Starting a new business is rarely an easy task, especially if you’re planning to start one abroad. At the moment, the U.S dollar is strong — crushing many currencies — and lots of entrepreneurs are using it to their advantage and traveling overseas to start new businesses.
But, don’t begin packing your suitcases just yet. I am the founder of Waygo, an app that visually translates Japanese, Korean and Chinese text into US English with a quick scan using your smartphone, and I have taken the challenging route of starting a company overseas (in China to be exact).
Before you make the decision to travel outside the US, here are some top tips for starting a business outside of America:
1. Localize your business idea, vision, and expectations.
An essential task for any overseas entrepreneur is to learn about the local culture. Try to find an investor or local mentor who can help you to understand the local culture and consequently the local consumer. Researching the local culture was key to the success of the launch of Waygo and allowed us to meet the right partners, launch at the best conferences and know which connections to trust.
If you don’t know someone who could be a local mentor yet, take a look at LinkedIn and see if anyone in your network can connect you with people based in the country. You could also join some Meetup groups, reach out to local business networks or begin researching local culture online by seeking out resources that specialize in living tips for expats. Familiarise yourself with the tax laws in the country you intend to move to with these country guides from VAT Global.
2. Learn the language.
It seems obvious that you need to know the language used in the country you plan to set up a business in to be able to communicate with customers and suppliers, however, learning a new language can be challenging. Even if your language skills are poor, some basic skills can go a long way. In addition to taking conventional language classes, you can also learn new languages via smartphone apps or at meetups with those who are fluent in the language you need to learn.
3. Live amongst the locals.
Start being genuinely interested in the country, its people and the culture. Go out and start meeting your customers and take part in cultural experiences whenever you get the change. The market, customer behavior, and customer preferences will not be familiar to you, so it’s important to learn as much as possible from your customer bases.
4. Study the local competition.
Every entrepreneur knows the importance of researching the competition before entering into a new market. But you need to go further. Study at least five companies that made an attempt to enter the market but failed. If you fail to learn from the past failures of others, you are destined to repeat their mistakes.
You need to put in the time to build a new network, as your old network is unlikely to be as actionable when you live overseas. Leverage the reality that expats in small communities are few and far between, so it’s easier to connect with new individuals.
In Beijing, when my team was trying to build a new network for Waygo, we took a chance and contacted all the important entrepreneurs in the local area by email. The actions resulted in lots of mutually beneficial meetings and ever-growing network connections. The connections formed didn’t only help us to get started in the area as a new business, but they also provided us with long-lasting relationships with people that can provide us with support when needed.
As an expat in China, lanching Waygo is certainly one of the most thrilling events in my life so far. I would encourage anyone who has an entrepreneurial spirit to consider starting a business abroad. But, don’t enter the market blindly: be persistent, patient, grow a thick skin and take into account a few of my tips. Then, get ready for the adventure of a lifetime.