Overseeing your start-up’s international expansion in times of crisis


Joy Des Fountain | Co-founder and CEO | myFanPark | mail me

Amid the economic downturns, market retreats and liquidations of COVID-19, start-ups have been one of the worst affected. A pronounced lack of funding and sales has left them cash-strapped and consumer hungry, with roughly 74% of these young businesses experiencing revenue decline since the beginning of the crisis.

However, according to a recent report, there are some companies – especially those in the tech-B2C field – that are experiencing abnormal growth as others struggle.

In South Africa, this has been the case for us. In the initial few weeks of the 21-day hard lockdown, their platform experienced a 492% increase in its number of users, a 959% surge in total orders, and a revenue jump of 283%.

Then, in June 2020, the company successfully entered markets in Nigeria and Germany, with foundational plans set in India too.

But how did a small startup with a small executive team manage to effectively oversee the scaling of their company into multiple foreign markets during a global pandemic?

Looking internally before seeking external opportunities

A comprehensive understanding of your business plan, values, product offering, and unique selling position is vital before committing to any global expansion.

While we founded myFanPark with the intention to operate in multiple markets around the world, we first needed to ensure that we were fully aligned in our thinking. As such, we devoted a significant amount of time towards developing our business from the inside.

From here we could fine tune our platform and ensure that everything from an internal point of view was in good working order.

During this period, the team would frequently discuss areas in which to take the company forward and worked hard to ensure that the technical ends of our platform were fully operational and user-friendly.

At the same time, we started to reach out to friends and associates who could help develop a solid foundation in the South African market.

By taking these steps, we were able to test our business model and adapt our offering to the consumer demands that we encountered on the way.

This approach was especially useful when COVID-19 hit, as it meant that we were well equipped to respond accordingly. Taking the time to fully understand ourselves meant that we were able to develop a viable product considerately, which in-turn allowed for a confident entry into foreign markets when the time came.

Finding the right partners if you are looking to localise

While there are several ways to sell your product abroad, we opted to localise our platform, as we were entering markets with wholly different languages, economies, cultures, and politics to our own.

This was a decision we took before the pandemic, as each country has its own range of critical nuances that need to be accommodated in order to successfully enter – and this is where local partnerships are an imperative.

Having partners on the ground will provide you with context-understanding expertise to help you navigate unfamiliar environments, their stakeholders, and potential issue areas.

To find the right partners, we drew heavily on its existing network, which allowed it to forge new partnerships with a base level of trust and rapport already established. This was hugely beneficial when lockdown measures meant that our team could not physically oversee operations in Germany, India, and Nigeria themselves.

As such, they made doubly sure that there was a clear understanding of the company’s business plan and objectives between all parties. Partnerships are complex business marriages that demand pragmatism; both sides must be clear about their respective needs, wants, and what they can offer each other. This can be a prolonged process, but it is vital to prevent any quick divorces and wasted resources.

However, there is also an element of luck in finding the right partners: people will naturally flock to where they perceive value, but it is your responsibility as a business owner to gauge what benefit they present to you, and whether they align with your interests, objectives, and identity. This is again why a good understanding of your business, product and intended footprint is essential.

Staying in frequent contact

Having the right partners is key, but it is just as important to maintain open and clear channels of communication once your international crew is assembled.

This is essential when you are not able to physically see them in person, as they become your only reliable contact point on the ground. These situations can put immense pressure on your business relationships, but it also gives you and your partners an opportunity to test capabilities and to inspect your working relationship.

We use a range of communication channels to keep in frequent contact with their teams from all over the world. This includes monthly catch-up calls and forums where all members can share their thinking and exchange ideas.

By creating a collective brain, we get a holistic overview of our endeavours, we ensure that all actions are appropriately localised, and we keep everyone up-to-date with the latest happenings.

It is especially difficult now during COVID-19 to keep an element of human interaction alive, but digital technologies are making it possible to do so across vast distances – this way we don’t feel isolated in our endeavours and we maintain a good, working connection with all team members.

It is a challenging task to scale your business, more so when the rest of the world is in crisis, but if done with patience, diligence and consideration, it is exceptionally rewarding too. And while every business is different and requires a slightly different touch, we hope that the lessons learnt from our experience will aid you in yours.



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