. This expansion team consists of one person per department who knows their role inside out. For example, someone from the legal team will check whether terms and conditions fit the new markets, someone from the finance team is responsible for coordinating local tax issues, there is a person who is in charge of attracting local talents, and so on. These core team members will be the ones assessing and implementing their department’s international strategies for the new market, so they should not only be experts in their field, but they should also be hands-on, confident at problem-solving, questioning the status quo, and adept at identifying what needs to be localised.

Hire local talents who fit your global company culture 

The next step is the recruitment of the local launch team, comprised of a country manager and a few employees managing the local operations. I always say that GoStudent’s success is based on its people. Our local teams are very large due to the operational nature of our business model, so hiring the right people is crucial. Especially when entering a new market, it is so important to ensure that they have a 100% culture fit with GoStudent and also have a comprehensive understanding of the local market. These are the people who will be setting up the “base-camp” and will shape the culture in your new office from the very beginning. If you get this right, it will not just help your local team thrive, but it will make them fit in with the global mission. My tip: be part of the hiring of the first 10-20 employees, or delegate to someone you know well and trust 100%.

Steer your team centrally 

When we started our international expansion, we were advised to steer our local teams centrally to enable consistency and best-practice sharing. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. If you want to go fast, it is crucial that everyone has the same direction in mind. At GoStudent, we keep our main departments centralised. The strategies come from the top and local managers ensure the implementation in-market. The ideas, however, often come from within the markets. So being centralised, doesn’t mean being short-sighted. Ensure your employees have the right infrastructure to share and implement their ideas, within the frame you have set for them.

Glocalise: Go 80% global, 20% local

When entering a new market, companies inevitably have to deal with the issue of localisation. What I mean by this is not necessarily just the translation of the website. The product features, marketing campaigns and sales pitches, among others, need to be localised from a cultural perspective. One can never underestimate the importance of linguistic and cultural nuances. When we prepare for the launch of a market, we do the bare minimum required for localisation. But once we’ve launched the first campaigns and got the first customers and tutors on the phone, we make sure to listen to their feedback and be as reactive as possible to adapt our product, content and processes. Companies must ensure that they do not simply translate, but that they also understand the culture word for word – only then can the service adapt optimally to the new market.

Finally, trust your gut feeling, roll up your sleeves, and be confident that you’ll handle whatever comes your way. Success is a state of mind, not a science!

About the author

Laura Warnier, Chief Growth Officer at GoStudentLaura Warnier is Chief Growth Officer at the online tutoring platform GoStudent, recently valued at €3B making it the #1 European EdTech company. GoStudent was founded in 2016 by Felix Ohswald and Gregor Müller. Laura joined GoStudent in 2018, as the company’s second full-time employee, to develop and execute the commercial strategy. She built a scalable customer acquisition machine from scratch and grew the sales team from 0 to +250 employees. In mid-2020, Laura started GoStudent’s international expansion by launching the French, Belgian and Spanish markets and then conquered Europe and the Americas in 2021, to reach customers across 23 countries to date. Today, Laura is leading a team of 100+ employees across Branding, Marketing, Partnerships and International Expansion. GoStudent has 1,800 employees and +19.000 tutors.

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