How To Launch Your Product Abroad

Insights on how to conduct a product launch in a new market

Global Expansion Summit will be held from June 18–20, 2017 at the Intercontinental O2 in London

I’m counting down the days before my keynote next week at the Global Expansion Summit, held in London from June 18–20, 2017. I’m excited to head out there soon! Before I do, I wanted to share a few of my insights on how to think through a country launch.

First and foremost — not every company needs to conduct a country launch. At Vungle, we built a mobile video adtech SDK product that was available in every market in the world from the start (check out our latest shoutout in Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends 2017 report on Slide 27). We never needed to conduct formal country launches, as our product was inherently global. At Vungle, international expansion focused on sales, business development, and marketing initiatives. I define this category of companies as “international growth”. Other companies that fall under this category include Spotify or Coursera.

In contrast, there are many companies that require phased country launches to scale abroad. At Square, we built POS software products, SaaS products, physical hardware products, and payment processing services that tied them all together. Behind the scenes, we had to build relationships with governments, banks, card networks, industry associations, and more in each market before we could become operational. International expansion therefore required dedicated country launches, where we could unlock specific markets for our platform and ecosystem. As a result, the primary center of gravity for international expansion focused on product management. I define this category of companies as “international launchers”. Other companies that are top of mind for this category include Netflix and Uber.

For companies that do need to conduct an actual launch — a lot goes into making sure a product is ready for public release in a new market. First and foremost, my advice is to start early. It takes longer than you think it will. Scope out what different phases of your country launch should look like, and set milestones. Identify your tiger team, be transparent about progress, and meet regularly.

Before we even talk about the actual product itself, there are a number of business requirements that are mission-critical. You need to ensure that you have the correct legal entity structure in place, and that your products have undergone a thorough legal review. Some products will require a regulatory license — depending on the type of technology, this can also require significant lead time and negotiation. For technology that is new and has never been seen in the world before — you can expect a very rigorous and lengthy audit process that will require you to build various coalitions of support.

Once the legal issues are resolved, you need to build the right team to best support the launch and ramp up growth. Most critically, you need to select the right Country Manager. A local hire usually yields best results — they know the market best. If your founding country team includes any employees from your HQ country that are not citizens of the new market you are launching in, you will need significant lead time to complete the work for a secondment. If you have employees working in the country at all, you need to conform with local laws regarding work authorization, visas, compensation, benefits, and taxes.

Before launch, your country team needs to have the right go-to-market strategy in place. You should have a clear understanding of how to win — from product pricing to customer acquisition to public relations and more. You should already have identified and started negotiations with your target channel partners (e.g. distributors, retailers, etc). You should have clearly measurable milestones, and the right infrastructure in place to determine whether or not you are on track with your launch plan.

When it comes to the product itself, you need to be highly confident that it is sufficiently localized for the market. A localization team should be intimately involved in both the initial product development phase as well as the final QA phase. To be clear, localization is more than just direct translation — they should be consulted on content creation as well (e.g. product name should resonate & messaging should make sense to locals). Country-specific requirements should be addressed (e.g. Uber must be able to accept mobile wallets or cash in India). Best practice for product readiness would be to run a multi-phase pilot with a limited number of customers with defined entrance and exit criteria — this ensures that as many bugs (either product-related, localization-related, or both) are resolved as possible.

In summary, a few key points to keep in mind for country launches:

  • Start early, it takes longer than you think. Build a tiger team within your company, and keep it small at first. Set clear and measurable goals.
  • Establish a legal entity, consult with legal counsel on what the most advantageous entity structure should look like
  • Build a great local team, starting with a solid country manager. Start early on the secondment process, if needed
  • Ensure that your product meets regulatory compliance
  • Involve localization in all aspects of the country launch, especially the product development process
  • Run a limited pilot to evaluate the product, have defined entrance and exit criteria
  • Engage partners (e.g. distributors, retailers, etc) well in advance, but not before you have line of sight on the product launch date
  • Create a clear go-to-market strategy that is tailored to the local market (e.g. product pricing, user acquisition, brand management, etc)

Following the steps above should offer a good start to thinking through your product launch in a new market. Of course, each company is different, and country launches will differ depending on the unique circumstances of each company’s business model. I’m excited to go deeper on the subject at the Global Expansion Summit next week!