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Why Do Most Startups Fail to Scale Internationally?

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The startup world is an exciting place to be. Inspired by innovation, driven by values, and determined to make the world a better place, startups are primed for success. But there’s more to winning loyal customers and securing a meaningful market share than a good idea. Strategy is integral from day one and matters even more when the time comes to expand into global markets.

Today’s business landscape is not restricted by geographical location. Savvy shoppers, businesses, and enterprises are seeking not just the most convenient solutions but the best – wherever they might be. To ensure your startup survives long-term, international expansion is a must, and that means your product or service – and every associated touchpoint – must be tweaked and tailored to meet the distinct language, cultural, and societal expectations.

That’s where localization comes into play. Localization goes beyond the simple translation of your text. It ensures every aspect of your startup’s offering is geared toward delivering a seamless customer experience. By demonstrating your commitment to your new audience, it also helps your brand secure trust. In short, localization shows a new market that it’s a priority, not an afterthought.

Why Do Most Startups Fail to Scale Internationally

So why do most international expansion plans fail?

Success stories drive the startup space, but in reality, unicorns are the exception to the rule. According to one report, nine in ten startups fail, and that’s in their home country. Add international expansion to the mix, and the odds become even slimmer.

Of course, that’s not to say you shouldn’t try. If you have an innovative idea backed by a talented team, you should invest your time and resources into bringing that idea to as many people as possible – locally, nationally, and internationally. The jump to global expansion is inevitable for any startup hoping to make it big. The key to unlocking larger-scale success abroad is steering clear of common pitfalls, mistakes, and missteps. Let’s explore three in detail.

Mistake 1: Insufficient market knowledge

What resonates in one location may fall flat in another. What encourages one audience to click the ‘Buy Now’ button may push another to leave your site entirely. Market knowledge is vital if you are to capture the hearts, minds, and dollars of people outside your own country. Market research should extend beyond product development and positioning. Consider the unique pain points of your new audience and how you can best communicate the value of your solution. How does your product fit into their daily lives, which likely looks different from yours? How do cultural norms and expectations play into your marketing strategy?

Why Do Most Startups Fail to Scale Internationally

Mistake 2: Failure to earn local trust

If your website, social platforms, and other collateral is in a foreign language, priced in a foreign currency, and contains information and imagery that doesn’t align with local customs and culture, your startup will struggle to win over a new audience. Running your site through Google Translate won’t cut it, either. What about the jokes that fall flat? The holidays that aren’t celebrated? The images that show an entirely different audience than the one you’re targeting?

Mistake 3: No local support

Customer experience is king – as a startup ready to expand, you know that all too well. Chances are, your approach to CX has supported your success so far. Now, it’s imperative you use what you’ve learned to achieve your global expansion goals.

Excellent customer support is vital in every successful business, so do not discount the value of offering customer care in the region’s native language. Consider providing a live chat service, phone support, help and how-to articles, email support, or a combination of the above. You could hire a team in the new region or opt for remote employees comfortable with the local language and cultural expectations.

Why Do Most Startups Fail to Scale Internationally

Avoid taking a one-size-fits-all approach to your communication channels, too. Instead, create a new, region-specific email address, set up a new phone number (ideally, offer a local or toll-free phone number – you don’t want your customer to be hit with a costly phone bill), and launch new social media pages.

By not making any efforts on the local support front, you are signaling to your international audience that you aren’t 100 percent committed to their experience.

Want to learn more about startup localization and how to expand globally? Download our complete guide here: Localization 101 for Startups: How to Create a Global Business

Read also:

3 Localization Tips for Startups on a Budget

Entering a new market? 3 tips for smart budget allocation

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