When Daniel Debow and David Stein started Rypple, a company that provides collaborative online tools for obtaining personal feedback, they sought customers in foreign markets from the outset. They soon had endorsements in international publications like BusinessWeek and The Economist and prestigious clients like Mozilla.
It is not surprising that Debow and Stein viewed their market as an international one. They had lived and worked in other countries and sold workforce management software to firms like British Airways and Walmart for their previous venture, Workbrain. These experiences taught them that Canadian companies could build an international customer base to take advantage of foreign opportunities. It was inconceivable for them to think of their market in purely domestic terms.
A recent study of past research on international entrepreneurship by the Conference Board of Canada suggests that such international experience is invaluable. People who have lived or worked outside of Canada perceive fewer barriers to successful internationalization and are more committed to doing business in foreign markets. They have stronger international skills too – they understand how to develop a network of enthusiastic collaborators, such as multinational customers who will disseminate their products to branches in other countries, foreign distribution partners who are willing to take a chance on their product, and bankers who understand export financing.
Should all entrepreneurs consider foreign markets at start-up? Probably, but it’s important to be aware of industry differences. The Conference Board study reports that businesses in some industries tend to internationalize earlier and more extensively than in others. Read more here.